My Truth and Consequences blog certainly stirred the pot! And that, of course, is my goal since as a moderate I wish to encourage a conversation between the left and the right sides of the political spectrum.
But the nature of the responses from seemingly smart and articulate partisans of the right cause me concern. We appear to be talking past each other, and that is not a conversation.
For instance, I observed that Obamacare, a Republican think-tank inspired mode, is cumbersome and inefficient. On the other hand, Medicare is established, efficient and works well. Yet, thanks in part to labor union influence, even politicians on the left couldn’t bring themselves to advocate an expansion of Medicare as the solution to our uninsured problem.
The responses were disappointing. Some used the occasion to attack Obamacare yet again. Not a particularly relevant response, I think. One criticized Medicare on the grounds his doctor wouldn’t accept it, not very relevant if everyone becomes insured under Medicare. No one addressed my basic points about the merits of Medicare and the fact that we as a society will have to pay for medical care one way or another.
(For an excellent discussion of the Obamacare-Medicare options, I refer you to columnist Fred Goldenberg’s Sept. 22 column in the Record-Eagle. He has relevant expertise, gets his facts straight, and nails it.)
So too with the response to my observation that the Conservative email stream and blogosphere seems to contain an inordinate amount of completely false, wholly made-up, frauds. It repeated the Conservative mantra that (to summarize in my own words) the left lies constantly, but we don’t even notice it because “mainstream media” has an overwhelming liberal bias which effectively has brainwashed the American public. Henry Klugh’s replies address this calumny with more eloquence than I can muster, and should be read in full. In short, however, he notes that none of the respondents countered my observation by citing left-wing examples of the kind of manufactured frauds that populate the stream of right-wing emails and blogs.
What is interesting to me about this debate is it confirms my fear that without the historical mediation provided by a generally respected mainstream media we are more susceptible to big lies. The internet, bless its soul, has created many competing sources of information. Much of it is acutely biased propaganda aimed at a self-selected audience of willing believers. Increasingly, this is how America gets its information.
This is scarcely a new revelation. But a Pulitzer Prize winning novel I am currently reading causes me to think about it in a different way. The book is “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson. It is a chilling work which takes you inside North Korea. Its portrayal of daily life in the peoples’ paradise makes the world portrayed by George Orwell’s “1984″ look like Disneyland. Based on what I’ve read about North Korea it is an essentially accurate portrayal. In addition to a reign of terror, the regime maintains its control through a constant barrage of big lies. Many North Koreans actually believe that they live in a relative paradise compared to the starving, decadent West.
Of course, in North Korea the only source of information is the government. Possession of devices which can receive communications from the outside world is punishable by death. We don’t have anything comparable in the Western world. And we should be grateful that we have a huge variety of uncensored information sources. But in this brave new world of the internet and talk radio, I wonder if we aren’t settling into groups that uncritically receive most or all of their information from only one political position.
Obviously we are not North Korea. Our information sources are not forcibly limited by a tyrannical regime – the opposite is true. But should we be worried that a growing number of people – both on the left and on the right – embrace a culture where our information is derived from what is essentially a single viewpoint, one that can manufacture a false reality? In this system, the worst of the false reality is not promulgated by a diminutive tyrant with a weird hairdo. Rather, much of it may be created through the support and funding – both open and secret – of a loose collective of very wealthy Americans who wish to protect and expand their wealth by selling us big lies. Lies like global warming isn’t happening, lower taxes on the rich will create jobs, and those who disagree with them are Socialists or worse.
A postscript: After drafting this blog, I encountered a review of “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Ian Buruma. In his concluding paragraph he writes: “Citizens of the US or France or Japan are spared the particular horrors inflicted on the people of North Korea, but we too are bombarded with stories, fictions, lies, often in the service of commerce rather than politics. * * * What makes this extraordinary novel so chilling is that it is really about all of us”.