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Echo Chambers

In which I may just piss off all of my readers … but why have a blog if I can’t say what I think.

According to Wikipedia, the modern day equivalent of Encyclopedia Brittanica, an echo chamber is “a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an ‘enclosed’ system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.”

I always wonder if I might be guilty of romanticizing the past when I think about today, but it seems to me that years ago, there was a generally accepted and common narrative that people around which people formed their opinions and political views.  While cities had competing newspapers which may have been written from the “right” and the “left,” the reality is that people still had somewhat of a common set of “facts” and information upon which they relied.  Similarly, with the nightly news there was generally a common narrative.

While there were occasional breaks from that common narrative — Father Coughlin, for instance — the commonality generally dominated how information and news was presented to the masses.  I think the reason is that the old ways of communicating things were difficult to maintain, difficult to reach large masses of people regularly and consistently.  And because the of the time involved in communicating information, people were patient in their opinions.

I don’t want to make this sound like the olden days (don’t you just love that phrase) were something akin to paradise.  People like Father Coughlin were occasionally able to break through the common narrative.  The Red Scare and McCarthyism.  There were times when the common narrative broke down and forces of intolerance and ignorance threatened order and stability.  And most importantly, the constitutional principles this country was founded on.

The internet of all things has changed the dynamic.  We now live in a world where there isn’t a common narrative.  Instead, we have become a world, a nation, of echo chambers.  The internet, which could have been such a powerful force for education and advancement, has instead become a tool for the propagandists among us.  On both sides.  The political discussion has become a dueling battle from silos walled off from each other.

The only variable in that definition of echo chamber that doesn’t exist on the internet is “enclosed.”  Nothing on the internet is enclosed.  It is a free for all.  And everybody has a voice.

The problem is that everybody is gravitating towards the echo chamber that fits what they already think they think.  The right has theirs — National Review, PowerLine, RedState.com, Weekly Standard, Newsmaxx, Fox, and many others.  The left has theirs — Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Mother Jones, and many others.  The right would suggest that CNN and the rest of the “mainstream media” are a part of the echo chamber on the left.  I’ll leave that particular issue for others to decide.

If you read these websites, in particular the comments, you will see that there is no common narrative.  Instead, there are two different narratives, two different sets of facts that are driving people’s perspectives these days.  And what bothers me about the dynamic is that neither side is willing to give the other any credit, any consideration, any opening to begin a dialogue that can bridge the vast chasm that exists between the echo chambers.  Neither side has any willingness to consider the validity of the other side.  Neither side.

Which brings us to this year’s Presidential election, now just ten days away.  I’m in a somewhat unusual situation.  A lifelong Democrat.  I won’t be voting for my party’s nominee.  I did this once before in 2000.  I couldn’t stand Al Gore.  During the primary he engaged in what I thought was nasty campaigning against Bill Bradley, a man who seemed to be a rare breed — a good and honorable politician.  I’ll never forgive Gore for his actions during that primary season.  I didn’t vote for him.  I didn’t vote for anybody that year.

Once George W. Bush was elected and he did what he did, I swore I would never make that mistake again.  And here I am.  I will not be voting for Donald Trump and I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton.

Here’s what I would like to say to both sides of this discussion.  On the right, I see that you simply cannot understand how anybody could vote for Hillary Clinton.  I get it.  You think she and her husband are part of a criminal syndicate designed to do nothing other than fill their bank accounts.  I get that you think she has late stage Parkinson’s (although you apparently have never bothered to explore the symptoms of late stage Parkinson’s).  I get that you believe Bill is a serial rapist/misogynist, and that Hillary has not only turned a blind eye to that aspect of her husband’s character but also may have helped damage some of his victims.  I get that you believe that the Clintons represent the truest form of political corruption in this country.

To my friends on the left, I hear you.  Donald Trump is the most unqualified candidate in the history of this country.  He assaults women.  He denigrates pretty much everybody.  His business successes are far from it.  He is a charlatan.  A fascist.  A no-nothing blowhard.  Electing Trump would be a catastrophe of epic proportions.  I am right there with you.

But here’s the deal.

The people who occupy the right-wing echo chamber have some valid points.  Not that Trump is the better candidate, and not that Hillary and her husband are the root of all that is evil in the world.  I don’t buy into most of the allegations made about the Clintons over the years, but there is some truth to the overall sense that they are trying to have their cake and eat it too.  No matter the quality of Hillary’s resume, there are other things that matter when electing a President.  Honesty, integrity, character.  I’ve never been convinced since Bill left office that Hillary passes those tests.  The $150 million they personally made giving speeches to special interest, along with the interplay between their Foundation and foreign countries and others that wanted their influence … well, it just stinks, as far as I’m concerned.

My point is this … the idea that Hillary Clinton should not be elected President, just as you believe Trump should not be elected, is actually a real and valid concern.  The complete disregard for the right-wing perspective … is … essentially comparable to their complete disregard for your views on Trump and his unelectability.  Where does this all end?  In complete division and a never-ending cycle of crap thrown by each side at the other.

Get out of your damn echo chamber and listen to the other side.  Consider that the other side may have some valid points.  Find a way to get back to a common narrative, a common set of facts.  Hillary doesn’t have late stage Parkinson’s.  Donald Trump is not the devil incarnate.

 

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