Sunday, January 1, 2017

Echo Chamber

Living in an Echo Chamber is living among folks who have the same thoughts, opinions and beliefs as you do.  Neighborhoods tend to homogenize over time; most neighborhoods become of one mind over important things as most neighborhoods belong to a single demographic, be it economic class, social class, religion, ethnicity, education, etc.  Similarly, most neighborhoods tend to become overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican, overwhelmingly conservative or liberal.  So, with regard to where we live, most of us live in an Echo Chamber.  Naturally so, but without malicious intent!  For much the same reasons, it is often true of where we work that we live in an Echo Chamber.

But living in an Echo Chamber does not begin to create real mischief until we consciously – and with malicious intent – choose to surround ourselves with folks who have the same thoughts, opinions and beliefs.  The folks I am talking about here are the newspapers that we read, the web sites that we frequent, and the TV and radio stations that we listen to, especially for news and commentary.  When a conservative Republican listens to Fox News as his only source of news, when a liberal Democrat listens to NPR and MSNBC as his only source of news, it is then that we can truly say that he lives in an Echo Chamber.  People who swear by Fox News or NPR or MSNBC have figured out what is good and just and true, and they aren’t about to begin listening to anyone else who thinks different (for some, it has real physical consequences, it does make some people ill).  Such a person will, of course, defend his choice of news source by claiming it is the only way he can get the truth.  But his counterpart from the other major political party says the same thing, and they can’t both be right (but they can both be wrong).  They both prefer the “truth,” but with a serious slant in their direction.  The reason that we have so much partisan news these days is because the people have demanded it, they like their news to justify their biases, it makes them feel good to be right.  (News reporting suffers from less partisanship on the networks than on cable.  And there is always C-Span.)

I recognize people’s normal desire to live among their own kind, right down to their political ideology.  But how they choose to be informed about the big wide world is another matter entirely.  I believe that it is a waste of our God-given intelligence to listen only to those who speak what we already believe.  It is low energy never to be challenged, it is low-energy always to be in the right, where what is right for us has not changed since we left high school.

Living in an Echo Chamber allows one to suspend one’s critical faculties, allows one not to think.  Thinking is hard work.  Indeed, thinking burns calories.  How else explain the obesity epidemic in America?  Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar said: “Let me have men about me that are fat, sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.  Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”  We need more lean men who, like Cassius, think too much, as we think too little these days.

Ever since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican party has been fractured over what it believes, and ever since the collapse of the foreordained presidency of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party has been fracturing the same.  Donald Trump, a man with no coherent political ideology whatever, has added impetus to the fracturing of what beliefs go with what other beliefs.  If you are a Republican, listen to the Greens for a while; if you are a Democrat, listen to the Libertarians for a while.  Both of these minority parties have political ideologies that are more consistent, more coherent, than their major party brethren.  Beside the fact that some of what they believe is certifiably crazy, you will be surprised at how much you have in common with your ideological enemies.  And you might learn something new.  Breaking out of your own Echo Chamber will introduce you to a new world of critical thinking, which is what our Founding Fathers demanded of all of us, isn’t it?  Break free of your Echo Chamber for a while.  Can it hurt?  You can always go back to being right all the time if you don’t like really listening to someone else.