Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Snug Inside the Echo Chamber

This is how we all ought to react when we discover we're in an echo chamber.

William Saletan at Slate.com, in urging everyone to exit the echo chambers they remain in as they seek and consume and regurgitate news and politics and social commentary, manages to give some salient points while remaining snugly in the echo chamber that says only (or mostly) conservatives are the ones trying to shout over the echoes.

His ten ways to keep our minds free are good points, and deserve further discussion. Where he fails, however, is in citing examples of conservatives violating his points.

He starts off strong with No. 1: Treat insularity as a weakness:
If you don’t seriously consider your opponents’ best arguments, you’ll be unprepared to answer them. If you don’t engage people whose premises differ from yours, you’ll never learn to persuade them and broaden your movement. If you don’t heed changes in the country’s needs and political climate, you’ll fail to adapt and survive. A conservative who matches wits with the New York Times every day is stronger than the one who mainlines Fox.

But from there on out, however, he falls into the liberal echo chamber that states “It’s only the conservatives who have their hands over their ears while saying ‘lalalalalalalalala’ who are in the echo chambers, but as they emerge into the freedom of progressive thought, they see the error of their ways.”

I see liberals who can’t test their theories and can’t bear to risk falsification when confronted with Climategate – which Saletan brushes aside, violating his inability to beware abstraction (No. 8), overcome his urges (No. 10), and seek wisdom, not just victory (No. 5) to recognize that the “science is settled” argument is cracking when confronted with data falsification, manipulation, and scientific intimidation.

It’s sad, in a way, to see Saletan’s arguments crumble against his own refusal to recognize that he’s trapped in a progressive echo chamber as he tries to offer poor conservatives the advice they need to exit theirs. He does toss in an occasional jab at those on the left, but they come across as asides to the more deeply explored jabs at the right. In this, he’s violating No. 3 (never define yourself by an enemy), No. 4 (don’t outsource your beliefs to your allies) and No. 6 (distrust polarization).

Overall, Saletan is also demonstrating a violation of No. 1, in continuing to jab the left while only tossing out the less egregious examples of offense of his tenets by the left. There are plenty of left-leaning politicians, talking heads, pundits and voters who are just as guilty as being closed-minded as those on the right, it’s just that those on the left are controlling the conversation by identifying their views as “progressive” and those of the conservatives as the only ones needing adaptation.

Saletan, in short, needs to re-read his closing statement, and follow it. Of course, we all do:

We’re all vain and lazy. In the electronic echo chamber, it’s easier than ever to shut out what you don’t want to hear. Nobody will make you open the door and venture out. You’ll have to do that yourself.

Liberals declaring their freedom from the liberal echo chamber. For a contrasting view at a more "middle of the road" news outlet, go here.

Update: Today, Saletan defends his writing by pointing out that some critics are taking what he wrote out of context. While that may be true in most cases, what he wrote is still a bit shaky in that the major examples he discussed of echo chamberism are all on the part of conservatives. He treats the liberal examples -- as I noted in this post -- as asides.

No comments: