Leave your echo chamber

The Syrian refugee problem seems a little distant for a Reno News & Review editorial, but it’s Thanksgiving, and if we have nothing else to be thankful for, we can thank our lucky stars we’re not being treated like the Hebrews after Moses led them out of Egypt, or Joseph and Mary when they were told there was no room at the inn. Maybe we just remember how we white people treated the people who allowed us onto this continent back when Christians were the refugees.

So let’s bring this one home. This issue is dividing our culture, and one way to tell is the number of people who’ve been unfriended on Facebook. One member of our staff unfriended an actual friend he’s had for more than 50 years because of a pretentious post about how he’s a god-fearing Christian, but he doesn’t understand how Muslims can belong to a religion that has been violent since the days of Mohammed. It was written without irony, and with such a sense of entitlement and privilege that even the tenuous Facebook “friendship” was too close of a connection to evil. Still, the “unfriending” was a mistake.

People are living in echo chambers, and it’s not just on Facebook. An echo chamber is a metaphor for an intolerance to different opinions. You see it all the time in areas across society. People don’t express ideas in places where their opinions will be commented upon by the people who disagree with them. If they do, they do it anonymously. In their social media, they ban repugnant expressions of compassion or hatred—and the exact same expression might get banned for being repugnant by people on the opposite sides of an issue for mirrored reasons. People will deny objective science if it doesn’t fit in their echo chamber. Pick your issue—global warming, vaccinations, organic or modified foods, refugees. Sometimes even a questionably phrased agreement can get someone unfriended.

You see it in Congress. You saw it at the last Legislature. Those people are doing what they think is right, because they’re only listening to half their constituents—the ones that affirm their already-held beliefs.

Liberals, to a large degree, believe that several of the presidential campaigns are extended publicity stunts, most notably Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s. They get outraged because they can’t believe that as the country erupts in racial protests, Trump says that a BlackLivesMatter protester should be beaten because he has an opinion that differs from Trump’s. They don’t get that Trump is serious when he says things like that because they’ve insulated themselves from opinions that differ from their own. He actually believes he’s expressing an opinion that the majority can stomach because his opinions are well within the mainstream of his Facebook and Twitter followers. Democrats are likely to get their hats handed to them come next November if they don’t start actually hearing what the Republicans believe is their preferred way to run this country.

There’s only one way to overcome this problem. People must start listening to all the sides of every issue. People have got to get over this idea that social media is just for entertainment, so things that irritate you in your castle must be placed outside the moat.

Life in the good, ole U.S.A. is politics, folks, and politics is a blood sport. If people are hiding from the realities of their neighbors’ and family members’ opinions, they’re giving the very people they disagree with most the opportunity to sneak up behind them.