My Fear of the Echo Chamber

Now, I’m going to write today about something that I think I am guilty of.  So if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you’ll possibly think “what the fuck is he talking about, he totally does that.”  I’m aware, but I’m trying not to.

I’m finding it harder and harder to not find myself in an echo chamber, in which I tend to watch, listen to, and read political stories that only reinforce my own viewpoints.  It hasn’t ever been my intention to do that, but I think that right now it’s so difficult not to end up in this very situation.

Now, I have tried to not jump on the bandwagon, and not get too dead behind the eyes when it comes to following my side politically, often pointing out when a piece that is on the left goes too far, or is nit-picking, or is preemptively pissed off.  I’ve been pretty vocal about that when I see it, unfortunately that ends up being something that only my liberal friends see, and so my conservative friends still think I’m too far gone.  I totally get that, and I want to fix that.

Lately, something that I’ve been trying to do, something I’ve been focusing on, which is something that helps me feel as if I’m not just listening to my own opinions bounced back at me, is looking at an issue as it’s being discussed, and say to myself “what’s the best argument for this side (the same side as the article is written from),” and then comparing and contrasting between what the argument that would best explain the side is saying, vs what the article/story/etc. is putting forward as their argument.  What I’ve found is that very often, on both sides, people are not good at arguing their points.

As kind of a secondary tier of this concept, I’ve tried to listen to vast array of opinions from each side.  I want to give three examples from the right, and explain what I’ve learned from them.  So, I’ve listened to Tomi Lahren on a number of different issues, and almost every single time, find her to be completely wrong.  On no issue that I’ve heard her touch upon, (Black Lives Matter, Trump supporting, NFL Kneeling, gun rights) is there a lack of reasonable arguments, however I’ve never heard her present one.  When I listen to her speak, I hear someone who has been briefed with talking points, who knows that outrage is her best weapon, and repeats blindly, she appears unable to have any kind of exchange, because she is so focused on the talking points, which is a huge crutch that people on both sides keep using.  Now not being able to think, and counter, and adjust, and compromise with a discussion don’t make you bad, or even stupid necessarily, but they make you unqualified to be the mouthpiece for a side, or a movement.  To me, Tomi seems unqualified.

The second conservative whom I’ve been listening to different interviews with, is Milo Yiannopoulos.  Now Milo, if you’re not aware, is something of liberal boogie man, being uninvited from some speaking engagements, and being attacked as a champion for the Alt-Right.  I haven’t heard much that justifies some of the outrage people have with him, but I kind of get it, because he is purposely a provocateur.  This is something he admits, and honestly, it would be hard for him to deny.  He says insulting, outlandish things in almost every interview I’ve seen him in, but he does so in a way that seems much less sinister, and much more indicative of someone working to get attention.  Now, I bring up Milo, because there are moments in each interview in which he stops the camera mugging and the insulting asides, and makes points, and if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I’ve disagreed with one of his points I’ve heard.  That doesn’t mean I buy into his side of the argument, but he’s not wrong.  I wrote about a couple weeks ago about how Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein both seemed to try to press liberal buttons to get their awful behavior to be forgiven, and luckily it didn’t work.  A large part of that post, was based on an interview in which Milo pointed out what they were doing, and he’s not wrong.  They tried to say “hey I’m untouchable because…”.  Milo was also very upfront about admitting that it didn’t work, even though it was shocking to him.  He was right, and often is on individual pieces.  I just don’t agree with his overall outlook.  Listening to him, I hear that he understands the issues he’s talking about, and he is intelligent, and capable of thinking and reacting, he just doesn’t do it the way I do.  Much better than Tomi Lahren.

The third, and last conservative personality is Ben Shapiro.  Now, admittedly, I’ve listened the least to Ben Shapiro, and that’s because he is the most recent for me to learn about, and he is also the least ‘entertaining’ to watch or listen to.  So, I don’t know how much I agree or disagree with him, nearly to the level of Tomi or Milo, but from the little that I’ve listened to Ben, I disagree with his conclusions, but again like Milo his points seem to some extent to be valid.  Unlike Milo, he doesn’t appear to be a provocateur; unlike Tomi, he doesn’t seem like an outragist.  Ben, seems like a very intelligent, and learned man whom I disagree with.  But when I hear him talking, I think the reason I disagree is a matter of perspective, and experience.  I think that he is making great arguments for someone who believes the way he does, but happens to have lived a life in which A, B, and C make natural and logical sense, whereas I have lived a life in which D, E, and F make natural logical sense.

My point in bringing up these three, is this: The person you’re most likely to have heard of, is Tomi Lahren.  She is for a large portion of people the face of young conservatism, and she seems totally and utterly unqualified for that position.  If you disagree with her, you won’t even be able to hear her points, because they don’t make sense.  She will not stimulate you to consider her side.

The second person you’re most likely to have heard of is Milo Yiannopolous, and while he makes some great points, and is intelligent and capable, he is in no way diplomatic, and much of his ‘antics’ will undercut the ability to converse on topics.

Then thirdly, Ben Shapiro, who is extremely intelligent, and is less inflammatory, perhaps is most likely to be able to start a conversation, to get dissenters to think about his side of things, but most liberals are unlikely to have heard of him.

They’re examples of the reason we have an echo chamber society.  It’s really easy for me to say “well Tomi Lahren is…” any number of bad things, because she’s managed to rise in notoriety due to being physically attractive, young, and loud.  Where as if we all thought of Ben Shapiro as the ‘face’ of young conservatism, we might not think of it as being as ridiculous, unfortunately he’s fairly plain in appearance and dress, and even-tempered in his speech, and frankly less ‘entertaining.’

Another issue that comes with this structure, is that it is hard for us to be able to determine the unqualified mouthpieces on our own sides.  It took me a long time, and while I think they make some good points, I think The Young Turks are often sensationalist in their methods to a point which undercuts them.  I think they might be best compared as an analog of Milo.  I really like Keith Olbermann, but I suspect that he ends up in the same place roughly.  I guess the Huffington Post would be the closest thing to Tomi Lahren.  They’re always outraged and seem to be rarely accurate.  That’s the best I can do on that one.

So what I want to ask you all, is who do you think are good political commentators based on facts (liberal or conservative) and who do you think don’t sound nearly as intelligent as they might appear if they aren’t echoing your own views back at you?