A Nation of Cranks?

We’ve become a nation of divided cranks. Too many of my friends have made up their mind about everything, dug in their heels, and either turned their face to the wall, as they say in hospice, or steeled themselves to fighting for their entrenched opinions.

If only we lived in a simple binary world of absolutes instead of in the complicated, nuanced world where some things can be true and false at the same time. We wouldn’t need all this troublesome education, reading, art, science, and conversation. We could just eat, drink, watch television, and give those who disagree with us the digital digit.

Friends send me anti-vax, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-religion, anti-wind, anti-hunting, anti-single-payer memes… the list is endless and covers the entire political spectrum. The only consistency is “anti.” But each of these “antis” is, in fact, a complex and nuanced subject, requiring application of reason, science, human story, and civil debate.

We’ve become too comfortable and lazy. Everything’s become a “pro – anti” binary stalemate and so our democracy grinds to a halt.

Colonialism and the flight of oppressed and starving populations have diversified and complicated our world. This was how our own country was founded. Traditional communities still had to reconcile diverse opinions but had the shared benefit of intimate community contact and a shared need for survival that required debate and solutions.

The digital world has wrought many benefits to science, education, business, and communication, but its impact on community has been less beneficial. We’ve ceded personal contact and the rough-and-tumble of debate to remote name-calling, ideological safe spaces, and anti – messaging that invites no rebuttal or debate and reinforces our own righteous ignorance.

But when we stop talking to one another, we stop learning. When we choose our news based on our politics, we learn nothing new. When we create emotionally safe spaces in our schools and colleges, our children stop learning. When we take opiates, our bodies die. When we merely entertain ourselves, our spirits die.

I lay this withered wreath not on the tomb of any political party but on our democracy at large. We are all guilty of intellectual laziness.

We should each find someone with whom we disagree and talk with them and listen to them. Whether they change our mind or re-enforce our own opinions, at least those opinions will be informed by debate.


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One Response to “A Nation of Cranks?”

This commentary has stayed with me since hearing it on VPR a few days ago. The points made have been very evident in the reporting of the firing of James Comey. It doesn’t matter what my political views are. For example it is very painful to listen to a CNN journalist interviewing Kellyann Conway. There is an absence of give and take, neither person is in any way mindfully listening to the other person. Rather each is lining up their next salvo. Maybe the PBS Newshour strives to do better than this.