Living in a time of clear division in which a President faces choices that will mold our country in a permanent and lasting way. Abraham Lincoln reunited the country with force when he faced the United States greatest crisis since independence. Today President Obama faces a country that is equally divided and equally fragile. Obama is no Lincoln and I am fearful for the future of our great country.
Right about now many liberals reading this just had their heads explode because it is simply unconscionable! How can I compare slavery and all that went with that dehumanizing practice with anything happening today? Anything else I write at this point will be ignored, attacked, dissected and lambasted before I actually have time to flesh out my argument, and THAT is the problem. We no longer take the time to hear people out, to think about what is being said or to actually enter into intelligent discussion. This failure to communicate is simultaneously broadening the political divide and making it more difficult to govern and providing greater opportunity for graft and corruption. Elected officials increasingly rely upon the unwavering support of their base even if they are “caught” by the other side. They simply assume that their followers will discount news reported by the opposition. There are a series of communication issues that plague both parties:
1. Our Perspective Dictates Our Perception -
I love my wife with all of my heart and trust her completely, but we can both hear the same sentence and think that it means completely different things – and WE get along and communicate. Whether it is Big Bird, Benghazi, immigration or abortion folks hear the same words and instantly put their own meaning on them. This predisposition of interpretation makes meaningful discussion virtually impossible. I have tried to engage people on this site on each of those topics and often we simply reach impasse because we cannot bridge the difference in perception gap. I find this particularly frustrating when it involves factual events and not simply opinion. People simply have a remarkable ability to discount and filter out facts that are inconsistent with their core beliefs which form their perceptions.
2. Our Peers Reinforce Our Belief System
We tend to hang out with people we like, and we tend to like people with similar beliefs. This can have an exponential impact on entire industries as those with differing values either opt out or are forced out. Conservative professors are often marginalized or even mocked by university faculties that nationally self-identifying in percentages multiples above the general population. (Faculty self-identification) The liberal domination of the media is so measurable (89% voted Democratic) it is really no longer in dispute. Scott Stenholm, a staff writer for HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” contributing writer for The Daily Beast and the Huffington Post recently commented on Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s comments that there is a liberal media bias,
Ryan and other conservatives have a valid argument that, for decades, the mainstream media has been liberally biased. . . . As a liberal myself, I am proud that the news media often leans left. The fact that it is their sole purpose to intricately monitor our laws, our lawmakers, our wars, our allies and enemies, our domestic and foreign policy, our current events, only makes me confident that I am leaning the right way. . . . So while the ‘liberal media’ does not seem to be having a dramatic effect on ideology it does beg the question — shouldn’t the country be leaning in the same ideological direction as the people who cover this stuff for a living?
This “birds of a feather” phenomenon is not the exclusive domain of liberals or the left and my own bias has probably led me to use the above examples. I believe that it is simply human nature to hang out with people of similar views to our own. The downside of this is that we lose perspective and reinforce our own already existing bias.
3. Proliferation of Media Sources Allows Continued Bias Reinforcement
Even 25 years ago our sources of information were pretty limited. Local newspapers, local and national television, local and national radio. ”Cable options” basically meant CNN and Al Gore had not yet spread the internet to the world. I can still remember my very liberal dad swearing to the world every morning as he read that “*#$# conservative Santa Ana Register.” We would talk about what he was reading and why he disagreed. These same conversations took place everyday at offices, schools, churches and neighborhoods.
Today you can hand select your news source from hundreds of radio and television news choices and more than thirty million websites available (I know, when I first started this blog it was ranked more than 30 millionth). Each and every human on earth can literally hand-pick their source(s) of news. No one ever has to read something that is inconsistent with their own perceptions or with the views of their peer group. Obviously, not everyone behaves this way as is clearly demonstrated by the comments to this blog which actually lean toward the left. Unfortunately I think that most folks don’t “cross over” on their news intake and most of those that do simply do it to demonstrate their superiority to those “on the other side.” I feel fortunate here at Thinking Right because it feels like we generally get real thinking rather than the typical three or four word “opposition” response.
4. Combination of Personal, Peer and Media Perceptions
What is becoming toxic in our society is the combination of normally existing personal bias, reinforcement of these views by peers and then cementing these developing beliefs through constant bombardment by self-selected media output. This virulent combination produces a society of people who think that “I am right and you are wrong” all of the time. This belief is confirmed by reassuring friends and a constantly supportive media. Now solidified as “absolutes,” ANY contrary opinion can now be easily tossed aside as simply wrong. Facts that don’t stack up as consistent with “absolute” can simply be tossed aside as wrong and with just a little effort can be crafted as “crazy” or “paranoid.”
This leaves our country in a deeply disturbing place. You have multiple groups of people with radically different views that are completely convinced that everything they say and think is correct and that all contrary facts and opinions are incorrect. Not the best environment for productive and rational discussion. This could not come at a worse time as our country is facing yet another precarious nation and planet threatening series of crisis. Can’t really talk about global warming because each side has twisted the terminology and the concepts making it impossible to discuss practical policy. Can’t really talk about the economy because one side sees the other as “greedy” while the other side is viewed as “parasites.” Can’t talk about abortion because one side is says it is murder and the other says it is only about the woman’s body. The list goes on and on.
What can be done about all of this? Try thinking for yourself. Try challenging views you assume as being absolutes. Easier said than done, isn’t it?