In a world where space is infinite, why is not everyone there? This is the most fascinating question that came to me reading a study made by Yochai Benkler, author and the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School following the symptoms that show that centre-right is not well-represented in US media (which I think may be the same as in other countries).
Conservative publications are a significant part of the oldest names like The Economist and The Times, only to mention two, but today, the right-wing court has drained the centre-right space, powered by the social media “Like Industry”, where conspiracy theories, borderline (or more) hate speech and mistrust of institutions, thrive like epidemics. The question is: instead of fighting the guerilla against uncompromised manipulative radicals, shouldn’t liberals be trying to bring back the legitimate conservatives back to the table?
Conversations are in the foundations of democracy. No society has emerged from darkness without submitting ideas to evaluation, scrutiny, criticism and change. Philosophers have been arguing about how is the best way to find the truth (no, let’s not talk about fake news here) and there is a common understanding for all of those who were not intended to defend monarchies or aristocracies that the shock between ideas and criticism is the most efficient method to do so. A sort of the Darwinian approach of the survival of the fittest for ideas and ideology.
There is a gap in the media. The moderate conservative, or centre-right spectrum of politics, that has no longer space to argue, expose its ideas or lobby for these interests. But how can a part of the audience disappear? Which phenomenon leads to this polarization?
There are studies that argue that the polarization has not been rigid in terms, meaning that no different sub-sets of the main policies of both parties in America have been included. However, leaders and voters of both sided increased the aggressivity against the opposing side, following an “affective polarization”. To put it simply: the ideas remain the same, but the reactions that people has becomes emotional, irrational in a sense. People that once engaged in constructive discussions now hate their opponents instead of their ideas. This just gets worse: it’s a trend that is constantly reinforced by the political mainstream. For millenniums, philosophy has been trying to rescue humanity from oblivion. Tackling established wisdom was never a problem, but a guarantee that the quest for the unreachable perfect truth was in course. Today, all of it has been replaced by vulgar and egotistical self-indulgence of the approval displays of a like-minded audience. Nothing else matters.
And how journalism approaches the problem? It does not. Journalists and newspapers behave as it this fundamental change has happened. Instead, they take sides, following some convenient excuse, and unbalance themselves as well. As facts become “alternative“, truth becomes fragmented, like mirror splinters, and one decides which of its reflexes is the most adequate to their chosen persona.
If people are becoming more aggressive because they don’t speak the same language, one should intervene to align the conversation. This means to provide safe harbours for “what is true”. There must be a set of parameters to which none can deny. In history, periods where the discussions became ideologized and facts, manipulated, invariably the end led to conflict. Maybe not always war, but never much less tragic.
So, what is true? What must be built to endure all kinds of upheaval, being something that none dares to tackle? Truth “safe harbours”. Opponents need to sit down at the same table to re-establish which are the beacons that none can object. To do that, they need to stop hating themselves. Attack ideas, not the persons. This is one of the most primal foundations of the liberalism of thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Descartes that needs to be reinstated by everyone aware enough of the cracks in the democracy that may lead to upheavals.
This alignment of principles cannot be done immediately. The major tech environments where people interact are moved by the wrong incentives. Facebook and other manipulated digital gateways have thrown everyone into a hall of splinted mirrors, where everyone sees the shadows and their shadows, but none sees a reality they believe in – unless it’s a comfortable agreeing one. Attack this problem with fact-checking initiatives only is the same thing that trying to clean Antarctica with a baby towel. People will keep trying to do it because seems to be the only option around. We’re too deep into a toxic environment that has distorted our capacity to see that things can hit people in a way different than it hit us. And thanks to the egotistical illusion of wide acceptance, none has the will to challenge its own convictions. Until this primary condition changes, everything else is worthless.