Marketplace of ideas open for business

Published 12:11 am Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Every now and then my office telephone rings with a caller who is upset about something that appears on the Opinion Page.

Such conversations typically start something like this, “Why do you allow that person to write such crazy things? They are biased.”

I usually hear the person out and then I explain that by definition, an opinion is biased, which is the intent of an opinion page.

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The responses to that explanation are usually harsher than the original complaint.

“But that opinion is totally wrong,” the retort goes. “You should not allow people who think like that a space to express it.”

Such complaints come from all sides of a debate.

In the current environment with social media echo chambers and bias-affirming opinionated news content, people have come not only to believe they should not even be exposed to opposing opinions but also that no one else should be allowed to read them or to express them.

Opinion pages, or editorial pages, have long been a staple of American newspapers with the mission to provide opposing views so readers can be well informed on multiple angles of debates.

The best opinion pages strive to get a broad perspective of opinion on a wide range of issues.

By putting everything out there, people can read what other people believe. You don’t have to agree with an opinion to read it — or to publish it for that matter.

If the argument is sound, it will find favor. If not, then it will be rejected on its merits. It is a notion known as the marketplace of ideas, which has its origins in ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, with Socrates holding open public debates on the town square.

The theory of the marketplace of ideas is analogous to the free market system of capitalism that states the best ideas will rise to the top of the competition.

In the marketplace of ideas, you put all ideas on the table and let people debate the merits, test and verify the statements and ideally the best ideas will survive and grow while the bad ideas will be relegated to the ash heap of history.

Closing down opposing opinions in a debate is counter to the principles of democracy, free thinking and is certainly not the best way to arrive at the best decisions.

Thinking you do not even need to be exposed to someone else’s opinion to know what is best is dangerous and delusional in itself, but to demand that nobody else be able to read other opinions is even worse.

As long as the commentary is fair, accurate and fact-based, it should not be summarily dismissed because some readers might not agree with it.

Go ahead give opposing opinions a read. Consider why you do not agree with them. You might even be persuaded to change your opinion once you’ve been exposed to an opposing view.

Consider submitting a letter to the editor to explain why you don’t like the opposing view.

Or, if you do like the opinion, submit a letter to the editor to explain why you do like it and maybe even make some suggestions on how the position could possibly be improved upon.

I welcome more of that kind of engagement on this page and by giving voice to and reading diverse and opposing opinions, we will all expand our minds and hopefully make better decisions about the choices we face in local, state and national government.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-445-3540 or