Echo chambers.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly, Pogo.

My siblings and I rarely talk about politics. We like each other, and we want to enjoy each other’s company, and we don’t see each other often enough to spend the time pursuing contentious subjects.

I turn to a variety or sources for my views, from Google News to the San Jose Mercury News to (less frequently) the New York Times, Washington Post, and Tampa Bay Times. I use Politifact and frequently to check out claims made by politicians and others.

In other words, I don’t rely on Facebook for my information about the world. Furthermore, I have not unfriended anyone for supporting any given presidential candidate, no matter what I thought of said candidate. A lot of other people have, though; there are apps which let you figure out who on your friends’ list supports Donald Trump, and take whatever action you feel appropriate. I confess that I ran one of the apps: no one on my friends’ list supports Trump. I’m not sure what I would have done had anyone turned up. Probably nothing: as long as people don’t express racist views themselves, I am content assuming them simply misguided in their choices of candidate. I know others, however, who have unfriended people based on what they found.

The Washington Post says that unfriending Donald Trump supporters increases political isolation, restricting us to our “political echo chamber.” The  creator of one such app expresses regret, bemoaning the use to which it has been put.

“I can imagine people installing these apps to ‘protect’ themselves from contrary opinions: global warming, women’s rights, gun-owner’s rights, vegetarianism, CrossFit, whatever it is that they don’t like,” said Julio Castillo, the (apparently regretful) creator of the Trump-blocking app Trump Trump. “It’s a little like everyone creating their own great firewall of China to censor everything that annoys them.”

Castillo’s remarks include an unstated premise : that all viewpoints are equally valid. While there can be differences of opinion on vegetarianism or gun rights, what about climate change? women’s rights? Sometimes to give space to “opposing viewpoints” is to give those viewpoints a legitimacy they might not deserve.

I don’t want to “protect” myself from contrary opinions: I want to insulate myself from verbal abuse. On the first three subjects Castillo mentions, people on the other side tend to name-call, to say the least. But at fifty-four I no longer feel required to endure being called “baby-killer” by anti-abortionists, or “castrating bitch” by misogynists, or “anti-Constitutional Nazi” by guns right activists. Or “shill for big Pharma” by anti-vaxxers. Or  “fool” and “dupe” by climate-change deniers. This isn’t avoiding “annoyance”: it’s refusing to be bullied.

Moreover, I fail to see why my married gay and lesbian friends should have to put up with people who tell them that their relationship is sinful, or that gay marriage should never be legal. Life is too short to put up with this sort of crap in your Facebook feed, when you could be looking at videos of baby otters.

My refusal to countenance bullies does not mean that I want to only hear voices which echo my own. I have always listened to opposing views on a whole host of matters. I disagree with quite a number of my friends on GMOs, and organics, and whether the military surge in Iraq worked. I have had people on my friends’ list express anti-abortion viewpoints, but do so respectfully of others. Another friend posts articles on Israel and Palestine, and while I don’t always agree with what he has to say, I have learned a lot from him. My view of that particular part of the Middle East is more nuanced than it would otherwise be.

We still get along. Each of us presents our viewpoints — we don’t agree, and might never agree, but at the end of the day I still respect them and I believe they still respect  me.

On the other hand, I have purged people who angrily attributed 9/11 to all  Muslims, as opposed to a small group of terrorists; or individuals who have insisted, in the face of all evidence, that only a mentally ill person could have shot up that church in Charleston. This was not because I disagreed with their views, but because their views as expressed were bigoted. (I have kept a known “birther” on my friends-list: we don’t talk politics, and I like him. I similarly have at least one anti-vaxxer on my friends’ list, and I keep them for the same reason. Neither has ever said anything in my Facebook that was remotely objectionable.)

I have always believed that there were very few things in this world that were black and white, and that we can learn a lot from each other, even when we disagree, when we speak thoughtfully to each other. If nothing else, we can recognize our shared humanity. That recognition can build a lot of bridges if we let it.

It all begins with respect and mutual assumptions of good faith. Those seem to be in short supply these days.



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