Let’s agree to disagree. It’s a concept that may be getting lost in today’s heated discourse over practically everything. It’s also the title of a book co-authored by critical thinking expert Mickey Huff, director of Project Censored and president of the Media Freedom Foundation.
Mickey Huff: Instead of jumping into the middle of sort of the maelstrom of where the most contentious things are, we actually started the book by talking about why it's important to learn how to communicate better with people, and how critical thinking requires critical listening, empathy. In other words, you really need to understand other people that are different than yourself in order to better be able to convey the things that you think and believe to them in a way that they're more receptive to it.
Sharyl: So, here's the problem in this environment: there are a lot of powerful forces trying to make sure certain views aren't heard. It's almost the opposite of what you're suggesting, to be a critical thinker.
Huff: I'm afraid that's right. And the interesting thing is that with the whole "fake news" meme that kind of got off leash during the Trump presidency, let’s not forget the Democrats are the ones that really started that weaponized meme about RussiaGate and Russia and the election and so forth. But Trump tactically picked it up and was able to use it in reverse, right? So one has to be careful how one wants to play games and weaponize language terms and concepts because they can backfire. Censorship often backfires, for example. So, one side wanting to cancel the other side. It ends up coming full circle.
Sharyl: Is there a simple way for you to try to explain to the uninitiated — who's behind this, the confusion that's sown among people, the division, the censoring to try to make only one view heard?
Huff: So this is what critical media literacy is about. It's not about just accepting the tools from on high, like from a NewsGuard, or from FactCheck, or from Snopes where people are partnering. And they're saying, "This is true, and this is misinformation." See, that whole fake news meme is now misinformation. And now it's the war on misinformation. And interestingly, "misinformation" only comes from sources that buck establishment narratives. Isn't that curious? And so, there's a great effort afoot by these forces to curate those views and to label them misinformation.
I mean I'm an educator, and I teach social justice studies, and I publish Left journalism, and I do history and political economy. And I'm very critical of the corporate state. But I believe that you can talk to people, and you can talk to people who have corporate backgrounds. You can talk to people with MBAs. You can argue with them. And arguing and fighting or different things. That’s one of the big things we point out in the book. Arguing is an exchange of ideas with supported evidence. Fighting means you're no longer listening to each other and it's back to the I'm-right-you're-wrong-no-matter-what model. And we know that that model has consequences, and they're not usually positive ones.
So, that makes this a really complicated dance in a lot of ways, whether it's a slam dance or a waltz or a mosh pit of ideas, but we think that people are all in the dance together. And we hope that the things that we put forward and on our website at www.projectcensored.org, we offer a lot of free tools for critical media literacy. And we hope that people pick them up and use them. And when they disagree, we hope they use the tools to help explain why they disagree so that we learn from each other, and that we can maybe teach each other things at the end of the day.
Sharyl (on-camera): By the way, numerous people are credited with first using "agree to disagree,” including an English playwright named William Wycherley, who used the phrase in a poem in 1706.