Sunday, February 8, 2015

Two sides to every story?

I've a column with the Canberra Times on the common axiom: 'There are two sides to every story'.

The article has been titled to focus on climate change, but my point is broader: there are often two sides, but quality matters. What can seem like a radical argument between opposing sides is actually an exercise in consolation--an opportunity to avoid the (exhausting) nuance of genuine debate. A sample:
When the media promote "two sides", and one side is unqualified or uninformed, they are encouraging...prejudices. While giving the impression of radical controversy, they are in fact keeping the conversation safe, without the constant and sometimes exhausting to-and-fro that marks genuine intellectual inquiry. Sometimes this show is for entertainment, such as a panel of celebrities offering quips. Sometimes it is simple ideological promotion, for profit and political dominance, such as businessmen doing what's good for business (in the short term at least). Either way, what looks like balance is in fact an appeal to its contrary: the comfortable bent that resists correction. 
The point is not that we desperately need censorship; that non-compliant ideas or language must be criminalised. The point is not that expertise guarantees certainty - quite the contrary, as professional scholars are often more aware of complicating nuance. The point is that, while there are indeed many takes on every story, some are not worth listening to, even for giggles. And if we find ourselves saying "well, there are two sides" in an argument, it might be time to stop talking and do our homework in silence. 

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