Villainizing your opposition only leads to ignorance
In 2015, the Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village Kansas held a debate regarding the use of the Confederate flag. The debate, which is available on YouTube and goes for about an hour, centers mostly around a young white male student who insists that the Confederate flag is not a sign of racism, but rather a sign of defiance against government overreach. Most of the arguments made are pretty much what you would expect from a group of high schoolers. But one statement really stuck out to me. The young man who insisted that the Confederate flag isn’t racist was told by a fellow student to take a history class, and this may explain why so many people find the flag offensive, and what the Confederacy truly stood for. But the young man simply responded by saying that all of the teachers are employed by the government and that makes them inherently biased towards the Union cause.
This got me thinking about a major problem our society faces: the attempt to discredit all. We’re often told about echo chambers, but one question that isn’t always asked is, why are we in the echo chambers to begin with? One answer could be that we convinced ourselves that all those who don’t confirm our beliefs have a bias or a conflict which makes them untrustworthy, and we’ve allowed ourselves to ignore the facts they present us with. This has been done with many people and organizations, the most notorious of which is the media, which has been branded as liberal ever since the 1960s when it was attacked by segregationist George Wallace for its negative and accurate portrayal of the civil rights movement. But one group that gets a similar amount of slurring done against them is academia. This brings me back to the student in that high school debate. That young man convinced himself that no matter what facts are presented to him, that the Confederacy was built for the preservation of slavery, he can simply ignore it by accusing his teachers of bias.
While I do believe that this young man was being disingenuous on a certain level, he isn’t the only one who pushes that narrative that academics and teachers can’t be trusted. PragerU is an online organization which features videos on several topics ranging from history to economics. It was founded by a man named Dennis Prager, a conservative radio host, and many see his organization as an attempt to counteract what conservatives believe to be a left-wing bias on college campuses. The videos are roughly 5 minutes long and cover a wide array of topics, but generally fall into the paleoconservative ideology of Prager. Many have accused the organization of indoctrinating young people, and filling their videos with lies, half truths, and cherry picked evidence. But most disturbing is how organizations like this push the idea that entire swaths of people can be disavowed because of a stereotype made about their political ideology. While there is evidence that professors lean left, this is certainly not inherent to all professors, and their ideology does not make the facts they present untrue. It’s understandable to take a person’s political bias into account when analyzing an argument, but to use it to ignore facts is ludicrous. And the Right isn’t the only one guilty of it. I’ve observed plenty of liberal personalities attack conservative or others ideologies as being unreliable because of alleged corporate interests. While it is completely fair to take these things into account and publicize them, you cannot use it to discount inconvenient truths.
To be clear, I am not saying that we shouldn’t take certain people’s opinions with a grain of salt, or even certain organizations. It is completely fair to view a certain individual as untrustworthy because of half truths and outright lies they’ve told, but the problem comes in when vast swaths of people are discounted this way. For example, it’s fair to say a right-wing publication like InfoWars isn’t reliable, but that doesn’t mean any and all organizations that lean right can’t be trusted. There are plenty of news organizations which have right wing slant, but still do fair and legitimate journalistic work. Our goal as a society should be to amplify those voices on all sides, and not drown them under the stroke of a broad brush.
George Christopher is a first-year journalism major who has never listened to InfoWars. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.