Look At It This Way

Seeing old things in new ways.

The Terrorist Next Door

An Epidemic of Contested Reality

Columnist James Poniewozik wrote a thought-provoking piece in TIME magazine dealing with this nation's frightening lack of legitimate news reporting and analysis. On Easter Sunday, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Baja California. It shook things up all the way to and beyond Los Angeles. So how did the media report this breaking story? FOX had Mike Huckabee talking about God while MSNBC was running a show dealing with Plane Crashes. Only CNN, with the smallest audience, was covering the story.

It may take a moment to sink in but what this means is that TV and Junk Food have replaced Bread and Circus. Hello...anybody out there?

Humans get a fix on the big picture by filtering external events through their internal mindset. What's happening - around you specifically and in the world generally - comes at you as a flow of information. You then react to that information based on its quality and quantity. . In a very real sense, the news is the basis of your reality. But what if that news is Garbage In Garbage Out. If the true nature of external events is warped often enough for long enough, eventually the internal mindset, that filter through which you interpret the world, will become equally warped.

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Take an issue of the day - Abortion, Illegal Immigration, Gun Control, Evolution. One network tells its viewers it's bad, the other says it's good and CNN (no bull/no bias) gives both sides equal time and lets it go at that. This last approach might work OK if Americans were trained as children to think independently in a logical, reasonable fashion. They aren't. The end result is a nation that's attuned only to one side and hopelessly polarized as a result. What's more, there's not much hope of change because people prefer being exposed to views that match what they already believe. This is called confirmation bias. And it gets even more dangerous because conflict resolution is yet another lesson that goes wanting in the USA. Tie in our preference for emotional violence over intellectual debate and something just short of tribal warfare ensues. People fret over Islamic fundamentalists but remain mostly oblivious to the fact that homegrown terrorists are just as committed to their cause...whatever it is.

So you select one of those issues from the list above or perhaps you're passionate about Global Warming, the Banker's Bailout, Health Care Reform ...as long as you feel strongly and have a firm conviction. Now stop and think. Can you give the other side's best argument? What will it take to change your mind? Is there a compromise to which you'd agree? See what I mean? So what makes you think the guy on the other side is going to be any more reasonable than you?

Let's go further. Do you ever watch that other network? Dumb people need a strong message repeated again and again. Yet that same approach is counterproductive with smart people. They feel it insults their intelligence. The result is loyal viewers. The two sides keep talking to their own side - preaching to the choir - and never the twain shall meet.

I can see this loud and clear in the comments readers leave at my site. Because I write about seeing things in new ways, I expect a certain amount of disagreement. No problem except for the way people chose to disagree. Instead of starting with the assumption that I probably know a whole lot more about the topic than they do, I get posts full of fury.

No: "Thank you for presenting an alternate view."
No: "May I ask a question?"
No: "Perhaps I'm wrong but...."


Instead, the readers who agree don't bother to lend their support while those who don't agree demand that the editors push me into Grand Canyon.

Can you see where terrorists are small potatoes compared to the guy next door who watches that other network and is dumb enough to believe everything they say?

 

 

Stephen Benedict-Mason is a psychologist, a former university professor, syndicated newspaper columnist and radio talk-show host.

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