COMMENTARY: Communication breakdown

Opinion by

It’s amazing that in this advanced age we have yet to master the simple skill of communication. Communication is an ability that doesn’t rely on individual capabilities, but on the cooperation of the group, and on trust. Like paper money, words carry with them a meaning and value that is entirely derived from our trust that other people mean what we do when they say any given word. Lies and word manipulation are therefore not only crimes against the victim of such slander, they also damage language itself, and thus communication in general.

Unfortunately, there is a troubling movement away from truthful communication in the developed world. This movement has no direct political affiliation, though it has been ubiquitous in the American right in the last few months, and reflects an alarming shortsightedness.

Consider the Tea Party movement: with a game of word-association, the new right slanders policies with labels and terms that are often contradictory (socialist and Nazi in that same sentence) and nearly always inapplicable to the situation. FOXNews personality Glenn Beck recently aired a documentary on “progressives” that contained misquotes and misrepresentations that were repulsively ubiquitous. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who (for some reason) some look to as a counter to the conservative bias on FOXNews, delivers similar factual distortions – most recently in a series of vague accusations against Senator-elect Scott Brown. The cynicism that this represents is saddening – for either Olbermann and Beck feel that their viewers won’t be swayed by factual evidence, or they think that their ratings will increase with bold and inflammatory statements.

However the trouble is far worse than that. By not trusting the people, these talking heads, politicians, and religious fundamentalists undermine trust and truth. The argument is no longer about being right – it’s about shouting the loudest. We can no longer rely on some news networks for “reliable” information, and must therefore sift through the rubbish-heap of distortions and lies to find what happened.

This is not a world where the validity of ideas determines their success anymore. Maybe it never was. But what possible loss could incur from developing into a society where ideas are judged by their merit, not by how vehemently they are debated. This development can only come through education. The more educated a people, the harder they are to deceive. That is why we have an obligation to educate ourselves – why school is not just about the diploma. In order to make a better world, we have to understand this world as it is, without the distortions that we have been forced to endure.

Education is no longer a privilege of the upper class, it is a responsibility of all people. And as such, we cannot extort payment from people seeking to fulfill that responsibility. Education must be free, it must be of high quality, and it must be accessible to all people, out of respect for society, and for the truth. To this end, I support the motion of the McGill University Socialist Society for free, quality, accessible education for all, which will be presented at the SSMU General Assembly on Feb. 10. To enable the betterment of our future and mankind, I ask you to support this measure.