I, like everyone else on the Internet (it seems) watched Jon Stewart pummel Jim Cramer on The Daily Show last night. At the end, Jon said, roughly, I hope that was as uncomfortable for you as it was for me. It was. But an aversion to that kind of discomfort is a disease that prevents big problems from being solved.
I had in mind a different post about the show, explaining that Jon Stewart’s criticism of how Jim Cramer and CNBC cover Wall Street describe the overall failure of journalism across the board, but Glenn Greenwald wrote that post for me.
So instead I want to talk about Glenn Greenwald and the necessity of feeling uncomfortable.
I voted for Barack Obama, and beyond that I donated money to his campaign and went door to door to encourage other people to vote for him as well. I really want him to succeed because I invested in his success.
Here’s the thing — sometimes President Obama lets me down, and I know this in large part because I read Glenn Greenwald’s blog. It’s not very comfortable for me to read about how the guy I really, really wanted to be our President does things I really think he shouldn’t, but I consider it to be necessary medicine. Greenwald is fighting the noble fight — criticizing a President who I’m sure he in large measure supports, because principles are more important than the person or the political value of a united front.
People are too unwilling to face discomfort. Journalists don’t want to make the people they interact with on a daily basis squirm. People want to read that the politicians they support are fighting the good fight. And this reaches far beyond politics as well. Java programmers didn’t want to read that C# had a lot of nice language features that improved on weaknesses in Java. People in general seem to prefer to remain ignorant of the practices of industrial agriculture in the modern world.
Ignorance may be bliss, but it also has negative externalities.
I’m not writing this to congratulate myself. For me, the challenge is in asking the uncomfortable questions directly when they need to be asked. I’d always rather try to figure out those answers myself, but in many cases there’s value in the asking.