Tales Of Our Times: Tipping Points Bring Problems And Block Ways To Solve Them

Tales of Our Times
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water
Tipping Points Bring Problems And Block Ways To Solve Them


“Tipping point” is a popular term that raises the specter of a big change coming. Dictionaries tell us a “tipping point” is “a critical moment in a complex situation in which a small influence or development produces a sudden large or irreversible change.”

Tipping points are found in the natural world, in social behaviors and in mathematics that describe such nature. Tipping points in the news are mostly, but not always, bad. Tipping points of any kind are disruptive. Tipping points loom in politics.

Examples tell more. A species on its way to extinction can reach a tipping point, from which it cannot recover. At a tipping point, a disease can turn quickly into an epidemic. But epidemics end. “Tipping point” is a term often heard with “climate change.”

We have lived through a tipping point in the spread of social media. Social media in turn bring tipping points in marketing, polling and the news. Daily events cause many to believe social media led us to the mounting loss of personal interaction. How near are we to a tipping point in our nation’s inability to exchange information between people with differing views? Are we past the tipping point? Is it irreversible?

As opposing sides exchange less and less information, interactions shrink to the basic and primal. The broad spectrum of factors turns bipolar.

When events seem to be tipping towards our preferred party’s goals, our side has little interest in more reliable information that might reverse the lucky turn. Why risk reason when we like where things seem to be going? On the other hand, when events seem to be tipping against our interests is the time to gripe about the currency of weak data.

So, no time exists when both parties together really want to have better information. Each side rightly sees that the other guys have a wavering concern for accuracy. Yet we have no instinct for spotting the same fault in our own side. The result is the pool of well-tested facts grows small and too muddy to sort through.

Policy details fade out of the big picture and vanish into mere cultures of parties. Some call it tribalism. Cultures of parties feed on different sets of “facts.” Either tribe’s fond “facts” feature more details about notorious persons than about policy options. Preference for tribe, of course, is altogether proper, but facts are different. Facts are not your personal choice, and parties need facts despite themselves. Our nation has worked out ways through many a growing problem by the hard pursuit of facts.

Could there be means of restoring the exchange of information between differing views?

More information gives your side more chance to persuade more people. Of course, more exchanging does the same for all sides, which is the basis of democracy. Exchanging more information allows better testing to see which facts are more verifiable. Each of us is sure that better tested facts would give a big boost to the side we believe in. So why resist? We have grown to believe the other side has no interest in learning. Indeed, learning was more widespread before the “news” tipped towards two sets of party “facts.”

To renew democracy’s place in weighing information, I roll out an idea proposed here before. The next time you find yourself mired in rehashing Republican and Democratic “facts” with friends or family, try moving the conversation in a new direction. See who can invent the most impartial ways of testing the party facts. If nothing else, jointly explore the features of impartial testing.

Anything new that springs up has more value than a rehash and the game of doing it is a lot more fun. One sunny day, public interest could tip back towards genuine testing of facts. And the ideas that sprout might again be debated.