Of Being Automatons or Being Autonomous

Recent studies have suggested that the growth of mobility and the e-culture have not served to make us more eclectic in our belief systems but rather more narrow.   Increasingly Americans are insolating themselves against all views outside those in a narrow group and the result of that is a populace that is more dismissive of other viewpoints and more committed to their own, which just happens to be shared by nearly everyone in their little circle.

In the past two nights I’ve had dinner with two different groups of people. On Friday night I was with a group of my fellow Ph.D. students and their significant others.   I know these people well and I hear a commonality in viewpoints that could have been written by a single author writing talking points memo.  With the election coming the refrain is “Obama would be not be attacked so if he were not black”,  i.e. all non-leftist are racist.  No amount of reasoning, like the Republicans impeached Clinton, can sway them from this belief.

At other times I spend time with both fiscal and religious conservatives. Though both support the Republicans their prime values are very different; however, what I hear laced in the conversation are snippets of rhetoric taken word for word from the incredibly influential guru of the right Rush Limbaugh. Like the leftist, the rightist largely live in a world that reinforces their own prior beliefs and leads them to condemn not only other beliefs but to judge evil motives for those “others”.  

What stands out is the growing tendency to judge those who have political beliefs outside their group to be morally deficient… e.g. evil.

As the nearly universally detested moderate, I see value and reason in both positions.  In 1979 I began listening to NPR news whenever I was in my car.  I began listening to “All Things Considered” and later “Morning Edition”.     About a decade later I was one of the early listeners to Rush Limbaugh. Like NPR, Rush was on my car radio when I drove during broadcast times.  Very conveniently, though combined they run 7 hours a day, the three programs never overlap in broadcast times. What is important to know is that those three radio broadcasts are the 1st, 2nd and 3rd most listened to programs on US radio; and in many ways they represent (and shape) the agendas of the mainstream of the Republican Party (Limbaugh) and the Democrat Party (NPR).  

Radio is a great forum for exhaustive intellectual discussion, far better than the image driven world of Television and more accessible to the masses than print.   Though both radio networks are dismissive and condescending of the other, from long listening I have fond they both have important things to add to the debate.  Yes, NPR is a full-fledged non-profit news organization that covers many topics and Limbaugh is unapologetically commercial and is political entertainment; but both use their chosen medium to relay a specific world view extremely effectively. What is different is that NPR pretends to be politically neutral while they advocate the Democrat agenda, contrasting with Limbaugh who is explicit is his support of Republicans (specifically conservative Republicans).

By listening to both points of view I am able to see the
strengths and weakness of each set of arguments to come to an independent decision. How can one come to a reasoned judgment when one does not hear the best arguments for both sides from the most articulate spokesmen?

Socially I move between a series of different social and political world views and am able to both understand what the different groups are saying and why they are saying it.  I can see nearly all people are trying to find what is best, while at the same time advocating their own interests. I can see the charlatans on the right and the left as well as the deluded “non-thinkers” who parrot their favorite “thinkers” lines. 

Am I conceited enough to think I’m always right?  No.  I am conceited enough to think I can sound right almost all the time, but I’m realistic enough to know that sounding right and being right are two very different things. What I can say is I have preserved my autonomy. I cannot be fed anyone’s BS and swallow it whole. So I guess I value not being wrong more than I value being right. I hedge my own stated beliefs with my own skepticism.

And perhaps that’s the only way to be an independent in this world that prefers being automatons over being autonomous.  


originally posted by me on 11/4/2012


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