Monday, February 09, 2004

The Echo Chamber of the Two Americas
As you know, I am fascinated with the Red State/Blue State discussion - that this nation is divided across political lines, rural-suburban vs. urban, liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. non-religious, etc. John Edwards' campaign stump speech is centered around the idea of "Two Americas" - where one America is wealthy and privileged and the other America is for everyone else.

Another element in this division debate is the accusation, notably from critics on the Left like Michael Moore and Al Franken, that people are trapped in their own political echo chamber - getting their information and ideas from only sources they believe reflect their views (ie Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, et. al). While there may be some truth to that, the argument is only half complete. Members of both sides are trapped in this echo chamber. This graphic expresses revealing data regarding political book purchases, mapping the connections between titles if more than one book was purchased at a time. People who purchase Bill OReilly books or Ann Coulter books are rarely, if ever going to read a polemic from the Left. And those purchasing Al Franken or Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky books are rarely if ever going to read a polemic from the Right. In fact, those who purchase such books are more than likely to purchase additional books with similar political persuasion. The graphic shows that of several significant political book titles, only a few points of contact joined the universe of Leftist books to the universe of Rightist books. People are reading only what they want to hear and using those screeds to define who their enemies are and what they believe - all while refusing to maintain an open mind and read or listen to what the other side is saying. (Except You Who?. He reads everything.)

To be sure, I'm not against passionate belief in and defense of one's ideas and stances. In fact, while consensus may be important, it is nothing to make a fetish over (as European politicians and media routinely do). Agreeable consensus should be when opposing sides make concessions towards solutions. However, some people think consensus is all about forcing the opposing side to completely capitulate (realizing the wisdom of the other's views). This great article by Jonah Goldberg suggests that those who complain about a divided America are doing so because their ideas are on the losing end of the debate. In fact, a divided America may not be all that bad, and in fact might be what we want. Afterall, a divided America addressed issues regarding voting representation, tariffs, slavery, immigration, women's voting rights, temperance movements, anti-temperance movements, the gold standard, civil rights, role of government, welfare reform among others. A divided America means an active America, a thinking America, a debating America. As this article in the Atlantic points out, the existence of the "Angry American" should be praised because in anger there is no complacence. The divides in America show the broad spectrum of views, values and opinions of a diverse people thinking about the issues and debating them passionately. So on one hand, while the existence of a divided America may sound like a cause for concern, the otherhand shows that division can produce moments of great problem solving.


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