Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tea Party: Living in an Alternate Reality

I finally figured the Tea Baggers out. The problem isn't that Tea Baggers are wrong or stupid. They're not an evil mob hell-bent on returning us to the dark ages, even though that's exactly what their agenda would achieve.

No, the problem is the internet and cable TV, which have allowed them to build a new reality, a different reality than the one in which the rest of us reside. They live in one world, we live in another. Unfortunately, our two worlds occupy the same physical space.

We used to interact with our neighbors. We went to a few churches and schools, shopped at our local stores, and maybe joined a club or took dancing lessons. We had to rub shoulders with our neighbors, many of whom had political views quite different from our own. We were immersed in the diverse mainstream political culture. It was unavoidable.

On top of that, our TV and radio stations numbered just a few, and they were required by law to provide access to all viewpoints. Our newspapers might be liberal or conservative, but they never were radical.

In other words, we couldn't avoid hearing our neighbors' viewpoints.

But in a weird twist of irony, the information age has spawned a new new cultural phenomenon: deliberate ignorance. Instead of two or three TV stations and one newspaper, now we can select from hundreds of sources for our information. Why is that bad? Because we can listen only to what we want to hear. We can choose to be ignorant of other views. We can find a news station, a web site, and an online group of friends who will do nothing but reinforce and even amplify our world views.

It doesn't matter how nutty, outrageous or even factually wrong our views are, we can find a dozen web sites of self-congratulatory friends who will supply us with "facts" to strengthen our position and with moral support to make us feel good about ourselves. Worse, we can avoid encountering anyone who might have a different view of the world.

The internet and information age were supposed to bring the world together, to make us one big, happy, interconnect planet. Instead it's allowed us to divide ourselves even further, to isolate ourselves into like-minded groups, and to avoid any sort of meaningful discourse.

And that's where the Tea Party came from. Bill Maher said it best last week on Larry King Live. It's a great interview, and I recommend watching the whole thing. But if you just have a moment, here is the excerpt that got me thinking. It starts at 9:45 into this clip:

1 comment:

  1. I certainly see broad divergence in political perspectives - much as Bill Maher suggests, "there are two realities." Interesting thought that the internet actually facilitates divergence through group segregation. This is true from my anecdotal experience. I have found great pleasure in finding like minded folks the world over. I also see dangers in this homogeneous socialization. Diversity certainly broadens the mind. I am writing on this topic now - referring to Jonathon Haidt's work on morality and politics. Very interesting stuff.


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