ProCon.org Politicon Panel Showcases Antidotes to Echo Chambers

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ProCon.org CEO Kamy Akhavan along with the panelists at Politicon 2018

At a time when the country feels highly divided, thousands of people of all political persuasions came together in Los Angeles on October 20 and 21 for what is known as the ComiCon of Politics: Politicon. For the fourth year in a row, ProCon.org stepped into the political arena to offer our brand of critical thinking and fact-based discussion, with a panel called “Don’t Raise Your Voice, Improve Your Argument.”

Moderated by CEO Kamy Akhavan, our panelists were:

DAVID JOLLY, earned his BA from Emory and his JD from George Mason, which led to a staff position with Congressman Bill Young. After Young retired, David ran for the open seat and won. He was re-elected to that seat with an impressive 75% of the vote. Although a Republican Congressman, Rep. Jolly was often critical of President Donald Trump. Most recently and famously, he and his wife left the Republican Party.

SARA GORMAN, currently Director of High School Programming at The Jed Foundation (JED), has written extensively about psychology, behavioral science, mental health, and global health, among other topics. Her work has appeared or been reviewed in TIME, The New Yorker, Science, Scientific American, Psychology Today, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Daily Kos, and NPR, among others. Sara has also appeared on the TED talk stage and has a Bachelor’s in English and Psychology from University of Pennsylvania, Master’s in Public Health from Columbia, Master’s in English Literature from Oxford, and a PhD in English Literature from Harvard University. Dr. Gorman and her father co-authored the best-selling book Denying to the Grave, which explores the science behind why people deny facts.

CELESTE HEADLEE, former host of several National Public Radio programs including All Things Considered, Tell Me More, and Talk of the Nation. She has anchored presidential election coverage for PBS. Her best-selling book We Need to Talk is about how to have difficult conversations. Her TED talk on 10 Ways to Have Better Conversations was seen more than 12 million times.

PATRICK MURPHY ran against Tea Party favorite Allen West because he says he was so turned off by his brand of Republicanism that he left the party to join with Democrats in opposing him. And he won, by .6%, then won his seat again by a 20-point margin. He was one of the first millennials elected to Congress, and one of the few members of Congress who was not a lawyer. Rep. Murphy and Rep. Jolly seriously considered a run for the top state positions in Florida – Governor and Lieutenant Governor – as a team even though they belonged to opposing political parties. They are now touring campuses across the nation to talk to students about the importance of bi-partisanship.

Mr. Akhavan led the discussion with questions about how we can break out of our own echo chambers and begin to understand each other.

Dr. Gorman spoke of the “backfire effect” when a person’s deeply held beliefs are questioned. “The more you hear what’s opposite to what you believe the more you’re coming up with counterarguments and the more you believe in your original view. That’s really why that happens.”

Celeste Headlee said that the only thing that can change minds is empathy. “One of the best ways to increase your empathy is to listen to other people’s experiences and perspectives. So if you’re not doing that, and every conversation becomes a debate, or a chance to show off how much you know and how smart you are or how wrong the other person is, then you are not learning and you are not forming empathic bonds.”

Rep. Jolly spoke about how the political structure in Congress works against people who strive to do things differently from their party and work across the aisle: “The real-life political structure brings the system towards special interests and money and tribalism. There is no infrastructure to support somebody that strikes an independent tone from their party.”

Rep. Murphy said what keeps us in our echo chambers are many structural problems in Congress, but of all the inter-related problems, “#1 is the gerrymandering. If I had to pick one, that is the number one problem that is incentivizing this behavior. 90% of Congressional districts are predetermined right now.”

Politicon is a venue where politicians and pundits share the stage with comedians and other media personalities for panel discussions about topics from Russian interference in our elections to “How to Change the World.” From Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro of Fox to Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid of MSNBC, from columnists and authors Bill Kristol and David Frum to comedians Kathy Griffin and Adam Carolla, and even Michael Avenatti and Dennis Rodman, this year’s Politicon offered a little something for everyone across the political spectrum.

ProCon.org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit nonpartisan public charity, provides professionally-researched pro, con, and related information on more than 70 controversial issues from gun control and the death penalty to illegal immigration and alternative energy. Using the fair, FREE, and unbiased resources at ProCon.org, millions of people each year learn new facts, think critically about both sides of important issues, and strengthen their minds and opinions.