Moving the needle in 2024
Dear Friends of FAIR,
FAIR has kicked off the new year with several major legal wins. As a result of FAIR Legal’s advocacy efforts, the National Institutes of Health revised its race-based requirements for SenNet internship applicants; Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Maine agreed to open its affinity groups to all students, regardless of race or sex; and the Pennsylvania district court professor denied a motion to dismiss professor Zack De Piero’s Title VII claim that he was subjected to a hostile work environment because of his race.
We’ve also added two members to FAIR’s Board of Advisors: Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Unions and one of the foremost authorities on the First Amendment, and groundbreaking investigative journalist Michael Shellenberger. Nadine and Michael are powerful voices who can help FAIR amplify its message and make an impact on the issues we care about.
The new year is also a time for self-reflection and new commitments. Although it’s an exercise we typically conduct on a personal level, healthy introspection is also something that organizations can benefit from. As we look forward to opportunities and challenges in 2024, this is the perfect time for us to assess our goals and how we hope to achieve them.
One of the greatest obstacles heterodox thinkers face is also a trap we often accuse the orthodox crowd of falling into: the lure of the echo chamber. We tend to follow the same set of influencers on X, read the same cluster of Substacks, and listen to the same podcasts. And why wouldn’t we? In these nonsensical, crazy-making times, it’s tempting to seek the reassurance of people who see the same things and feel the same way we do. We need a sanity check. We cling to our motley, hastily-assembled new tribe of disillusioned and betrayed progressives and conservatives, and “We-never-trusted-either-party” independents. We take cold comfort in knowing we’re right, and we retreat into our echo chamber.
There’s just one problem: we can’t possibly fix what’s gone wrong in our country, and the world at large, by preaching to the choir. If we want to turn things around, we’ll need to reach a critical mass of minds. We’ll need to leave our echo chamber and engage with the “other side.” That is the only way we can move the needle.
Moving the needle doesn’t mean appealing to extremists; it would be naive to expect that we can reach everybody. But I’ve always believed (and still do) that the vast majority of Americans aren’t fringe thinkers. Most are balanced, sensible people who reside in the “center,” even if they lean a little in one direction or the other. In many cases, they’re on the same page with us, even if they don’t realize it. If we want to reclaim our country and revive a society that values freedom and autonomy, authentic diversity, and objective truth, these are the people we need to reach.
I often write and talk about the illusion of division. We imagine we are more divided than we really are because our positions have been misrepresented. Because we haven’t had an opportunity to listen to each other, or we no longer want to listen to each other. Or because we reside in information silos with distorted perceptions of issues or events. But if we want to promote a common culture based on fairness, understanding, and humanity, we have to be willing to believe that most people, on a fundamental level, embrace these same values, and we have to be willing to engage with them. Otherwise, what’s the point of our mission?
In the coming year, I would like all of us to think about how we, individually and collectively, can move the needle — in our small circles, and beyond. In keeping with our commitment to viewpoint diversity, I invite you to be open to new thoughts and ideas about how we can accomplish this, even if they challenge your conception of what’s “right” and what will or won’t work.
The task of reclaiming our country and its founding principles may seem daunting. But if we remain true to what FAIR stands for — the right to respectfully disagree with one another as we find ways to confront the existential threats we can all agree on — I’m confident we will navigate a path to success.
Executive Director, Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism