On a recent letter written to Time magazine

David Von Drehle’s cover story “The Five Faces of Barack Obama” assured me that Obama would be a good choice for President [Sept. 1]. The reason: he has the curiosity to look deeply into controversial issues. I am 80 years old and was raised in Wisconsin, where folks rarely considered other perspectives. I opted to live in Alaska from 1949 and on into statehood. I can well appreciate Obama’s ability to examine an idea or policy that has been suitable and decide to move on if it no longer fits. This ability escapes most Americans. Sadly, the very positive attributes Obama possesses appear to be fodder for voters to doubt his abilities. The only salvation I can see, if any, will be when the older folks die off and the young realize our mistakes and embrace a candidate like Barack Obama. — Rita Ihly, 80, of Bellingham, Wash., Letter to the editor appearing in the Inbox section of the Sept. 15, 2008 edition of Time magazine

This, to me, was a startling and refreshing statement for an 80-year-old to make. While sometimes older demographics of people tend to not consider other perspectives as much as younger generations, and are often adamantly opposed to stepping outside of their ideological box, this isn’t just symptomatic of old people, Ihly obviously being one exception. As Ihly pointed out, it’s symptomatic of most Americans.

And it’s symptomatic, in part, because of commentators on venues like CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and others, which just recycle the same ideas ad nauseum. People try so desperately to lump everything that exists in society, from groups of people, spirituality and ideologies, into compartments that never intermingle : white, black, rich, poor, blue, red, left, right. And it seems we have essentially become so entrenched in the two-party system that thoughts toward other ideas is outlandish, and the news media only propagates this, with the exception of C-SPAN, which does give its due deference to those who consider themselves independent (i.e. Washington Journal”). So, television, and perhaps other media outlets, is one problem. In short, people don’t want to think about complex issues for themselves, they want it fed to them through a drip line. Thus, television stunts creativity and independent thought:

I hardly write any stories and I don’t work on my songs quite as intently as in the past. You know why??? Television Television is the most evil thing on our planet. Go right now to your TV and toss it out the window, or sell it and buy a better stereo. — “Journals,” Kurt Cobain

I would be curious to know, and this is probably not quantifiable, to what degree the two party system has crippled our collective ability to render imaginative and inventive solutions to the problems that confound us, from energy, to our role in seemingly never-ending Middle-Eastern boondoggles, to health care, to education. While wordpress and other outlets like this have their fair share of partisan hacks only seeking to infuse their party’s ideas to as many people as possible, venues such as this one are actually healthy for Democracy, given the amount of ideas being spun out in any given day. But there again, that does depend on our ability or desire to, not only read thoughts we agree with, but to read about ideas that may be vastly different from our own, not necessarily with a goal to change one’s mind about an issue — though that may be one result — but simply to learn.

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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