The Space that Divides Us

History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzen


2016 is proving to be quite the divisive year.  With Donald Trump’s far right pandering and Bernie Sander’s constant democratic socialist message there is quite a bit of space between the leading Republican nominee and an insurgent, but clear #2 on the Democratic side. The 2016 race aside, other sociopolitical groups have popped up like Black Lives Matter, Social Justice Warriors, and 3rd wave feminists that have found a home on many college campuses to combat injustices (real or imagined) they see in society.

With that as a backdrop, the University of Massachusetts’s college Republicans hosted a panel session several months ago about how far political correctness has gone and whether or not it hurts the freedom of speech. The panel included feminist author and philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers (whom I’m a huge fan of) Britbart (a conservative publication) editor Milo Yiannopoulos who is also a British, flamboyant homosexual, and Trump supporter, and conservative comedian Steven Crowder. While Sommers is an academic, Yiannopoulos and Crowder are professional provocateurs and were heavy with the insults. The video was dubbed “The Triggering” so that may give you a hint of what happened.

With “PC (political correct) culture” as the topic Yiannopoulos and Crowder where aggressive in their examples of how PC culture hurts the freedom of speech and Sommers took a more scholarly route. Their discussion proved infinitely more interesting by the constant interrupting and insult throwing from the crowd, which ironically was the problem they were addressing. They were being shouted down by people who were not part of the College Republican organization and insulted because their views differed from the social justice warrior crowd. While I detested many of their views, particularly Yiannopoulos and Crowder’s I certainly supported their right to say them and present them, they were invited after all to do this. They could have just sat their and said nothing and proved their point that many of the protesters were blocking their free speech in an attempt to make everything politically correct, but it actually was a fairly interesting video.

This event, and the reaction to it is a small microcosm of what you see played out in a grand stage in America, and it’s only happened on a large scale in the past 5 years or so. Terms like “cis-gendered” “white male privilege” “the patriarchy” “Trigger Warnings” and “Safe Spaces” were not terms in the common vernacular in 2010. Now they are common place in some different groups, mainly on college campuses. I don’t want to parrot the video too much but I agree with the panelists and say the main reason for this are ultra-liberal views are being coddled and reinforced by certain professors instead of being challenged, which is what is supposed to happen to your views in college. But I digress, this post isn’t about the video.

The folks who perpetuate these views are not doing so because they are bad people, in fact they are doing it out of a seemingly noble cause. They want people to not be hurt. They want to eliminate racism, and sexism, and otherisms, which is a great. However, instead of debating ideologies or ideas that perpetuate those discrimination they simply wish to silence them, becoming regressive instead of progressive. This is harmful on 2 fronts:
1. Being silenced doesn’t make anything go away or change anyone’s mind it only entrenches people more and have the silenced side gain more sympathetic ears because they are the ones who were wronged.
2. It hurts your view. People who may have been interested in learning more from a debate have been robbed of that chance. People who share your views may start to abhor your tactics and your “side” suddenly shrinks

#2 is certainly what happened to me. As I’ve said many times on here I’m a progressive person, I certainly want to eliminate racism, and sexism, and anything else that divides people, but the thing I see dividing people the most is this massive attempt at censorship over anything that may hurt people’s feelings. The TV show South Park may hurt other people’s feelings but if people like watching it, it should exist. People who don’t can simply change the channel and I will always hold freedom of expression and speech over someone being offended, and will forever hold myself to the notion that “While I may detest what you say, I will defend to my death for your right to say it”

But of course the social justice crowd is not without their foils. On the other side you have actual bigots, and sexists and with the rise of Donald Trump, and they are all coming out of the woodwork. Some of his rhetoric includes banning the immigration of Muslims, walling off Mexico and making Mexicans pay for it, calling many of the former terrorists, and the later rapists… And this is the guy that beat 16 other challengers for the nomination of a major political party.

It’s a stark and almost comical contrast when you have on one side a large group of people who’s number 1 interest is protecting the rights of women and minorities and people of the LGBT community, who want people to check their privilege and really think about what they say as to not to offend anyone. While on the other you have people attending massive rallies to see what casually sexist, off the cuff remark a presidential candidate is going to make next. This is a man who is not only loved for saying offensive and aggressive things but advocates his followers “beat the crap” out of those who protest and have a different point of view than him. This is the same type of censorship you see with the social justice warriors, who on occasion have threatened and actually assaulted people who have attended events where the speaker is conservative.

While there are still people who don’t belong to either extreme, these people are shrinking as each side grows louder. Sometimes tribe mentality is too strong. But these too sides are obviously incorrigible. One side wants everyone to be sensitive to the emotions of everyone else and the other goes out of its way to offend people. If there was a neutral person, each side may be able to get them to understand their point of view. However, if a social justice warrior tried to get a Trump supporter to understand what a trans-gendered person is would be a major hurdle, and even if they were successful explaining that, going to the next level of explaining why the trans-gendered bathroom laws are bad would be more than they could take. In contrast a social justice warrior will stick their fingers in their ears until a Trump supporter finished his rationale about how immigrants are mostly criminals. It has reached a point past debate.

The divide first started with President Obama when congressional Republicans wanted him to fail and be a 1 term president because (depending on which side your on) “he didn’t want to work with Republicans” or “he’s black” and it’s only gotten worse from there. From having leaders openly rooting for our leader to fail, to shutting down the government, and the rise of the tea party and PC culture we’ve become more of a divisive nation that any time in recent memory. With Donald Trump heading into the GOP convention and colleges that are now graduating pro PC college students the space that divides us is bigger than ever.

The Down side of Democracy

History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzern’


One of the hardest yet most interesting times in my life was my first year in teaching. I was thrown into a high school in Baltimore County where I was to teach mainly 9th grade government. Boring 14-15 year olds with a process they are far too young to participate in, let alone have me or any teacher walk a tight rope of how the American governmental system works in theory, while almost working in direct contrast in practice is not something I would wish on anyone but I did my best and I ended up not doing that bad.

One of the most memorable moments is when I was teaching about what democracy really means, and how it works (or doesn’t) in countries like North Korea and Iran and why it inevitably is the most preferred method of governance. We’ve all been taught this in school at some point or another? Communism/autocracy is bad and democracy/freedom is good right? However, some of my students weren’t buying it. This was in 2012 and despite being young many of my students (most of whom were liberal) were firmly against Mitt Romney becoming president. While the media may have teased about his faux pas like his “binders full of women” flub or his “48%” remark, for some students these were reasons enough to not support him. Even more, this was the year that rape faux pas like “rape is a gift from God” and “legitimate rape” coming from the mouths of some doomed senatorial want to be’s. My students also weren’t okay with the president’s drone attacks, the grid lock in congress, and other things that I didn’t bat an eye at, at that age. Many would were confounded of how candidates right, left, or center found their way into public office, or even got close to it. It all came back to voting. “Mr. Donnelly, why do we let stupid people vote?” I would be asked. “Yeah, won’t it hurt the country if enough of them do it?” Another chimed in. I stumbled for a moment and said well… that’s why you’re in this class…. to uh… understand the system, so you’ll be an educated voter. Of course that was a lie for several reasons. 1. It’s not an issue class or a debate class 2. Again, it’s how American government works on paper, not in the battlefield. 3. It doesn’t stop “stupid people” from voting now but hopes for a better voting block in 4 years.

Fast forward 4 years and we’ve come to a peak with stupid people voting, with Donald Trump having a real chance at becoming the GOP nominee. Oh what I would give to teach government now. I would just keep on the news for the whole class, since it gives great insight on how undemocratic our process is with super delegates, unbound delegates, open voting, closed voting, how just because you win a state, doesn’t mean you won the most delegates.

But perhaps this is what we deserve. The founding fathers, no matter what their ideological persuasion would all be rolling if they could see the dunce winning the nominee of the party of Jefferson. Of course they’d also roll in their grave to see a black guy as president, and a woman who most likely will take is place…but I digress.

When the founders were drafting the Constitution, there was lots of speculation of what type of government would form. Some thought a new monarchy would form, others thought the states would remain autonomous. A favorite story of mine is of Benjamin Franklin, who had to have men watch him at night because he would drink copious amount of alcohol and begin to talk about things that he shouldn’t have. Since the machinations of what specifically was going on were top secret, his peers knew he couldn’t be trusted to blab about everything they’ve been working on for so long. However, one woman asked him whether or not they are creating a monarchy or a democracy, and he did slip up a big and responded with “A republic ma’am, if you can keep it”

A republic, not a straight democracy. Electing people who knew what they were doing to make the decisions for the populace. The founders were petrified of a democracy. They were all aristocrats by either birth or merit and detested much of what the “riff raff” citizenry did. They thought governance was best left up to the educated. Many institutional blockers were put in place to make sure that even if you wanted to vote they couldn’t. First off you have to be a white guy, and you have to be at least 25, and you have to own a certain amount of property. This was the fewest amount of obstacles one had to hurdle to vote, in Georgia for example the only people that could vote for president were those elected to the state government; a body of about 23 men. Since most of the country were farmers, why burden them with learning about the issues at hand and educating them in some democratic process? If they spent their time doing that who would grow the food?

If America stayed east of the Appalachian mountains, this may have been the trend for much longer. But when Americans moved further and further west, there were no educated and well groomed delegations to cast ballots. Just dirt farmers and settlers. So under Jackson, universal white male suffrage was made and now every white guy who wandered into a polling station could cast a ballot. Things continued from there. Eventually African Americans, women, and 18 year olds could cast a ballot. Hell, now when you get your licensed renewed at the DMV you can register to vote in just a couple minutes. We’ve stream lined the process, even making an amendment so that we can vote for senators too, since before it was strictly the state representatives who voted.

Of course this has become a process that has had many fits and starts, and sometimes we owe our greatest progression to things that are not democratic at all. Slavery was technically ended by democracy…but only have 600,000 people died. The integration of the army was an extremely unpopular executive order by Truman, the integration of schools had to be made by a small judicial body, and enforced by the army, gay marriage was in the same boat…minus the army. In some states, if you made the right campaign and left it up to a straight vote by the population, decades of change would be erased.

These of course are all American examples. If I really wanted to I could get in to how the Nazi’s came to power because of democracy, and the Russian communist party, not to mention the powers that led the Rwandan genocide were democratic…but this post is already long enough.

And now… we’ve come to 2016. Even thing has led to a man, who says nothing substantive in every speech is going to become the nominee of a major party. I don’t know if this is a failure of the part of the Republican Party or if so many people are just blind with rage of being duped again and again by “career politicians” And what do you do about it? No one wants to go back to the days of poll taxes, or literacy qualifications. In theory you want as many people as possible to vote, and so many obstacles have been put in place to deny that opportunity…but usually for partisan reasons. Many people look at voting as a hassle. Would an education class about what the candidates have said and whether or not their statements were true or not be a better option, or would that be too much for the 21st century voter to care about? Or would it revolutionize the processes? I’m not sure about you but I for one am still all for benevolent despots.

The Problem with Being Colorblind

History is the autobiography of a madman – Alexander Herzen


One of my guilty pleasures as I’ve said before is online debating. It’s pointless in the end and can get me to lose my cool. But for the positives it does keep me up to date on the latest news, and controversies, and it’s nice to hear a variety of opinions on issues… unless they’re dumb.

Political topics usually run along broad categories of foreign affairs, domestic policies, economics, politicians, and… race. Race has seemed to become it’s own political category of it’s own though it can touch a lot of other categories. Sometimes there is manufactured outrage over some racial issue and sometimes it’s genuine. The latest racial “outrage” I couldn’t help but laugh at.

Michelle Obama, who I generally like, made the statement “Black girls rock” …that’s it. Not black girls are better than white girls, or black girls are smarter, or stronger or any other comparison. Just that they rock.

Ah… and oh the outrage that followed. “WHAT ABOUT WHITE GIRLS?!” “DOESN’T SHE CARE ABOUT ALL GIRLS?!” …obviously she does.

But I get it. If Lara Bush shouted “White girls rock” it would sound bad. So what’s with the double standard?

It’s historical and a numbers game. Black people represent a small percentage of Americans (about 12%) yet a disproportionate number of people in poverty, in prison, drop outs. Saying black girls rock doesn’t mean white girls, or any other type of girls suck. Though it is odd that it’s not Hispanics or Asians voicing outrage…

This is part of a larger trend. It is approaching “race” from different areas. Many who lean on the right want to be “done” with race. That race shouldn’t matter, we should all be colorblind, and everyone’s the same. This would be great..if everyone was there too. But we’re not. This approach cannot answer for racism, both subtlety or institutionally existing. So when confronted with facts like blacks and Hispanics make up a disproportionate number of the prison population they can’t say that it was because of any institutional racism (because to them it doesn’t exist) so they must just be naturally bad…which is a racist argument.

It lacks a historical understanding and leads to ignorant questions like “Why is there a BET” “Why is there a black student union” Different races are just that, different. This is not to say that one is superior or inferior but there are different cultures that come with races. To ignore that is to ignore someone’s identity. To be color blind is to be blind to a part of someone’s identity.

Colorblindness sounds good though right. Let’s just treat everyone equally so no one will be racist. The treating people equally is right but for the wrong reasons. Acknowledging race doesn’t make you a racist, it makes you human. Talking about race doesn’t make you racist, it makes you informed.

If person A was born in a ghetto in the South Side of Chicago, and Person B was born in the Hamptons, who do you think has the greatest chance of being successful? What races do you believe person and A and B are? Probably, but not certainly Black and White respectively. Blacks, disproportionately are born into disadvantaged areas and whites are not. Whites have also run this country in terms of politics, business, religion, and owning other blacks for much of this nation’s history so when you say “White’s rock!” It has a stinging tone to it because white people are already at such an advantage and historically have been so it’s salt on historic wounds.

There’s also no real “white culture” in America. Some of our ancestors were fleeing famines, others came to start businesses, some worked their way to the top, some never made it rich. There are 10000 different stories of white immigration and status in America. There is 1 for blacks, enslavement. There’s Irish pride, or Italian pride, those are flaunted without the slightly thought that they would be offensive to blacks. There’s even a holiday dedicated to Irish pride, where it doesn’t matter if you’re Irish or not.

There’s nothing wrong in being proud of who you are or your heritage…provided that heritage wasn’t based on racial supremacy. Black girls can “rock” without hurting white girls chances of “rocking.” Race isn’t a zero sum game. If blacks gain whites that whites have, white’s don’t lose those rights. Treating people equally is great. Treating people equally by being blind to our differences is not. Diversity and differences don’t have to be bad. In fact they should be acknowledged, and celebrated, they help us understand each other and the world we live in.

A Farewell to Jon Stewart

History is the autobiography of a madman – Alexander Herzen


When I first saw Jon Stewart I remember it very vividly. It was 2002 when I was in the 6th grade. It was that awkward phase of life where I was starting to watch TV shows that aren’t the Disney channel and Nickelodeon. A friend of mine was at my house and put on comedy central and had some shows that I enjoyed so we kept watching. The Daily Show eventually came on. He groaned said, “I don’t get this show… it’s like news…but not, I think they tell jokes but I don’t get it.” We kept it on as we played a game but I started to realize what satire was though I didn’t know it by that name at that point in my life. From that point on I watched the show more and more. By high school I was hooked, watching it (and later Colbert) religiously every night.

The Daily Show and Jon Stewart had something so genuine about them. Even though most of what he was saying wasn’t true, it was always steeped in truth. Speaking truth to power seemed wholly American to me, starting from even before the American Revolution. This was seen explicitly as he would bash the absurdity of the Bush administration but use his talents with the same veracity, mock the Obama administration as well when it was absurd. Not to mention his epic segments on the media, talking heads, and anyone that was being disingenuous, corrupt, or oppressive.

Sometimes his bits would be more poignant than funny, others would have a juvenile joke around every corner, but would not be a deep and insightful point. He always knew which take to use on a particular issue.

As many people know now Jon Stewart is leaving his show sometime this year. When I first heard I thought it was one of those UN FUNNY fake news sites that have 0 humor in their stories but just print false stories to incite people. But, I read the comedy central statement and eventually saw him make the announcement on his show when it aired.

When it sunk in I felt a genuine sadness. Not an “oh that’s a shame” fickle sadness but The Daily Show was something that I grew up on and helped shaped my adolescent development. Even more than the personal loss I felt, was the loss to a nation. (I’m a drama Queen I know, but stay with me) Stewart would say what most news shows wouldn’t know how or weren’t allowed to say. But his show would be played in many news shows as a proxy to say what news casters were thinking. With Colbert doing a “real” late night show, and Jon Stewart leaving for “other things” I wonder who will fill his legendary shoes?

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was a show unlike any other and likely won’t come around again, though John Oliver does his best imitation on HBO. It not like he’s dead though and I wonder what comes next from Stewart but I assume it will be great. But as for The Daily Show, the best #@$%king news team, and the “Most Trusted Name in News” he will be missed by millions.

Social Justice Lupus

History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzen


The issue of social justice has been an area of concern for me ever since I watched a CNN special called “Sun down Towns,” when I was 17 in 2007. It explained how there are still some small towns in the south and the mid west where it is considered “unsafe” for black people to be out after dark. It explained the system of segregation and discrimination that is tolerated and perpetuated by the whites of town and shocked me.

At the time though, all I had known was a diverse middle and high school in a diverse city in the most diverse state (per capita) in the country. Diversity was all I had known so racism and other “isms” I naturally assumed were a things only found in textbooks, and that we, as a people had gotten past race. Then, starting with the documentary came Barack Obama’s campaign for presidency, where I started to see real racism for the first time in my life.

I decided then, that social justice would become a cause that I would take up, study, and if the opportunity arose advocate.

It appears I wasn’t the only one. Flash forward 8 years to 2015. “Social Justice” has now become a brand or a catch phrase. It’s become different things to different people, and what was once seen as a noble or even rebellious thing to advocate for has become mainstream and irritating.

Nowadays anything can be seen as “oppressive” if looked at the right way. Even the song “Baby it’s cold outside” which albeit can be a little sketchy has been rethought as a rape crime scene than a girl playing hard to get. A debate that seems to come up every Christmas season. In reality social injustice is at an all time low, while social justice “warriors” have been at an all time high. Not to say that injustice isn’t happening, because it is but if injustice is a disease then all the new social justice warriors have become lupus. Finding and fighting it everywhere.

This was seen no more predominantly than with the election of Obama and in the Michael Brown case.

When Obama was elected I can remember soundbites of people calling him all sorts of names (Tyrant, Muslim, atheist, socialist, Nazi, anti-christ) along with a host of racial slurs. These things are obviously wrong and these people shouldn’t be acknowledged or taken seriously.

But then there are people with legitimate gripes with the president.
An unprecedented use of drones causing potential innocent casualties
Not ending the patriot act
Not closing gitmo
NSA spying
A potential war with Syria
among others

And because of the real racism that’s been shown. Some who advocate for social justice became lazy and labeled anyone who had a problem with the president as a “racist,” which really cheapens the word. As if over night a racist became a person who disliked a race to someone who disliked someone of another race. It’s not been something I’ve been called or called others because I reserve it for people who are truly despicable, which fortunately are few.

Causes are taken up by social justice warriors every so often in the news. It seems like every couple months a tragedy happens and people align with a killer or the killed as they trade character assassinations and defenses. It happens so often it plays out like a script.

1. Black teen is killed by someone not black
2. Everyone despises killer
3. Evidence comes out killer may have defended himself
4. Evidence comes out the black teen may not be so innocent
5. Debate ensues. Usually conservatives defend the killer while liberals defend the killed

This was seen first with Trayvon Martin, which I wrote about earlier and no one will ever know exactly why the altercation took place or what exactly happened.

And more recently seen with Michael Brown, with more evidence. It’s clear Michael Brown (who is a giant person) assaulted (or attempted to) a cop and was shot. It’s a split second decision he had to make. I’m not defending either person. People holding up officer Darren Wilson like he’s a hero are wrong. But also people holding up Michael Brown as well. A case of poor decisions on both sides but not a case of injustice.

Cases after of Tamir Rice and Eric Gardener show actual cases of injustice that should be held up more.

But it’s more than just race relations. Privilege and the necessity to “check it” are other terms that have been thrown out by the SJ crowd. White privilege and male privilege are both something I benefit from. It’s pretty undeniable that white guys have it better than anyone else, now or at any other point in time. But telling someone to “check their privilege” (which ironically I have been told to do) is something that shuts down debate. Just like calling someone a racist because he doesn’t like one black guy because that guy was mean to him.

There’s actual injustice and there are actual racists and actual sexists and actual people who lack empathy because they can’t acknowledge how good they have it. I still consider myself a social justice advocate because it’s still needed in a bad way. But when a “movement” (I guess you would call it) is hijacked by people who use callouts, shut downs, and shaming as a way to show their POV instead of debate fail at their goals of change.

I could tell one of my students that they wrote an essay wrong and yell at them, shame them and mock them. But then they’re going to fail again. But showing why they are wrong will help them and help those who they write to in the future. Instead of telling someone to “educate yourself” or to “check your privilege” use nuance, patience, and tolerance (even of intolerance) to show you have the moral ground that you claim to have. Without it, you can be just as bad as the people you rail against.

The Age of Misinformation (pt 2)

History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzen


One of my greatest memories from High School was playing soccer. I only played for two years but still enjoyed it immensely. It kept me in shape, challenged me, but what I liked the most was the comradery I had with the other guys. In the locker room, on the bus, during practice, we would feed off each other, back each other up. We worked as a unit and as a team. I still maintain relationships with some of those I played with.

Sounds great right? It was but it almost got us into trouble several times. Our high school was seen as the “inner city” school because we had a good amount of diversity, and that was represented in the soccer team as well. This was not always well received with some of the schools that we played against all white teams. I can remember on at least two separate occasions that racial slurs would be thrown both during and after the game. It would incite a few players at first but as we talked about it more we would get more inflamed and more riled up about it. This would go on and on. We’d talk about it more, we’d get angry, we got angry so we talked about it more and several times members of the team tried to get the whole team to fight the opposing team….

Looking back at it, it was dumb. It would have been very bad for us if any punches were thrown but at the time and in the moment it seemed like a just response.

Are dumb teenage boys trying to fight a group of other teenage boys who said something racist the reason we live in an age of misinformation? No. But this process of having like minded individuals agreeing and hyping each other up to the point where something extreme is done (or almost done) is commonplace and detrimental to knowledge and information. This is called “Group Think,” and it’s the 2nd reason why we live in an age of misinformation.

Group think is essentially a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.

This can be seen in the realm of media and politics, but even in social interactions. Studies have been done where a group of self identified liberals were asked to discuss issues like global warming, same sex marriage, and collective bargaining. As their discussions progressed they moved further and further to the left. Views that once started out as moderate because extreme.

This was also seen with self identified Republicans. They were given a similar set of issues to debate and eventually they went further and further to the right and ended up having very extreme views. It makes sense though. We’d rather conform and allow ourselves to get swayed because it’s comfortable. Why fight these seemingly like minded people?

These microcosms of group think are played out on a higher levels on major News Networks like MSNBC and Fox News. Each of them have opposite political messages and routinely bend the truth or flat out lie, just to espouse a story or “fact” that their audience will eat up. Each night they build up the world view that someone has and overtime it will become more extreme and more rigid. This is seen in a lesser extent to online “news” sites that just feed the world views of their targeted audiences.

These outlets don’t give news but their version of the news. Sometimes, if the facts are played right they don’t have to lie. Other times much spin is needed. This was seen on Fox after Obama was elected and reelected. It was also seen on MSNBC during particularly hard 2010 and 2014 mid term elections, where the Democrats lost the house and senate respectively.

But it also effects our relations with others. If you find out that your new co-worker is of a different political persuasion than you are you more or less likely to seek them out and befriend them? It’s probably less likely, or at the very least neither. Few people go out and find people and outlets that think differently than them (with good intentions).

Why is that?

Because it makes us uncomfortable. It challenges us, we’d much rather hang out with people that agree with us because it’s more pleasant, and not surprisingly, gets us more extreme. If someone agrees with you with one thing you assume they’re smart or they “get it” so that allows you be more easily swayed to perhaps a more extreme view that your friend has.

Extreme doesn’t mean correct. If fact it usually means the opposite. It makes us rigid and uncompromising. It makes us uninformed.

How do we change it though? How do we fight though the BS that we’re fed from our Uncle who gets his news from Brietbart, our neighbor who religiously watches MSNBC, our cousin who gets salon updates, and our co worker who listens to Fox News radio while he works?

Do we just listen to it all? Is the truth hidden between two extremes? Sometimes.
Do we shut it off? Then we may get no news at all

It takes diligence. Not all news is recklessly biased but it also pays to know who the news is being written for, who the targeted audience is.

It also takes acceptance. Interacting with people who think differently can only be a good thing. People aren’t memes and they aren’t partisan pundits. Having conversations with those who think differently will lend you an understanding (though not necessarily an agreement) with people. It softens our views to the fact where we can agree on things. We become less rigid and more accepting of what the truth of things may be.

In the end the truth is that we live in an age of misinformation for a variety of reasons. Despite a plethora of content and sources we remained misinformed not only by poisoned sources but also our own prejudices and world views. Getting out of our comfort zones is and analyzing the validity of our news as well as our own world views is the key to breaking out of the age of misinformation. Nothing easy is worth having, including the truth.

The Misinformation Age (pt. 1)

History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzen

20 inch TV

I’ve always wondered how long you have to leave a space of time before it “officially” becomes named. For example, how far did we past the bronze age, (3300–1200 BCE) to look back and name that time period “the bronze age.” Did something specially end exactly in the year 1200 BCE for the bronze age to end? I’m not sure. Sometimes there is a clear date because of an event that ends or begins an era. For example, after Julius Caesar stormed Rome, the Roman Republic officially ended. 

The age we’re in “now” has been already rushed to be named. Some call it the “nuclear era” with the advent of the atomic bomb….70 years ago. Some say that era has already ended and we’re in a new “digital era” with cellphones, the internet and computers, which is valid.

My favorite is “The information age.” That seems the most appropriate. We are literally fingertips away from LIMITLESS knowledge. If one had the time they could become quite the scholar on Antebellum America without even leaving their homes (or getting dressed for that matter) There is a wealth of scholarly articles, primary sources, secondary sources, and commentary blogs.

So if we date the “information age” with the birth of the internet 1992 then we have been in it for 23 years. This begs the question…why aren’t we all geniuses? Why is the internet filled more with cat photos than with information??

But, I exaggerate. The internet is full of “news,” in fact there has never been so much content created. There are now hundreds, if not thousands of podcasts, alternative news sites seemed to have popped up overnight, content and news is everywhere.

The problem is that all content is not created equal. Some are created nefariously by institutions that have an agenda. Some are not well fact checked or investigated. Some just enjoy making people freak out with seemingly plausible yet provocative news stories that are 100% fake i.e. “The National Review” “”

So maybe it’s much more understandable why we’re not all geniuses.

But it’s more than that. A media source that is unbiased is almost impossible. Some enjoy flaunting is bias in the name of the website. “Conservativetribune” “redstatenews” “occupydemocrats” and “fightconservatives” Others are bigger sites that have become synonymous with a partisan angle “Britbart” “Huffington” “Drudge” “DailyKos”

But… why do they exist? If someone wants to know about the big news stories of that day? Why not go to a more established news sites? The human brain will not push itself more than it needs to. It takes a little work to become truly informed on an issue, on history, and even on the news. Thankfully it takes less work these days. 10 minutes of reading several different sources on an issue or news topic will usually unearth the reality of it, as long as you have adequate discerning and inference skills.

Unfortunately there are even more recent troubling trends in media. It is that goal of getting there first at all costs. Getting the breaking news first is not a new goal. You’re going to get more readers if your news is the most recent and the first to break news stories. However, recently major news sources have continued to seek for that first breaking news story…without fact checking. They’ll get a juicy tip from someone unreliable and they’ll go with it and run a story, literally seconds after the information is learned. If the information is wrong they can always offer a redaction later, or ideally. Just drop it and start talking about something else. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News do it all the time, from big stories like the Boston Bomber, where CNN had to redact several leads because they were looking for information from anyone that would give it to them, including low level policemen and civilians, to smaller stories like claiming the president’s Asian tour will cost 100 million dollars a day, which was quoted from someone completely unrelated the to trip.

The 2nd type of redaction is much more common. It’s the partisan one. A partisan news network hears something juicy or scandalous about the “other side” so they run with it, facts be damned. If this is done enough 2 things will happen.

1. They will be right from time to time which gives them credibility
2. The market will be so saturated from these stories if they come out quick enough, that we’ll be unable to discern the bogus stories from the real ones.

This is seen the most on the internet. Clever satire sites like the Onion (and unclever fake news sites like the National Review) will post a story that is outlandish and provocative that if it fits someone’s political views they will eat it up, and tell their friends without even checking the source or seeing if other sources corroborate it. It would take less than a minute to figure out whether one of those stories are real or not. I see it all the time on social media.

Why are we so ill informed? It’s more than just the media trying to be first, fake news sites, and partisan content creation. It’s also about how we interact with each other. But I’ll get to that next time.