Published in the Tillamook County (Oregon) Pioneer March 9, 2021
by Neal Lemery
When it comes to opinions and ideas, we are both the producers and the consumers.
I’m always looking out for the latest idea, the most interesting cultural experience. “New stuff” takes many forms – local news, some new political development, updates on a friend’s family or business, not to mention a beautiful photo a talented photographer has posted on social media. The list of what piques my interest seems endless. I’m like the house cat with a ball of yarn or a catnip-filled toy.
Most of my interest comes with a new idea of how to look at the world and approaches to challenging problems. Finding a well-written new book, meeting with a good friend or joining in a group discussion gets my juices going. And if the new idea comes from me, I’m more than happy to “market” it to my friends and others who have the same interests.
Like everyone else in this age of social media and digitized information, I’m able to wear both the hat of the producer and and the consumer. The choice is mine. I’m the gatekeeper of my cultural experiences.
While some may bemoan the perceived censorship or manipulation of a snippet of our cultural offerings, each of us is still capable of finding the story, and choosing how we react, and what we do with the new knowledge. If someone wants to cancel my own cultural experience, to act as my censor, they face a daunting, if not impossible task.
I’m drawn to the deep discussion. The op ed page of a great newspaper is like honey in my tea, and I find a deep satisfaction in the well-thought argument, the well-researched point of view. I might even change my mind or have an intellectual growth spurt. The more diverse the opinion, the better. I love the mixing of curious minds.
My coffee table groans with a wide assortment of books and articles on a wide variety of topics. And, it is up to me, not some powerful media mogul, to decide what ideas I’m going to spend my time on. If I am going to be manipulated, what I consume is truly my own choice.
The idea of freedom of speech also includes both the freedom to listen and the responsibility to choose my materials wisely.
I am my own traffic cop in this hectic intersection of ideas, the melting pot of the great American conversation. How I respond to the ideas of others, as well as what I choose to put out into the world, is my choice. We traffic cops have responsibilities, with truth telling and well-reasoned viewpoints being the primary duties we all have to the community.
This marketplace of ideas is at the heart of the American experience. Innovative thoughts and new approaches have always brought about needed change, and has helped us improve our lives and the lives of future generations. The clash of ideas, the often heated discussions, provide the sparks that light the fires in our brains, and bring about a renewed, invigorated society.
If I fall to the toxic atmosphere of fear and intolerance, I’m cutting myself short, and denying myself access to the riches of the marketplace of ideas. I’m neglecting my own duties as the producer and the consumer, and I’m making the community conversation a mere shadow of what it can offer all of us.
Raging against an opinion or perspective that is not your own only serves to suffocate this marketplace, and limit the work of the marketplace in producing new thought and dynamic change. We need to learn to be better listeners. We also need to examine another viewpoint without the limits of our own fears and biases and be the seekers of truth and reason.
If I am the good listener, and an advocate of reason and truth seeking, at the end of the day I might have even learned something, and come closer to helping to solve a problem.