Bigotry and narrow-mindedness in politics

A number of elements came together today to help me write this article.

First, I read an article by Firehand where he realized something important about the ideologues driving the current Administration in Washington.

THEY CANNOT LEAVE US ALONE. Not that they choose not to, they CAN’T. They really are the True Believers, and if they leave us alone we won’t do what they’ve decided is best for us. Or, to put it more properly, what they’ve decided is best for the world, and those of us who won’t go along, well: “You will be reeducated into the proper way of thinking, or we will kill you.”

THAT is their true belief of what needs to be done. And so they cannot leave us – or anyone else – alone. Not in our private lives, not in our food, not in our political beliefs, how we raise children or pets or anything else. They have to control what we own, how we use it, when and how much we use it. They have to control what we say lest we say something unapproved, they have to control what goes in books lest we read or write something improper, they have to change our records of history so they can control, as much as they can, our past (“We’re going to have to make sacrifices, we’re going to have to change our conversation, we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history and we’re going to have to move to a different place”). Because our past isn’t what they want it to have been, and if we actually pay attention to it we won’t get the lessons they WANT us to.

There’s more at the link. Recommended reading.

This reminded me of something I read today at Rasmussen. In the context of the immigration debate, where President Obama has just chosen to wilfully disregard and disobey United States law, it’s become clear that there’s a fundamental dissonance between the desires of mainstream Americans and those who run the ‘system’ in Washington. Rasmussen reported yesterday:

Even as the Obama administration moves to slow the pace of deportation for illegal immigrants, voters continue to believe strongly that gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living in the United States.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely U.S. Voters shows that 61% say gaining control of the border is most important when it comes to immigration reform, while 31% say it’s more important to legalize the status of the illegal immigrants who are already here.

. . .

Most Political Class voters (63%) say legalizing undocumented workers should be the top goal of immigration reform, but 71% of Mainstream voters disagree and say border control should be the priority.

Again, more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.

Time after time, Rasmussen polls reveal an enormous difference between the way ordinary Americans see issues, and how the so-called ‘political class‘ view them. See this list of topics for examples. The attitudes of the ‘political class’ are a perfect mirror of what Firehand refers to as the attitude of ‘True Believers’.

This tied in with another article I read today, this one in the Sydney Morning Herald from Australia. James Schloeffel points out that technology may be making us more extreme (not to mention less well informed) in our political opinions. He writes:

If you watched the US debt crises unfold then, like me, you probably experienced symptoms ranging from bewilderment and frustration to mild panic.

How could a group of grown adults approach this crucial issue with such reckless stubbornness and stupidity?

It seemed that the parties (and their supporters) weren’t debating the issue from different sides of the political spectrum but from entirely different planets – such was their inability, initially at least, to come to any kind of mature compromise.

The US crisis is an extreme case, but it is an example of what some fear is a growing partisanship in political debate. We’re becoming more extreme in our views and less willing to listen to opposing opinions (if, indeed, we’re aware of them at all). And it seems technology may be at least partially to blame.

There was a time when our understanding of the world was shaped by the morning newspaper and the six o’clock news bulletin. When listening to the radio meant tuning the wireless with your fingers and when the paper was made out of, well, paper.

Oh how things have changed. Instead of in a newspaper, you are reading this article on a website, on an iPad or on a phone. Some of you will have stumbled across this article from a link on Twitter or Facebook. The more outspoken among you will violently disagree with the article in the comments section at the bottom.

These days, the internet provides us with thousands, if not millions of outlets for news and opinions, catering to the most niche of tastes. Thanks to the power of search engines, filtering options and personalised settings, you need only ever read precisely what interests you – no need to flick through page after page of newsprint that doesn’t take your fancy.

So, for example, I could spend all day just reading Lady Gaga’s musings on the state of the entertainment industry or all week reading nothing but analysis of the weekend’s football games.

The concern is, I could also spend a whole lifetime only accessing political news that is slanted to my pre-existing beliefs, with any opposing views conveniently filtered out.

What’s more, the ever-advancing cleverness of the internet means that when we browse the web, we are increasingly being served up information that matches our interests, with much of the rest removed from sight, often without us realising.

Google search results are tailored to you, based on your previous search and browsing behaviour; booksellers recommend titles similar to those you’ve bought in the past; your newsfeed on Facebook prompts you to read stories that your Facebook friends have read.

That people are more likely to seek out information or opinions that match their own beliefs is nothing new. It’s just that now we can do so in a virtual bubble. We are able to hone our consumption of information to an extremely narrow frame of reference and sideline opposing views.

. . .

… as the information we receive becomes more and more digitised, personalised and customisable, we would do well to remember that not everyone sees the world as we do.

More at the link. Again, highly recommended reading.

Is this part of the problem of both highly partisan politics in mainstream America, and the insular, blinkered views of the ‘political class’? Is everyone concerned receiving information and feedback from a much more narrowly focused perspective, so that they literally can’t understand the views of others because they’ve never been exposed to them, or to the thought processes that produce them?

I’ve sometimes wondered why it is that so few bloggers and commentators are prepared to read the views of those with whom they disagree, and acknowledge that the other side may genuinely have a point, and respect that, and be willing to learn from them. A good example from my blogroll would be Comrade Misfit. She describes herself as an ‘armed lesbian pinko’: a very liberal Democrat, espousing many positions with which I profoundly disagree. However, she’s sincere in her beliefs. When I disagree with her, I find myself challenged to say precisely why I disagree, and where I believe she’s wrong, and what defense I can offer for my differing opinions. I respect her right to believe as she does, even as (I hope) she respects mine; and I continue to read her blog, not because I agree with her, but precisely because I don’t. I need to be challenged, to be taken out of my comfort zone and made to look at life and politics from a different perspective. If I don’t allow her (and others like her) to do that, I risk becoming nothing more than yet another specimen of the sort of narrow-minded bigot of whom the Internet already has far too many.

The annual TED (Technology, Education and Design) conferences provide a great deal of very useful information. A talk at TED’s conference earlier this year by Ed Pariser examined the subject of ‘online filter bubbles’, and discussed how this could limit our worldview. He argues this will be bad for us and bad for democracy. Here’s his talk. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.

I submit that Mr. Pariser’s arguments go a long way to explaining the blindness of the ‘political class’ to the views of mainstream America. The former are so limited in the sources from which they receive input that they literally can’t conceive that others think differently. When your daily intellectual fodder is the New York Times, or the Boston Globe, or some other nose-in-the-air liberal-oriented filter of the news, you really won’t understand how intolerable your arrogance is to the rest of us. You probably won’t even realize you’re being arrogant!

Food for thought . . . and for self-examination. Are we, too, prone to read only those sources that buttress, and confirm, and reinforce our existing perspectives, positions and philosophies? And, if so, aren’t we making the same mistake as the ‘political class’, or the ‘True Believers’ of whom Firehand speaks?



  1. Peter:

    Reading one's opponent's writings and views is all important. Your view on that matter matches the opinions of the likes of Churchill, Patton, Klauswitz and many others. After all, how may one be educated on any matter lest one knows all opinions regarding it.

  2. I wonder too how much effect moving from college to law school to a political career (or college to journalism school to punditry) has on the "political class." As best I can tell, the majority of national and state-level politicians have not been involved in what the rest of us call "the real world." Although not in the academic ivory tower, they seem to function in a similar vacuum.

  3. My epiphany on the matter of received wisdom and different viewpoints came in a first year university course in Canada. Modern European History, World War One, History 101…received wisdom in the western world…except the versions are all different. The Canadian view of WWI was utterly, totally different from the American. An entire lecture on WWI, and practically no mention of the US? I realized that the same lecture in the US would have essentially no mention of Canada. It blew my little mind, and then I started thinking.
    When I taught history at the university level briefly, I always started the semester with a spiel on the meaning of version, of bias, and critical thinking. Maybe it sunk in for a few people.

  4. The US crisis is an extreme case, but it is an example of what some fear is a growing partisanship in political debate. We're becoming more extreme in our views and less willing to listen to opposing opinions (if, indeed, we're aware of them at all). And it seems technology may be at least partially to blame.

    But how do you "listen to opposing opinions" or "compromise" with someone who wants to cut your head off? Only let him go halfway? As Firehand says in the opening quote, the people who want to keep extending out debt want to destroy us. You yourself have posted many times about how utterly screwed we're going to be by this debt crisis we've got going on. There's no room for compromise with annihilation.

  5. Listening to opposing opinions doesn't mean compromising with them; just means finding out what they think.

    Couple of days ago I posted on FB a quote I ran across: "If you think you have a right to force me to pay for your health care, then why don't you have a right to force me to pick your cotton?" I had someone start listing various taxes, I got a lecture on 'It is MORAL to supply health care' and things along those lines; but none of them actually tried to answer the question. I don't know if it was because they didn't want to admit what the answer is, or if they just could not comprehend "It's nice!" or "It's moral!" not being sufficient answer to, well, pretty much anything. Definitely gave me some thinking material on how they see things.

    Or their cowardice, depending on if they just didn't have the balls to answer the question.

  6. We are all guilty of confirmation bias, and related issues of reading what we are comfortable with, seeking out people who agree with us, and the like.

    I can't believe that he said that the old editors had ethics while that the algoriths don't. Naive. I suspect editors were just as likely to bias what people received, but based on their own selfish motives. There is no such thing as unbiased news.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *