What is observation, what is interpretation?

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.
William Blake

One thing we learned in school was to distinguish between different types of sentences. There are sentences that are descriptive. But there were also sentences are interpretive. And it is best not to confuse the two. With the later, instead of reading something and making up your own mind, you get an interpretation forced into your mind. Sure, you can reject it, but it was there before you made up your own mind about an issue — and that influences your thinking.

Looking at the media today, it’s really helpful to distinguish between these two types of sentences.

Much of what the media does present today is interpretation. Some time ago, these reports and articles would be marked as such. But today, given agenda setting (deciding which topics to report about) and framing (deciding from view perspective a topic is addressed), interpretation has become the default. Somehow reporters have become activists. It is not enough to report news, but to “take a stance” and change the public. No longer must the public be informed — it must be educated.

And that becomes a problem if you need information, including information from different points of view, to really think about an issue. To find creative solutions. No matter as how “correct” or “moral” a perspective is seen — it is one perspective, and frequently a very constrained one.

An example that showed me the influence of the media on people’s ideas and thinking was a recent conversation with a former colleague about the 2020 election in the USA. I could understand his view — why he abhors Trump, is for Biden/Harris, sees Republicans as far-right/evil, and the like — due to the media outlets he says he reads and watches. And given that I have a completely different view, our views did clash. I would have voted for Trump, am more critical of Biden/Harris, and don’t see Republicans as far-right/evil.

What was really interesting was his confusion that someone would have voted for Trump and also agrees with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. I see no contradiction, esp. considering Trump’s action on “critical race theory” and the like. I don’t care whether a person is black, white, or anything else, or male, or female, or one of the few intersex people. Or whatever group category this person belongs to (with a few exceptions). In short, I don’t care about groups, but I do care about (some) individuals. And King was right here — it’s about the “content of their character”.

And of course (usually a bad sign if you have to write “of course”), there are issue in which I am critical about Trump (in the actual meaning of the word “critical”). That’s a sign of a somewhat realistic view on people. Few, if any, people are always bad and never good, or view versa (I wonder what would be harder to actually achieve?).

It was an interesting conversation, showing me once more the power of a biased media (esp. in Germany), and yeah, the saying (speaking of American politics): “The right thinks the left is wrong, but the left thinks the right is evil.” applies here.

Personally, I don’t think this former colleague is evil. I think we (and most other people) want the same. We want to prosper, have a good life, feel moral and good (as social exclusion is usually deadly), we need meaning in our lives, and the like.

But I also think he has listened to other people’s interpretations of situations, which masks some underlying shifts in some political movements. And listening to peoples interpretations of situations is a problem. You don’t see what is actually going on. And you let someone else do your thinking. You let them decide how to see a situation. How a situation has unfolded and why. And this severely constrains what you can see, and what you can imagine as possible solutions.