Like many other people, the increased division among citizens in US and in the UK saddens me. The recent Brexit vote and the US election are symptoms of something that has been taking place for some time. It seems to me these two events reveal the underlying division in a way not previous because the direct way they shape political vision. Of course it is far too simple to imagine a time where there won’t be tension based upon political desire, but I think we can desire mutual understanding and sympathy. In order to do so we will not only need to answer immediate political questions but also understand the roots of division among citizens.
There are probably a number of philosophical structures at play (many that I’m unaware of), but one that interests and worries me is how our use of technology shapes us as persons. In the case of our current political discourse, our constant connectivity and options of social media and/or news sources means we never lack similar voices to our own. Ken Stern’s recent essay in Vanity Fair on his own perception of the way more main stream media outlets abandoned any attempt at partisanship and fully endorsed Mrs Clinton makes this exact point. Here is how Stern ends his essay:
As Emma Roller wrote recently in The New York Times, “The strongest bias in American politics is not a liberal bias or a conservative bias; it is a confirmation bias, or the urge to believe only things that confirm what you already believe to be true.”
Audiences are increasingly seeking, and demanding, news that fits their personal notion of what is important and what is true…And it is not simply that they have opinions on one side or another; they are routinely demanding coverage that conforms to their world view, and they have the choice to go elsewhere if they are not served.
In a fragmenting media world, with rapidly changing norms and vast choices for consumers, any media company that wants to survive over the long run, will need to factor in the demands of their best customers for news that fits their political biases. That need not be done by changing the facts, as happens too often in many places online, but by offering stories that cement a particular view of the world. That may be good for business, and audience, but it is most certainly not good for the notion of a democracy that depends on some notion of shared values and common discourse.
Stern’s conclusion is thought provoking and has numerous implications. I think one of the most important is we be aware of the way technology is shaping our worldview. My guess is that most of us are guilty of delighting in the confirmation of our already held beliefs. The only way I see us moving to mutual understanding and sympathy will as individuals and hopefully small communities that refuse to participate in such a “cultural liturgy.”