Thursday, February 12, 2009

About this Blog

“If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

I am not familiar with the origin of the above quote, but it has become the catchphrase for youth conventions and anachronistic church seminars dealing with the dangers of postmodernism. While it is usually the traditionalist who finds comfort in the phrase, it occurred to me recently that the concept espoused in the quote has seeped its way into broader culture’s public discourse.

While it may seem like a nice concept, if a bit oversimplified, I find it disturbing. It encourages people to make a hasty decision- “pick a side and do it quick before you get tricked.” But does it really reduce the risk of being tricked when you are in a hurry to come to a conclusion?

For the media, however, this admonition becomes very useful. Before going on I must qualify that when I refer to media here I am referring to media of all political persuasions-from Fox and Talk Radio on the far right, to MSNBC, Time Magazine, Newsweek and that one kid on Youtube on the far left to those left-leaning enterprises such as NPR and Factcheck that occupy the middle.

But regardless of their political or social persuasions, I believe that the principal problem with all the major news institutions (regardless of their political affiliation or influences) was best described by Neil Postman in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman argued that aural and visual forms of mass communication have reduced "news" to disconnected bits of information that have no bearing on one another. He summarized his theory by pointing to the way an anchor would move from one story to another wholly unrelated situation with three little words: "and now this." For Postman, those words captured the problem with the current state of news perfectly, and twenty years later so do I.

In a world of such dynamic change, staying current is paramount. The reporter must move on to the next thing-"and now this." So one day Rush is talking about Obama and Ayers, and the next day he is talking about a Youtube video exposing Democrats’ culpability in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacle. One day Terry Gross is talking with a former Guantanamo detainee and the next is bantering with Stephen Colbert.

The problem with this practice is that we are not given sufficient time to formulate accurate judgments on the information with which we are presented. So we end up having to jump to a conclusion (or else we might fall for anything):

- “Obama is a thief,” or “Rush is a moron.”
- “Democrats are solely responsible for the housing crisis,” or “Republicans’ deregulation is to blame.”
- “Guantanamo is bad,” or “This guy deserved it”
- “Stephen Colbert sure is all he’s cracked up to be,” or “Terry sure is sucking up to him.”

It may seem that I’m being unfair to these institutions and oversimplifying the situation. But, let’s imagine that for a whole week Rush were to do the following:

- Take one of Obama’s platforms and seriously discuss it with intelligent people from both sides of the debate
- Refuse to engage in his fiery and often funny rhetoric
- Carry on a civil discourse attempting to discover which side has the better argument

Would the listener be able to come to an accurate assessment of the issue at hand? While it would be no doubt better than a simple wrangling over talking points, there are people who spend whole semesters, undergraduate stints, masters’ degrees, and even doctoral dissertations on such topics and end up disagreeing on the particulars.

But keeping it simple works well for the media because if there are only two options, people must choose, which creates conflict, which gets people talking, which gets people watching, listening and reading, which makes advertisers or underwriters happy.

I hate to sound so cynical here, but I have been looking for a non-biased source for quite some time, and I have all but given up. I know pure objectivity is nigh impossible, but it sure would be nice to see someone try to be more honest about their agendas and views and truly strive for no spin.*

So it occurred to me that if no one else is doing it, maybe I could try.

Originally I was hoping to post a monthly news magazine with various sections dedicated to stripping away shoddy rhetoric and having honest conversation and debate. I wanted to take one topic and spend time with it for months, maybe even years, so that we can hear the best arguments from all sides of a debate instead of being shackled to the same old catchphrases and talking points.

Unfortunately for this idea, I have a boss, a wife, a child, and God, all of whom are higher on my priority list. So I have been putting the date of "publish" off, waiting for a time when I could release this idea upon the world, thinking of it as some kind of ideological Venus that would spring fully-formed from my disorganized mind, but this will not be the case.

Instead, I will put what I have out there in the hopes that one can day I can set up a more well-structured endeavor.

The “Blogazine” will be designed to provide an environment conducive to more than just the exchange of information and opinions, but one in which honest research and conversation will hopefully lead to a fine-tuned understanding of issues instead of superficial reductions.

The main section is Destructive Interference, which will act as both the principal blog and the portal to the other subsections. While it sounds like a name for a cheesy throwback punk band, it is actually the technical term for the process that makes noise-cancellation possible.

The purpose of this section will be to analyze stories, films, broadcasts or print of any kind that has been designed to provide disinformation and make complex issues seem simple. The goal is to remove noise from the debating process so we can actually engage in dialogue.

This brings us to the second section called Dialogue, Not Diatribe. There we will seek to engage in honest and reasoned debate instead of polemics. I do not have anything ready for this section yet, but I am working on it and will get something up in due course.

The next section will deal with fallacies in the media. This section will be comprised of two parts- The Fallacy Finder and a Fallacy Glossary. The Fallacy Finder will examine popular logical fallacies and attempt to sniff them out wherever they may be found, (even if we catch ourselves sneaking some fallacies out of the jar!). The glossary will function as a...glossary of... fallacies. So in case you forget the difference between the “part-to-whole” fallacy and the “whole-to-part” fallacy you can check here. -once they are up:)

The next section will be my venue for engaging controversial books, articles, or movies: Orthoptic Analysis. I do not have an entry ready for this section yet, but we will first take a look at Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus. Though I have finished the book, my thoughts are a big jumbled mess, and I would to run them by a friend of mine who really resonated with the book before posting them.

The sixth section will be my space to sound off on my God-ward beliefs and how they relate to the world. I will be addressing Christianity and its place in the public sphere, and sometimes I will write about more Church-related topics.

The final section, called Film Tangents, will be my space for film reviews, essays, musings, etc. The ultimate goal is to review movies that address the topics presented elsewhere. But because this is not my job, there may be times when the content may not necessarily relate to the other topics presented. I have written numerous film reviews in the past, and they will be available through this page.

I hope this blogazine can be more than just entertainment, and more than just a pastime, but an actual vehicle that will help get us to the goal of honest and informed opinion.

It is time for thinking people to do better than “standing for something.”

Hopefully, this blog can help.

*Some of you may be screaming NPR right now, and while I do think they try harder than most and strive for professionalism, they still editorialize through subtler means, which we will explore in due course. On the other hand, some of you may be screaming Bill O, but while I respect Bill for trying, I am afraid he is a bit delusional if he thinks he is totally objective. I do, however, have more respect for him than many in the industry because I think he is genuinely trying, even if he never admits that he is spinning arguments (whether intentional or not).

Read the next entry: Noise in the Abortion Debate

Return to Destructive Interference Issue 1


Anonymous said...

yeah. funny post

Anonymous said...

и всё эе: отлично... а82ч