We are in a perilous place in our history. Where facts are considered unnecessary, debatable, or, in the words of a CNN political analyst, “elitist.”
Emotions, perceptions and prejudice rule in this new world where all institutions are suspect and where knowledge and expertise aren’t respected.
Columnist Thomas Friedman famously declared “the world is flat,” in his book of the same name. Unfortunately, far too many people also consider information flat, and thus all sources are deemed equally reliable.
A Facebook “friend” is as quotable as the New York Times. A pass-around email goes unchallenged.
After a soul-crushing week that featured two viral videos of questionable police shootings and the slaying of police officers in Dallas, it’s dispiriting to read in-depth media accounts of what happened. Not just because these tragedies are sad, but because we realize how little the facts will matter. People who instantly post their opinions are generally not amenable to correction. Instead, they dig in and defend a position that’s thin on facts and heavy on emotion.
In this new world where silence is called complicity, there is no time to gather one’s composure in an effort to collect the facts. Demands for apologies and denunciations are posted before investigations are complete and the facts are in. Protesters hit the streets. Knee-jerk pundits consider themselves to be the good guys. Everyone else is part of the problem.
Even before this horrible week, it had become increasingly difficult to engage in a civil discussion on any political topic. The premise of every discussion is challenged, because the facts are fungible.
This shows up in letters to the editor, which are becoming more challenging to edit. We use mainstream sources for confirmation. Many writers do not. We ask for civility, and get blasted for “political correctness.”
CNN analyst Jeffrey Lord, who isn’t pleased with the media fact-checking of Donald Trump’s whoppers, was roundly criticized for saying, “I don’t think people out here in America care. What they care about are what the candidates say.”
Maybe he’s right. Maybe in attempting to discern the truth, the media are merely irritating people who are comfortable with the “facts” filtered through preconceived notions.
Nonetheless, the media cannot waver. We do counsel patience. We do believe facts matter.
So, please, be wise consumers of information. Have the humility to suspend judgment and question your assumptions. This newspaper and most mainstream media sources correct their mistakes. Does your preferred source of information do that? If the truth mattered, they would.
The divisions in our society do seem to be insurmountable. Solutions seem out of reach. But we can police ourselves. We can challenge each other to find ways to engage in civil, rational discussions. We can respect the truth by raising the bar on the facts.
We can acknowledge that self-righteousness feeds divisiveness.
From there, maybe we can calm down, respect each other and introduce hope.
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