Where’s the leadership?

I teach a little of Milton’s Areopagitca to my Elon class. (My class is thankful that it is only a little.) I include it because it provides the foundation for a discussion of freedom of speech and press. I like the idea that when truth and falsehood collide, truth wins.

That’s one reason this Q. & A. with Chris Robichaud of the Harvard Kennedy School caught my attention.

How can we live in an age so rich in information, with so many educated people across the world, and still seem to be susceptible to such embarrassing and deep ignorance? You would have hoped at this point that a civil society would agree on the basic facts and could get about disagreeing about the interesting things – what to do about them. That’s where disagreements are supposed to happen.

But no, we don’t even agree on the basic facts….

In this country, and this is just a confession, a lot of us were just stunned at the Birther debate. Not at first – you always expect some absurdity to arise when you have a presidential candidate whose name is Barack Hussein Obama, who’s black. That’s going terrify a certain portion of the population.

But after a while, I mean…I think that the number of people who became convinced that he wasn’t a US citizen grew after he was elected President. You start to wonder, “What the hell?” I know that’s just one example, and that may be unfair because it seems so fringe (and yet the numbers suggest it’s not as fringe as we would like). But all the same, it just causes you to scratch your head and go, “What’s going on?

He goes on to talk about the ignorance of the presidential debates where no one is interested in getting to the truth. He suggests that neither the politicians nor the media are doing much to improve the discussion, and I think he’s right. I’d like to say there is an opportunity for the mainstream media here, but I’m not confident they want to grab it.

The question is how much people really want to get to the truth, particularly if it means separating them from their emotion-fueled opinions. If tat is there, the media will follow. But the media certainly will not lead.