The other day I was marveling at how far out some of my friends have become. People I grew up with and thought of as relatively normal, went to their weddings and baby showers, invited to my own birthday parties, have become wild conspiracy theorists, uber woke, cancel culture proponents, flat-Earthers, climate change and Holocaust deniers, the list goes on and on. I tend to think everyone on both sides of the political spectrum are full of ish and therefore don’t believe anything simply because someone I agree with in some regards says it. So I’ve found it generally baffling how easily people are swayed to take one man/woman/political party’s word as truth and everyone else is lying for… reasons?
I generally assumed everyone was just stupid, incapable of critical thinking or any thinking at all; it’s easy to take someone else’s words at face value and go. Far harder to examine the why, how, and where. But lately I’ve been convinced these people are thinking critically, or at least they think they are.
You (Titania) are standing in the middle of a large field divided into two sections, Field A and Field B, separated by a large Line. Various individuals stand on the line; however, most people are somewhere in fields A and B. Some are close, some far away, some you cannot even see. Off in the distance, you vaguely make out the Forests Beyond the Fields. Everyone around you is talking about whether or not the sky is blue. Field A believes ithe sky isn not blue, Field B believes the sky is blue.
You have one foot on the Line and one foot in Field A, because you suspect the sky isn’t really blue (your parents, neighbors, most everyone you’ve grown up around all believe the sky isn’t blue), but you have some doubts after encountering a Blue-Sky-Believer who switched fields. Previously, you hadn’t given much thought as to why you believe the sky isn’t blue (maybe you were simply too young; maybe you never had a reason to question your beliefs), you just accepted it was The Way. But this position on the Line allows you to hear what evidence people on both sides are presenting.
One day, Jose from Field A says something and you strike up a conversation with him about the color of the sky.
Jose presents his case: the sky really isn’t blue, it merely appears that way but he’s willing to stand close enough to the line to hear what Field B is saying, in case there exists some evidence he hasn’t heard or considered. While some of his evidence is sketch, you mostly agree with Jose. It’s enough that you move off the Line and closer to Jose in order to chat with him more easily, planting yourself in Field A.
Soon, you strike up a conversation with Karen, who’s deeper into Field A. Karen too believes the sky isn’t blue and the Other Side is wrong. However, she’s not interested in doing any more research by moving further down the field. Karen is content to agree to disagree with Field B; their beliefs don’t affect her ability to have a relationship with them, even if she thinks they’re wrong.
You soon find yourself next to Karen, agreeing to disagree but firmer in your belief the sky isn’t blue. After all, you approached this topic with an open-mind, willing to hear what the other side had to say, but everyone you’ve talked to thus far only affirms your suspicions, even bringing up evidence to support their case.
One day, you hear things further down the field. Things like the sky is actually green or yellow and, being naturally curious, you want to get as close to the truth as possible. So you move further down the field, talking to various Yellow/Green-Sky-Believers. Most of them are like you, not sure about the color of the sky, but sure it isn’t blue.
Now, you may occasionally hear from Field B but at this distance their conversations are distorted, or unclear; you pick up a few words here and there from people who seem to be screaming, or you get information secondhand from people like Jose and Karen.
Eventually, you find yourself deeper into Field A, nearing The Forest Beyond A and you stumble across Sarai. Sarai not only believes the sky is green, but that Field B is intentionally withholding the truth about the color of the sky from everyone else. To Sarai, Field B must be exposed and silenced, so the truth can be revealed. Sarai also presents some compelling evidence: someone she knows has been up to the sky and personally seen that it’s green.
Not long ago, this would’ve sounded like a reach. After all, you were close enough to Field B to hear they aren’t concealing anything, rather they genuinely believe the sky is blue based on the evidence and experiences around them, just as you genuinely believe the sky isn’t. However, now you find yourself agreeing with Sarai. You’ve done the research; you’ve talked to numerous people in Field A, and formed an unbiased opinion of your own about the color of the sky. Furthermore, Sarai has planted the seeds of a Them vs. Us situation. It’s not just that Field B is wrong and everyone can agree to disagree, Field B is now directly at odds with Field A because they’re purposefully concealing information others deserve to know. It’s no longer enough to merely prove Field B wrong, they must be silenced in order to prevent more lies from being spread. Or at least, that’s what Sarai tells you during an emotional rant about why she doesn’t trust anything coming from Field B. After all, if they’re willing to lie about something like this, what else will they lie about?
To top it off, the people down here are loud. You can’t really hear what folks like Jose and Karen are saying anymore. All you hear is from those around you.
Soon you hear Screaming Bob who has one foot in Field A, one foot in The Forest Beyond A.
Screaming Bob is screaming to the heavens that the sky doesn’t exist at all. It’s an illusion, an image projected by those within The Forest Beyond B to hide the fact that the Jupiter is moving into Earth’s orbit and the end of humanity is at hand. Not only is Field B hiding the truth, they’re putting humanity in danger with their lies.
“It’s time to take up arms!” Screaming Bob says, his face growing red as spittle sails out his mouth. “And expose the truth by force before it’s too late. Humanity’s survival depends on it.”
Worried about the fate of humanity, you step closer to Screaming Bob who invites you inside the Forest to learn the truth. In the Forest, you can’t see Field B any longer, you can’t even see the Line or those like Jose and Karen, you can barely see Sarai.
This idea is nothing new, but thinking this way helped me realize it’s not that people are stupid or go from relatively normal to insane after listening to a single YouTube video, or sermon, or speech, or reading a single article. It’s a slow process of moving farther and farther away from opposing evidence until you find yourself in an echo chamber, where everything around you confirms what you already suspect. Folks genuinely believe they’re doing research and hearing correct, unbiased information but they’re merely seeking out information that confirms their beliefs, and people naturally seek out information that confirms what they already believe, hence the talking to Jose first.
Woke cancel culture doesn’t help either, because it essentially ostracizes those who express problematic, unpopular beliefs, forcing them to align with those who will accept them because it’s the only place their voice will be heard. And often those who accept them are overly radical and aggressive, like Bob.
Modern media only flames this divide, further pushing people towards one field or the other. Scrolling through Fox or CNN, we can see the language used to describe Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (or anything/anyone political).
Language evokes a certain feelings. The word dangerous used by Fox forces the reader to approach the article with a certain opinion. The reader automatically assumes whatever she’s saying is harmful, probably confirming their own beliefs about her. Likewise, using the phrase “brutal truth” as CNN does implies whatever she’s saying is true, even if harsh, and thereby something we need to hear. Again, this likely only confirms whatever that reader already believes about her (if you read Fox or CNN, it’s pretty obvious where you stand on the political scale lol). At this point, what AOC said or didn’t say doesn’t matter. Based on the headline alone, you will automatically assume her words are harmful or worthwhile, and be unable to unbiasedly determine if what AOC says has any merit at all because her words have already been filtered through a certain lens, that views her either favorably or unfavorably without allowing us to judge her words for what they actually are.
Truth filtered through a lens is still distorted. Better to listen to one another, rather than form opinions using research that confirms what we think the other side believes. The best research is to learn what contradicts your own beliefs and how evidence that supports your beliefs stand up to it. If your beliefs hold firm in the face of factual evidence that contradicts it, it may be time to acknowledge those views aren’t based on anything besides personal feelings.
To end this post of meaningless ramblings no one will read, we would all benefit from not allowing the media, or anyone, to bias us against those who hold vastly different views from us, but to listen and hear what they’re saying and why they feel the way they do. If we stand on the line and talk with those on both sides, we’ll likely find we all have a lot more in common than we think we do.