Saturday, June 18, 2011

The New Digital Divide

John Rash writes in the Star Tribune about the "New Digital Divide", which doesn't involve income disparity or socio-economic status, but refers instead to the widening partisan polarization associated with digital media. The part that caught my eye was how liberals and conservatives tend to view the world from increasingly divergent perspectives. The article discusses how the proliferating choices in alternative media may be either cause or effect.

Of course, the increasing polarization in politics is of concern, especially when deeply divided legislators at state and national levels must resolve thorny economic issues. The result is often stalemate and impasse, as is presently the case here in Minnesota.

Rash points out that 40 years ago, political opponents at least agreed on the basic facts of an issue, whereas today opposing camps come from differing views of reality. Depending on one's version of reality, raising taxes to balance the budget could be seen as a necessary annoyance or extremely detestable. Common sense asks why the two sides can't split the difference and avoid a nasty shutdown of government, but within each polarized version of reality, the obvious compromise solution doesn't seem so apparent.

Rash also touched on the increasing tendency to view fundamental facts of science through an ideological lens. Quoting Seth Lewis, he writes "The idea of empiricism is being questioned as never before."

While it's regrettable that Christian Fundamentalists wish to replace scientific theory with religious beliefs, this issue is not so simple. What Rash and Lewis are leaving out of the discussion is that there are divergent views of reality because stratified power structures in science, medicine and academia have often suppressed open-minded inquiry and alternative research. Paradigm defense generally takes precedence over exploration of new ideas, so innovators are marginalized and not published. Because alternative media can provide ordinary people with access to alternative thought and research, it's only natural that distrust of mainstream information would increase.

Plausible examples of alternative science abound, from Michael Cremo's Forbidden Archeology, Richard Hoagland's exposé of NASA concealment of ancient artifacts on the Moon and Mars, or even Minnesota physicist James McCanney's theories on the electrical nature of the solar system.

Is it a problem that many are beginning to distrust the mainstream oracles of truth? Or is this simply a reflection that critical thinking is not dead and that alternative media allow free thinkers to cast their nets a bit wider? I guess the answer depends on which version of reality you embrace.


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