Monday 28 March 2022

Toute Médaille a Son Revers

by Allister John Marran

The way we form our ideas, and with that, take our place in the human family, is through critical debate—which is, to consider arguments both for and against our own point of view. 

The French have a saying, ‘Toute médaille a son revers.’ Every medal has its reverse. Yet all too often, the reverse side is blank. Like the medal, there are many intellectual and educational pursuits in life which, in fact, merely give us the illusion of critical debate.

It is not a form of critical debate to watch a YouTube content creator or network news show host talk about a topic, be it political or social or philosophical. It's a style of performative art which plays to a predefined audience to increase viewership or likes. Counter-intuitively, even university classes have served such purpose.

In the vacuum of a sterile single point studio there is no counter point, there is no objectivity. It's simply designed to tell an audience that already believes something that they are right. It serves as an echo chamber to bolster one’s preconceptions.

If one relies on this alone to form a holistic world view, to inform one’s opinions and to guide one’s sensibilities, one will be left far short as a person. One wouldn’t think of walking into a bank expecting to be told about the strengths of another bank. One wouldn't attend a Catholic Church wanting to find out about the teachings of the Buddha.

We are never sold the product we need. We are sold the product that the seller has in stock, or else they lose the sale. It is Business 101.

Why then do people tune in to biased news networks or YouTube shows, even enroll for classes, expecting to get factual and unbiased information? In reality, information itself has no bias. It's the slant of the deliverer, or the recipient, who through accent or omission or misrepresentation allows it to carry a biased weight and a crooked message.


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

It’s difficult to hear opposing opinions, but it shouldn’t be foregone. It reminds me of students who advise one another to take the easiest courses. The greatest gain may be in the difficult ones. Speaking of which, I had the custom through my seminary studies of choosing three courses I preferred, and one I liked the least.

docmartincohen said...

Well, this essay itself is a case in point, isn't it Allister? We can read it and benefit from it without necessarily quite agreeing - or even understanding the argument. I tend to think there is too much emphasis on agreement and disagreement anyway… really we are like animals grazing the internet - if we find little morsels of tasty food to chew over we are doing well! We don't need to evaluate or to make grander claims to comprehension every time. So, with this post, I take only a little bit of the idea away with me, and thank Allister for that.

Keith said...

The crux of the post seems to be that there are two sides to every story. Interpretations, that is, often derived from the same core information. I think it’s incumbent upon the individual to do his or her own due diligence to learn of the alternative interpretations. And only then to form personal opinions. However, in today’s hyper-polarised, hyper-siloed, hyper-antagonistic world, too frequently people doggedly wed themselves to one-sidedness without first exercising that due diligence. There’s a visceral aspect to all this ownership of what’s ‘true’.

Nonetheless, I don’t believe it’s up to the news media to do the heavy lifting of presenting all possible sides for viewers. That’s not realistic. The purveyors of news have typically, as part of their original business models, already bought into either the liberal or conservate interpretation of the information — of events. In that regard, the world of news is a rather binary beast. Part of the due diligence I mentioned above is to take a moment to occasionally toggle between those left-leaning and right-leaning sources of news, and then decide which seems the ‘sanest’. Of course, it’s hard to shunt one’s own biases aside while doing that, risking layering one’s own biases onto the news media’s. No one says it’s easy.

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