“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
While recently browsing an editorial magazine I was frustrated that the content of each piece echoed the theme expressed in the surrounding pieces. The inverse of the arguments presented was as clear as day, it’s just that nobody bothered to defend the opposing position. Instead, the reader was subjected to confirmation bias reinforcing drivel that traps the reader in an inescapable echo chamber. More often than not this is what the American citizen is subjected to when consuming the modern-day press. And given the near-complete cultural hegemony enjoyed by the left spectrum of corporate media, it goes almost exclusively in one direction. Should the reader seek out an alternative right-wing opinion, it can be found. But try to share the sentiment and you may find yourself the subject of cancel culture ire or suppression. One of the many benefits of the local press is that in some regards we still understand that readers are real people and not faceless enemies to be dehumanized.
This cancel culture in part explains why the right spectrum tends to elevate the more bombastic leaders in the modern political discussion, i.e. the Marjorie Taylor Greene’s and Donald Trump’s of the world. It’s not that conservative politics have shifted hard right, so much as the message deliveries of these types command attention. It takes a certain lack of cares-to-give to push back against the corporate media machine. Both Taylor Greene and Trump are independently wealthy and entered office with some hard-line positions, so they aren’t beholden to donors and their voters haven’t been caught off guard. Your average CNN viewer is often outraged at certain sentiments or actions by one of these two because when every political molehill has been made into a mountain, the barometer for rational thought gets out of calibration. And for their part, the left spectrum is not without their bombastic representatives as well; just look at any congresswoman of “the squad”. The difference of course being who holds the microphone and thus controls the narrative surrounding them.
Sometime around the advent of 24/7 cable news, information became infotainment. For most of my 40 years on this planet, that has been the state of corporate media. It used to be that every town employed a local newspaper and many regions employed several major publications that gave juxtaposing viewpoints on contemporary affairs. In 1923 there were 503 two-newspaper towns. By 2003 that number had declined to 24. That was the most recent number I could find, but with the decline of print news and the consolidation of the press, that number has likely only continued to decline. That’s not to say the rise of digital print and independent journalism has been a net negative for diversity in viewpoints, but with the consolidation of ownership in the press came control of approved thought and messaging that users have access to. And when the public found that they could disseminate their message and bypass the corporate press utilizing social media, Big Tech worked in cahoots to silence the insurgent independent press. It was in bypassing the corporate press that Donald Trump was able to get elected in the face of 95% negative coverage, and it was in suppressing the independent press and investing directly in manipulating local elections that Big Tech was able to overthrow him.
In a college design course, I was tasked with building a balsa wood bridge from a single length of balsa wood. My design would be pitted against my peers to determine who built the best structure. I stayed up late researching which bridge was considered to be the strongest pound-for-pound design. I settled on a trestle design. I drew out my design to exact specifications given the length of wood that I had to work with, and then I went to work meticulously cutting and gluing pieces. By the end of the night, I had created a beautiful and dense bridge that would surely impress the instructor and peers of my engineering prowess. Just as I had expected, the instructor and classmates marveled at what I had built from a single length of balsa wood. We placed bets on whose bridge would support the most weight, and my trestle design easily carried the vote. My turn came to support the weight of bricks placed across the structure, and I watched as the bricks began piling up. A short while later and the audible crack of wood pierced the room. Like a referee breaking up a heavyweight bout, I ran in to stop the fight. I was well short of the project record, and rather than watching hours of work destroyed under the weight of bricks, I conceded defeat.
The point of this story is that you can have the best prepared and designed idea on the planet. You may even carry consensus among your peers that your ideas are most appropriate for the task at hand, and believe that you have the moral imperative. It is only in testing ideas against others that you find out whether or not your idea stands up to scrutiny. And just like in balsa wood bridge building, public discourse demands competing ideas and scrutiny. We must be bold, confident, and rational, and we must not be bullied into silence in the public sphere. On matters of public policy, let no idea go unchallenged.
“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert