Truth, Partisanship, Huffington Post and Ex-Classmates
By Dennis Loo (8/31/13)
Three or four or so years ago I noticed that an old high school classmate of mine had a regular column at Huffington Post. I read a couple of his postings there and thought that he did a nice job stylistically, even though I did not agree with his perspective or with his argument. I then contacted him by email to ask if he could assist me in any way in getting a similar gig at HuffPost so that I could put my articles in front of HuffPost's audience.
For those who don't know already, Huffington Post was started by and is run by Arianna Huffington, a former very outspoken Republican and ex-wife to ex-California GOP gubernatorial candidate Michael Huffington. Arianna, rather unusually, is now a very outspoken liberal Democrat. HuffPost is one of the world's most popular websites, as of today's Alexa ranking, #93 worldwide and #20 in the U.S. The site combines a liberal ethic and news coverage/aggregating with the right-hand column trick of a number of websites to drive its hits up: cheesecake shots of (mostly) young and beautiful women.
This former classmate of mine, like me, went to an Ivy League school and went on to become a university professor, but unlike me went through the 1960s and escaped from the experience still a political liberal. (Is that because he went to Yale and I went to Harvard? LOL). I complimented him on his writing style - which I meant sincerely - and asked him to look at one or two of my articles. He did so and said in reply two things - that he thought my writing was "unnuanced" and that he saw no reason why HuffPost should publish my writings: "Why should they?" he said.
I thought to myself, "Huh. 'Unnuanced.' And 'why should they?'"
I actually did look over what I sent him and wondered whether there were ways that I could improve upon what I had written. It's something I'm always doing in general as I want to be effective at what I'm doing. So perhaps he had a point, although I strongly suspect that what he meant by "unnuanced" was mainly - or perhaps exclusively - that he didn't like my political perspective.
Then there's the "Why should they?" comment. I had to think about that one for a long time. A really long time. For some reason today it finally occurred to me - I told you it was a really long time - but it wasn't something that was exactly at the forefront of my mind all that time.
At first my response, which I didn't bother to share with him at the time, was "Why? Because that way people who read HuffPost can compare and contrast. They can read what other writers at HuffPost write, what others elsewhere that they read or hear say, and they can see what I have to say, and we can collectively arrive closer to the truth."
But this isn't what my former classmate was thinking, nor is it what he apparently believes is the path to the truth. (He is welcome to respond to this if he happens to read this, which is highly doubtful, by the way, and we can have a really good discussion that will allow those who read it to evaluate and weigh matters themselves.)
No, for my former classmate and those who share this view, there is no need for people who disagree with you to help to distribute your views in any way because, and I'm extrapolating here because he didn't actually state this directly: what matters is one's political and ideological perspective, not the debate and interaction between different perspectives and discussion of how to most accurately interpret facts.
Truth is not, I would argue by contrast, a product of one's perspective, a kind of cozy club of like-minded individuals and groups who revel in how similarly they see things, but instead a product of exploration which if it's to be any good, should involve the ongoing clash between differing perspectives.
I can and have learned from even people who meant to do me harm, either physically or intellectually. I have learned things from people whose motives were bad and/or who had no experience in the matter in question. Everyone has a right to speak, even people like neo-Nazis and fascists, as long as they don't also harm people physically. The reason they have a right to speak, so long as everyone also has the right to speak, is so that people who witness and participate in these discussions and debates can compare and contrast. Truth emerges through contention. Truth does not come about through existing in a hot house, protected from the winds of differing views. There is no other way to the truth unless you adhere to some religious or secular version of religious dogma into which you escape to hide.
For an example of what I mean by this, see this exchange that I had with a regular columnist at HuffPost named G. Roger Denson over the film Zero Dark Thirty. Denson, to his credit, was willing to reply to my comments. As of this writing, the exchanges in the comments thread are still there. My comments appear as my Twitter name Denniswcw. See my discussion and summary of the background to this here. And then see the comments thread here after his column.
This all bears upon what kind of society we want to live in. Do we want one in which the very airing of ideas that differ from the mainstream official views is considered dangerous - treasonous and a form of terrorism - or one in which the lively and open discussion of differing ideas is encouraged?