I once listened to an Italian philosopher point out the obvious (paraphrased); “with the Internet, we now have access to almost everything, ever written, but unless we’ve actually read it, we’re not necessarily any more informed.”
*Sadly, I do not remember his name .. so will have to continue without a correct notation.
Now that I use social media fairly actively and my news and information sources are mostly digital and come from several sources (and in several languages), I try to form opinions based upon the best – and least biased – information available. Of course my opinions are biased, but I also hope informed.
As a result of my travel and lifestyle, I am consistently in contact with people who often have extremely different opinions from my own. I respect many of these people dearly, and consider some of them to be personal friends.
So what is my point? Well, I do not think every opinion is correct or valid, and I hope to always actively resist prejudice and overt intolerance. I also shy away from obtuse nationalism and fundamentalism in most forms, but beyond that general bias, I hope to remain as open as possible to most perspectives.
In our digital age an individual’s stream of information can be shockingly filtered. While tempted to go on and on about the British and French print media, I will highlight news in the United States.
I am lucky to have friends and acquaintances from across the US political spectrum, but am regularly surprised how consistently blinkered their flow of information can be. From FOX to CNN, there is so little ‘news’ and so much noise.
The posts I see from my more conservative friends paint Obama as a virtual anti-Christ who has destroy the US and propagated a radical Muslim agenda.
Posts from my so-called ‘liberal’ friends, often tell a story of right-wing extremism and NRA-funded religious fanaticism, supported by bigoted fools in pointy white hats.
Both positions are so obviously ridiculous when seen from afar.
One-on-one, all of these people are gentler and far more nuanced in their thinking. I would bet they would share 80-90% genuine common ground, if the stories being told were not so driven by sound-bites, blame and frankly, pure noise.
These closed-loop conversations came vividly alive in the BREXIT vote in the UK. Many around the world (including stock markets) were shocked by the ‘leave’ vote.
I was (and remain) deeply disappointed, but I was not particularly surprised. During my 20 years of leading tours around the world, the majority of my British clients were from the ‘leave’ camp. Even before Maastricht and Schengen (treaties that lead to further integration, from which Britain remained out), I listened to consistent anti-Europe rhetoric. Some valid and some entirely xenophobic.
This theme is not new and must be engaged. Yet the referendum was full of half-truths, noisy propaganda and … sound bites.
Whereas our news sources were once very limited, now the risk is filtration. We are busy. Life moves quickly and we all have our own cultural and ideological biases. Yet I am sure that if we could have real conversations, informed with actual data (not sound-bite propaganda), we could find a way through the polarized extremism and shocking populism that is gripping much of our planet.
I would love to say I am neither left nor right, but I am. I will always argue for human rights and economic opportunity, but I am terrified by populist rhetoric in almost all forms.
Let’s start with the left. Marxist populism has effectively destroyed Venezuela! One may argue the right oppressed so many, for so long – and one would likely be correct – however the verbose rantings of Hugo Chavez was noise, rather than solutions. Now people queue hours for almost anything.
Cristina Kirchner in Argentina straddled both the left and right to blame, accuse and generally thrust her beautiful country into another debt default. It is easy to know when Argentina is in crisis – just listen for talk of the Falklands!
In Australia, when asked about the distinct economic downturn, former Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s response was that he blocked the boat people. Incidentally, the detaining of the desperate poor did not improve the economy. They booted him out.
In Canada, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper leapt to an overtly populist rant against Muslim Burkas during the dying days of his dying government. The few seats that swung in his favour were clearly those least at ‘risk’ from Burkas.
In the UK, so-called UK Independence Party leader, Nigal Farage, who has been on a 20 year blame-immigrant rant, simply backed away from the Leave Campaign pledge to divert £350 million pounds a week to the health service from Europe. A day after the vote!
In the US, Hillary seems to offer everything to everyone depending upon where she is, whereas Trump is genuinely scary. The parallels with the rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930’s are too obvious to be ignored.
Yet my friends who will vote for him are not racists. They are good, kind, generally religious people, who understand business and are extremely community minded. I am happy whenever I spend time with them.
I could go on and on about populism in France, Holland and certainly Austria – a country we should criticize far more often.
In closing 🙂 … I feel privy to a broader range of perspectives mostly because my news feed remains diverse, due to the diversity of people I know.
I would like us to stop listening to talk radio and talk TV. Rather read (or skim) at least three totally distinct news sources everyday and try to find honest statistics.
Also, let’s really talk. Gently but openly about issues that matter – we always do this on my tours.
And please, use the ‘smell test’ when listening to populist noise! If it sounds as though a specific group (or even person) is being blamed for all the ills of our world, think (out loud); “ that stinks!” “What solution is actually being offered?” “Who gains from this..?”
We really do need to find common ground, throughout society and across borders. There are around 7.4 billion people on Earth. Not getting along has never worked for us.
I am really happy I know so many good and interesting people from so many walks of life. I try to learn everyday and know we are motivated by so many factors. It is complicated. But then, so is life.