Shouting Into the Echo Chamber, by Steve Safran

On Monday night, Steve and I had a late, text-y discussion wherein we commiserated about the Angry Internet in the face of recent Supreme Court decisions. Our fingers typed less about women and their parts and protection than how social media was failing to provide grown-up discourse. My drafts folder holds similar sentiments, but Stevie’s here are smarter. And he’s braver than I am.

Shouting Into the Echo Chamber, by Steve Safran

One of the many wonderful things about the Internet is that it gives a forum for focused debate on issues of importance. It allows earnest and sincere people to have a platform from which to share their beliefs and learn from others. So, of course, we don’t use it that way.

Here is a sampling of the thoughtful statements and rejoinders that spewed forth from this past week’s Supreme Court rulings:

(SCOTUS) Wants to enslave women— all of us. How can they be so hateful. #ImpeachTheFilthyFive

(SCOTUS IS) Disgusting misogynistic racist scumbags. #WarOnWomen.

(The ruling is) against Hobby Lobby and now (the Supreme Court) hates the country. Laughable. F@UCKING LEAVE. (The ruling was in favor of Hobby Lobby. I hope he’ll F@CKING STAY.)

Oh– I should mention something. All of these were aimed at @SCOTUSblog – which isn’t the Supreme Court’s Twitter feed. How do I know? Two reasons. 1. It says so, right there at the top of the feed and 2. The Supreme Court doesn’t have a Twitter feed. I mean, come on. Does anyone think the Supremes would Tweet?

@RuthBG: h8 Scalia but ❤ Bieber 2 much 2 deport.

But these comments are from just a handful of anonymous hatebags, right? Nope. Look at your Facebook feed, and you will see your perfectly rational friends get into reductionist lathers.

Here is my disclaimer: My opinion on the Supreme Court decisions this past week has no bearing on this column. I am not going to get into a debate over right and wrong, because the very idea that decisions are “right” or “wrong” is exactly the problem. We have opinions and biases. Too many of us seek information that supports our biases (“Confirmation Bias”) and reject information that does not.

That’s a shame, because within the lengthy Supreme Court rulings are some pretty remarkable works of legal prose. A dissent can often be the most compelling part of the debate. Witness Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s withering and wonderful 36-page dissent in the Hobby Lobby ruling. If you supported the outcome and aren’t interested in the dissent, you’re missing a master class in Constitutional Law. Taking a 40-page ruling and reducing it to “The Supreme Court Hates Woman” is like saying Moby Dick is about a guy who hates a whale. You can’t fit a ruling on a bumper sticker or a Tweet or an insult plastered over a picture of John Roberts. Even if he’s got that Mona Lisa smile thing going on and you can’t decide if he’s proud or just got the last donut in the chambers.

When the Supreme Court rules against us, they are fascists (“They’re in Bush’s pocket!”) and when they rule in favor of a cause we hold dear (e.g., gay marriage), they are wise and learned (“The Supreme Court is modern and progressive!”)

There were two especially fascinating rulings this week. I say “fascinating,” because within each the Court gave a remedy. Now that’s really cool. In the Hobby Lobby case, the court ruled that the store could indeed have health insurance that didn’t offer birth control, but offered that the HHS could pick up the tab instead. In the case striking down the Massachusetts buffer zone law, it suggested the state use existing law concerning harassment, intimidation, and obstruction. Massachusetts legislators are going to hammer out a new law that fits the Court’s recommendations.

Think about that. The Massachusetts ruling was a 9-0. This wasn’t an “Old White Guys Hate Women” decision. Every justice concurred that the 35-foot buffer zone was a violation of the First Amendment BUT, they demurred, “If you want to protect the women, here’s how you would do it…”

Compare that to the ruling against Aereo, a company that was– and here I will opine– blatantly ripping off TV stations with mini satellites and rebroadcasting their work via the Internet for a monthly fee. Here, the Court didn’t say “But Aereo could tinker with a couple of things and we’ll be cool, K bro?” When the Court offers a remedy, it’s like your dad saying, “You know I can’t give you permission to drink a beer. So I’m just going to put this can of Bud down and go work in the shop. But remember: I can’t give you permission.”

I like having my opinions challenged. Over the course of my adult life my position has changed on the following topics: gay marriage, guns, the war in Iraq, the death penalty, and the durability of the music of Billy Joel. Think about the college professor or the TED Talk you saw that changed how you saw something. Remember the joy you felt realizing it was time to rethink your idea on the topic. Honor that memory with a shot. Maybe with a chaser. Remember: Britt runs this blog. (Editor’s note: Britt recommends bubbles, and the general honoring of memories where a noted shift in thought leads to better conversations between us.)

We have to give rulings some time to breathe. And we need real outcomes to judge the prescience of our judges. In the 2010 ruling Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could not be restricted in the size of their donations to political campaigns. The outrage was along the lines of “Corporations will buy elections!” But look what happened last month to Eric Cantor, the Majority Whip from Virginia. He got smoked in the primaries by an unknown, and Cantor had a more than 25:1 cash advantage. Funded by all sorts of interest groups, Cantor spent millions. Dave Brat spent $200,000. Brat won.

The Supreme Court may not always rule the way you want. That presents you with the marvelous opportunity to learn and discuss. Shouting into the echo chamber that “The Supreme Court should do its homework!” won’t change anyone’s mind. Debate. Agree your opponent has valid points. Engage in persuasive argument. These are the real tools of change. They may not change the Supreme Court’s rulings. But they will, occasionally, change the way you think.

Especially about Billy Joel. That stuff just doesn’t hold up. I’m not debating you on this.

 

OPINION

 

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14 responses

  1. I wholeheartedly agree – informed debate is worth so much more than social media would have us believe, as is the ability to agree to disagree. How did people get their heads stuck so far up their own backsides that they could only see their own point of view? How did this happen?

    There are things which our government in the UK has done that I don’t agree with, but Twitter and Facebook don’t offer the right solution, or even, most of the time, any solution whatsoever (can you tell I don’t like them?!). If I want things to change I have to use my political muscle to do so. I need to move alongside organizations that are promoting, in a responsible way, those issues which I believe the powers that be should take note of. Just this morning, in response to an email from a group promoting and supporting Fair Trade, I contacted several local representatives of the European parliament. I hate politics, but politics is the way things get done – not ‘tweets’ or ‘status updates’ – so you either like it or lump it.

    • How DID this happen… right? And we cannot hashtag our friends into submission. Plus, civil discourse is always more fun. Especially when there are cocktails.

  2. Love, love, love this post! It is so true!!! A healthy debate is how we learn and how we grow and strengthen our own beliefs. I have also changed my opinion about things by having grown up discussions with people who will “discuss”, not argue (there is a difference) what they believe and why. Even if I disagree with them I can see things from their point of view and maybe understand WHY they feel that way. Sometimes people are just misinformed and if they have the right information would see things differently. I can tolerate ignorance…I CAN’T tolerate stupidity. When people start speaking out of their arse without knowing all the facts that is stupid! Be kind and listen to what someone else has to say, you just might learn something. Don’t be arrogant and think your opinion is always right…you might not have all the information. 🙂

    • And Facebook, Twitter or any other social media is NEVER a good place for these debates! People just show how stupid they are when trying to tell someone else they are wrong and get into childish arguments. Nothing is ever accomplished that way…..

      • That’s originally where Steve and I found ourselves getting irritable, Courtney. I guess the idea that we all hold the same opinions… and that it’s somehow acceptable to mock the other side “shouting into the echo chamber” as Stevie put it so well… that groupthink crap is yukky.

  3. Agree with the spirit of the post, Steve. Here’s a perspective from a lawyer: One fundamental feature of the legal process is that it results in a definitive disposition. Once a court of final appeal rules, the litigants can go on with their lives. You cannot continue to shout at each other that you are right, because you have put the matter before a theoretically neutral power that has decided the matter. But when it comes to the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion, their decisions are the beginning (all over again) of the debate. This is probably a good thing, but it means that, whereas the parties themselves can now act according to a binding decision, we the people start shouting past each other all over again. I wonder if the media can or should play to some extent the role of debate arbiter, and do a better job of focusing the debates on facts and meaningful discourse.

  4. As a humanist and believer in God and respecter of religious beliefs of others, the knee jerk backlash against the lumped-together “religious right” has saddened and scared me. Is there no place in our society (or amongst my social media friends) for someone who approves this ruling? Can one hold dear the idea that life begins at conception without being labeled a woman-hating, stripper of rights? As a scientist (and former physician), this is far and away the BEST set of arguments to side with the dissenting judges. Please, please quit it with the Made-in-China hypocrisy arguments and site this smart lady, instead:

    http://drjengunter.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/an-obgyns-opinion-on-the-supreme-court-hobby-lobby-and-contraception/

  5. Thoughtful piece. I’m not sure that tonycanata’s suggestion of controlling the media by encouraging them to be impartial moderators is a workable idea. I’ve never seen it done and I doubt it is doable – or perhaps even desirable. I’m a Canadian, so I don’t have any flesh in the game, however societal norms tend to flow from the US to Canada: when it happens there, it will happen here sooner or later. I honestly question the long term ramifications of the court ruling, however, it is as Steve says, what it is. Time to move on. The judicial system has not always produced the results some would hope for, and yet it has kept the peace by being the final word. There are decisions that will always raise contention and yet we still, as a society, have to move past them. The courts give a mechanism.

    In all truth Evangelical beliefs have been growing in the US. And the right to live your beliefs – individual or corporate – is a strongly fought for right. It was likely inevitable that a confrontation would end up in the Supreme Court. As I see it, those who do not agree with the court’s decision can have faith that each future case will be decided on its individual merits and that this case does not imply the outcome of future cases. Meanwhile the dissenters are free to voice their opinions publically and vote with their shopping dollars. You would be surprised at how much having a public say means to diffusing anger and disillusion. In Canada we have faced the desire of one of our provinces’ (Quebec) desire to separate for decades. There have been a couple of public votes and they never quite get the 50% necessary. Astonishingly, when the Quebec federal political party achieved offiical opposition status because of the number of seats they won, the dissent dropped to record low levels. Just when they had momentum and authority to push through their agenda – support dropped way off. It seems that what people really wanted wasn’t ther own state but rather to have their voices heard. It would not surprise me to find that is the case with the current SCOTUS decision. In other words, the yelling and screaming on the internet is, in fact, an important part of the process that says clearly that the system is working – not that it needs to be fixed.

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