We need to talk. And I’m gonna do this one in English, because we all need to talk and, for now, this is the lingua franca.
It is the 10th of November, 2016. Things look grim to a whole lot of people. Our children have come home from school this year having been explained that a bomb had exploded near mom’s work, what Brexit means and, yesterday, that the smugly grinning gentleman that popped up on every screen in the house whenever one went on is the new (I swear) mayor. Talking about a global village. I have cried every time.
But then again, there really is a to-do list, and I don’t believe it’s entirely Michael Moore’s.
First of all, I do not think the solution is less democracy „
because people are stupid”, as some are starting to ventilate. We are all stupid to some degree, it’s not a +/- value. The solution is better democracy. And for better democracy, we need to fix something vital.
At all times, people have been ill-informed. Nobody knows every aspect of how government works, even while working in government, as hardly anyone even knows how their own appliances work; nobody takes perfectly rational decisions, because nobody sees every angle of a story and we all are prey to tons of reasoning fallacies. In this particular instance, half of the American planet bought into a story of fearing the corrupt left-claimed elite that only preserves privilege for itself and destroys the economy (Romanian friends, does this by any chance sound familiar and have you or have you not voted for pretty much everything except Vadim in order to keep that from happening?), while the other half bought into a story of fearing potential destruction of fundamental liberal values and democracy itself (which, you may tell me, is documented with more on-tape evidence – except it is still a story about fear). Early this summer, but actually over the years, half of Britain bought into a story of a big bad wolf out there stealing their money, telling them how to live and sending them the least desirable of people to drain their perfect system, while the other half bought into a story of becoming completely bankrupt as a result of breaking up (which, funnily, was labeled Project Fear). One could say that these deep divisions are an extreme consequence of political two-party systems. But then again, the two party-systems have existed before, the difference of opinions about how to go about doing things and the balancing of interests has worked before. Why does it seem so final now?
The thing that has grown and that we have not been able to sort out with democratic mechanisms is the toxic combination of internet and media. And the toxic element is the illusion of „
free ” (in both senses).
The things I have read during both these campaigns confirmed each other at an enormous (and, I now realise, alarming) rate. At the same time, every time I have tried to consume media that the other side was reading, it seemed impossible – the degree of disgust when I even opened a site made me shut myself off, try to protect myself. „
How can people buy this crap???” was the constant reaction. But the thing is, they don’t. And yet they do. That is, we don’t pay for the information, but we do buy into the content. And while a part of us sit and ponder at the vile untruths written by Murdoch’s media empire, thinking we understand what the end political game is in shaping opinions about climate change not existing, because we can surely follow the money, we conveniently feel less critical of the mogul owning the media we ourselves consume. Or, should I say, that we are locked into.
Because the thing is, as long as we accept that we are the product of the media, as long as the business model is that we have to buy into the story so that advertisers can target us, and as long as the media are not accountable to us (as consumers, market-wise) or to any public good (as a public service, state-wise), but to the money that pays for its existence, we don’t even have the thin film of a consumers protection or of legal action to keep us from the cannibalization. And as far as self-regulation goes, journalism ethics appears to have gone out the window a while ago in much of the big business (while the nonsensical little outlets proliferate without any oversight). As long as we maintain the model of freedom of expression without modifying the financing system and we do not build enough independent outlets that can make sense of data and facts that we cannot make sense of by ourselves, the few poles of influence will continue to play one another with us as dedicated, extremely (though one-sidedly) informed, ever more hysterical and despondent pawns. Our opinion gets shaped and then just mirrored to us with the bits of reality that fit the bill for it to seem consistent with our narrative.
What is the last time you have changed your mind about something? We are increasingly incapable of seeing what others are seeing in their locked bubble, we distrust the competing message to such a degree that we shut our ears (and so do the others, if you are still wondering „
how have we gotten here?”). People are not voting in spite of the facts, as it has been said a lot this year. They are voting, and making general life decisions, based on mistrust of anything presented as a fact by the other side, which should feel recognizable. It is not that a side is sane and the other isn’t, although it may feel that way wherever you are positioned. It is also not that one side is informed and the other ignorant, though both cast this accusation lightly. We have probably all consumed more media this year than in the course of entire lives (which proves that the fear and anger stories are extremely lucrative for the established outlets, and politics will surely provide all the necessary puppets for them to go on, because it’s a mutually beneficial deal – there is little doubt that we can expect more of these rhetoric clashes, and it is probably not because of essential changes in moral standards). It’s that partisan press makes it impossible to tell the truth from the propaganda – both of those being pretty debatable as concepts to begin with, if you take into account the effects of framing, the inflation of communication, trolling as a phenomenon etc. – (EXCEPT for the things you disagree with, where you will conveniently say EVERYTHING is propaganda and your opponents are brainwashed).
More often than not, instead of having different opinions about the same issues – based on different values, for instance – we have gotten to the point where we do not even see the same issues as being issues. And we all solve it in our heads in the same way: if only more people saw that the main issue is the one I see, it would be so simple! But, as is the case with talking to one another in different languages, shouting harder doesn’t help. Bombs have never changed opinions towards that of the bomber, and yelling at anyone that they are a racist (or a communist, if you will) will never make them question their position or change their mind – if anything, it will make them dig themselves in. More than that, the things we all consider important will become increasingly invisible, because the divisive model pays better. Basically, it’s as if we all got our information about the world, our future and about our spouses from our respective divorce lawyers who get paid by the hour. As far as the lawyers are concerned, the angrier we are, the more we panic about our potential losses, the better off they are. Screw the kids!
We need to find a way to tell stories we can trust because they come from sources we do not see as intrinsically corrupt, stories that can help with the translation. We need to fix the story-telling, globally.