Tomorrow is Independence Day here in the United States. Free from the tyranny of British rule, that’s us for almost 250 years. It’s always a happy time, never more so than in 1976, when a few of my friends and I braved the traffic and the crowds to celebrate the Bicentennial at Point State Park in Pittsburgh. We were cautioned about the driving and parking conditions. We were warned about an increased police presence. We weighed the various pros and cons and we decided that we didn’t want to miss the celebration.
We decided for ourselves.
I wonder what has happened to that practice?
More and more frequently, I encounter conversations, news articles, and social media updates that seem to encourage very little independent thinking. People like to use the word “polarizing” but I’m not sure that’s accurate, unless you want to step into physics for a bit.
The type of polarization we talk about is the kind which breaks people into opposing factions. The other type is the type that we use in our sunglasses and some of you use on your cameras. That’s the kind of polarization that prevents some light from passing through a filter. I think that’s more common today.
Today, many people get their news from one source, one network, or perhaps one talking head. That source, in order to maintain its ratings, caters to its followers. The news is filtered, left or right, positive or negative and, as the old song says, we “don’t mess with Mr. In-between.”
Sometimes, the news isn’t just filtered, sometimes, its constrained. Certain elements are left out, other elements are emphasized. The “obvious conclusion” shifts one way or the other. If we leave things in that state, our opinion shifts. Our view of world events is altered, made better or worse than those events really are. Eventually, our history is written at an angle.
I could list many examples, but I choose not to. Not here. Not today. They would only polarize this audience. I will say that in the past few years, I can remember many times hearing a story from a friend or family member, and asking a question about an aspect of that story that they had not heard. I’ve been asked similar questions, and they always send me searching for more information.
As we celebrate our independence, I suggest we stop focusing on the British. After all, they have become one of our best and most loyal allies. I suggest that we take back our independent thought process. Switch channels. Listen to the other side. Consider all the facts and decide for ourselves where the truth lies. Let’s open our minds to possibilities that challenge the status quo we have come to rely on.
By the way, if I can drift into physics just briefly; consider the image at the right. You’ve all done this experiment, probably in 4th grade. There’s a magnet under a sheet of paper onto which a bunch of iron filings has been spilled. Notice the clusters around the poles. Notice, too, the spread of filings between and around the poles. Filings drift from pole to pole, influenced one way or the other. No one side is always right.
The gallery includes photos from my walk with Maddie yesterday. It was going to be a hot day and, Maddie is in heat. In order to preserve her, ahem, independence, we walked very early. The neighborhood was alive. The captions tell the story. Click anywhere to begin a show.
And, if that “Mr. In-Between” thing brought back a memory, well then, you’re probably as old as I am, and you might enjoy this: