Leave Your Bubble, Dammit.
Recently I read an op-ed published by a colleague about a hot button issue today: the validity of Greek life on college campuses. While I shared their opinion on the issue, after reading the article I admit that I was unconvinced of our stance. Nevertheless, I watched over the next few days as mutual friends and likeminded strangers cheered him on through social media and in the publication’s comment section. Not a dissenting opinion in sight. The issue in question is a highly contentious topic on campuses across the country, and yet in our overlapping media bubble I saw no one objecting to the argument.
This morning, during my daily news binge, I was struck by the number of reports, analyses, and op-eds pouring out of professional media outlets that followed the same trend. Writer after writer would report in their respective slant; liberal publications indulging their respective constituents, conservative media outlets trumpeting their own style of self-satisfying clickbait.
None of these writers/thinkers/influencers seemed to have any interest in speaking to someone who did not share their opinion wholeheartedly. Never was there acknowledgement of, let alone appeal to, a divergent opinion. This type of writing is good for emotional appeals and stroking the collective ego of one’s subscribers, but it is also intellectually lazy and discourages critical thinking.
I understand that there are often strong economic incentives for media to pander a base, and that every editorial team has its own biases and preferences. These factors do not absolve a writer or publication from engaging with the wider reality around them. For Fox News or Breitbart to act shocked and horrified that any American could even consider voting for Hillary Clinton is to be delusional of how most Americans think. The sheer disbelief exhibited by publications such as CNN, The Guardian, and The Economist in their coverage of Trump, Brexit, and anti-globalist populism revealed a lack of understanding about the reality and opinions of the average Westerner. Similarly, fraternity brothers and social justice warriors on college campuses act as if anyone who does immediately resonate with their worldview is an apostate, undeserving of their education and place in the university.
I suppose my biggest issue with this trend is that it negates any reason for writing in the first place. When publishing a piece, you are sharing ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Thus, it is important, vital even, to have a discourse about those thoughts. This is especially true when discussing hotly contested issues, such as gun control, racism in the United States, solving climate change, or the 2016 election. No viewpoint or issue should be above discussion, even if you feel that your side is obviously in the right.
Nothing productive will come of emotionally appealing to your base. During this year’s election we’ve watched as Donald Trump rode a wave of rabid, fervent support from Americans who were devoted to his vision. Unable to adapt that vision to a wider audience, or even acknowledge that other legitimate perspectives exist, he now flounders and is expected to lose the election in a landslide. The same will be the fate of any individual or group who think that they can preach to the choir without ever addressing the congregation.