“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” – Noam Chomsky
This is exactly what is going on with the public discourse in the United States (and perhaps in other countries as well). And it’s so pervasive that most people do not see the forest for the trees.
Here are some examples:
Healthcare: We discuss Obamacare and the status quo as the two ends of the range of debate. Obamacare is the status quo with but a few tweaks and gestures like not turning people away from health insurance with pre-existing conditions. But it’s still based on the for-profit, private insurance industry. Republicans are right that Obamacare will have numerous problems. But it’s not because it’s so far from where we are, it’s because it doesn’t go nearly far enough from where we are.The range of debate is too narrow. We could be talking about everything from the status quo to the Canadian/European style single payer systems. But that end of the spectrum is not at all on our national table.
Politics: In the United States, it’s not the Left versus the Right. It’s the Center versus the Right. The Left is left out. Obama is made out to be far out in left field, but he is not very far from the Republicans at all. In fact Obama is politically more like a Richard Nixon or a Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans of the past. There is much more territory to the left of Obama than what is in our acceptable range of discussion. The two parties are both bought and paid for by big business, and their ideas are not nearly enough to reflect all of the political thought of a nation. Instead of a two-party system, we could have 4 or 5 parties that get media attention and get represented in candidate debates. But, no, all we hear about are these two as they fight one another, giving us the false impression that they represent two extremes.
Militarism: The range of debate is on the obscene amount of money and resources that we are currently doing or something a bit less. Should we spend a trillion dollars or $800 billion? Whoopty-doo. We discuss how we should fight the War on Terrorism, not whether we should fight the War on Terrorism. No one in the mainstream media questions the military bases we have in over 100 other countries around the world. We discuss that we don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but we don’t discuss why the hell we have thousands of them.
Religion: The acceptable range is that we should be tolerant of all religions and have freedom of religion versus the idea that Islam should not have the same status as Christianity or Judaism. Maybe that’s the wrong question. What we don’t discuss or consider is freedom from religion and the many ways that the activities of religions are harming our society. Have you ever heard about the existence of an atheist politician or heard an atheist commentator being given any serious consideration? This is outside the limited range of acceptable debate.
What I want to say here is this: don’t get sucked up into thinking that we have a polarized society. There aren’t too opposite poles. The “sides” in virtually all debates are relatively quite close to each other. We need to step back and allow a much broader range to be in the public discourse. Otherwise, what looks like significant fighting and disagreements is merely a dog and pony show distracting us from looking at other – and better – possibilities.