Politics of Opposition: Selling Propaganda to Ourselves

Here’s something I’ve often found amusing about the media and politics:

We pay people to propagandize us. Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken, Bill O’Reilly and other similar people are paid to tell us why Our Side is right and the Other Side is wrong. People listen to them because they have a particular point of view, not just because they are amusing.

Even if they had a change of heart, it would still be in their best interest to keep it quiet in order to continue to get paid. An example: After the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, a book came out purporting to tell the true story about Anita Hill (whose accusations of sexual harrasment threatened to derail Thomas’ confirmation). It portrayed her as mentally ill. The writer of the book later admitted to making up a great deal of what was within it.

In a later book, he admitted that he knew what he was writing wasn’t true, but he enjoyed the connections, the influence and similar things that came his way as a result. Since then, he’s come out as homosexual, admitted he lied, moved over to the left and dropped out of the public eye.

It’s a cautionary tale for the Michael Moore’s and Ann Coulter’s of this world. If you begin to change your views, you’d better not tell anybody or your career may disappear.

In thinking about people on either the right or the left who produce work that is of interest only to their side, I can’t help but note the lack of ambiguity. “We are right. The Other Side is evil. There is no middle ground.”

My general experience in life is that there’s plenty of middle ground and lots of ambiguity so why does anybody take this stuff seriously?

My guess is that a clear, unambiguous perspective is easier to comprehend. It’s much easier to express the point of view that the Other Side is evil (or stupid) than it is to expess the idea that they’re right on some issues and wrong on others.

Analysis takes effort to read. Well-written, unambiguous derision can be not only easy to read, but can turn out to be hilariously funny as well (at least if you agree).

Careful analysis also tends to raise up situations in which people have to consider the possibility that they’re wrong about certain views and ideas they have (i.e. cognitive dissonance). People don’t like experiencing being wrong. Thus it becomes easy to listen to people you already agree with and harder to listen to people you don’t.

As a result, people listen to people whose views agree with there own, reinforcing the views they already have. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.

The people promoting a particular set of political views don’t mention the views they have that differ with their own side. The people who listen/read get their own views reinforced.

I don’t see an obvious way that this can be changed, but I do wish for more voices that don’t fit well within the artificial right/left dichotomy. Excessive certainty about one’s own perspective seems a liability in politics (and life in general), an area in which compromise is not just an option, but actually a necessity.

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