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Is it Possible to Think Critically in a Media Saturated Environment?

Nominally speaking, we are still “The United States of America.” However, in practice, we
seem to be two distinct societies, with divergent value systems. We are the Conservative States
of America (CSA) and the Liberal States of America (LSA). Being from a staunchly blue county
(Fulton) in a Bible Belt state (Georgia), I often find myself at somewhat of a crossroads. There
are certain traditionally conservative positions, such as the use of capital punishment, that are
such a commonly accepted ideas that it is hard for me to assert with any degree of finality that
they are wrong. In that sense, I am “conservative.” However, I could be described as a “liberal”
in terms of how I approach income inequality. Having seen many dear friends who do not have
the resources through which they can reach their full potential, I have always been a strong
advocate for social programs, such as universal healthcare.

I, like many Americans, am neither completely liberal, nor absolutely conservative. We are
not labels. We are fluid human beings who evaluate issues critically on a case-by- case basis.
Nothing is absolutely morally wrong or right. As such, terms like “liberal” or “conservative” are
arbitrary. They exist for the sake of convenience. I would sound like a pretentious buffoon if I
answered any question on my political views by saying “Weeeellll, on capital punishment, I tend
to be more conservative. On income inequality, I tend to be more liberal. On gun control, I also
tend to be more liberal…”

At this point in the conversation, my listener would be completely within their rights to
smack me upside the head with the nearest blunt object. Repeatedly.
So to avoid causing myself physical harm, I simply refer to myself as a “leftist.”
So we’re all not so easily constrained to labels, and only use them to avoid having drinks
poured on us at cocktail parties. Why then, can we not speak to one another in a civil manner?

I would argue that the insidious interference of the media is the root cause of this problem.
For media outlets, “liberal” and “conservative” do not merely constitute convenient labels.
Quite the contrary, networks build their core audiences around the idea that these two terms
are absolutisms. In fact, it is very easy to categorize any given outlet.
Liberal: CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, et cetera.

Conservative: Fox News, Breitbart, InfoWars, et cetera.

Because of our sedentary lifestyles, in which our media diet influences our views far more
than lived experience, one’s media outlet of choice can eventually inform one’s entire
worldview. Is that a scary thought? Well, it should be! We are willingly allowing sharply-
dressed, polarizing news anchors to control our thought processes. We have become zombies;
and like human flesh, biased media rhetoric leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and can make one
dreadfully ill.

What does all of this mean in practice? It shows that, particularly with polarizing politicians
like President Trump, we cannot evaluate any given situation or policy objectively. Fox News
will, in Anderson Cooper’s words, “defend a dump on his desk” and CNN will, in the words of
Fareed Zakaria, refer to President Trump as a “bullshit artist” and a disgrace to the country.
In our media rich lives, commentators such as Alex Jones, Anderson Cooper, Sean Hannity,
and Rush Limbaugh are not simply our sources of evening entertainment. They also act as our
interpreters. After all, thinking for oneself is far too difficult. Studying facts and figures?
Listening to town hall meetings on CSPAN? I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon! It’s
much more fun to watch Alex Jones have a meltdown over Benghazi, or Rachel Maddow shriek
like a hyena over President Trump’s tax returns.

However, somewhere along the line, we stopped viewing these colorful figures as
entertainers and began elevating them to a much higher status. Their charisma and charm has
an almost hypnotic effect, such that, like cult leaders, they deprive us of our rationality. When
we hear anything about “Benghazi,” our minds immediately go to a corpulent Alex Jones, who
bellows incoherently into a microphone, as his beet-red face contorts into a hideous, apelike
shape. Yet repeated exposure normalizes his boorish behavior, and thus, he eventually seems
to be a sensible human being with profound opinions. Eventually, his views become so
ingrained in us that we absorb them by osmosis. His words are no longer the psychotic drivel of
a rabid megalomaniac, but the logical conclusion of our own values.

The media, in this sense, is a narcotic. Like any drug, it will eventually leave one passed out
in a pool of one’s own urine, wondering how in the fuck one got to that point. THIS is why we
can no longer speak to one another. If my drug of choice is Anderson Cooper, and yours is Rush
Limbaugh, I will not deign to speak to someone whose lifestyle consists of nothing but war-
mongering and race-baiting. For your part, you won’t want to speak to a “libtard,” a “special

snowflake” who hates America. Our brains have been so warped by our respective narcotics,
that we can no longer see the world for the complex place that it is.

So what can we do? Well, if we want to really understand one another, we need to avoid
these cult leaders at all costs, or at least relegate them back to their position as entertainers. It
might be more reassuring to see the world in black and white, but such an understanding of the
world is a chimera, a lie, “fake news.” We need to do our own research, to have a shared basis
of reality, unfiltered by sensationalist rhetoric. Only then can we truly engage in informed
conversations.

Will it be difficult? Certainly. We will have to free ourselves from complacency and think
like individuals. Any alcoholic will occasionally wax nostalgic about that time that they
drunkenly set their hair aflame while serenading a goat. However, they will also almost
certainly tell you that life is much richer when viewed through a clear, sober lens.

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