Let’s End Trendy News: A Call for Pluralism in Our Media

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Let’s End Trendy News: A Call for Ideological Pluralism in our Society

Authors: Kelli A. Collins & Nicodemus Hilaire
Editor: Nicodemus Hiliare
12 September 2016

“Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish
that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth
cooking and eating. I will not trouble you with that thought now, though if you look carefully you
may find it for yourselves in the course of what I am going to say.”
Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”

During the 2014-15 school year a student at Reed College questioned whether rape culture
exists. He wanted to know what the term meant, as well as whether credible statistics proved
that the prevalence of rape and sexual assault could accurately be called a “culture.” For asking
these questions, he became a social pariah. He was called “a rape apologist, “sexist,” and
“bipolar.” Community petitions circulated online demanding that he be disciplined and expelled
for his statements. Buzzfeed even covered it. He was shortly kicked out of the college. He was
also black. I often wonder why public discussions on the controversy, especially those in the
name of social justice, did not consider the issue of stigma around mental illness and the way it
intersects with race and poverty. If college is supposed to help people grow intellectually, why is
it often used to ostracize ideological dissidents? Many of those I knew personally at Reed applaud
the principles of intellectualism and critical thinking, and they also frown on McCarthyism as a
dark night for free speech. And yet, these same people tried to silence a person for asking
questions about their ideologies. In doing so, they practiced a dangerous anti-intellectualism
that threatens the institutions of free speech and debate in America today.
What type of justice does not come from truth? How can one sincerely claim to want social
justice if they are opposed to conversations that seek to understand important issues to their full
extent? Tragically, we as a society only advocate for the “truth” that furthers our own agendas.
We ignore facts that threaten those “truths” by writing them off as inferior by way of allegedly
deficient morality. In all actuality, real virtue cannot be limited to one singular ideology; instead,
various ideologies express equally valid virtue in different ways.

Some people try to defend their values only by way of moralizing or virtue signaling. They seek
not to support their ideals through reasoning and argumentation, but by name calling and
intellectual singularism that rejects the very principles of responsible journalism. These people
use morally righteous rhetoric to deflect public debate because those questions might harm their
narratives of what’s good, bad, true, and untrue. I once expressed to a friend that I see great
need for responsible public debate in our country. He responded, “You can’t do that! Not unless
it’s done in private!” He thought that exposing uneducated republicans to such debate would
give way to unfavorable leaders and policies. But how could a fact shy from criticism if it were
truly a fact? The only thing that should fear truth is falsehood. Thus truth must be made visible,
fully understood by all, if it is to better our world. The argument that would rather shy from
debate by slinging adjectives than engage thoughtfully with its criticism, when employed by a
great many people, quickly gives way to tyranny.

Media led the way to our society’s collective intellectual impotence, signaling for us to express
outrage at certain injustices and failing to report on others. We signaled back to the media by
putting our profile pictures through French flag filters and announcing “#PrayforParis” instead of
seeking out information on the international state of affairs. We have gotten so caught up in
blaming other people for our problems that we forgot we were the ones who created them.

This prevalent anti-intellectualism is not a random phenomenon. In fact, I’d argue that nothing
ever is. As a scholar of history I know two things for certain: context defines reality, and reality
cannot be fully understood without knowing what historical circumstances led to current
conditions. What we perceive now to be the state of affairs is nothing more than a grotesque
byproduct of all the earth has ever endured. We can trace the origins of this catastrophe back
millennia if we want to, but perhaps we should start with recent history. Perhaps we should start
with Facebook.

Facebook is one of America’s primary media outlets. It is essentially a hub wherein personal
social networks intersect with mainstream news, which intersects with things like political
campaigns and also corporate marketing. Because media both shapes and reflects public
opinion, Facebook contains a unique social power worth examining.

Facebook trained us to seek approval not based on who we are or even how we appear, but by
the things that we say and the ideologies we spout. This applies largely to political issues. The
masses no longer find it important to be respectable individuals or d o anything noble. Sure,
there are a few outliers, but by and large the most important thing for many people is to make
popular, widely approved remarks (at least within whichever sphere of identity they’ve chosen to
team up with.) In today’s society, paying lip service to a reasonable ideal is tantamount to
yesterday’s valor. We have forgotten the importance of real character and integrity, the causes
and consequences of which we can see every day scrolling through things like the 9.6k
misspelled comments under CNN’s polished piece mocking Donald Trump’s toupee.
The majority of my 700 Facebook “friends” evidently care more about the way their statements
are perceived than about the content of their ideals and opinions. I attribute this solely to the
“like button” phenomenon which trains people to derive value from the quantity of approval they
receive. The quality of that approval couldn’t matter less to the people who have bought into this
mentality. If Jesus himself liked their status, but he was the only one to like it, they wouldn’t
blink. They would still prefer 25 likes from morally bankrupt acquaintances. This trend has
intensified and accelerated group think in our society as well as ultra-nationalistic egotism on
larger political scales.

After the DNC Wiki-Leaks disaster in July 2016, the Democratic Party virtually split in half, and
through Facebook we were able to watch its seams burst open in real time. Convinced that the
DNC had conspired with the Clinton campaign to oust Bernie Sanders, a group of former
“Bernie Bros” (shortly known as progressives) cried out in a massive uproar. They were upset
not only because they thought their party welcomed corruption, but because many of the people
they had called political allies were bashing them online for speaking out about the injustices
they perceived.

As a Bernie supporter and Hillary critic, I was among the minority to initially participate in this
conflict via social media. As the controversial Facebook threads grew longer, two disturbing
things became clear to me: many Clinton supporters were entrenched in a hysterical mob
mentality because of the media’s excessive fear mongering and villainization of Donald Trump,
and that hysteria made them desperate to take an immediate concrete stance in favor of Clinton
by slandering critics to silence them. While the progressives wanted an open debate about their
party’s shortcomings, arguing that we had several months to deliberate before the election,
mainstream democrats feared that such discussions would tip the scale toward Trump. These
democrats defended their hysteria by alleging anyone who criticized Clinton was guilty of
excessive “privilege” and a lack of concern over the plight of American minorities and
immigrants. In turn Clinton critics felt silenced, and so they marched out of the DNC waving
flags that read “DemExit.”

The party’s split was less an ideological disagreement than a clash over methods of public
debate. The progressives wanted transparency and an honest critical inquiry into the state of
the Democratic Party as well as answers to why and how the DNC got away with “stealing” the
election from Bernie. We took our questions to the public sphere, asking what the party’s larger
interests were and which corporate and government entities gave it the power to get away with
election rigging. We wanted to know how deep into our system the corruption permeated, and
we were determined to fight it at all necessary costs. That we wouldn’t cower to fearmongering
and immediately decide to vote for the “lesser evil” got us smeared by the media and even our
own friends and family. Once we left, the democratic party lost tremendous power and
influence. This angered party loyalists, exacerbating the hysteria tenfold.
If others would have engaged responsibly and critically with our questions, joining with us to
seek out truth and justice, perhaps we could have come to common ground. Perhaps we could
have emerged from the crisis a stronger, more unified party. But in this instance, people gave
into an impulsive divisiveness that destined our next POTUS to be one of two “evils.” I still
wonder whether this conflict would have transpired without the massive scope and influence of
social media. And I wonder whether the people who belittled me for criticizing the Clinton
campaign, arguing that change has to come “from the bottom up,” actually intend to work for
that change when the time comes. I wonder if they really care about fighting for justice, or
whether they’re only really interested in posting more politically correct Facebook statuses that
will receive substantial numbers of “likes.”

I use Facebook as a case study here because I find its basic networking model to be worth
significant study and of potential utility moving forward. Particularly, I find value in the way it
connects people directly, voice to voice, to form larger national and global networks. Fox News,
for instance, used to yield a lot of influence when it was the only real media source that
conservative families consumed. But when you have Fox as just one of many Facebook
accounts operating within the same platform, the people who worshipped Glenn Beck as 18
year olds are now in their 40s, forced to read the plethora of public banter surrounding each Fox
article that’s shared. While 15 years ago the headlines may have briefly mentioned the DNC
scandal, this year we witnessed its controversy permeate throughout our own personal social
networks. What results from Facebook’s scope is people’s exposure to a broader variety of
perspectives, which in itself contains more power than Fox could ever dream.
The future of dignified journalism is in exposing people to this variety of opinion. Traditionally,
this type of journalism leads to responsible public debate, which has been widely regarded
throughout democracies since at least Ancient Greece. Shining light on issues from various
perspectives affords us the opportunity to understand events in greater depth and with greater
accuracy. Over the last decade we’ve had the opportunity to carry out responsible public debate
through Facebook, but we fell short of those ideals because we were too entrenched in a
competitive social mentality. This mentality is reflected in things like the media promoting body
image issues because it drives sales, as well as people jumping to scapegoat politicians and
bash their supporters instead of genuinely seeking to understand issues comprehensively.
Before we start a war, we should consider the perspectives of those who that war will affect.
Even if we hate Russia, Russians still have a valuable perspective on international affairs that
we have a duty to consider before taking any hostile action. Through this exact same logic, we
can argue why it’s important to hear the perspectives of Latino immigrants before reforming
immigration policy. Instead of calling Trump supporters “racist and sexist,” Stein supporters
“conspiracy theorists,” and Clinton supporters “sheep,” we should engage in cross-cultural
debate that considers the substance of each side’s argument. If you only choose the former,
you’re helping create a society that does not have the capacity to actually think. When we make
comments not to speak, but to silence critics as a way to signal our self-proclaimed
virtue to others, we fight in favor of ignorance and stomp out critical thought.

To create a mainstream media that publicizes a diversity of opinion, we must commit ourselves
to sharing and consuming information in a way that values intellectual pluralism. We must seek
to understand the perspectives of others in the spirit of a dialectical approach to communication.
This approach does not allow for the black and white thinking that cowers to Hillary from fear of
Trump or vice versa. To embrace true debate, you must accept that two opposing opinions
can both contain truth while also both containing falsehood. We can only come to better our
society and world if we embrace this open mindset. If we step away from the narrow-minded
popularity contest that treats politics like a middle school student body election and start
considering others’ arguments in earnest, we will have a chance to begin collaborating and stop
group think from justifying another world war. But as long as we would rather receive 100 likes
from strangers than seek out actual truth and meaning through ethical intellectual collaboration
with others, we will continue to destroy this planet.

My goal is to inspire others to produce and consume information critically and encourage a
more comprehensive, holistic social mindset by influencing the media to operate in a more pluralist manner. In turn this mindset can help shape our narratives into something more genuinely
committed to truth seeking, and thus more mutually beneficial. While publications like Humans
of New York claim to work for this same ideal, I find it ironic that they recently published multiple
pieces promoting Hillary Clinton, yet did not pay the same courtesy to other presidential
candidates.

Just like a politician derives their power from the masses and respective viewership makes
some media outlets more influential than others, creating a shift toward a more intellectually
pluralistic society requires an increasing portion of that society to be committed to upholding the
ideals of responsible, dignified journalism. This concept is the core of the “bottom up” approach
to reform. We can bash Trump and Hillary all we want, but in order for our world to see real
progress, every one of us must commit to personal accountability. Positive widespread media
reform requires that each of us ask ourselves why we support the politicians and causes we do,
and how we came to hold our beliefs. It asks us to listen to other people’s perspectives not so
that we can feel comfort in belonging to numbers by mocking this or that politician, but so that
we can come to see issues for what they are instead of what we want them to be. It asks us to
consider what part we have played in the problems we experience instead of jumping to blame
others for them. Anything short of this approach is harmful, because it begets anti-intellectualism
in our society, whether or not it’s dressed in socially conscious language.

When we spread information, we shape people’s opinions about what is true and what is not
true. This in turn creates their assumptions about what is good and what is bad. The people who
bash Muslim Americans for fear of terrorism actually believe that this discrimination is morally
justified because of the information they have been exposed to, just like the people who
scapegoated the Reed student for asking questions about rape culture thought that they were
upholding virtuous ideals the information they considered true somehow justified this silencing
in their minds. If we want our arguments about morality to be rooted in valid information, we
must be open to information from various perspectives, and we must judge this information on
its logical merits not the popularity of its source. Just because something is widely accepted as
true does not make it virtuous or even valid. If we learn anything from our country’s history of
slavery or the German holocaust of the 20th century, it should be to always question not only
our government, but the way popular narratives play into justifying large scale oppression.
Unless we step out of the mob mentality that regards scapegoating Donald Trump higher than
working to end local and global injustice, we will be destined to repeat these egregious historical
errors until we learn our lesson as a humanity.

If you choose to embrace intellectual pluralism, it will shine through in your behavior, and you
will stand out. People might not like you at first, but eventually society will catch on. This
widespread exposure to and consideration of diverse ideas will also foster empathy between
people, cultures, and worlds. It will lead to international cooperation and justice on a large scale.
The rate at which this transformation manifests is completely in our hands. Perhaps as soon as
2020, leaders like us will be up for public election. Leaders like us will lead the media industry.
And together, we can create a world in which alternative perspectives are not silenced, but
rather embraced in a larger quest for understanding and peace.

***In the spirit of dialecticism I’m currently seeking to connect with and hear the perspectives of
those who are also passionate about influencing methods of information sharing and
consumerism. Please contact me if you wish to express an opinion or desire to collaborate in
any capacity:

To set up a one hour life coaching or romance reading with Nicodemus Hilaire please click here.

                                                                                                  NicodemusHilaire@gmail.com
Kelli Collins                                                                                             FB: Nico Hilaire
Snapchat: @kelliannco                                                      Ask Nico FB: Ask Nico Facebook
WeChat: kelliannco                                                             AskNico.net

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