Learning to See the Rainbow: How to Form Informed Opinions

In today’s day and age, one of the greatest struggles is separating the truth from the spin. By “spin,” I mean, of course, the angle from which the information is being reported. As much as we’d like to believe that everybody is telling us the whole story without any ulterior motives, we simply can’t be this naive. As we try and sort through the constant flow of new information and stimuli presented to us, we need to be able to look at the facts head-on and think for ourselves.

I admit this can be very difficult at times. In today’s media age, we are being bombarded on all sides with fake news, trolls, and politically motivated messages. It’s hard to decide what we can and can’t trust. I’ve found it most beneficial to take in information from multiple sources. It turns out that what they say about lies is true: the best lies all stem from a grain of truth. Often articles can report on the same issue and portray polar opposite incidents. If you watch both news stories, though, you’ll find that there is an overlap in information. This is the root information. This is the truth that you can take and begin to understand the issue.

Another key point in finding what I’ll call “motivated articles” (articles presented in a way beneficial to the author) is to keep in mind the position of the source on hot-button issues. I’ve found that using the chart found at the following link: http://www.adfontesmedia.com/the-chart-version-3-0-what-exactly-are-we-reading/         is quite helpful. The chart shows the relative political bias and compares it to the objectivity and accuracy of the information. When you have researched the way that sources align themselves on past issues, it becomes easier to spot their “spin” on the article and weed it out.

I myself am a very moderate person. I don’t affiliate with any party, and I make judgments and vote based off of what I believe will benefit America or my state the most.  Voting based on party lines is a detrimental action that our country has moved to. The truth is, there aren’t only ever two options. As citizen’s of a democratic republic, we are responsible for being informed and voting based on our own findings. Just listening to CNN or Fox News is going to lead people to be biased one way or another. We need to keep in mind that these programs are designed to convince. Although it’s not bad to agree with what they say, it’s also healthy to take it all with a grain of salt. Healthy skepticism should drive all your decisions. If you don’t allow for doubt to creep into a gut instinct, then, chances are, you’re too emotionally invested in the issue and need to take a step back.

With the immense availability of information today we have no shortage of news outlets within reach. However, the incredible ease with which someone can broadcast information, there’s also no shortage of false information that someone can publish. I myself get my news from multiple sources. I listen to numerous podcasts while doing assignments for school. I watch the quick snapchat sponsored news stories and I put on Fox news or even CNN in the background. I watch these news channels mostly to keep up to date with what’s going on in the country and the world I live in. When something comes on that interests me or that I question, I go to Associated Press or NBC News to fact-check it. I’ve found this to be an effective way to reduce bias influenced on me, but still expose myself to the extremes. This way I am able to see the extremes of the issue and research more moderate views and solutions. I’m not saying that Liberals are wrong or that Conservatives are wrong, but often instead of getting belligerent and borderline violent, there is another option altogether that can satisfy the issue without creating more.

As I said, it is our duty to stay well-informed and guide our country in the way we see fit. If we vote for someone because they wear a blue or red pin, we’re setting ourselves for failure. We can’t allow ourselves to become so emotionally involved in an issue that we blind ourselves to outside opinions. Yes, an issue may affect us personally, and it’s difficult to separate ourselves from our preconceived notions and visceral decisions. When we make the decision to learn more and be open minded to all points of view, that’s when we truly eliminate the angles from which we are receiving the information. I like to think of it like a prism. A prism separates white light into all the colors of visible light. If you were to stand in one spot a prism would make you see red. Another person may stand there and tell you the prism is reflecting green light, and yet another could say the light is clearly purple. All would be right, but all only have a piece of the truth. Only someone who stands at an angle from which they can see the rainbow can tell you for sure what light is being broadcasted. Now that we understand this principle, the only issue is learning when you’ve found the angle from which you can see the entire “rainbow.” Because if we always assume we have observed the entire spectrum, we’ll never realize that there’s more to see.


Book Review: John Vaillant’s “The Tiger”

As Alexander von Humboldt so fittingly put it, “the most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.” In today’s society we often come upon moral debates of our stance on the conservation of nature. We hear many sides of these arguments and are swayed this way and that by what we hear. Sometimes, presenters are blunt and outright about what they want. Other times, they hide their true meanings and intentions within other actions. In John Vaillant’s novel, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, he does just that. Vaillant uses his writing to persuade, inform, and entertain us into taking his side on things.

When reading a book, what is the one thing that makes us read? It’s the plot, the intrigue, the “what happens next” kind of curiosity in all of us. Vaillant is an accomplished writer and understands this. His writing style reflects this very well. He writes in a short burst of story followed by a long backstory of seemingly little importance. What this does is it creates tension within the story. It’s almost as if there’s numerous cliffhangers for every single point he makes. We have this human desire to know what’s going on, but because our knowledge is limited by Vaillant’s timing in his writing, we’re kept in the dark. We’re entertained to follow this story of a man hunting a tiger. We can’t help but keep reading through these facts and histories of this enchanting land called “Primorye.” This edge-of-your-seat feeling within each of us keeps us reading and makes us identify with the book. Anything that is enjoyable becomes much more trustworthy to us.

While we read these seemingly unimportant histories and backgrounds, we are actually being deceived. These tangents and side notes are actually a perfect example of Chekhov’s Gun. For those unfamiliar with this term, let me explain. As readers, we believe the main point of the book is the plot, right? Seems logical. But, no. The plot is, as we already discussed, the thing that entices us to read. It is not necessarily what Vaillant wants us to read. The tangents that seem to be pointless at the time are actually the important part. They seem completely insignificant and almost as if they are distractions, but they give depth to the story and bring in outside ideas the author wants us to understand. For example, just in chapter 2 (pages 19-31), Vaillant interrupts this infant story to give an ecological background of the area. He tells stories of past hunters in the area and even gives seemingly trivial facts about the kinds of animals that live there and their interactions with each other. What we don’t understand yet is that these asides from the story are his true message.

Finally, now that we understand his form of delivery, we can work to understand the content that Vaillant is delivering. He hooks us with a fantastical story of a man-eating tiger. He captivates us with our natural urge to understand and to know. Yet, throughout he gives us a history lesson on Russia? And of poaching? And of tigers? What kind of sense does that make? After reading the epilogue, it all makes sense. The epilogue is our key to figuring out his intentions throughout the book. We realize that the asides weren’t meaningless jargon to draw out a story that was too short to be adapted to a novel. They were the pieces of background information we needed to understand Vaillant’s position on conservation of nature. He used this simple but exciting story of an epic hunt to keep us locked in while slipping bits and pieces of his ideology into the spaces in between. Unwittingly, we were taken in and filled with the beliefs of the author. His true intent wasn’t to entertain us, but to persuade us to believe as he did!

Although a great book, we can’t simply read this book at face value. It has so much more depth to it. We were simply pawns in this case. Not knowing that we were being moved or influenced one way or another. Vaillant is a skilled writer who knew exactly what his style would do. He hid his intentions well. As I said, his true motivations were hidden to me until the epilogue. No matter how well disguised, however, his intentions weren’t as pure as he would have us believe. In the constantly changing world today, who knows whether anything we read can be believed. If a successful author can’t be believed, can anyone? How about a college student writing a blog?


Troubling Waters

So I guess this is my first blog post. To kick things off, I think I’ll start by talking about something very near to my heart. Growing up, I have essentially lived on the water. Whether it was spending all day in my neighborhood pool, camping out at Canyon Lake, learning to wakeboard at Lake Medina, or going on road trips to Corpus Christi, TX to spend time on the beach, I have always loved the water. I lived in San Antonio, TX for 11 years. We frequently road tripped down to the beach in the Gulf of Mexico to swim and play. Sadly on April 20, 2010, an offshore oil well began to leak. Soon, this spill, known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, grew to record size. The damage done due to this multiple month spill was irreparable. Marine life was dying at an alarming rate, and beaches were being trashed by the oil waste. Everywhere you went, every show you watched on TV, there were ads for wildlife rescue efforts. Videos of otters covered in oil slick, pictures of fish with oil coating their gills were EVERYWHERE. It’s been a while since I’ve had to think about that, but now, 8 years later, I’ve been reminded of it. While looking through some photographs taken by Edward Burtynsky (https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/projects/photographs/water), I saw the extent of the damage done to the water. It broke my heart. I learned to boogie board, look for sand dollars, even how to surf in those waters. They were completely black. Burtynsky goes on to explain his intentions for these photos. He talks about how he wants to show the disastrous effects that mankind is having on the planet even within their attempts to help it. His series of photos is not just limited to waterfront, though. He has toured the world and has compiled a set of photographs depicting various encroachments that we as people have made on the environment and its may components. I would encourage you to take just a few moments to go explore his projects and learn more about what we are doing to our planet. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time!

We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment. — Margaret Mead