The Fights We Fight
In May 2019, I began a short-lived political blog because I had started watching and reading news for the first time in my life, only to find out my beliefs and political positions were first misrepresented and then slandered by the majority of the news outlets I was watching at the time, continually. Naively, I thought, “Well, of course, they think I’m either stupid or evil because what they say I stand for is not at all what I stand for. Perhaps if I clarified my real, more nuanced positions, they would treat me more charitably.”
I began with straightforward things, like why I believe we all have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and what I mean when I say those things. I wrote articles about abortion and self-defense, about speech and conscience, about the distinction between happiness and hedonism. I reviewed books like Open Borders and Identity and White Fragility, trying to give a measured reaction to both pros and cons of each author’s arguments.
When I posted links to these articles on my Facebook page, however, I watched all hell break loose. Friends, family, and old college roommates pushed back hard on almost everything I had to say. I had to “check my privilege” and “educate myself;” I was mocked for not “putting my money where my mouth was” and “being hopelessly naïve;” I was un-friended and lambasted.
After my 24th post, I decided to retire as a political writer because the social price was so high. What was going on? I lean more conservative, so I got a ton of hate from my more liberal social connections and began to think that it was that side of the spectrum that was hopelessly intolerant and vicious, while my own set was more reasonable. When I talked to a few, still kind, liberal friends, however, they had the opposite perspective: they felt they could not express themselves to or reason with right-leaning friends because “conservatives had gotten so ugly and mean.”
Charity is in short supply on both sides, that’s for certain. But why? Much has been written about social media algorithms, information silos, and human tribal tendencies, all of which have much to do with our current political climate. For a while it seemed the greatest battle was between conservatives and liberals, but then it became more evident that there were actually two parallel but not overlapping idealistic battles: 1) Everyday liberals vs. the alt-right on one track (Think Vox and MSNBC), and 2) Everyday conservatives vs. the socialist left on the other (Think The Daily Wire and PragerU). These and other partisan media outlets spend their time and energy focused on that portion of their opponents they view as most dangerous, ignoring the moderate opinions of wide swaths of society. This is, perhaps, not such a bad thing, for it is most compelling for anyone to fight against evil, whether it be nazism or communism. However, this laser-focus makes it hard for people that only listen to voices from that silo to believe that there even exist reasonable positions on the other side of the aisle, and so the mills of outrage keep churning. I began my political blog galloping righteously into battle for conservative views against the far left, until I realized something bigger and more nefarious was going on.
If you have heard of them, the Twitter Files and the Facebook hearings, among other things, are helping reveal some of those underlying dynamics. It turns out that very big, united global forces, including our governments and many mega-corporations, are trying to “guide” the populations of the nations into having certain opinions on almost every issue. Unfavorable opinions are outright or algorithmically banned from view, major publications decide in unison not to publish on even newsworthy and true topics if they aren’t “helpful” to a certain perspective (think Hunter Biden’s laptop), and information that calls into question supported opinions is flagged by “Fact Checkers” that are paid for and in the service of the controlling powers.
Now the American people have another reason to be angry with one another. Some people either don’t know this is happening and/or believe that the powers-that-be are generally correct and do what they do in good faith and service of the greater good, and they get angry with those (“conspiracy theorists”) that disagree or disbelieve data from major news sources like the New York Times or NPR. On the other side, those who are aware of this manipulation and believe that these powerful forces (calling them names like “the bureaucracy,” “the elite,” “the corporate media,” “the media-industrial complex,” etc.) are generally bad faith actors, are often incorrect, and only release information in the service of their own good and private interests are angry with those (“normies”) that don’t question anything or search for alternative narratives.
So now we also have this battle: normies vs. conspiracy theorists, or more neutrally, mainstreamers vs. seekers, both sides comprised of people who fall all over the political spectrum and come from all kinds of backgrounds. Many Democrats became seekers when Bernie Sanders was denied the Presidential nomination, Jill Stein was labeled a Russian bot, and Tulsi Gabbard was blacklisted and maligned by “her” party. Many Republicans left the mainstream because of the coverage of Donald Trump, the pandemic, and the vaccine, to name only a few. Many people of all political stripes have questions about what’s really going in Ukraine, what really happened in Wuhan, what’s really happening at the border, and so on. In the category of seekers, we could name people like Russell Brand, David (Viva) Frei, Joe Rogan, and Matt Taibbi.
Where do we go for these answers, and how do we talk to one another about important issues when there is such profound disagreement on what is true, who speaks truth, and how we can identify propaganda?
One purpose of this platform, Optiv Network, is to seek answers to those questions. Our goal is to lower the heat on political discussions, accepting as a first principle that everyone will come to the table with reason and conscience activated. We seek to bypass the cliché reductions of the past five years’ toxic rhetoric (“Baby killer!” -- “Nazi!”) and seek first to understand and then to be understood on complicated and difficult topics.
We take it for granted that voices we host will be passionate about their beliefs and the things they have chosen to support. That passion is a necessary component of prosecuting and defending ideas. Just as lawyers in a courtroom do their utmost to prove their point, we want people to participate in these discussions who are willing to lay out the full case for their positions, knowing that they will be cross-examined by someone just as passionate on the other side. In this way, the trial of ideas will have the greatest chance of returning correct verdicts.
So where will you line up in the battle of tribalist vs. bridge-builder? Are you 100% sure you have all the information you need to be as confident as you are on the topics you care about, or are you willing to keep listening and learning?
The in-fighting of the tribes is ongoing, but the war for the future of the country is at stake.