Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Discourse of Disunity

I have a confession. I listen to a lot of "talk radio". Why? I do it in the spirit of my last post "Love the Light":

"My understanding is that in Baha'i thought there is no such thing as a "liberal truth" or a "conservative truth", a "Republican truth" or a "Democrat truth" there is simply "truth". Truth can be discovered anywhere and everywhere if we have eyes to see and eyes to hear. However, if we get hung up on the lamp, we may miss the light and without light we are all in the dark regardless of what party we belong to or our political views."

One of the topics that has generated a lot of "talk" recently is the possibility of the reintroduction of the “Fairness Doctrine”, a policy governing the “fair” sharing of views on controversial issues. Here is a little background:

The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required the holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. The United States Supreme Court has upheld the Commission's general right to enforce such a policy where channels are limited, but the courts have generally not considered that the FCC is obliged to do so.[1] The FCC has since withdrawn the Fairness Doctrine, prompting some to urge its reintroduction through either Commission policy or Congressional legislation.[2]

The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in the U.S. in 1949 (Report on Editorializing by Broadcast Licensees, 13 F.C.C. 1246 [1949]). The doctrine remained a matter of general policy, and was applied on a case-by-case basis until 1967, when certain provisions of the doctrine were incorporated into FCC regulations.[3] It did not require equal time for opposing views, but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials. (Read more about the Fairness Doctrine here)

Rather than debating whether or not the Fairness Doctrine is a good thing, I’d like to use it as a basis for discussing something that has been on my mind for awhile and is related to my last couple of posts about political prejudice. A basic assumption that seems to have taken hold in popular discourse about social problems in America is that every issue can be boiled down to view A and “contrasting” view B. Another assumption is that the only possible positions available for people is to be either “for” view A or “for” view B. This is exemplified in the way that the media structures the discourse on social problems, one talking head represents view A and another talking head represents view B and they argue with each other (often loudly). This perpetuates a kind of bi-polar perspective on reality where there are only two sides to any issue and only one of those sides can ultimately prevail. I refer to this as the discourse of disunity. Long term exposure to this kind of discourse tends to narrow the mind and harden the heart. Sadly, a virtual disunity industry keeps the population in a perpetual state of polarization. This may help people win elections and keep the pundits well paid, but it is useless as far as finding real solutions to the challenges facing the United States. On a positive note, a longing among many people for unity, for transcending partisanship and polarization is being voiced far and wide. At least some of us seem ready to put the disunity industry out of business and change the way we talk about our challenges and about each other. This is an encouraging development and needs to be enthusiastically supported by all Americans regardless of party or ideology. The future of our democracy depends upon it.

“The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The One true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words. Exert yourselves that ye may attain this transcendent and most sublime station, the station that can insure the protection and security of all mankind. This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations.”

(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 14)

Happy election day and God bless America!