Here we are. It’s 2011, and when I turn on the news, I get to see a tweet from Joe Schmo in Minnesota about how awful the Obama administration is. Then I get to hear about how x% of Americans in the latest public opinion poll want a government shutdown. Why, why, why is this news?
We have a representative democracy in which we all get to vote our preferences for government, and we have a Bill of Rights that allows us to speak our opinions freely. But do democracy and freedom of speech necessarily lead to a democracy of opinion? Do our constitutional rights guarantee that everyone has something worth saying, that all opinions are equal? In reality, no. In modern day America, yes.
This widespread media practice of getting average Americans to comment on news stories is undermining our collective ability to think critically, to examine sources, to understand the difference between academic study and opinion. The idea that what the uneducated believe is just as important as what intellectuals know is killing the democracy we regard so highly. Moreover, we treat academic study and issue experts as just one theory or one opinion among many, a practice which also undermines the very meaning of the word “theory.”
So here’s a message to you, dear media: I don’t care what the latest public opinion poll says because I seriously question the educational levels and cognitive abilities of most of the people in the United States. I don’t care what someone tweets or messages on Facebook about the latest news because random people are not experts. I want to hear what intellectuals are saying. I want to hear solutions from people who study and have experience and know how to think. I want to hear real analysis of political talking heads, not just regurgitation of their expertly spun messages. And I want this because I’m a freaking patriot and I know this country deserves better than the corporate media drivel we’re being forced to swallow.
Now here’s a message to you, dear reader: It’s ok to admit you don’t know enough about something to make an informed judgment. Saying “I don’t know” is what smart people do until they do know. What we should be doing is examining our opinions to make sure they’re based in fact. We should be looking at the evidence for ourselves and making informed decisions. At the very least, we should be relying on credible sources of information, not Fox News, the e-mail your cousin forwarded to you, a website created by any member of the Tea Party, or the latest YouTube video.
Bottom line? Demonizing intellectualism while perpetuating the democratization of opinion and touting belief over fact is not going to keep this country going. It’s going to tear us apart.