Who Hijacked Our Country

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Most of Us Are Too Insular, Too Closed-Minded

Including YOU. And me.

This column by Nicholas Kristof is entitled The Daily Me. (The phrase was coined by Nicholas Negroponte of M.I.T.)

Now that we all have access to the Internet, with billions of websites just a few clicks away, what news sites do we surf? Most of us try to confirm our existing beliefs by visiting those news sites that we already agree with. As Kristof says, “When we go online, each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about…we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.”

And unfortunately — this was the most disappointing part — it doesn’t count as being open minded or “expanding your horizons” when you visit extremist websites that are the total opposite of your viewpoint, just so you can ridicule them. Damn it! It’s fun, but it doesn’t count.

So when pro-business pro-development people visit an Earth First! website, or liberals tune in to Rush Limbaugh, they’re not reaching out to the other side or examining other viewpoints. They’re just reaffirming their own beliefs by exclaiming “can you believe this shit?!?!?!?!?”

I’ll probably continue to check out WorldNetDaily, Townhall.com and a few extreme rightwing bloggers who aren’t worth naming. But I won’t pretend it’s for educational purposes; it’s just for laughs. And for that perverse joy in being appalled, horrified, that some sickfuck can actually be this — ahem — but I digress…

Almost half of all Americans now live in a county that votes Democrat or Republican by a landslide. In the 1970s this was true for only one third of Americans. We’re becoming more segregated by beliefs.

A survey of twelve countries found that Americans are the least likely to discuss politics with people of different viewpoints. Most surprisingly (to me anyway), the higher the education level, the more closed-minded a person becomes. High school dropouts were the most willing to discuss issues with people they disagreed with. College graduates “managed to shelter themselves from uncomfortable perspectives.”

Kristof ends his column with: “So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count. Now excuse me while I go and read The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.”

cross-posted at Bring It On!

Labels: , , ,


Anonymous S.W. anderson said...

OK, Kristof raises a good point that we should all try to mindful of.

I take issue with that bit about the more educated being less willing to discuss politics with others who don't share their views. My experience has mostly been the opposite.

That said, I distinguish between types of Republicans and conservatives.

A relative few, especially politicians and media types, seem to still be willing to accept and honor facts, and argue for what they believe in a civil way. I respect them.

Too many of the rest seem to inhabit a parallel universe where they believe they make their own realities, think being truthful is for wimps and will say and do anything to win and to control. Yes, I sometimes listen to or read what these people have to say for the reasons Kristof gave. I certainly don't go to their programs or blogs for doses of valid information and keen insights. That's not because I don't like them and disagree with them, but rather because self-serving, often dishonest propaganda doesn't deserve to be taken as valuable information and gospel truth.

April 2, 2009 at 4:13 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

Interesting piece, Tom. I have to admit I used to listen to right-wing talk radio several hours a day just so I could "know what the enemy is thinking".

And now that we more or less control the government I tend to stick with Air America or just enjoy the music on my IPOD.

April 2, 2009 at 5:26 PM  
Anonymous Bee said...

i tend to read the Wall Street Journals front page, but not the editorials. Part of me wants to say "his author has a point" and the other part says "full of shit, please." Take my office, for example: all republicans (rush limbaugh repubes, nonetheless), and then there's me. I'm not talking politics with these people, because they are like listening to Rush every day on the radio, which I do occasionally, for about 2 minutes before I fear I've lost too many brain cells.
I don't talk politics at the office at all, anyway, as I don't think it is professional behavior - I don't touch religion in the office, either.
So Kristof wants us to "spar" with the other side - where? I don't hang out with republicans, because they generally just annoy me - they are like junkies, they can't stop talking about politics, or making racist comments, or other generally moldy snivel. I don't agree with then, hopefully never will, so what's the point? Is disagreeing with Alternet nearly 98% of the time good enough? I mean, they're kindof on the same side, but I still disagree with them regularly. I take a look at Faux news, sometimes, but it's so, well, simplistic that it becomes quickly annoying. So, I think he's full of shit. (shrug) Closed minded? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe some of us just are pretty sure we're generally on the right side of the civilization fence.

April 2, 2009 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: It's hard to tell about the education/open-mindedness connection. I know there's a powerful stereotype of dumb rednecks who threaten anybody they disagree with, but maybe it's more fiction than truth.

Out of the conservative columnists that our local paper sometimes carries, Cal Thomas is the only one who doesn't attack the opposition. Other than that, most of the rightwing pundits seem more interested in attacking liberals and moonbats than attacking issues or coming up with solutions. I'm only referring to the hardcore right; not people who are just somewhat right of center.

J: That's been my main motive for checking out rightwing sites -- "know your enemy," "keep your friends close and your enemies closer," etc. Plus they're entertaining in that sick sort of way.

Bee: I've never had many problems with coworkers arguing politics. At one place where I worked a long time ago (and politics hardly ever came up), an abortion discussion suddenly flared up out of nowhere. And everybody was against it. I didn't want to start a war or stay silent, so I just made some mild comment about "shouldn't we let people decide this for themselves?" or something like that. But that was weird.

I get most of my news from MSNBC and Yahoo News. There are some mildly conservative columnists (like George Will) who sometimes make sense. And the "Money" section of MSN has some interesting writers who I assume are more financial than political.

I haven't visited any of the leftwing sites (AlterNet, etc.) since Obama got elected. I know that Obama isn't perfect and can't wave a magic wand, but I've felt such a relief since he got elected that I'm just not in the mood for reading "alternative" sites where I know I'm gonna get pissed off. Rightwing bloggers have gotten much angrier and meaner since last November, and I'm just as glad to be less full of venom and anger.

April 3, 2009 at 1:26 AM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

I can't really disagree with Kristof's theory, but given that most on the right I know, to steal SWA's corollary, are of the wingnut variety and I feel my time is better spent NOT getting my blood in a boil at their Faux News stupidity.

Plus, since I already subscribe to the belief that our long-term future veers much closer to soylent green than green utopia, I'll just keep busy listening to tunes. ;-)

April 3, 2009 at 6:30 AM  
Blogger Demeur said...

The real problem is that the radical wing of the republican party took over and didn't come close to holding to their conservative ideals. They spend more money than any Democrat in history. They set out to eliminate the middle class in this country. Anyone even remotely moderate in their party was shut out or removed. That brand of radicalism has totally tarnished the entire party. They had over eight years in power and look where we are. Only a fool or madman would keep doing the same failed policies and expect different results. They are stuck by their own ideologies. They can't try another path because to do so would be to side with the Democrates.
I'd be more than happy to listen to moderate republicans if they presented anything that wasn't "more of the same" failed ideas that we've already heard. But the Rushs' and the Hannetys' and the BillOs' have a lock on the rightwing. They do not and can not represent the party as a whole or the party will indeed go the way of the Whigs.

April 3, 2009 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Mauigirl said...

It's very true, I know, but as Demeur says, the whole Republican Party has gone so right-wing that I would never even consider their point of view on anything. Back in the old days there were moderate Republicans like Rockefeller or Eisenhower and you could actually see their point of view and agree with it - maybe not every time, but often. Now it's almost impossible.

In addition, every newspaper has become more biased than in the past. The New York Times, which I still read faithfully, is admittedly very liberal and has become more in recent years than it was in the old days. We also get the Wall Street Journal. I basically think their news reporting is OK but when I read their editorials I feel as if I've entered some alternate universe where up is down and good is bad and black is white. And they're not even fully wingnutty. Where is our happy medium?

April 3, 2009 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Ricardo said...

Oh this is quite true. And the hosts of shows that cater to the left or right will draw you in further by saying the truth lies with them so you buy into it and reinforce your belief. This is how Rush built his audience by having everyone of his flock buy into that everyone else out there is a liberal which means socialist and that's a dirty word. But his listeners will watch those "other" news stations, become incensed with the liberal straw man and dig deeper into following him like a cult leader.

The door swings both ways on it but I do think the right wing is better organized and cohesive on the radio dial. Air America is just a total mess and it feels like they are 10 steps behind the latest news. It's as if they taped the shows a few months back and run them now.

April 3, 2009 at 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Bee said...

Tom, I know what you mean - being angry and pissed off gets tiring, and it's better for the "soul" to have a little bit of hope and decency in our daily lives, which include the news outlets now, for better or worse. I like to be able to write something every now and then that is about something good, and right, and just. It's like having an occasional breath of fresh air when you've been buried in moldy old wool sweaters for years.
And I must have really hit the co-worker jackpot (snark) :)

April 3, 2009 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Randal: Soylent Green, LOL. Coming sooner than we think :)

Demeur: You're right, moderate Republicans are a minority within their own party. That party got hijacked by some bizarre coalition of Biblethumpers and corporate empire builders. I assume the Wall Street Journal editorial page (the example given by Kristof) is at least well-written and free of name-calling and mouth-foaming. But that's getting harder to find these days.

Mauigirl: "Happy medium?" I'm afraid that's a thing of the past. I too miss the good old days when Democrats and Republicans weren't that far apart and had civil disagreements. If Rockefeller or Eisenhower were to come back, they'd be branded as "moonbats" (or worse) and kicked out of the party.

Ricardo: I've never listened to any talk radio, right or left. I've just seen the occasional YouTube clip of Limbaugh or Hannity blowing a gasket. For whatever reason, that talk radio format just really clicks with the Far Right. Fine with me; it keeps them off the streets, or keeps them from pulling the wings off of flies or whatever else they'd be doing.

April 3, 2009 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Bee: Good analogy. That old sweater got pretty stenchy and itchy after 8 years. It was nice to finally peel it off on January 20th.

April 3, 2009 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

Once again, the blame-the-internet crowd takes aim at the major cause in decline for the print industry. The only way not to close your mind is to ever make a decision on any issue. Because once your mind is made up, no amount of name-calling or bashing form the right or left is going to change it.

April 4, 2009 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Lew: That's true, the columnist was partially blaming the internet in his article. I don't think the internet has anything to do with it, but it's always easier to blame technology or some newfangled gadget than to look deeper.

April 4, 2009 at 6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always thought part of being a liberal was seeking to understand how/why other people think - According to conservatives that's one of our biggest weaknesses.

So I read and I watch and I listen. I read leading authors writing about both the changes in liberalism and conservatism over the years. Trying to keep abreast and trying to understand.

One reason is because in the 1960's I thought I had some understanding of Conservatives, it seems you could have an honest discussion with them at the time.

Then you talk to one and he gets in his face shouts you down and spews hate and lies. "Where did it come from?" That's why you listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Bill O'Reilly et al. Like it or not this is how people are forming their opinions and beliefs and must be taken seriously.

The really sad part about it is once you shout them back and they recoil in surprise (because you aren't acting like the paid, wimpy, "liberal" on TV that cowers everytime they do) they stop and then seem lost, recollect, and then grumble something, and end of discussion.


Education once the great savior, is no longer true in fact all of our education is labeled Subversive and Liberal and you only come out right if you went to Dartmouth, Liberty, Oral Roberts or Bob Jones.

I mean I used to have Conservative and Republican friends, as they became more polarized on a national level they are no longer interested in befriending people who are different then they are.

As a Black Man I read a lot of racist literature and media. Does that mean all America is racist? Hell No! But while the majority dismisses them as lunatics - I have always watched over the years as softened down variations of their rhetoric gets repeated. From Strom Thurmond, to George Wallace, to Richard Nixon, to Ronald Reagan, to Trent Lott, to Newt Gingrich, to Rick Santorium and Rush Limbaugh (as well as conservatives in my own "liberal" state of California) and they keep coming!

That's why I read the extremist stuff - the messengers may be small but the message is big.

It reminds me of a all so true poster from the 70's of Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker who says
"there's a little of me in all of youse!"

We don't seem to talk anymore..

April 5, 2009 at 9:03 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: That's true about conservatives. They think if you don't have a rockribbed ramrod-straight unwavering point of view, you're some sort of wussy.

The conservative view used to be expressed intelligently and open-mindedly. William Buckley and Barry Goldwater must be turning in their graves when they see what their party has deteriorated into.

April 6, 2009 at 11:51 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home