I became convinced in 2012 that science fiction was having a major surge in popularity. Being a science fiction nerd, I was excited about this supposed newfound respect. Science fiction paraphernalia and media littered my newsfeed. I was seeing science fiction podcasts all over YouTube. Pages dedicated to science humour were all over the internet.
The reader can be forgiven if they don’t recall this science fiction renaissance. This was just a matter of Google and Facebook collecting my data more efficiently and presenting me with ads and pages I might be more prone to like, to an extent I had never experienced before.
We always live in echo chambers in some measure, but social media has amplified the echo and done much to seal off the chamber. Traditional media is gearing itself toward likes, shares, and subscribes more than presentations of truth.
I need hardly draw out illustrations of falsehoods in the media for a libertarian audience. The media is given over to stories that push their particular narrative and truth is being increasingly lost.
The latest media truth meltdown occurred with the Catholic student in possession of an unfortunate smile being approached by an aboriginal man protesting the student’s support for Donald Trump. The media, ever so ready to say of that which is white, that it is black, or that which is black that it is white, if it more properly fits their agenda, claimed the opposite in that it was an obnoxious student in protest of an aboriginal elder’s peaceful cultural drumming.
I’m not concerned that the media would be so willing to abandon fact-checking to push their narrative. I’ve been living with this realization for so long that I’ve become dull to the horror of it. I am, however, concerned about our response to it.
The left isn’t concerned with good vs. evil narratives. They’re far more concerned with empowered vs. marginalized narratives. The historically-empowered Catholic Church, in support of a man of privilege in Trump, mocking a historically-marginalized culture in the aboriginals, wasn’t a story they even had the capacity to question or fact-check. It so furthered their narrative that the thought that it could be untrue is beyond them.
Anecdotally, people who were upset by the alleged harassment of an aboriginal elder wanted this story to be true. This lends itself to further polarization.
As C.S. Lewis writes:
“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils.”
The problem with politics is that we aren’t listening to each other. We aren’t having dialogues. We’re having a series of increasingly-angry monologues. We saw it in Brexit. We saw it in the U.S. election. We saw it in Brazil. And we’re seeing it happen in Canada.
In the U.S. we saw the media portray Trump-supporters as xenophobic. There is a degree of truth to this. But there was no discussion with the father of the family of six who saw his health insurance premiums go up by $500/month, and he had no conceivable way of paying this bill after having lost his manufacturing job. When he raised a complaint he was told by the left that he was mansplaining and stood in need of a privilege check – meanwhile Trump offered him a paycheck at the end of a hard day’s work.
We’re becoming more prone to hate rather than listening. The right has become so obsessed with discarding identity politics that they can’t imagine real experiences as the reason why women are afraid to walk home alone at night. Feminists have so much engaged with their own echo chamber that it’s become incomprehensible to them as to why labour economists don’t take the wage gap seriously.
There are no shortages of this happening with people on the right, but the media issue du jour is on the left. We have become so enamoured with our own political narratives that people on the left wanted the Trump supporter to be an obnoxious xenophobe that they became filled with hate even over his smile.
Akin to my actually believing science fiction was becoming more popular, so do the left and the right become more surrounded with their own political ideologies and lose the capacity for self-criticism. The echo chamber solidifies their opinion, and they lose sight of what’s outside the chamber.
This polarization is leading down a dark path. Truth will be further mitigated while narratives are further pushed. Hatred will be amplified. Dehumanizing people who disagree with us will continue. Most importantly, the media continues to collect ratings, likes, shares, and subscribes, by staying relevant via feeding our narratives and enraging our emotions.