A Newspaper Removes Us From Ideological Echo Chamber
You may have seen this quote from an executive in Tuesday’s paper this week: “Politicians should not use taxpayer dollars to impose ideological litmus tests and punish organizations that express views that politicians dislike.” Or maybe you didn’t see it. It’s why you should read the print publication or its electronic facsimile.
Tuesday’s paper had two different stories — in two different sections — about politicians using their state’s economic muscle to punish policies they dislike. The first was on the front page, reporting that Oregon legislators in Salem have a plan to preserve “net neutrality” despite the FCC’s recent decision to no longer require it.
Lawmakers have proposed forbidding state and local government procurement contracts with communications firms that abandon net neutrality. Oregon will spend its money whenever possible with those companies who maintain a level playing field for all Internet traffic. That may be a shrewd strategy in pursuit of online equality. Or not.
That quote in the first graf did not come from a disgruntled Oregon business executive or a Republican in Salem. It came from ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young. It appeared at the end of a business section article about responses to boycotts of the NRA and companies’ support of its members.
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Delta Airlines announced that it would no longer offer discounts to NRA members. That drew the ire of Republican lawmakers in Georgia, where Delta has its headquarters. The state’s lieutenant governor threatened to hold up legislation that would have exempted airlines from paying fuel taxes. That could cost Delta $50 million a year — more than any other commercial carrier.
Are Georgia’s legislators doing the right thing by appealing to a business’s economic self-interest? Or should they “not use taxpayer dollars to … punish … views that [they] dislike”? How about in Oregon? Should the same standards be applied here?
There’s an argument to be made in both directions. I’m not making those arguments here, much less favoring one over others. Both sides of the political divide are using similar tactics, but this isn’t about them. It’s about you. You may not have known about one story or the other if you get all your news from the Internet.
And yet, there they were, on your doorstep, just a few pages away from each another. Editors assemble a newspaper every night, mixing what you want to know with what you need to know. It’s a different reading experience than when you scan website headlines, no matter how balanced or centrist the site aims to be. You’re looking for what interests you.
Americans are getting dangerously good at insulating themselves from opinions and people they may not like or agree with. Author Bill Bishop called this trend “The Big Sort” in 2008. His book’s subtitle deserves your attention: “Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart.”
Bishop details the trend in great detail, but doesn’t offer many solutions that you and I can do immediately. But here’s one: Read a daily newspaper. Look at every page. Make it a point to read at least one article every day that you don’t think you’ll care about. Every time you’re surprised you were wrong about that, your world will get a bit bigger — and better.
Social engineers have begun studying the power of little surprises like that. They call them “collisions” — they make people think more creatively. Bumping into unexpected surprises and unplanned complications is a key accelerant that fuels social vibrancy. That same dynamic can be replicated in the pages of a newspaper.
It’s not a kitchen table argument between people who love each other but vehemently disagree, but it’s the closest many of us will get to it. We should welcome and recognize points of view that don’t fit our “ideological litmus tests.”
It won’t often change our mind about any particular issue. The more likely outcome is additional empathy about how that issue appears to those who don’t see it our way. What may seem like a brilliant move in Salem may lose a little luster when the same tactic is used for a different purpose in Nashville.