Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

One-Sided Voices on Public Issues

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

One-Sided Voices on Public Issues

Article excerpt

A wise man has just heard a quarreling husband and wife each present a side of their story and has told each, "You're right." The wise man's disciple asks, "How can they both be right? They contradict each other!"

"You're right, too!" the wise man says.

Sometimes I feel like that disciple in this well-known joke. As part of a systematic effort to understand what's going on in our society's increasingly polarized discussion of the moral and cultural issues that confront us, I regularly read magazines of commentary and opinion from across the political spectrum. Reading both the National Review on the right and The Nation on the left is enough to make one's head swim.

Each magazine is full of moral fervor, with its own set of good guys and bad, of truths and heresies. Each draws a persuasive and consistent picture of the world. But how can they both be right? They contradict each other!

They can both be right because they're both also wrong. They're wrong because of what they leave out. What each leaves out are the valid arguments and evidence that don't fit into its world view.

Magazines like The Progressive on the left and Commentary on the right are suffused with intelligence. But more than anything else - more than knowledge or understanding - what each gives its readers is comfort: the comfort of being right. No need to struggle with ambiguity; no need to question the adequacy of one's assumptions. If one knows the topic and the journal, one can tell which way the article will lean.

One can read such journals year after year and never confront an article that says, "Hey, maybe we were wrong about the problem in race relations; maybe we missed an important point about the feminist movement; or maybe the other side has something to each us about the way to deal with crime."

As one who doesn't like the feeling of my head swimming, I can appreciate the appeal of such comfort. It feels good to have the right answer. But no one side has a monopoly on the truth, not on such perplexing questions as abortion or the relationship between the sexes or the place to draw the line between rights and responsibilities. …

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