Thursday, November 8, 2012

Piercing The Veil

I’d like to take some time here to describe a world that I’m pretty familiar with.  It’s a sort of parallel universe that is similar to ours, but different.  The people who inhabit it know certain things.  They know that Barack Obama’s presidency has been a total disaster.  They know he is the worst president ever in the history of history. Ever.  In this parallel world, inhabited by these people who are privy to things the rest of us are not, there are some indisputable truths. 

Some of them are as follows:  Obama is the worst president in the history of the world. (Maybe I’ve already mentioned that one.) Obama has wrecked the American economy and the entrepreneurial spirit.  His policies have ushered in an age of government dependency and socialism.  He has put an unprecedented tax and regulatory burden on America’s job creators and its middle class.  He has increased the national debt and deficit at a rate never before seen in the history of the United States.  His foreign policy has been a disaster.  After going on an apology tour to Muslim countries where he apologized profusely for American values, he lowered America’s standing in the world by signaling that he was a weak and indecisive leader of the free world.  He’s been weak on terrorism.  He hates the military.  He hates Christians.   He especially hates Christians that are in the military.   He’s a radical.  It’s obvious to everyone.  He’ll be a one termer. Probably lose the election by a landslide, just like Jimmy Carter.  He’s the black Jimmy Carter; biggest mistake America ever made.  After all, everyone knows that O.B.A.M.A. stands for “One Big Ass Mistake America”!

I might have gotten a little carried away towards the end but that is a general outline of the parallel universe.

Now, if you don’t inhabit that rarified plane or are otherwise unfamiliar with it, some of that stuff might sound a little crazy or extreme.  You might get the impression that only really crazy and extreme people would believe those things, but you would be very wrong.  You see, I am familiar with this other world because I know many people who live there.  And most of them are not crazy or irrational or unreasonable at all.  Many of them are very smart and even educated.  They’re good people, many of my own friends and family.  (To be fair, a few of them really are certifiably batshit looney, but not many!)

This is a fascinating thing to me.  Because while I am intimately familiar with this world where everyone knows – just knows! – these types of things to be true…I reside outside of this world.  To me, each and every one of those “truths” mentioned above, are easily debunked luminous piles of horse shit.

To put it simply, anyone who is well informed from a variety of sources can quickly see that any and all of the statements above are either just flat wrong or at best are wildly exaggerated.  There is objective, empirical, publicly available data that deflates most of the truths of our aforementioned alternate reality.

This parallel information universe has some names.  Bill Maher calls it The Bubble.  John Stewart refers to it as Bullshit Mountain.  Even a prominent conservative, Julian Sanchez, wrote a piece several years ago describing it as “epistemic closure”.  Whatever you want to call it, it is a closed circuit information loop - an echo chamber that operates outside of the established parameters of science, math, even history. 

And some very good, otherwise smart people get stuck there; close friends and family of mine, people I respect. 

All snark and sarcasm aside, I have exerted a great deal of effort at times to penetrate this bubble.  I’ve found myself genuinely concerned and confused at the power and hold this phenomenon has on people.  It’s like quicksand or a black hole for critical thinking.  That sounds insulting, but I am not trying to be insulting.  I’m just stating my personal experience and this is how it appears to me.  The right wing media, which, for the most part I think of as Fox/Drudge/Limbaugh/Beck has a cult-like hold on the minds of far too many of my fellow Americans.

I’m bringing this up now for a reason.  During my career of trying to free minds from the Conservative Matrix I have tried to combat fantasy with reality by referring people to facts and figures.  Things like changes in the unemployment rate, or debt added by the various presidents, or number of regulations enacted by one president versus another, or stock market and corporate profit data…in regards to Obama, basically anything that just shows that the kinds of wild exaggerations and assertions I listed above aren’t exactly on the mark.  I’ve tried put things in historical perspective, provide some context.  

Sometimes this is successful. Usually it is not.  In terms of changing someone’s perspective with this method, my success rate is probably somewhere around 5%.  Meaning maybe one in twenty people have come around.  That doesn’t mean they suddenly love Obama or become a liberal. (Which isn’t what I’m after anyway.) It just means they acknowledge the problems with the kinds of claims I mentioned above; the beliefs that are gospel to the conservative faithful.  They take a more critical look at the information sources that they’ve relied on to form their worldview. 

All I’m ever really after is trying to get people to agree to a common reality.  Philosophical differences will always be there and that is fine.  Smart and principled people can debate those differences intelligently.  But statements like “Obama has added more taxes and regulations than any president in history” have no place in an intelligent discussion.   We have hard data on this.  There’s history. We can count and compare the number of regulations.  We can look at the tax rates and the taxes collected.  We don’t have to conjecture.  I’m glad that we don’t all agree and debate is healthy and necessary.  But having one half of the population that lives in its own made up reality is not healthy. It’s terrible for democracy and representative government and makes it impossible to solve actual problems. 

I’m a little off on a tangent, so what’s my point.  We’ve just had an election and what and how it all happened serves as the perfect illustration for the existence of and the dangers of The Bubble. 

Some of us could see this coming.  This shock and disbelief, what must have felt like being shoved into the Twilight Zone for our friends and family who reside in the parallel conservative universe.  Now I won’t even lie here. I had no idea who was going to win the election.  When Romney chose Ryan as VP my best guess was that he just handed the election to Obama, but that was just an educated guess.  After Obama’s first debate it was really in question.  

I truly thought Obama was going to win when it came down to it, but I wasn’t confident enough to make bold proclamations on Facebook or anywhere else.  Most importantly, I didn’t rely on my gut feeling or for one news source for polling information when I was trying to gather facts and get a sense of who could win.  I used a wide variety of sources, which is what I do.  Nate Silver at 538 has a great track record.  There were several other good polling aggregators out there as well.  There was data.  And the data was always clear: Look for a very close popular vote but Obama has Ohio, and therefore the election, in the bag.  That never changed throughout the final few weeks.  Even as Dick Morris and Michael Barrone of Fox, and Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal were somehow, with a straight face, predicting a landslide Romney victory. 

George Will and several others were too.  People inside the Echo Chamber believed them.  Those of us outside shook our heads as usual.  And as usual, the conservative media attacked the messenger(s) when they didn’t like the message.  “The polling is biased.” “Nate Silver is effeminate and has a girly voice.”  The usual shallow, inane, bullshit attacks on anyone who dares to intrude on right wing reality.

This isn’t a gloat post.  This is a post about hope.  It’s a hope that the millions of people who were convinced to ignore any outside information to the contrary and buy into conservative media’s version of reality will use this experience as a wake-up call.  I saw it first hand.  People who were genuinely shocked, surprised, baffled; it just can’t be. How can it be?  There were literally tears shed. 

It didn’t have to be this way for the people that were on the losing end of this election.

That’s all I’m saying.

A short venture outside of the parallel universe and into the wider world would’ve given these people a more realistic expectation and they would’ve been better prepared to handle the possibility that Romney wouldn’t win by a 30% margin. Even Romney and his campaign were utterly shocked and I have to wonder how that is possible.
For all of us, there is a danger in believing our own bullshit.  The right believed its own bullshit and was blindsided en masse.  This was a visceral experience for many conservatives, a deep, and really a cruel disappointment.

So…friends, family, and anyone else out there who has been ensnared by The Bubble.  Please, please, take this as a learning experience and escape from the world where math and science don’t count if they conflict with your view point, where any news source that doesn’t toe the party line is biased.  It’s a wide, wide world.  Exciting and scary at times, sure.  But please come back to the world of facts.  Join us in reality.  Even if we disagree, we need you here.