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Our Chiral Political Media

Political spin reflects two entirely different sets of "facts"

Bob Seay
December 12, 2014

Chirality is one of the few things I remember from high school chemistry class. That, and the definitely symmetrical Sheila Stewart who sat in the row next to me.

Objects are said to be chiral if their mirror images cannot overlap. Your hands, for example, do not overlap if you place one on top of the other. Your right hand would not work very well if it was transferred to your left arm.

In chemistry, molecules are said to be chiral when they spin in opposite directions. These differences can produce significantly different results. One chiral version of Aspartame is sweet; the opposite chiral isomer tastes bitter. In some medications, one chiral version can heal while the other will kill.

Political media is trapped in its own chiral spin, a swirl of mirror images with no overlap and potentially deadly differences. Somehow, we have managed to adapt to our cultural cognitive dissonance. We have grown accustomed to chiral arguments about climate change and trickle-down economics. Besides, while climate change and inequality of wealth are important issues, they are somewhat abstract for most Americans. We tend to respond best to threats immediate and personal - unless it's a school shooting or some other mass murder. Then we, as a society, just simply do nothing.

There was, surprisingly, a brief moment of consistency in the aftermath of the Eric Garner case when pundits on the Left and the Right seemed to agree that an injustice had occurred. That unexpected outbreak of empathy lasted only as long as it took right-leaning websites to come up with more creative interpretations of the non-indictment. "Eric Garner was killed because of cigarette taxes", they said, or "because he was obese", or because of any other reason that might justify police officers choking a man until he can't breathe and then standing by and watching him die. Right-leaning commentators who did not recant their heresies were punished accordingly by the party faithful.

And chirality came back with the vengence of twin, opposite spinning tornadoes.

The militarization of police is not an abstraction. The CIA Torture Report is neither abstract nor theoretical. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the need for immigration reform, and the recent CRomnibus bill are real things, with real numbers and real consequences for real people. But we can't find solutions for these problems because we refuse to agree on even the most basic facts. Every morning, I click through the links of the NewsPrism front page in search of some redeeming truth from some unexpected source on the extreme sides of the spectrum. Sometimes I find it, but more often than not, I feel like I am reading previews of News Yet To Come. Today's extreme position is all too often tomorrow's mainstream doctrine.

My personal antidote for media is to fact check everything. I use reliable reference sites. And I am a big fan of original sources. Why read someone else's summation of a Supreme Court case when you can simply read the opinion for yourself? I realize that not everyone has the time or compulsion to do this kind of research, but it works for me. The next best solution is to go to websites that you trust. Unfortunately, we tend to seek out sources that confirm our biases. We fall back into that cycle of allowing our beliefs to determine what we will consider to be facts instead of allowing facts to determine our beliefs.

For those of us who care about our country and our world, this quest for truth is not just a hobby. It is a civic obligation, like voting or staging a peaceful protest. In a way, it is a protest. We are protesting all of the lies that we have ever been told.

Such are the chiral isomers of our political media. You can decide for yourself which are sweet and which are bitter.

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©2014 by Bob Seay