Call it a wash?
A "wash," in this instance, is being confronted with competing things that are ultimately equal, where "one side does not have an advantage," according to Merriam-Webster. That's an apt term for where we're headed today: the soap aisle at the supermarket.
This place is more complicated than it has to be. It's big. Really big. Pump bottles of Ivory glisten on the shelves above the blocky bars of Irish Spring. Solid, liquid, aerosol -- there's a soap to suit every taste. (Anyone else forced to sample the stuff as a kid? I'm a Dial guy myself.)
Soap, I humbly submit, should be much simpler, but our American marketing finesse has made choosing the best soap, the objectively superior soap, the one soap to rule them all, a lesson in futility.
It's not just soap, either. That one's actually kind of easy. The bottle with the drawing of the mythological, man-eating sea squid looks as good as any of the others, and probably mostly is. But we are bombarded by myriad choices each day -- from the supermarket aisles to the very news we choose to consume. One's choice in soap might fairly be considered a "wash."
The risks of being wrong, whatever that looks like, are low. Other decisions, such as the selection of who is going to tell you what's happening in the world, carry more consequence.
From the moment we get up until we rest our heads at night, we are confronted with a dizzying array of decisions, many made more complicated by a stupefying overabundance of choices. Researchers have started calling this "decision fatigue," and it's only stepped up with the pandemic. According to recent reporting by The Washington Post, subjects in a study faced with six, 12 or 24 choices on a matter preferred to have their number of options in the 12 range. We want choice, but not too much choice.
A spectacular consequence of our First Amendment, which guarantees each of us freedom of speech, is that it guarantees each of us freedom of speech. That means we all are entitled to shout very loudly -- and, bless the internet, we are more equally loud than ever before.
In this competition of information, the marketing is just as pervasive as at the supermarket, the choices even more abundant. Here, however, you can't just choose the sea squid because it's easy and attractive. Concluding one side has no advantage, that it's a wash, is just wrong.
How to thin the choices? If we give it honest effort, we have to separate from our core beliefs for a moment, and question how we are being served by the information we consume -- and how we are serving those who provide it. Are we enjoying friendly diets of comfort food straight from the bag, or are we eating well-rounded meals filled with vitamins and nutrients?
We all like being told we're right, but does it seem like the news you turn on is always telling you you're right? That might not be news you're watching. It might just be a partisan sea squid.
Read the headline and first paragraph of any news story you find online. Is it filled with volatile language? A clear disdain for one person, party or group? Provocative adjectives?
That might be another sea squid.
Maybe this is the way forward. We all have become so hardened in our positions, so firm in our convictions, that another plea for news literacy, like this one, is just more futility. We are past that point.
No proud American, however, regardless of his or her political stripe, wants to be someone's patsy. No one wants to be a sucker. But when someone, anyone, tells us only the things we want to agree with, while profiting mightily in the process, isn't that just what we are?
We face a confounding array of choices each day. Some are easier to sift through than others. Who do you trust to give you the news, and why? Who do you definitely not trust?
Drop a note to email@example.com and let me know. Opinions on your objectively superior soap are welcome as well. Especially on that topic, keep your language clean.