Dancin’ with myself

echo chamberHow do they do it?

I mean . . . really? How do they stay together, despite their almost polar opposite political views?

I’m referring, of course, to James Carville and Mary Matalin, two political strategists who have gained national prominence for their sage political advice and their respective close relationships to former presidents and aspiring politicians across the political spectrum.

Carville is a passionate, outspoken and often controversial leader of the political left. Matalin is a passionate, outspoken and often controversial leader of the political right.

And yet, despite their divergent political views, they are married and are able to find respect and admiration for each other.

I mention this because of an experience I encountered earlier this week in the sphere of social media, where the subject of politics can be a dominating topic, allowing just about anyone to espouse their political views while attracting commentary from their “friends.”

While social media platforms such as Facebook have become powerful tools to promote various forms of political commentary, there is a growing concern that they are only reinforcing our own, pre-conceived political ideology and creating massive “echo chambers” of political discourse.

With tools such as Twitter, Facebook and cable television, we today have immeasurable ways to filter our news, information and opinion. More than ever before, we can more easily gravitate to our own pre-selected sources of information, a process that robs us of the opportunity to question, challenge and discern the validity of our opinions and viewpoints.

I am guilty of this practice, but I do try to absorb contrary viewpoints, believing that it is a valuable process for expanded learning.

I am a self-described political junkie, and there are few things I enjoy more than debating public policy issues. My real life friends know this about me; I am a born-again contrarian, willing to switch sides when necessary if only to provoke and debate hot-button political issues.

My core political philosophy mostly follows the Libertarian model. I am pro-choice and pro-gun, yet I generally abhor abortions and try to remind others than the Second Amendment includes the words “well regulated.” I voted in favor of same-sex marriage. I am a fiscal conservative who appreciates the need for sound public spending and government regulation. I like renewable energy projects, but believe global climate change is being exploited for political purposes. My Facebook friends span the political spectrum, from hard left Democrats to hard-right Republicans.

In essence, I like to believe that I belong to the Common Sense party. This position earns me no respect whatsoever from those who have staked out much more stark positions. Some members of the GOP call people like me a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Some on the left, describe me as a hypocrite and a sell-out.

But I doubt very much that I am the only one who vacillates between the political poles. I am a firm believer in the political center and the notion that the “middle” is the most important demographic for any election.

Now, back to earlier this week. A real-life friend, a woman I very much respect and admire, threatened to block me from her news feed on Facebook.

Her rationale for this action: “Do you ever post anything that isn’t provocative?”

The subject at hand was last week’s announcement that helped clear the way for women to serve in combat roles. I think this was a good decision, yet I also asked whether women should now be required to register with the Selective Service, just as my sons will have to do when they turn 18.

The majority of the feedback my comment received indicated that most of my friends feel that “fair is fair,” and what’s “good for the goose is good for the gander.” But still, I was bothered that someone would threaten to block my opinions only because they did not align with hers.

My response was almost immediate, but not very well thought-out.

“I enjoy rigorous debate and alternative points of view; it’s why I like social media because it allows me to be exposed and digest opinions other than those I may have already conjured. I have “friends” of all political persuasions; sometimes they drive me bonkers and I’m sure I rattle their cages BUT through that discourse I gain valuable insight.

“I never want my news to be single-focused; I appreciate diversity…including diversity of thought and opinion; and I sincerely value your friendship. Block me if you must, but please know that would be a big loss for me. My previous career [as a journalist and political commentator] was geared toward provoking to inspire thinking. I don’t like echo chambers; and I have learned much from my Dem friends, and always appreciate the challenges to my thinking.”

In closing, my concerns about the proliferation of echo chamber discourse is shared by several academics and other thought leaders (see the links below). I also hope that this issue of echo chamber mentality will become part of a much larger conversation.

Step Outside Your Own Echo Chamber

The Echo Chamber Effect: New York Times

On the flip side: “Echo Chamber” is just a derogatory term for “community”

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