There are lots of things to unpack about all the unrest of the year 2020. Let’s begin with how information gets to the human brain in the first place.
Where Do You Look?
How do you acquire information about current events? Local sources (TV/newspaper & their online versions), national media platforms, specialized websites/publications? Thanks to this wonderful internet thingy, there is no shortage of available sources.
These Are Humans
Over the last few days, I became convinced bots, not humans, were manning the customer service line for my wife’s reloadable debit card (we each have one to store our “allowance,” the free money we get to use however we choose). Her card was set to expire on May 31 and she never received a new one with a new expiration date. She called to say she never received a new card and when could she expect one. As soon as she said, “never received,” the robotic CSR dove into the system and coded her card lost/stolen. This generates a card with a new account number, plus a “lost/stolen card replacement fee.” The card arrived, with a new account number and the same 05/31/2020 expiration date. Repeat 3 times. She finally convinced a CSR to let her talk to a supervisor. The supervisor said something broke in the system and a card with a new expiration date was never generated. He suggested she buy a new temporary card, withdraw the funds on the old card, load them on to the new one, and a permanent one would be sent. And yes, all those replacement card fees would be refunded.
Of course, the CSRs weren’t robots. It’s much more likely that they were keyed in on certain words that trigger action. Hearing “never received” is probably a trigger to report a card as lost.
This is an example to remind you that human beings are involved. Mistakes and misunderstandings will always be present. The information we seek about COVID-19, the current racial unrest, the candidates for office in the upcoming election, and anything else gets to us through other humans. Keep this in mind if you are tempted to claim any particular source is perfect or infallible.
“Impartial” Does Not Exist
Dictionary.com defines “bias” as “1) a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned (illegal bias against older job applicants; the magazine’s bias toward art rather than photography; our strong bias in favor of the idea. 2) unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group; prejudice (accusations of racial bias).”
Since we have established that our information comes from fallible humans, we also must acknowledge that humans have a bias in everything they do. It is not possible for any human to convey any information that is completely free of their personal bias. This is particularly acute in political matters. That bias was magnified in the year 2000.
For every American alive today, there had been no Presidential election controversy prior to 2000. The 1948 headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” that ran before the election was about the worst that it ever was. All the elections in my life (1972-1996) were landslides. Then in 2000, for the first time in our lives, the winner of the election ended up being decided by less than 1,000 votes. That state’s ballots were controversial. No one could be sure if the calculations were accurate.
And then personal bias showed up in reporting. As I’ve said previously, the 3 oldest national TV networks, the oldest national radio network, and the 50 largest/most influential newspapers and magazines all have leaders that are 90% registered Democrats. FOX News and all its subsidiaries are about 90% registered Republicans. The organizations led by 90% Democrats dropped all pretense of being impartial, screaming loudly that Al Gore was the clear and obvious winner, and the George W. Bush camp was using every illegal tactic available to steal the election that Gore had already won. FOX and any other Republican-influenced organization screamed the exact opposite, just as loudly. All of us as citizens, saddled with our own bias, flocked to the sources that carried our same bias. All the news sources were vehement and loud with extreme, all-or-nothing reporting drowning in absolutes.
No matter what the Florida Supreme Court decided, half of the population would be convinced the outcome would be illegitimate. Those who favored whoever came out on the short end would continue to scream and cry foul.
What Can I Do?
It has worsened with time. It has deteriorated to “Any disagreement with me in any form is proof you are evil.” It is maddening and heartbreaking to see so much hatred for different opinions. It’s not just social media. If you watch any cable news program, you’re not going to watch very long before someone will start leveling personal attacks at people that disagree with them. Now every reporter has an axe to grind. Every one of them has a political affiliation and seeks to validate that with every word they say or write.
I strive to use multiple sources for any one subject. I am a registered Libertarian. This internet thingy has given us a place to voice as well. When I see something that interests me, I’ll look for a Libertarian, conservative and liberal viewpoint. Somewhere in there, I should be able to find some truth buried in all the bias and crusading.
Also, make sure you continue to breathe. Politics and race, the two hottest topics being debated today, are prime areas for the extreme thinking that is prevalent in 2020. People are going to say things that will make you so angry you can’t see straight. It’s important to take a deep breath or twelve. Being called to action is one thing, being called to action based entirely on anger is another. That person is banking on you just reacting.
Reacting – we’ll cover that in the next post.