Let’s expand our horizons for engaging the world this year.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has some suggestions. I like his attitude.
COME what may in the next 12 months, 2013 has this much going for it: It’s a year without a midterm election, and a year that’s as far removed as possible from the next presidential race. This means that for a blessed 365 days you can be a well-informed and responsible American citizen without reading every single article on Politico, without hitting refresh every 30 seconds on your polling-average site of choice, without channel-hopping between Chris Matthews’s hyperventilating and Dick Morris’s promises of an inevitable Republican landslide.
So use the year wisely, faithful reader. For a little while, at least, let gridlock take care of itself, shake yourself free of the toils of partisanship, and let your mind rove more widely and freely than the onslaught of 2014 and 2016 coverage will allow.
Here are three steps that might make such roving particularly fruitful. First, consider taking out a subscription to a magazine whose politics you don’t share. I’m using the word “subscription” advisedly: it may sound fusty in the age of blogs and tweets and online hopscotching, but reading the entirety of a magazine, whether in print or on your tablet, is a better way to reckon with the ideas that its contributors espouse than just reading the most-read or most-e-mailed articles on its Web site, or the occasional inflammatory column that all your ideological compatriots happen to be attacking.
So if you love National Review’s political coverage, add The New Republic or The Nation to your regular rotation as well. If you think that The New Yorker’s long-form journalism is the last word on current affairs, take out a Weekly Standard subscription and supplement Jeffrey Toobin with Andy Ferguson, Adam Gopnik with Christopher Caldwell. If you’re a policy obsessive who looks forward every quarter to the liberal-tilting journal Democracy, consider a subscription to the similarly excellent, right-of-center National Affairs. And whenever you’re tempted to hurl away an article in disgust, that’s exactly when you should turn the page or swipe the screen and keep on reading, to see what else the other side might have to say.
Second, expand your reading geographically as well as ideologically. Even in our supposedly globalized world, place still shapes perspective, and the fact that most American political writers live in just two metropolitan areas tends to cramp our ability to see the world entire.
Yes! So true. Think outside the borders, for goodness sake.
Douthat has many good suggestions here. Consider them.
Finally, make a special effort to read outside existing partisan categories entirely. Crucially, this doesn’t just mean reading reasonable-seeming types who split the left-right difference. It means seeking out more marginal and idiosyncratic voices, whose views are often worth pondering precisely because they have no real purchase on our political debates.
Start on the non-Republican right, maybe, with the libertarians at Reason magazine, the social conservatives at First Things and Public Discourse, the eclectic dissidents who staff The American Conservative. Then head for the neo-Marxist reaches of the Internet, where publications like Jacobin and The New Inquiry offer a constant reminder of how much room there is to the left of the current Democratic Party.
Now this is interesting. One of the First Things bloggers followed up with this response to Douthat’s list. Which is worth reading for the quip in the post and mainly for the compelling engagement readers have going in the comments section, with suggestions of their own.
So many in fact, I started to get anxious reading the wonderful lists they were posting. Partly, it was because of so many intriguing possibilities. And partly because (like the confession of an over-indulger of other sorts), I began to realize and must admit I not only read many of the publications on these long lists, I just subscribed (or received a Christmas gift subscription) to several others. I don’t pretend to read them adequately, but scanning the whole and reading in part is good enough for me and my work.
I’ve long told people who asked for recommended news and commentary sources what my favorites are (and they are well covered in the above links), but I urge them to think outside their comfort zone and read and listen to media that don’t echo their beliefs as well. Learn the art of argument by hearing out opposing views. Discern well and with the desire to seek truth.
Then engage. Information is power.