Thursday, November 04, 2004

Echo Chambers

Salon, a left-wing site, has an interesting set of reader responses to an article about left-wing blogs having been an echo chamber which left their readers totally unprepared for the defeat of the Dems, and unable to understand the defeat. One reader says:
On election night at a San Francisco bar, once a White Russian had calmed my anxious stomach, I asked a fellow TV-watcher if he knew anyone who had voted for Bush.

"Nope. And I'm from Michigan. I know folks there, here, in Arizona, Florida, Colorado, got family and friends everywhere, but they're all educated people. It's all about ignorance."

I told him my parents in Ohio had voted for Bush, and soon he was shouting at me. No matter how many times I said, "Yep, I agree. I'm on your side. I'm with you. I don't get it myself," he didn't even hear me.

But I was being just a bit disingenuous. I voted for Kerry, and I'm sad, and worried about the outcome. But after months of discussion with my folks, I had at least concluded that there were possibly one or two compelling reasons to reelect Bush -- that the other half of registered voters were probably not all insane, stupid, bigoted, evil and selfish. My mom and dad, after all, are nice, bright people who read.

That is, they read mostly conservative columnists (David Brooks, Daniel Pipes, et al.) and listen mostly to Republican rhetoric. Just like my liberal friends and I do on our side.

That, I think, is a big problem. It's not just that we in our bubbles end up shocked at the outcome of the election -- it's that we don't have thoughtful, intellectually honest discussions with people who think differently. The candidates don't, the pundits don't, the activists don't, and the voters don't. Instead, many of us dig in, use only facts that support our views, jump to conclusions without clear evidence, oversimplify, dismiss those who disagree, and then complain that democracy is in serious trouble.

But democracy depends, at least partly, on being able to listen and discuss with eyes, mind and heart wide open.

-- Mitch Neuger
Now, I've sometimes worried myself whether the right-wing blogs are an echo chamber in the same way. To a large degree, I think not. Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing blogs have thrived because they are immersed in a wider liberal media environment. The things that are discussed are the things seen in this liberal media. Opinions are formed about what the liberals are up to based on what the liberals are actually saying, and based on the public record. The left-wingers have spent this entire election season (which, as a friend of mine quipped, has been a five-and-a-half year permanent campaign) spinning theories about Halliburton, warring for oil, a theocratic takeover, etc. That would all be well and good, but precisely which Republicans or conservatives have ever, ever said that those things are what the game really is? Where are there any statements in the official public record that these things are the 'real' goals?

You know when the real Nazis ran for election, they ran as, well, Nazis. Nobody had to concoct any theories about what they stood for.

An echo chamber results from spinning conspiracy theories about motivation rather than examining how the other side explains its own actions and motivations. What the right-wing blogs are doing is called 'discussion' and 'analysis'. Being a former leftist, I understand full well where the left is coming from. Do they have any idea where conservatives are honestly coming from? I used to read The Nation, Mother Jones and a lot of other left-wing magazines. How many lefty 'echo chamber' delusions would be dispelled by a year's subscription to The Weekly Standard or The American Enterprise?

Do left-wingers want to know what we really think? Or do they suffer from the (reasonable) fear that to know what we think and why we think it is to become one of us?

Update: More good thoughts on this from a Democrat here.

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