There was an issue a few weeks ago- I rather forget what it was- and I didn’t have time to understand it. Work was chaotic, my first assignment for the semester was looming, and I was tired. So rather than grappling with it, and thinking it through, I took a short cut- I took at look at what a few of my favourite bloggers had to say, and decided to trust them on this one, at least until I had time to think about it more.
It made me think of something Ezra Klein had said a few days earlier about cooking.
If we’re pinning our salvation on an unstoppable wave of new and enthusiastic home cooks, then we might as well all sew elastic into our waistbands now. I’m young and I’m childless. I love to cook. I can afford good ingredients. I take pleasure in time spent before the stove. Cooking is literally my only true hobby. And I make my own dinner three times a week. On a good week.
His sentiments here are quite similar to how I feel about politics in general, but also about the way we engage with issues. I’m young and I’m childless. I am really interested in politics. I genuinely enjoy the process of thinking through and trying to understand an issue. But sometimes, it’s too hard, I don’t have the energy, and I don’t have the time. So I outsource my thinking.
It’s an uncomfortable thing to admit, that I outsource some of my opinion-making. But I do. I willingly adopt and trust the ideas of others when I can’t find the space to think them through myself. It would make sense that others would do the same thing- and people who don’t enjoy the process of seeking out the information and analysing it would probably outsource even more than I do.
It makes sense, though. There are a limited number of hours in a day. We outsource food prep, cleaning, entertainment. Understanding an issue is difficult, so we all, to some extent, trust the experts. The difficulty, though, is to what extent. Do we trust experts on each issue? Because finding such experts and keeping up with what they say is also a huge task.
So instead do we trust a source to amalgamate them and select what’s important? That, essentially, is what a newspaper does. But outsourcing thinking requires not just straight news, but analysis- we need to find out not just what happened, but how to understand it. And we need to get that from a source we trust.
There’s much concern about self-selection in the age of the new media, and the development of partisan news outlets. Rather than it being a bad thing, perhaps it could actually be positive, because it allows people to be more conscious of the fact they are outsourcing their thinking, and making a more conscious effort to chose which outlet to trust.
So perhaps when liberals spend so much time trying to make the case, and convince people of the merits of the argument, it’s like recommending people eat at home. We know it’s better for them, it’s better for everyone, but it’s unlikely to happen. Instead, maybe we need to be working to convince people that we’re the ones to trust with their thinking. That they can outsource it to us, and we won’t take advantage of that. That we are worthy of the trust.