Truth and the cult of objectivity

This is going to be one of those not-quite-fully-developed posts, where there are just too many ideas in my head to say something terrifically cogent. As usual, that’s where you all come in.

But my core message (in case it doesn’t come through clearly!) is this:

We can’t let our obsession with objectivity, and our equation of it with “fairness” or “even-handed treatment”, obscure our search for truth.

I thought about this the other day when I was internally railing against coverage of our nation’s ongoing immigration debate. I was reading yet another article that quoted some immigrant students’ stories of their own lives and hopes for meaningful reform in the coming year, followed by a few quotes from a restrictionist group about how the “pro-illegal immigrant” groups were hoping to blackmail members of Congress with electoral threats related to the 2012 elections and the rising prominence of Latino voters. Or some nonsense like that–I kind of stopped reading.

And it reminded me of part of The Race Beat, where some of the reporters charged with covering the civil rights movement found it increasingly difficult to do so to their editors’ satisfaction, because the issue had crystallized to such an extent that, truly, there wasn’t a legitimate “other side.” In their quest to provide the balance that their newsrooms demanded, they were giving voice to actors who truly didn’t have a real place in the debate, morally or politically. I mean, people of color were being killed for trying to register to vote, and we’re somehow supposed to give credence to an alternative explanation–something other than the evil of racism? Really?

I’m not arguing that we’re in exactly the same place with immigrants’ rights. I don’t get into the “whose injustice is worse?” game. Ever.

But I do think that we’re beginning to find ourselves facing some of the same quandries, at least with elements of this debate. Who do you find who is a legitimate voice arguing that amazingly bright and hard-working immigrant youth should be rounded up and sent “back” to a foreign country? Who represents the “other side” in a question about how we should handle the deportation proceedings of mothers with young U.S. citizen children? Where do you put a shrill nativist voice clamoring for sealed borders and harsh detention conditions? And why can’t we have this national conversation without including them?

Truth obviously means being open to inquiry, curious about alternative views, and willing to engage in an earnest dialogue, including with people who disagree with us. But, in order to fuel the knowledge on which we rely for those conversations, I just don’t think there’s any rule that we should have to try to give equal time to those whose views masquerade as opinion, when they are really dangerous attempts to dress hatred up as dissent.

Objectivity is just not necessarily a virtue.

Our values are a valid lens through which to view our world.

And giving more attention to those voices our values compel us to heed does not mean that we’re so hopelessly biased that we cannot think.

That might make me a terrible newspaper editor.

But I think it serves me fairly well as a seeker of truth.

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