Monday, July 21, 2014

The Democratic-Chronicles: We are forever blowing bubbles (life lesson No. 3)

From page A4 | April 30, 2014 |

We all tend to live in bubbles, most of our own making, either purposely or through inattention because we are more at ease with others of a like mind. Because bubbles are comfortable, warm and cuddly, we tend to read only publications and watch the news broadcasts that tend to reinforce our worldviews.

Is this wrong? It’s not that it is wrong; it’s dangerous because it leads us to ignorance. We are then ignorant of reality or what is actually happening around us — until the actual becomes so large or virulent that it threatens our health, our livelihood, our environment or even our very existence.

What I am suggesting is that we must step out of our comfort zone, on occasion, and listen to the other side. Does this mean tuning in to Glenn Beck, the self-proclaimed conservative rodeo clown, or buying one of Ann Coulter’s odious books? I prefer to listen to those conservatives who present ideas and conclusions that, while they may run counter to my own, do so in an intelligent and reasoned way. David Brooks, George Will or David Frum come to mind. But most certainly not the Pajama Media. These are the people sitting around in their bathrobes and slippers and disgorging streams of consciousness blather, which then take on the cast of truthiness (thank you Stephen Colbert for coining this wonderful word) because it is on the Internet.

And there is another reason for stepping outside our bubble. I have long believed that one cannot structure and defend a position in a vacuum for there is nothing to provide a reality check. It is akin to asking your spouse in the middle of a school play (where your kid is playing a tree) — “Are we having fun yet?”

This then brings up the concept of neutrality and how it is important to differentiate between the news and opinion pieces. In the opinion pages I expect, and want, reasoned opinion.

I was recently taken to task by several readers for showing bias when “educating people” via my column. My response was simple: First, this is an op-ed column, my opinion not news reporting; and second, nothing about an editorial piece allows the purposeful misstatement or twisting of fact. I draw the line at making up one’s own facts. And if they could show me where I had done so I would issue a retraction.

Should the absence of bias be a sine qua non of the reporting of the news? Shouldn’t the news be neutral and purely factual?

One can reasonably say that even if you tried to accomplish this neutrality, it is not an achievable goal. Bias creeps into not only the actual reporting of events, but which events are select to be reported. The decision of the editor as to what is important and/or interesting is based upon an inherent bias as much as the way the actual facts are presented within the article. Selection, emphasis and weight (the length of an article) all lead to, or stem from, bias.

And then we come to the issue of the interpretation of facts. Do reporters look at an event through their own lens? Of course, a reporter cannot be expected to only report on the events they actually see. They have to rely on the retelling of witnesses who did and thus, given the inevitable biases of the observers, the need for multiple sources.

With the proliferation of information literally forming a virtual tsunami and threatening to inundate us, how do we cope? What is true and what is suspect? How do we determine truth? How do we separate truths from half-truths?

Thankfully there are people and organizations that devote themselves to the unbiased assessment of truthiness. It is a constant irritation to me the number of supposed truths I get sent each day where the senders do not bother to fact check the premise.

Therefore the onus is on us. Someone much brighter than me once said, “We become slaves the moment we hand the keys to the definition of reality entirely over to someone else, whether it is an ideologue, a pundit, an economic theorist, a political party or FOX News.” OK, I added that last example.

Thus what we chose to read and watch leads to the construction and reinforcement of our bubbles. And for some, too much time in the bubble actually suppresses rational thought and turns their brain to Alpo. An unnamed Hollywood bigshot said, “We pay all this money for our kids to go to private school and they go and make friends with the scholarship kids.”

Gene Altshuler is a resident of Cameron Park and a community activist interested in economic development and local government.



Gene Altshuler



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