No history, no consequences

How can our media systems help (or hurt) our efforts to build accountability?

One of the most durable shifts in our media systems over the last two decades has been the emergence and now dominance of infinite instantaneous streams that encourage constant engagement but discourage the idea of history, of tracking previous statements, of connecting current reality to previous perspective. There is no continuity, only conflict and outrage in the moment. All feels constantly new. All outrage feels fresh. And hot takes are never judged for their accuracy. There are no consequences for being wrong or outlandish or absurd … or lying.

The systems we rely on for information are not only making it hard to be informed, but also turning us into creatures of the moment. The same way we need these platforms and the stories we rely on to understand the world to provide context, nuance, and clarity in ways that they are generally not optimized for now, we need the to encourage us to understand perspective over time, to help us build credibility and understand authoritativeness so that we can begin to rebuild trust and ultimately to begin to share trust between communities. Without a sense of history, we are forced to substitute confirmation bias and proximity for trust built on credibility and truth.

Combine this with a desperate desire to reclaim moral leadership, and we find ourselves in the midst of “cancel culture” — a pejorative, dismissive epithet coined by the Right to denigrate the Left’s attempts to provide moral clarity and accountability for behaviors that support systemic status quos that don’t serve America from sexism and misogyny to white supremacy. The problem is that our demonstrations of moral clarity lack durability and fail to include the nuance necessary for the potential redemption that a healthy society would enable — and that healthy media systems would support. The consequences and accountability society is trying to create for immoral behavior and desperately outdated ideology are neither durable nor redeemable — and we need both.

I am doing a Clubhouse conversation on free speech and cancel culture on Friday the 12th (tomorrow) at 430p et as part of the Greyhorse Book Festival with the awesome Suzanne Nossel moderated by the brilliant Helaine Olen. Much more than this here: https://ghbookfest.splashthat.com — but come listen in to a deeper conversation about what we need from free expression and what we need from our media systems to support genuine freedom and healthy discourse.


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