The scene plays out in a strikingly similar manner, regardless of topic. During a group discussion about prominent news items, you’ll state your belief, the group unanimously disagrees, and you find yourself looking around the room, eyes wide open whilst scanning each individual, palms up, emoting a very clear “Seriously? No one is going to back me up on this?”
Eventually, you become unsure if you should jump in the fray and explain your viewpoint or just let it pass without comment. After all, what’s the point? Online and off line, opinions on virtually every topical event are becoming increasingly antithetic. The conversations are shortening, the distance between opinions are lengthening, and consensus is being reached ever more rarely.
Every notable news story seems to unite a large amount of people who are fanatically obstinate, xenophobic, and nervous elderly white Southerners. Strictly for the sake of brevity, we will refer to this group as FOXNEWS.
Simultaneously, another sizable group springs forth that vehemently disagrees with every stance taken by FOXNEWS; they tend to be Marxist, Socialist, and naïve Bohemian children. Again, only for convenience, we will refer to this group as MSNBC.
There’s a funny thing about these groups – they’re essentially mirror images of each other, cut from the same cloth, dyed either red or blue; but each group refuses to believe they have anything in common with the other.
They’re not very flexible, either, these two. If you stray from their sacred points of agreement, well, then you clearly belong to the other group. It doesn’t matter if you agree on nine items – if you feel that way about the tenth, well, then this must not be the place for you.
When an unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, FOXNEWS believed the victim was a criminal thug who suffered the consequences of assaulting a police officer who acted within his rights and duties. MSNBC believed the victim was murdered in cold blood by a racist officer without reason or right. The absence of key facts in the incident does little to soften the stance of either group.
Is it possible that an aggressive Brown escalated the confrontation, at which point a short-tempered police officer overstepped his bounds and murdered the teen? Is it possible the officer is indeed guilty of a crime for his actions – but the entire incident had nothing to do with race?
“No! It’s not murder! He’s doing his job!” screams FOXNEWS. “No! Of course it has everything to do with race!” cries MSNBC.
Three weeks ago, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States was admitted to a hospital in Texas. Despite relatively consistent medical opinion that the disease is difficult – but not impossible – to spread during casual contact, only two narratives seemed to emerge. If you listened to the FOXNEWS people, you should immediately order your HazMat suit and lock your doors, stock up on shotgun ammo for the forthcoming zombie apocalypse, and boil your drinking water. Ebola was here, walking across the Mexican border, and it won’t stop spreading until it has eaten all our freedom and bald eagles. At the same time, MSNBC was busy putting together snarky internet memes like this :
For both sides, the actions that unfolded in the following days provided cognitive dissonance : on one hand, no one else was diagnosed with Ebola – but the news feed was also peppered with images of hospitals stocking up on protective suits and quickly training their ER personnel how to deal with potential outbreaks.
Perhaps, the first Ebola diagnosis in the United States should be a catalyst for neither hysteria nor dismissive quasi-scientific condescension, but for a serious conversation about practical steps we can take to protect ourselves from an outcome that is unlikely to occur – but would be a catastrophic pandemic if it did? Just as we carry insurance to protect us from things that will never happen, in all likelihood, but would be disastrous for us if it did; it stands to reason we should give the Ebola appearance thoughtful consideration, for the same reason.
Whether the matter at hand is a social debate at a national level, or a petty argument between irked spouses, the truth is always somewhere in the middle. It is rare that one side of an argument is ever completely and entirely correct, and when the sides position themselves so far apart as to ensure none of their positions overlap, the likelihood of truth existing on either side is even lower.
If you’re one of those people who finds yourself on an island virtually every time contentious issues are discussed, defend your position. Surely, you’ll be tempted to doubt yourself and join FOXNEWS or MSNBC to smooth things out and have some company, but consider that you’re the one actually advancing the conversation past political party talking points and trite generalizations.
Besides, you’re probably right.