Monday, November 07, 2016

November 7, 2016--Post-Fact America

I know at least ten people who report they have lost close friends this election cycle. In every case because their political differences were so unbridgeable and their disagreements so visceral and nasty that they have stopped talking to each other and believe they will never reconcile.

Particularly disturbing, they claim they couldn't agree about any facts. In spite of quoting Daniel Patrick Moynahan's oft-quoted axiom about how we're entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts.

Many I've spoken with still insist that their former friends insist on having their own facts. This in spite of fact-checked evidence that some things are truer than others and sometimes what are asserted to be facts are essentially made-up. Still, most continue to cling to and cite these untruths as facts.

And on the other side, my friends' side, those with a confessional inclination reveal that they too are not exempt from not always distinguishing fiction from fact. That they as well have their own facts and don't care that much if they are true or not. They're so angry about the issues, the candidates, the campaigns, and their friends' smug obtuseness that they care only about winning and dominating anyone who disagrees. Even life-long pals.

I should also confess to at times feeling frustrated in pretty much the same way and have been prone to spin what I know to be a half or untruth. I'm not proud of this, but there you go.

What's going on?

Insight comes from Farhad Manjoo's excellent book, True Enough: Living in a Post-Fact Society. A column referring to it by Manjoo can be found in his recent New York Times "State of the Art" column.

He speaks about how with the advent of the internet it was anticipated that there would be an easily accessible proliferation of mainstream and independent reporting so that anyone interested could be unfettered in the pursuit of factual information and ultimately the truth. This would not of course preclude disagreement, even of a fundamental sort, but it would assure that the facts would get out and perhaps be agreed about.

Manjoo writes--
The internet is distorting our collective grasp on the truth. Polls show that many of us have burrowed into our own echo chambers of information. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 81 percent of respondents said that partisans not only differed about policies, but also about "basic facts." 
For years, technologists and other utopians have argued that online news would be a boon to democracy. That has not been the case. . . . 
If you study the dynamics of how information moves online today, pretty much everything conspires against truth.
More interesting and confounding, he also suggests that it may be human nature itself that is the problem--that even those who consider themselves rational and independent-minded often seek the intellectual shelter of what I have here at times labeled "confirmation bias"--our inclination to filter out information, facts, that contradict our already-secure beliefs. Beliefs, not facts.

Again from Manjoo--
A wider variety of news sources was supposed to be the bulwark of a rational age--"the marketplace of ideas," the boosters called it. 
But that's not how any of this works. Psychologists and other social scientists have repeatedly shown that when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act [in rational, civic-minded ways]. Instead, we are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest--we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not. 
This dynamic becomes especially problematic in a news landscape of near-infinite choice. Whether navigating Facebook, Google, or The New York Time's smartphone app, you are given ultimate control--if you see something you don't like, you can easily tap away to something more pleasing. Then we all share what we have found with our like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles online. 
If true, and it sounds to be so to me, how do we proceed?

We can dig deeper into our intellectual and ideological foxholes, seeking the security of "certainty" or we can take a more uncomfortable and challenging step and do some self-examining in the hope that we can figure out how to get comfortable with ambiguity and even contrary ideas and opinions.

After this ugly election season, where too many on both sides did not distinguish themselves, to begin the understanding and healing process is essential.

I especially call on my fellow progressives to take the lead in this. We pride ourselves as being rational, evidence-based thinkers and actors. Liberal minded liberals. It is time to put that on display by stepping up to the challenge. It may not work--to our long-term peril--but it is time to stop pointing disdainful fingers.

Hillary Clinton will be elected tomorrow. By a wide margin.

For more than 30 years she has at times been viscously assailed. Thus, she is the perfect person to put aside her understandable suspicions and anger and transcendently fess up to her own biases and by example, and through the bully pulpit, begin this needed national process and thereby make America great again.

Because we were and are great when we are open-minded, inclusive, and generous.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home