Digital media present us with virtually unlimited choices of what we read and see and what we don’t. On the web, we can easily find ample support for whatever our beliefs may be. This even happens when people buy political books on Amazon, as network analyst Valdis Krebs shows. Purchasers of politically conservative books “also bought” other conservative books but not liberal books. The same is true for purchasers of books by liberal authors: They “also bought” books supporting views from the same end of the political spectrum. Crossovers—buying a book on the right and another on the left—are rare.
For many, this process leads to self-selection into an insular world of self-sustaining beliefs. The only cure is exposure to alternative points of view—and not just reading about different people and cultures. “It’s the encounters with real people outside our normal channels of interaction that can help us expand our horizons and grow,” Dan Buttry said in a comment yesterday.
Sustained personal encounters expand moral imagination more than anything else. But this takes courage. It’s easier to view the world through the comfort and safety of one’s computer screen than to get up, get out, and put oneself in proximity of others who are different. The crowd who showed up at the Islam in America event held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day did just that. And, based on comments this week from readers who attended the event, it did expand moral imaginations.
The media have aided and abetted political polarization by offering a diet of supercharged language and images. But, we decide what to consume.
Ultimately, don’t we control our moral imagination?
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(Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)