Prefatory note: I'm about to quote from David Brooks. It is understood that David Brooks is a sleazy, lying neocon whore whose opinion is worthless except as toilet paper. There, we got that out of the way. You don't need to burden Slate's already overworked servers making sure we know how you feel about David Brooks.
To a large degree, polarization in America is a cultural consequence of the information age. This sort of economy demands and encourages education, and an educated electorate is a polarized electorate.So what accounts for a place like BOTF--where most of every page is now devoted to political polemics? If Brooks is right that we are all seeking like-minded company, why do I log on, knowing I will immediately be smacked in the kisser by offensive political ranting from obviously brain-damaged people?
In theory, of course, education is supposed to help us think independently, to weigh evidence and make up our own minds. But that's not how it works in the real world. Highly educated people may call themselves independents, but when it comes to voting they tend to pick a partisan side and stick with it. College-educated voters are more likely than high-school-educated voters to vote for candidates from the same party again and again.
That's because college-educated voters are more ideological. As the Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz has shown, a college-educated Democrat is likely to be more liberal than a high-school-educated Democrat, and a college-educated Republican is likely to be more conservative than a high-school-educated Republican. The more you crack the books, the more likely it is you'll shoot off to the right or the left.
Once you've joined a side, the information age makes it easier for you to surround yourself with people like yourself. And if there is one thing we have learned over the past generation, it's that we are really into self-validation.
We don't only want radio programs and Web sites from members of our side — we want to live near people like ourselves. Information age workers aren't tied down to a mine, a port or a factory. They have more opportunities to shop for a place to live, and they tend to cluster in places where people share their cultural aesthetic and, as it turns out, political values. So every place becomes more like itself, and the cultural divides between places become stark. The information age was supposed to make distance dead, but because of clustering, geography becomes more important.
The political result is that Republican places become more Republican and Democratic places become more Democratic.
Now that I think about it, I suppose I've just answered my own question: it validates me to witness the idiocy of people who have different opinions. ...more »I'm not going to name names--you know who you are--but I admit that I experience a kind of sick thrill right down to my toes when I view your latest exercise in self-immolation. The old-time comedy drunk routines long ago vanished as politically incorrect, but here I get to watch you and your fellow defectives stumble and slide helplessly in your own syntax as you futilely try to prove that 1 - 1 = 2. And I don't just get to laugh at you, I get to laugh meanly, nastily, wickedly. I am entitled to be happy that you are so stupid and make such a fool of yourself in front of all these people. Because you're not just some unfortunate whom life has treated harshly. You're a pompous jerk who needs to be brought low. Whatever bad thing happens to you, you deserve it.
Oh, sure, I admit that it's always possible for me to be wrong. I don't claim to be God or anything. I've been known to get a fact wrong now and then, and I've even been gracious enough to admit it. (Unlike you.) But when I watch your chimp-on-a-bicycle act and feel simultaneously sickened and gladdened, I know deep inside that I must be right. How could I have these overpowering visceral reactions if there was the slightest possibility I was mistaken? I'm a cautious, thoughtful guy. I really try to get stuff right. I've put many years into reading and thinking about these things. There was a time when my opinions were more tentative and I sought approval for them from people who seemed wiser than I.
But that was before I met you. Until then I didn't realize that my views could be validated two ways. They could be shared by the wise or they could be rejected by fools. And I must say, the second way is easier and a lot more fun. Wise people make me a little nervous. They might not approve of everything I say, or might condescend to me a little--"Yes, of course, we agree in outline, but I wouldn't expect you to appreciate fully the complexity and nuances of my views." Whereas you--well, I log on every day to relish your latest, don't I? You're like my favorite soap.
If I'm very, very honest with myself, I have to admit there is a certain codependency here. Yes, I have gotten to look forward to my daily fix of your dysfunctional babbling. Block you? Hell, the more you heap shit on your own head, the more, well, just plain cool my own opinions look, to me and everybody else. And maybe a little narcissism, too. I find myself going back and rereading my yesterday's posts, chuckling appreciatively over how I took your head off there and punctured your balloon there and tripped you so you fell headfirst through the seat hole in your own outhouse there. Heh heh. Good day. You looked so goddam funny with your legs waving in the air like that.
But, really, I'm glad we have a place like this to dialogue and share views and, y'know, meet interesting people. I really think the Internet is fabulous for that. I tell my kids, you gotta be connected--that's the only way you're ever gonna learn. Learn to network, see, find out stuff and get the buzz and stay ahead of the game. Yeah, that's what makes this the greatest nation on earth . . .
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