Vetting the Truth in Our Echo Chambers

I don’t want to live in my own echo chamber, but I fear that most people do. Judging by the things I see on social media, a large number of people hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see and think what they want to think, regardless of the facts.

We all have our own worldviews. Some try to keep an open mind, but all of us see through filters that we have either consciously or unconsciously developed. These worldviews are a visceral part of us. Our identities are closely connected them, whether carefully crafted or inadvertent.

It seems that most of us have hard time seeing past our own worldviews, and I include the media in that generalized statement. I don’t exclude myself from that observation. I have to fight (myself) to maintain even a semblance of an open mind.

Consider the person who posts a slanted article with half-baked truths accusing Clinton supporters of violent protests, refusing to stand down after the people in the country have spoken. The truths are half-baked because there is some truth to the article, but there is always another side. There are other facts that paint a different picture, starting with the fact that most protests have been peaceful.

Some protests have turned violent and some fringe wingnuts have talked about urging electors to turn against Trump, concocting crazy plans for Clinton (or Bernie Sanders) to rise from the ashes of her defeat to take the White House and even advocating assassination. These people do not represent the vast majority of Clinton supporters, but the articles and the people posting them imply that all Clinton supporters are violent lunatics.

If you see this for what it is, don’t get smug because you might be tempted to go the other way, like one friend of mine who posted an article that has circulated the Internet about all the hate crimes that have been committed by white supremacists, Islamophobes and homophobes emboldened by Donald Trump’s rhetoric (repeated ad nauseum by most major news outlets and every fringe, liberal site).

Yes, those things are happening, and it’s disgusting, completely unacceptable and should be punished by the full force of law. But, it isn’t the whole story. These are fringe right wing wingnuts. There are wingnuts on both sides and even in the middle. These people don’t represent the majority of the people who voted for Donald Trump.

I feel like I should not be stating the obvious like this, but ….

Both sides are often saying the exact same things about the other candidate in the exact same words. One person says, “Blah, blah, blah, Clinton is a liar. The country will fall into ruins if she is elected president.” Another person says, “Blah, blah, blah, Trump is a misogynist. The country will fall into ruins if he is elected president.”

One person responds by saying, “You’re an idiot. No wonder you think that way. You’re getting your news from blah, blah source. They’re biased.” And the other responds, “You’re an idiot. No wonder you think that way. You’re getting your news from blah, blah source. They’re biased.”

And, they are both right… and both so wrong.

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canstockphoto0520825Sometimes I watch my Facebook newsfeed blow up with both sides saying the exact same things to their own particular audiences at the exact same times, and they are saying exactly opposite things.

Then comes the inevitable brave heart who tries to dissuade and persuade in the opposite direction, with a tone of incredulity that any thinking person could have said what was just posted, and the verbal war begins.

Neither will give an inch. Both are convinced they are right. Neither one can fathom that another person could have a different view. They spend an hour or maybe even an entire evening talking past each other before one gets tired of the charade and stops responding.

It always degenerates from some attempt to state facts and ends with references to “Killary” or racist. “Says you!”; “Says you!”; and sometimes something witty, but completely beside the point, is said, and a witty response is volleyed back, and both claim the high ground of the mud pit they just wrestled in.

On rare occasions, the conversation is polite, civil and respectful, but there is always someone out there ready to take it to the mud pit.

So, I’m thinking about these things after watching a videoed interview with Louis Farrakhan. It’s obviously edited. I might find that the tenor of it isn’t exactly what I thought, but reasonably convinced otherwise.

The title of the video (embedded below) is “Donald Trump – Black Muslims Support Trump”. The title is wrong. It’s misleading. But, that seems to be the norm these days. I did a little independent research and found a Politico article, “Louis Farrakhan Praises Donald Trump”. It seems the article is closer to the truth, stating, “Despite his commendation for the billionaire businessman, Farrakhan did not endorse him. ‘Not that I’m for Mr. Trump,’ he added, ‘but I like what I’m looking at.’”

But let’s consider the truth from the horse’s mouth, as reported at the finalcall.com, the online version of the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam founded by Louis Farrakhan himself:

“I never endorsed Mr. Trump or any of the candidates who are running for the nomination that would make them the leader of their party. I said of Mr. Trump that I give him credit as the only one who stood in front of ‘some’ members of the Jewish community and told them he did not need or want their money. This was very big because any man who is able to stand on his own is free enough to do what is in the best interest of the country. That is what I said and that is what I meant.

On another occasion, I said I liked what I am looking at because I felt he had a strength required of anyone who wished to save America, or move away the Wrath of Allah (God) plaguing not only America but the world with the forces of nature.

I could never endorse any candidate because not one of them is saying that which would save America from the Wrath of Allah (God).”

Though the video is edited, it is consistent with the tenor of Minister Farrakhan’s words to his own newspaper. Most of the video is of Farrakhan speaking, with some other video edited in to provide context and examples of what he is saying.

Yes, it’s true that Trump was supported by white supremacists. He also seems to have gained the admiration, praise and understanding of the leader of the Nation of Islam. You won’t find those two things in the same news report.

That’s because juxtaposing those two facts doesn’t fit the narrative of most news media, which is to slant the news one way or another. A friend of mine likes to claim that the “facts slant left”. Well, I admit that he is right, but only his facts slant left. I don’t mean that he has made any facts up. For the most part he hasn’t, but the facts he focuses on slant left. He has a hard time acknowledging or contextualizing facts that don’t slant his way, like most of us.

1960s style guy posing with circular glasses on vintage wallpaper background.

To be fair, we all have a hard time with that. But the health of our nation depends on learning to swallow the “good” facts with the “bad” facts and not giving in to the knee-jerk, visceral reaction we want to have. I dare say that the intellectual conservatives have no corner on the knee-jerk market compared to the liberal elite. There is more heat than fire in both camps.

What should go without saying is that news shouldn’t be about a narrative. In my opinion, the media is largely to blame for this knee-jerk world we live in, but also have to realize that they are also only giving us what we want.

We all need to take some responsibility to stop living in the echo chambers of our own design. Pick your poison. It’s still poison, and whatever those narratives are, left, right or other, we are in danger of extreme unbalance in this country. We already are extremely unbalanced – and I don’t mean tilting left or right (though you can get plenty of opinions on that); I mean unbalanced as in unhinged.

We have high school students crying about the election of Donald Trump largely because some people in the media have fed a hate narrative that has terrified them. We can deal as a country with truth, but half-truths will kill us. Freedom and democracy depend on vetting the truth and being willing to live with it.


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One thought on “Vetting the Truth in Our Echo Chambers

  1. Couldn’t agree more. As Iain McGilchrist shows in ‘The Master and His Emissary’ the left hemisphere is screening out the facts coming in through the senses and the right hemisphere. I tried to get this across in ‘Gliding with Black Swans’ – I think an important point.

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