The Irritation Game

So before I start (or before you start reading) I want to make something clear. This post is an opinion, and is not cited nearly as well as I would like. This is also, in my opinion, not a very well constructed post in general. This was written some time ago and in posts going forward I will have detailed citations to back up my arguments.

 

The way we, as a society and as individuals, consume and disperse information needs to fundamentally change. If we look at the state of modern discourse (as highlighted ever so well by the conversations happening around the 2016 US election), we see a culture of outrage and vitriol, and large groups of angry people yelling and pointing at other large groups of angry people. In addition, no one group of angry people yelling has a full set of information and is only operating on partial sets of information that increasingly does not overlap or cover the whole picture. Simply put, this is unsustainable. The question is, how did we get here and how do we begin to bridge the widening political gap?

Now, the nature of US news had never been strictly held to any significant standards of party neutrality as there were many partisan newspapers. However, when broadcast news rolled around onto the radio, there was first regulation that forbid editorializing, which was later replaced by the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine allowed editorializing, but stipulated that an opposing viewpoint be represented in those situations. There was no stipulation on giving the opposing view equal time, but operated that simply exposing listeners (and later viewers, once television came about) to opposing views was beneficial. This doctrine was overturned in 1986 under the administration of Ronal Reagan, under the logic that the government making and enforcing this sort of rule was infringing on free expression (and without getting too deep into the details, I partially agree with that logic). After the legislation was overturned, nothing was put in place to replace it and the world moved on.

What the legislators at the time could not have foreseen where 2 very significant things. The first was the creation of Fox News on cable in 1996 (bear with me here, I know it looks like I’m going to throw conservatives under the bus, but I’m not). The second was the rise of the internet in the mid to late 90’s. Fox News, then went on to prove something every businessperson worth their money knows: if you give consumers what they want, your business will profit and grow. As such, other news stations began to imitate this behavior, MSNBC being a notable cable news competitor (and it was actually founded a few months before Fox), took on this strategy in a less successful attempt to replicate the success of Fox. I realize that these are cable news outlets and not subject to broadcast regulation, but please bear with me a bit longer. Now as this trend was making itself apparent, internet usage became more common in individual households, and internet news was beginning to grow. While it wouldn’t grow to threaten traditional newspapers, radio, and television news yet it was becoming a noteworthy occurrence in the news media market. Eventually, television, radio, and internet news came together and news outlets generally had to have all three in order to be competitive. Now, because they were not subject to any regulations, news entities could televise, broadcast, and post whatever they wanted with whatever political spin they wanted. This trend not only allowed news media to tell people what they wanted to hear, it allowed them to begin putting them in politically exclusive bubbles, to get people agitated and angry over what “the other” group was saying or doing, and to claim that they and they alone were the only source of truly objective reporting.

Now that brings us today, where a lot of much younger online only news sites have sprung up, passing opinion blogging as journalism (yes I see the irony in saying that, though I would not consider myself a journalist), serving to further polarize readers. They do this by feeding on the addictive feeling of righteous outrage. At this point, I highly recommend you watch this video and/or read this article/blog post as they put the action-reaction nature and psychology of this much better than I could. The short version being: anger is addictive, and we begin to build totemic strawmen of opposition amongst groups who agree with us to further feed our anger addiction. This is an issue because anger bypasses rational thought, which each and every person is capable of when calm. So how do we move away from the addiction to outrage, and the ritualistic hatred of opposition from within our own bubbles? We venture out of our comfort zone, we listen to and engage with opinions we disagree with in good faith and with an open mind, and we become self-aware enough to recognize our anger begins to bypass our capacity for rational thought and discussion. That was the purpose this site was established for, and after being disappointed in the dialogue in the media and among my peers, that is my cause going forward. Feel free to comment, give feedback, criticism, or counterarguments, I welcome all of it.

 

  • David

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