Wissot: Opinions only matter when factual agreement matters
We are preparing to vote in the first full-blown “alternative facts” presidential election in our country’s history. We have completely ignored Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s wise counsel that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
I will be getting my facts from liberal friendly “lame” stream media outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC. Others of you will be receiving yours from “fair and balanced” sources like Trump’s Twitter account, Fox News, the Drudge Report, Breitbart News, or jumping Jehoshaphat, QAnon, whose secret mission is to save the world from “a satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals.”
The significance of this entry into an Orwellian world in which information, misinformation, disinformation collide is that we have lost all hope of using a common set of facts and a shared view of reality to resolve our political differences.
I bring all of this to your attention from my perspective as a columnist for this paper. My columns appear twice a month. I write to be read, not liked. I write to be read, not applauded. I write to be read, not to gain converts to my brand of politics.
I don’t get upset with readers who react to my columns with righteous indignation in the online conversations that follow their publication. Please be my guest and have at it. You have every right to flip me the bird with your words any time I ruffle your feathers. Thin-skinned columnists are in the wrong field.
Once I submit a column to the editor and he publishes it, I don’t get to respond to criticism of it. A column is not an invitation to a debate between columnists and readers. Readers who write letters to the editor always have the last word.
I wonder, however, if allowing our blood to boil in today’s world of hyperpartisan politics is worth the brain damage? So much of it is echo chamber noise. We are preaching to our own choirs without a snowball’s chance in hell of making headway with people from other unreceptive congregations. We might be better off chilling a bit and seeking refuge in quiet, meditative, spiritual contemplation.
More and more our opinions don’t matter to each other because they aren’t predicated on factual agreement. We are each living in our own private reality distortion fields. I learn about issues through the prism of Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams; others of you get your take on events courtesy of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. Planetary polar perspectives being broadcast to you from galaxies millions of miles apart.
We have become adept at cherry-picking our facts to coincide with our political predispositions. I see Black Lives Matter street gatherings as a bunch of predominantly Black and, to a lesser extent, white kids protesting sometimes fearful and sometimes vengeful cops killing young Black men they didn’t need to kill in order to detain or arrest them. Others see mob rule in the streets initiated by anarchists, arsonists, looters proving to them that defunding the police would lead to more of the same. Facts can be assembled to prove that both descriptions are partially true. But only one set of facts fits the narrative of the story we want others to believe.
I could run through a similar scenario when it comes to issues like climate change and voter fraud/voter suppression. But I won’t waste your time doing that. The point is that we respond to reality through our own moral hierarchy.
I’m more upset with social injustice than I am with civil disorder. A Black man being murdered by the police disturbs my moral compass more than a building being burned or a statue being desecrated. I value human life over human property. Others see the desecration of monuments and the destruction of buildings as an existential threat to the rule of law and the maintenance of civil society. This explains how two individuals can observe urban protests and come away with a vastly different emotional experience and a totally different perception of the problem and its solution.
We might be better off if we had a moratorium on all political discussion until after the election.
Then we could go about our normal business liking or disliking the results but no longer having a need to convince others of how wrong they really were and still are.
We might even find the time to talk to each other about all things unrelated to politics not as bickering partisans but as fellow Americans. If we can’t be civil enough with each other to do even that, we will be putting in jeopardy our pledge as citizens of the oldest democracy in the world that we settle our political differences using ballots and not bullets.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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