BY VERN TURNER
The thing is, the only time a person hears the sound of his own voice is when it is played back to him or her from a recording. Then the speaker hears what his/her audience hears. Otherwise, he/she is hearing a voice filtered through bones and tissue that alter the actual timbre and volume of that voice.
Adjunct to this concept is the obvious fact that in our social and political discourse we like to hear other voices that sound like ours. I think it is natural to want agreement and reassurance from others.
Over the last 20 years, or so, that I’ve been paying attention to our history, national politics and social conversations, I now understand how this phenomenon of the echo chamber has ruined the elegant concept of debate. There are people out there in the media getting paid obscene amounts of money to be an echo to an audience that wants to hear nothing except what they think or think they understand. Anything else except the pure echo becomes a cacophony of disinterest, ridicule or hostility.
Place GUILTY around my neck regarding this desire craving agreement. Since I began writing for public consumption I’ve been shocked by how many people don’t agree with me or I with them. I had spent most of my life surrounding myself with friends and acquaintances who agreed with my every thought and word.
This was especially egregious of me since I had fancied myself a scientist and teacher who fostered discussion and demanded proof. I professed to question everything and require substantiation for theories and hypotheses. I denied my own teachings and tenets of logic and communication.
If you’ve ever been to a scientific symposium you’d know what I mean. Scientists are ruthless with one another when it comes to stating facts.
I began asking, “How did I let myself work against my own teachings?” It started by asking someone who disagreed with me to prove their point with facts. If they couldn’t, I pounced … and kept pouncing on those who either repeated somebody else’s echo chamber rhetoric or created their own original script; no proof, no echo from me.
The really bad news is that any part of the discussion where some agreement or seed for resolution was swept away in the whirlwind of dissonance and blind egoism.
Multiply my example of wanting to be echoed or be somebody else’s echo millions of times and we have what may be described as a dissonant, dysfunctional and gridlocked national conversation that extends into our government.
Both sides say they want to honor and follow the guidelines of our Constitution. Yet one side will create a platform for doing just the opposite of governing; they desire to command the people rather than govern them. The other side wants to maintain certain social programs and enhance others to actually work toward the general welfare of the citizenry.
The opposition to this thinking ridicules and hurls claims of irresponsible monetary policy while supporting endless war, taxpayer subsidies to highly profitable corporations, allowing taxable income and profits to be hidden in foreign banks and the dismantling of education and infrastructure that built the very country they honor.
Both sides surround themselves with experts and pundits that echo their particular view and disparage the opposition. Cacophony. Pure white noise is the net result. Gridlock. Dysfunctional government writ large, very large.
Our political environment has become two echo chambers completely insulated from one another and playing to their own audiences. For each Sean Hannity there is the opposing Chris Matthews. Their guest lists are echo generators and woe unto the “guest” who disagrees with the host.
The media sound machine hosts will do their best to hatchet that disharmonic guest for as long as THEY hear the echoes of approval from their echo-craving audience.
There are architects for this divide in the laboratory of debate and few of us have been exempt from seeing and hearing the results. Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch created the thickness of the wall now dividing the echo chambers of national discourse.
The airwaves are too full of echoes to count or mention in this short piece, but you don’t have to punch too many TV remote buttons to find your echo or the echo of the “other” chamber.
Seeking the comforting echo is a parallel need to blaming somebody else. We spend so much time blaming the “other side” for all the ills of the world.
Blaming wastes our time because it is an echo too. It achieves nothing except to thicken the walls in our chambers of self.
Until we step out of our personal echo chambers and find the threads of elegant debate once again, no deals will be made, no solutions will be found and no harmony will come to this nation. We will succumb to our own collective stupidity and to the way of the Mayans, Rome, Egypt and a host of other great societies that failed to fix their problems.
Instead they just listened to the sounds of their own, self-righteous voices and let greatness slip away into the uncaring dust of history.
– Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. He lives in Marble Falls, TX, where he writes a regular column for the River Cities Daily Tribune. He is the author of three books – A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools, The Voters Guide to National Salvation and Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status – all available through Amazon.com.