Would You Eat Kale to Save Democracy?
TL;DR: If we want to be healthy news consumers, we need to consume a BALANCED diet of news from QUALITY sources. Tastykalenews.com wants to help you do that. To start off we will begin with the equivalent of a “dietary supplement” depending on your political inclination — a “supplement for liberals” and a “supplement for conservatives” Sign up at www.tastykalenews.com if you want to be kept in the loop.
Let’s be honest — if we learned tomorrow that kale wasn’t good for us, it would pretty much disappear off the shelves in all its forms. We eat it mainly because we know eating healthy pays dividends in how we look and feel. Society at large also has a stake in promoting healthier habits, as we collectively bear the costs of a sicker population and reap the benefits of a healthier one. The same principles should apply to news consumption.
Food consumption has evolved dramatically in the past century. Technological advances enabled the development of new artificial ingredients, longer preservation and quicker heating in the home. TV increased the ability to create global consumer brands. The rise of dual-income households nurtured the rise of fast food and pre-prepared meals. And the pursuit of growth and profits encouraged producers to focus on the most addictive and profitable products. All together this resulted in an explosion of cheaper, quicker and more artificial food. We are now realizing that all the benefits came with a big downside: an unhealthier population. As a result, society is grappling with the best ways to re-educate ourselves and encourage healthy eating habits.
News consumption has also been transformed as a result of technological evolution, changes in consumer habits and preferences, and the pursuit of growth and profits by news and digital companies. There have been many advantages, but we are also realizing the unintended negative consequences, which include the proliferation of low quality and/or fake news, the exacerbation of echo chambers, and the dumbing down of public discourse. Altogether the effect is to break down civic society, a basic pillar for a functioning democracy. Especially insidious is the way these news forms increase polarization, because even the “well-informed” are completely out of touch and increasingly at odds with the perspectives of half their fellow Americans. They way we consume news is pushing centrists (or people who formerly considered themselves centrists) towards the extremes, increasingly forcing them to stake and defend positions more radical than they probably deep down honestly support and in a manner more heatedly than warranted. It seems like nuance is being eliminated either because we stake out a position in response to the “other side” (e.g. “well if they are anti-regulation then we are going to be pro any and all regulations”), because we fear being misinterpreted (e.g. few liberals pipe up with constructive criticism of our healthcare system lest it be confused with advocating for a repeal of Obamacare), or because complex issues have been distilled into binary soundbites (e.g. you are either for free trade or against free trade). Overall, I’ve seen two reactions to the current state of political discourse: (a) enragement (“the other side is so horrible, look what they are saying/doing now”), and (b) disengagement (“all government sucks, I’m going to refocus on my daily life and forget about politics”). An effective democracy needs a third way: constructive engagement. It requires understanding others’ views, effectively advocating for your own positions and finding areas of agreement to move forward.
We believe that by applying the principles of healthy eating to news consumption we can help attack this problem:
a) Consume mostly healthy stuff: read and watch news primarily from publications who abide by the highest standards for sourcing and fact-checking.
b) Start with the healthy stuff: learn the facts and basics first as a helpful way to digest more extreme positions. (When people with good intentions fall “off the wagon” food wise, they go on a diet or try to return to healthy habits. But when was the last time you heard someone say: “I read too much clickbait this weekend, I’m going to spend a lot of time reading quality journalism this week to get back on track”?)
c) Ban the worst stuff altogether: avoid the hundreds of blogs with weak editorial standards such as usuncut.com and rawstory.com on the left, and usherald.com and infowars.com on the right. Steer clear when possible and find a more reasonable guilty pleasure.
d) Pursue BALANCE. It isn’t enough to only consume healthy vegetables OR healthy proteins, we need a balanced diet to stay healthy. Even those of us who do attempt to read “the other side” are often (purposefully or not) cherry-picking inflammatory angles rather than truly trying to see the world through others’ lenses. A recent article in the NYT (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/arts/the-battle-over-your-political-bubble.html) referenced various ways to see the right-wing point of view. However, they seem to merely highlight the differences or absurdity of the positions rather than illuminate and attempt to bridge the gaps. Others like The Guardian’s “Burst Your Bubble” do a better job, but do not seem comprehensive enough or geared towards bridging the sides and encouraging healthy and informed debate. The ideal way to do it would be to find your smartest, best-informed friends with opposing views and ask them to curate your news. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people seem to have people like that in their world, and when they do they keep the peace by avoiding political discussions altogether.
Hence the plan to create Tasty Kale News (www.tastykalenews.com). Designed to unearth high-quality, fact-checked content curated by thoughtful individuals across the political spectrum that helps you truly understand others’ rational perspectives. You might think — “some positions on the other side are so unreasonable, why give them a platform?” The answer is: we agree, this isn’t a place to normalize all perspectives. It is a place to bring out the most compelling views that would enable readers to understand and learn from the other side’s most thoughtful views.
Tasty Kale News will rest on the belief that there is more commonality in our collective positions than we believe, and that there are workable compromises we can arrive at if we truly listen to each other and avoid Newton’s third law (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction).
The first product will be a “nutritional supplement” newsletter to provide readers a curated set of links to high-quality, thoughtful, nuanced views from the other side (“TastyKale Supplement for Liberals” and “TastyKale Supplement for Conservatives”). Over time, we hope to develop a platform for readers who want truth and truly want to understand opposing viewpoints. With this approach we hope to encourage bipartisanship and help protect our democracy.
If you find this compelling, here are ways you can help:
1) Let us know if you have any feedback on the idea or this post
2) If you consider yourself a thoughtful news junkie (especially if you are or can recommend someone who is on the conservative side of the spectrum) and would like to help curate, let us know
3) Sign up at: www.tastykalenews.com if you want to be kept updated on our progress
Thank you in advance!