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Why I Do Not Want Everyone To Agree With Me

I do not want everyone to have the same opinion I have on, basically, anything: from gay marriage to drugs. 

One benefit of writing on subjects most – including myself – find distasteful is the amount of opposition you regularly and consistently acquire. I want to argue about why I find this essential for reasoning, in keeping with a previous post on why we must not silence (almost any) other viewpoint. I also want to encourage a meaningful interaction with opposition and the type of opposition worth wanting.


When writing, there is little use, aside from diary entries, to just have your beliefs, views and opinions merely set out. It is uninteresting to most what your view on gay marriage or god is, unless you have something reasonable and/or interesting to say. Even if it simply reinforcement of views expressed by smarter people, which is often what happens on this blog, this must be set out reasonably so that one can follow the argument. It should get people to reach the same conclusion, though we know this doesn’t happen always, no matter how reasonable or justified a view is. We all have different reasons for writing or arguing and trying to persuade others, but whatever it is, our goal is to sway opinion.

But, for me, this is only half-true. I do not want everyone to have the same opinion I have on, basically, anything: from gay marriage to drugs. In almost every instance, however, I do want these topics legislated or enacted in public policy according to what I think is the most reasonable option (at the moment, given the current evidence). But just because it is law or policy does not and should not mean everyone agrees with it: people will, for example, oppose gay marriage regardless of whether it is legal or not.

Furthermore, even if you have all the best arguments on your side – as we do with gay marriage – this does not mean, as I’ve argued, there is no point discussing the topic: even if you, individually, think the argument is over, there will be others who think not. And if we get complacent because we think we are right, those most active who think it is wrong will be the ones who make the changes we don’t see coming. It is, as Goya said, the sleep of reason that produces monsters.

My justification then for wanting opposition is based on the idea that my opponents are the ones keeping me awake; they are the fingers jabbing me in the side that I hope never turn to swords. We may not see eye to eye, but at least it means my eyes have to be open.

Secondly, by making sure I am not becoming passive in general, they also ensure I’m clarifying myself and reassessing my individual arguments. As Mill pointed out, this is perhaps the main reason censorship is destructive to (1) the censor, (2) the person censored and (3) the world at large: all are denied access to potential information which could indicate the best viewpoint. Similarly, by not engaging or having opponents, I am effectively censoring myself from opposing views. This would therefore have the same disastrous effect that Mill warns about.

Of course some viewpoints are not worth engaging in. For example, those who think gays should be killed are not the type of opponents we need but they are worth opposing. However, they do fall under the general rubric of opponents in this debate and the reasonable ones worth wanting can help keep us abreast of such fanatical (and highly idiotic) factions. (At least this lady is being consistent with her beliefs concerning the Bible and killing gays. I can respect her consistency, if highly disrespect her argument.)

But this does indicate that we shouldn’t throw out all opposition with fanatical idiots: this is an inherent danger that can create groupthink, through an “us versus them” mindset; something we, as social mammals, are all too quick to do. By painting them with the brush of “not us” too strongly, it also means we’ll have no one call us out when or if we’re wrong.

We should therefore welcome opposition. If we can explain ourselves reasonably and with justification, we can demand the same of our opponents. Thus, we want an opposition that is reasonable, clear and uses justified arguments to defend themselves. Our purpose is to show why they’re wrong – or to accede and say their arguments are indeed better.

This is why I do not want to live in a world where everyone agrees with me. How would I know if I’m wrong, if I am not challenged in a coherent, logical way? Something does not become true or right just because everyone believes it: that’s an appeal to majority, not a justification. After all, in order to argue, you need some kind of overarching liberty to do so: in reality, a lack of dissent is a sign of conformity and subjugation, not universal agreement.

Friction creates light, here, dispelling this darkness of certainty. It’s not that I want to be perfectly right, but it’s that I do not want to be horribly wrong nor live with others that don't challenge themselves. I want to think defensively, as well as offensively. Debates must not end, opposition must not fade. We require our opponents to make sure that our views are as strong as possible, that what we believe isn’t so merely because of family, tradition or majority opinion. This is why dissent, on every issue, is important. We can’t face and counter every opponent, but we should at least be glad that they exist. Even if I don’t respond to every one, I read all of them and many have helped change or help justify my own views.

So to my opponents: thank you. You’re still wrong. But thank you.

Image Credit: From Francis Goya, The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters

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Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
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  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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