Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree.
And the problem, as I see it, is that we’re failing at the task.
.. Extensive survey datashow that Republicans are much more right-leaning than they were twenty years ago, Democrats much more left-leaning, and both sides much more likely to see the other as a mortal threat to the nation’s welfare.
.. Fully 50 percent of Republicans would not want their child to marry a Democrat, and nearly a third of Democrats return the sentiment. Interparty marriage has taken the place of interracial marriage as a family taboo.
.. as Americans increasingly inhabit the filter bubbles of news and social media that correspond to their ideological affinities. We no longer just have our own opinions. We also have our separate “facts,” often the result of what different media outlets consider newsworthy. In the last election, fully 40 percent of Trump voters named Fox News as their chief source of news.
Thanks a bunch for that one, Australia.
.. Allan Bloom .. published a learned polemic about the state of higher education in the United States. It was called “The Closing of the American Mind.”
.. What we did was read books that raised serious questions about the human condition, and which invited us to attempt to ask serious questions of our own. Education, in this sense, wasn’t a “teaching” with any fixed lesson. It was an exercise in interrogation.
.. To listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind — this is what I was encouraged to do by my teachers at the University of Chicago.
It’s what used to be called a liberal education.
.. The University of Chicago showed us something else: that every great idea is really just a spectacular disagreement with some other great idea.
Socrates quarrels with Homer. Aristotle quarrels with Plato. Locke quarrels with Hobbes and Rousseau quarrels with them both. Nietzsche quarrels with everyone. Wittgenstein quarrels with himself.
.. Most importantly, they are never based on a misunderstanding. On the contrary, the disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out.
In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.
.. 51 percent — think it is “acceptable” for a student group to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. An astonishing 20 percent also agree that it’s acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking.
.. Middlebury is one of the most prestigious liberal-arts colleges in the United States, with an acceptance rate of just 16 percent and tuition fees of nearly $50,000 a year. How does an elite institution become a factory for junior totalitarians, so full of their own certitudes that they could indulge their taste for bullying and violence?
.. I was raised on the old-fashioned view that sticks and stones could break my bones but words would never hurt me. But today there’s a belief that since words can cause stress, and stress can have physiological effects, stressful words are tantamount to a form of violence. This is the age of protected feelings purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.
.. Then we get to college, where the dominant mode of politics is identity politics, and in which the primary test of an argument isn’t the quality of the thinking but the cultural, racial, or sexual standing of the person making it. As a woman of color I think X. As a gay man I think Y. As a person of privilege I apologize for Z. This is the baroque way Americans often speak these days. It is a way of replacing individual thought — with all the effort that actual thinking requires — with social identification
.. But it is a safe space of a uniquely pernicious kind — a safe space from thought, rather than a safe space for thought, to borrow a line I recently heard from Salman Rushdie.
.. it has made the distance between making an argument and causing offense terrifyingly short. Any argument that can be cast as insensitive or offensive to a given group of people isn’t treated as being merely wrong. Instead it is seen as immoral, and therefore unworthy of discussion or rebuttal.
.. For fear of causing offense, they forego the opportunity to be persuaded.
.. If you want to make a winning argument for same-sex marriage, particularly against conservative opponents, make it on a conservative foundation: As a matter of individual freedom, and as an avenue toward moral responsibility and social respectability. The No’s will have a hard time arguing with that. But if you call them morons and Neanderthals, all you’ll get in return is their middle finger or their clenched fist.
.. the so-called “alt-right” justifies its white-identity politics in terms that are coyly borrowed from the progressive left. One of the more dismaying features of last year’s election was the extent to which “white working class” became a catchall identity for people whose travails we were supposed to pity but whose habits or beliefs we were not supposed to criticize. The result was to give the Trump base a moral pass it did little to earn.
.. seem to think that free speech is a one-way right: Namely, their right to disinvite, shout down or abuse anyone they dislike, lest they run the risk of listening to that person — or even allowing someone else to listen.
.. Yes, we disagree constantly. But what makes our disagreements so toxic is that we refuse to make eye contact with our opponents, or try to see things as they might, or find some middle ground.
.. Fox News and other partisan networks have demonstrated that the quickest route to huge profitability is to serve up a steady diet of high-carb, low-protein populist pap. Reasoned disagreement of the kind that could serve democracy well fails the market test. Those of us who otherwise believe in the virtues of unfettered capitalism should bear that fact in mind.
.. no country can have good government, or a healthy public square, without high-quality journalism — journalism that can distinguish a fact from a belief and again from an opinion
.. that requires proprietors and publishers who understand that their role ought not to be to push a party line, or be a slave to Google hits and Facebook ads, or provide a titillating kind of news entertainment, or help out a president or prime minister who they favor or who’s in trouble.
.. Their role is to clarify the terms of debate by championing aggressive and objective news reporting, and improve the quality of debate with commentary that opens minds and challenges assumptions rather than merely confirming them.
.. This is journalism in defense of liberalism, not liberal in the left-wing American or right-wing Australian sense, but liberal in its belief that the individual is more than just an identity, and that free men and women do not need to be protected from discomfiting ideas and unpopular arguments. More than ever, they need to be exposed to them, so that we may revive the arts of disagreement that are the best foundation of intelligent democratic life.
In a series of essays for conservative magazines like Chronicles, Francis hammered home three key insights.
The first was that globalization was screwing Middle America. The Cold War had just ended, capitalism seemed triumphant and the Clinton years seemed to be an era of broad prosperity. But Francis stressed that the service economy was ruining small farms and taking jobs from the working class.
- His second insight was that the Republican and conservative establishment did not understand what was happening. He railed against the pro-business “Economic Men” who thought G.D.P. growth could solve the nation’s problems, and the Washington Republicans, who he thought were infected with the values of the educated elites.
- Francis told Buchanan. “Go to New Hampshire and call yourself a patriot, a nationalist, an America Firster, but don’t even use the word ‘conservative.’ It doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
- .. His third insight was that politics was no longer about left versus right. Instead, a series of smaller conflicts — religious versus secular, nationalist versus globalist, white versus nonwhite — were all merging into a larger polarity, ruling class versus Middle America.
“Middle American groups are more and more coming to perceive their exploitation at the hands of the dominant elites. The exploitation works on several fronts —
- economically, by hypertaxation and the design of a globalized economy dependent on exports and services in place of manufacturing;
- culturally, by the managed destruction of Middle American norms and institutions; and
- politically, by the regimentation of Middle Americans under the federal leviathan.”
appalled by pro-corporate Republican economic policies on the one hand and liberal cultural radicalism on the other. They swung to whichever party seemed most likely to resist the ruling class, but neither party really provided a solution.
The Buchanan campaign was the first run at what we now know as Trumpian populism.
.. “The ‘culture war’ for Buchanan is not Republican swaggering about family values and dirty movies but a battle over whether the nation itself can continue to exist under the onslaught of the militant secularism, acquisitive egoism, economic and political globalism, demographic inundation, and unchecked state centralism supported by the ruling class.”
.. Francis was a racist. His friends and allies counseled him not to express his racist views openly
.. in 1994 Francis told a conference, “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.”
.. When you look at today’s world through the prism of Francis’ work, a few things seem clear: Trump is not a one-time phenomenon; the populist tide has been rising for years. His base sticks with him through scandal because it’s not just about him; it’s a movement defined against the so-called ruling class.
.. Trump may not be the culmination, but merely a way station toward an even purer populism.
.. Trump is nominally pro-business. The next populism will probably take his ethnic nationalism and add an anti-corporate, anti-tech layer. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple stand for everything Francis hated — economically, culturally, demographically and nationalistically.
.. As the tech behemoths intrude more deeply into daily life and our very minds, they will become a defining issue in American politics. It wouldn’t surprise me if a new demagogue emerged, one that is even more pure Francis.
A new WSJ/NBC News survey finds economic optimism rising—but not among rural residents and those with less education
.. A new WSJ/NBC poll shows that rural residents and those with less education are pessimistic about their economic lives, including retirement prospects, the value of higher education and the benefits of the online shopping revolution.
Old fights about radio have lessons for new fights about the Internet.
Radio, in its early days, was seen as a means for spreading hysteria and hatred, just as the Internet is today.
.. but Schwartz is the latest of a number of researchers to argue that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. As Schwartz tells it, there was no mass hysteria, only small pockets of concern that quickly burned out. He casts doubt on whether Dock had even heard the broadcast. Schwartz argues that newspapers exaggerated the panic to better control the upstart medium of radio, which was becoming the dominant source of breaking news in the thirties. Newspapers wanted to show that radio was irresponsible and needed guidance from its older, more respectable siblings in the print media, such “guidance” mostly taking the form of lucrative licensing deals and increased ownership of local radio stations.
.. Columbia education professor and broadcaster Lyman Bryson declared that unrestrained radio was “one of the most dangerous elements in modern culture.”
.. Iowa senator Clyde Herring, a Democrat, declared. He announced a bill that would require broadcasters to submit shows to the F.C.C. for review before airing.
.. Everywhere you looked in the thirties, authoritarian leaders were being swept to power with the help of radio. The Nazi Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda deployed a force called the Funkwarte, or Radio Guard, that went block by block to insure that citizens tuned in to Hitler’s major broadcast speeches,
.. homegrown radio demagogues like Father Charles Coughlin and the charismatic Huey Long made some people wonder about a radio-aided Fascist takeover in America. For Thompson, Welles had made an “admirable demonstration” about the power of radio. It showed the danger of handing control of the airwaves over to the state.
.. “The greatest organizers of mass hysterias and the mass delusions today are states using the radio to excite terrors, incite hatreds, inflame masses.”
.. “I wouldn’t be here without Twitter,” he declared on Fox News in March. Yet the Internet didn’t just give him a megaphone. It also helped him peddle his lies through a profusion of unreliable media sources that undermined the old providers of established fact. Throughout the campaign, fake-news stories, conspiracy theories, and other forms of propaganda were reported to be flooding social networks.
.. The problem was not simply that people had been able to spread lies but that the digital platforms were set up in ways that made them especially potent. The “share” button sends lies flying around the Web faster than fact checkers can debunk them. The supposedly neutral platforms use personalized algorithms to feed us information based on precise data models of our preferences, trapping us in “filter bubbles”
.. The threat of fake news was compounded by this sense that the role of the press had been ceded to an arcane algorithmic system created by private companies that care only about the bottom line.
.. The image of Arab Spring activists using Twitter to challenge repressive dictators has been replaced, in the public imagination, by that of isis propagandists luring vulnerable Western teen-agers to Syria via YouTube videos and Facebook chats.
.. the birth of the technology brought about a communications revolution comparable to that of the Internet. For the first time, radio allowed a mass audience to experience the same thing simultaneously from the comfort of their homes
.. John Dewey called radio “the most powerful instrument of social education the world has ever seen.” Populist reformers demanded that radio be treated as a common carrier and give airtime to anyone who paid a fee.
.. broadcasters were under intense pressure to show that they were not turning listeners into a zombified mass ripe for the Fascist picking. What they developed in response is, in Goodman’s phrase, a “civic paradigm”: radio would create active, rational, tolerant listeners—in other words, the ideal citizens of a democratic society. Classical-music-appreciation shows were developed with an eye toward uplift. Inspired by progressive educators, radio networks hosted “forum” programs, in which citizens from all walks of life were invited to discuss the matters of the day, with the aim of inspiring tolerance and political engagement. One such program, “America’s Town Meeting of the Air,” featured in its first episode a Communist, a Fascist, a Socialist, and a democrat.
.. much of the progressive concern about listeners’ abilities stemmed from the belief that Americans were, basically, dim-witted—an idea that gained currency after intelligence tests on soldiers during the First World War supposedly revealed discouraging news about the capacities of the average American.
.. Today, when we speak about people’s relationship to the Internet, we tend to adopt the nonjudgmental language of computer science. Fake news was described as a “virus” spreading among users who have been “exposed” to online misinformation. The proposed solutions to the fake-news problem typically resemble antivirus program
.. One rarely cited Pew statistic shows that only four per cent of American Internet users trust social media “a lot,” which suggests a greater resilience against online misinformation than overheated editorials might lead us to expect.
.. Most people seem to understand that their social-media streams represent a heady mixture of gossip, political activism, news, and entertainment
.. You might see this as a problem, but turning to Big Data-driven algorithms to fix it will only further entrench our reliance on code to tell us what is important about the world—which is what led to the problem in the first place.
.. Young Trump enthusiasts turned Internet trolling into a potent political tool, deploying the “folk stuff” of the Web—memes, slang, the nihilistic humor of a certain subculture of Web-native gamer—to give a subversive, cyberpunk sheen to a movement that might otherwise look like a stale reactionary blend of white nationalism and anti-feminism.
.. For conservatives, the rise of online gatekeepers may be a blessing in disguise. Throwing the charge of “liberal media bias” against powerful institutions has always provided an energizing force for the conservative movement
.. The first modern conservatives were members of the America First movement, who found their isolationist views marginalized in the lead-up to the Second World War and vowed to fight back by forming the first conservative media outlets.
.. Since attacks on the mid-century liberal consensus were inherently controversial, conservatives found themselves constantly in regulators’ sights.
.. In 1961, a watershed moment occurred with the leak of a memo from labor leaders to the Kennedy Administration which suggested using the Fairness Doctrine to suppress right-wing viewpoints. To many conservatives, the memo proved the existence of the vast conspiracy they had long suspected.
.. Thus was born the character of the persecuted truthteller standing up to a tyrannical government—a trope on which a billion-dollar conservative-media juggernaut has been built.
.. conservative skepticism of gatekeepers is not without a historical basis. The Fairness Doctrine really was used by liberal groups to silence conservatives, typically by flooding stations with complaints and requests for airtime to respond
.. This created a chilling effect, with stations often choosing to avoid controversial material. The technical fixes implemented by Google and Facebook in the rush to fight fake news seem equally open to abuse, dependent, as they are, on user-generated reports.
.. A recent report by the investigative nonprofit ProPublica shows how anti-racist activism can often fall afoul of Facebook rules against offensive material, while a post by the Louisiana representative Clay Higgins calling for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims was deemed acceptable.
.. Despite the focus on algorithms, A.I., filter bubbles, and Big Data, these questions are political as much as technical. Regulation has become an increasingly popular notion; the Democratic senator Cory Booker has called for greater antitrust scrutiny of Google and Facebook, while Stephen Bannon reportedly wants to regulate Google and Facebook like public utilities.
.. a slew of tech companies banned the neo-Nazi blog the Daily Stormer, essentially blacklisting it from the Web.
.. Zuckerberg recently posted a fifty-seven-hundred-word manifesto announcing a new mission for Facebook that goes beyond the neutral-seeming mandate to “make the world more open and connected.” Henceforth, Facebook would seek to “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” The manifesto was so heavy on themes of civic responsibility that many took it as a blueprint for a future political campaign.