Has America lost the key to democracy?

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Nolan Higdon. Photo by CSU East Bay

In recent years, as the internet has come to dominate discourse, divisions in the US.--even within families—have deepened along ideological lines that often preclude any sort of critical thinking or dialogue. This has not only been harmful to our personal lives, but to the very fabric of democracy. That’s the argument in an essential new book titled “Let’s Agree to Disagree: A Critical Thinking Guide to Communication, Conflict Management, and Critical Media Literacy.” The two authors, Nolan Higdon, lecturer at Merrill College and the Education Department at University of California, Santa Cruz, and Mickey Huff, the director of Project Censored and president of the nonprofit Media Freedom Foundation, join host Robert Scheer on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss their new book.

While much of the hysteria around “fake news” has reached its peak in recent years, before social media and sophisticated, increasingly ubiquitous technology, contends Huff, it was the “legacy press [that] played a really big role in manufacturing consent around imperialist foreign policy, around neoliberal economic policies that hurt a majority of the population. It’s really important for people to believe they’re doing the right things even if they’re heading in the wrong direction.”

Scheer argues, “fake news” is as “American as apple pie,” citing the government-sponsored misinformation around the US. invasion of Iraq as an example. Now, he says, it’s often Democrats leading the charge towards online censorship, but as the three thinkers conclude, in a corporate-controlled America, it’s often unnecessary for political leaders to even intervene; companies like Google (which owns YouTube), Twitter and others do the work of their own accord to protect their corporate interests. So how do Americans re-establish the ability to listen to one another, even when they disagree? Higdon and Huff provide the example of stalwart conservative William J. Buckley publicly debating renowned leftist thinker Noam Chomsky as the sort of dialogue we need to protect if our democracy is to survive.

“What we’re arguing for in the text is that conflict needs to be constructive not destructive,” says Higdon. To the authors, “Let’s Agree to Disagree,” a textbook from Routledge, is meant to teach young Americans and anyone interested in fostering critical thinking the best practices needed to keep lively dialogue and debate alive.

“When you look around at the U.S.,” adds Higdon, “it’s very easy to see how the level of conflict we’re currently in is pretty destructive. We’re the wealthiest society on earth and in history, and we really can’t do basic things anymore because we’re fighting over trivial matters. That’s really a sign of a society in intellectual decay.”

Listen to the full conversation between Scheer, Higdon and Huff as they take apart notions of “fake news” and offer tangible solutions to our current moment of destructive discourse and polarization.

Mickey Huff. Photo credit: Project Censored



Joshua Scheer