Sunday, September 08, 2013

A Rambling To Family Regarding The Embrace of Misinformation

I was sent a pdf scanned clipping of Dana Milbank's somewhat recent opinion piece regarding, among other things, Louisiana Republicans blaming the current president, Barack Obama, for the response to Hurricane Katrina's destruction more than George W. Bush, the president at the time the devastation took place.  I responded with essentially what is included below, with a minor edit to the first sentence to make it a little more readable.

The presumption of bad faith is a powerful thing, and seems very closely linked with the sort of team based, vendetta carrying dynamic.  In a specific person like the current president, this extends to Republicans and conservatives knowingly ascribing things to him that aren't so simply because it makes him look worse, or is something negative that can be tagged on him.  Some of this may be unconscious and due to misinformation on the part of outlets or leaders, but I think it's doing a disservice to people's knowledge of how politics works to say people don't understand that if they, themselves can spread the idea that something is Obama's fault that it will have the secondary effect of undermining not just him but those who voted for him and even those principles he is a stand-in for.

It's not quite apples to apples, but when accusations of NSA and DOJ abuses done under this administration are met with responses of well it was started under Bush, or waving it off as no big deal, that's defending the vanguard of our ideological position simply because we know it's important that leaders be protected so that they can advance things we do agree with, if at the cost of allowing things we disagree with in principle.

The mention of talk radio, I think, is notable because while there's no true liberal analogue to that group, the MSNBC of today is much more a reflexively liberal outlet than it was say, even ten years ago when it fired Phil Donahue for being critical of the Iraq War. The personalities on their shows are more likely to smirk and vaguely question the morality and intelligence of conservatives in a way similar to how talk radio hosts demonize libgressivecrats.  It's only natural that this has happened since these media outlets are in a constant battle for viewers and through that their lifeblood of advertising dollars.  Instead of seeking to challenge and inform a broad and diverse electorate they're seeking to affirm and enable a specific ideological cross section because that is a more reliable method of attracting and maintaining an audience.

All of this plays into the overall public discourse that happens not just on highly produced programs on Fox and CNN or the sophist's paradise of talk radio, but between family members and coworkers where we'll be unable to conceive of people legitimately having a different lens through which they view life.  Because of that we argue and try to convince others of our positions, essentially engaging in polemics we aren't articulate enough to pull off anyway, and often coming away feeling like we've damaged a personal or professional relationship, which just further burns our ability to have a functioning government and society.

I think a lost portion of this discourse at all levels is something that's not often discussed regarding classical philosophy, which is that we can have a conversation which is just as engaging and emotional as a polemic, but without the pitfalls of deepening our schisms since our form of government requires a certain fundamental level of cooperation and presumption of good faith on the part of others participating.

Scholasticism helped end the brooding hatred between Catholics and early Lutherans.  Dialectic was the manner in which some of the early 'greats' of philosophy communicated their ideas, such as the Socratic Dialogues.  While it's conceit to think any of our own minds are of a caliber matching that of these historical figures(or that there's some achievable shangri la kumbaya we must arrive at), I think it's a worthy goal to engage with those we disagree with in a way that challenges the preconceptions they may come to the table with from listening to their selected ideological media.

As always, if there are any who read this and have additional or contrary thoughts to add, please do so in whatever way you're most comfortable (email, comment, blog post elsewhere, whatever).