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Tuesday, August 01, 2006 

Do Americans Like Their Bubbles?

It’s an interesting question isn’t it? Do we Americans (I’m not addressing the world right now) enjoy living in a secluded “bubble” world? Do we enjoy having our collective opinions only confirmed rather than debated?

I ask this question from two points of view:

1. Do Americans really seek out or appreciate a dissenting view?

2. Do Americans utilize the opportunity of diversity in opinion?

To address the first point, I’ll try to discuss what made me wonder about this question. In fact, it has primarily to do with blogs and blogging. We’ve all (the blogosphere) noted the upsurge in blog importance and the increasingly influential role that web logs are playing in the American media scene.

Of course the blog didn’t start with such prestigious intentions. In fact, the use of blogs as a news outlet/clearing house is still relatively new to those consumers outside of the blog beltway. However, this medium of information has already been quickly split down dividing lines of political ideologies. Already, blogs (those centered on news) are fighting viciously for their political view. News presented in these web logs is usually slanted or geared into a biased point of view where stories that champion the author’s political ideology and demonize the opposite spectrum.

While this is obviously the absolute right of the blog author, it does indeed make for a disturbing trend, and may give evidence to another, less self preserving, reason for the Mainstream Media’s worry over blog emergence in the news arena.

The second point is addressed by asking the question of where our society and political paths have taken us to this point, and what is in the foreseeable future? Does America seem on the precipice of political monochromic society? Are we about to jump off into a sea of black and white where grey is hunted down and killed off before it can spread? Of course this would be the optimal destination for the powers that currently prevail over their particular political ideology, but the question is if Americans are readily following in lock step like lemming off a cliff?

Or are Americans using the opportunity of diverse opinions to help formulate a more broad understanding of issues and an in-depth knowledge of the very complex world we live in?

To evaluate part of this question, I’ve decided to look at blogs in general. More specifically, news and politics blogs as they give us a glimpse into the thoughts and opinions of some Americans whom actually pay enough attention to the path and fate of the nation.

At the risk of sounding like the proverbial fox over the sour grapes, I’ve noticed that blogs centered on presenting a specific agenda supporting a particular political ideology get many more return visitors than those that don’t. Those blogs that are reliably pro-left/right and anti-left/right get more conversation (wait, there is more on that) than those whom jump from side to side usually landing in the middle.

Little Green Footballs and Daily Kos get more comments and visitors than most of their contemporaries, yet substantively offer no more than most other blogs. Now, there is a myriad of reasons that these two blogs are successful, but not least among them is that they appeal to the base political movement they support. They make no qualms about support, even blind support, for a political party, if not by promoting the efforts and actions of it, by attacking the efforts and actions of the opposite party.

There are countless spin off versions of these two sites; countless other “original” blogs that intend to bring the same ideas, via a different format or flavor, to the blogosphere. Yet a look at the comments left by readers in most of these sites reveal another disturbing trend: Blind agreement and acceptance.

I say that because it stands to reason that as diverse and different as we Americans are from each other, as different as our tastes are on everything from food to shoes, I find it very hard to believe that we can all possibly take an issue, closely evaluate it, analyze its varied angles, and come up with the exact conclusion as one another… EVERY TIME!

Yet these blogs are littered with commenters that have nothing more to add in than nonsensical agreement and consent to the claims and/or views presented by the author. “Hell Yeah”, and “You’re so Right” grace the pages of comments, along with re-explanations of the original topic, more “verification” from other sources, or other statements meant only to solidify the original point. Of course you have the “Troll” who shows up only to comment the direct opposite, and inform everyone of the complete idiocy for not understanding that inevitable truth that is posted on their favorite blog’s website.

Note at the same time while hard left and right blogs are heavy in traffic from hard left and right commenters that those few blogs that do tread both sides of the political spectrum are contrastingly devoid of every ascending comment numbers. Middle politics seem not to be as satisfying to the masses of commenting folks in the blogosphere. Instead, the “McOpinion” that can be ordered strait from the political value menu at Conservative and Liberal fast-food blogs is what Americans want.

Is this because they want to be reassured that they are correct in their personal philosophy? Is it because they don’t want contrasting thoughts to invade their conciseness where they’ve conquered the moral dilemma of what’s right and what’s wrong? Have Americans (generalizing) lost the ability to use honest and striking critical thought to evaluate their personal beliefs on an issue to the point that they need someone to spoon feed it to them? Have Americans just gotten too lazy to worry about it; too wrapped up in prime time TV, video games, and instant messages to take the time to actually THINK about things anymore?

I read some of these blogs and comment back. Some have crowds that are more ferocious than others, and some fain understanding of dissenting views, but inevitably the same authors and/or commenters are back into their shells where their personal beliefs are by default the right choice and any view contrary to that must be by default wrong.

For some research on this, pick hot-button issues and find popular middle ground anywhere in the blogosphere. You’d more likely have better luck carbon dating a dinosaur car from a trillion years ago. Global Warming: You will not find a popular blog or post anywhere that says anything near a compromise on the situation. Abortion is the same way. President Bush, war on Terror, Iraq, Hurricane preparedness, election results, welfare, social security, unions, capitalism…. The list could go on forever, yet the result would be the same: either you agree with Party Line A, or you agree with Party Line B, and hence unequivocally disagree with the other.

My question is not just “WHY”, but also about what effect this is having, and will continue to have on the course of our great nation. Why do Americans so desperately seek the comfort and shelter of umbrella style ideologies where all other ideas are immediately dismissed or excluded from debate.

The purpose of a debate is not to reassure yourself of your own opinion, it is to argue the pros and cons, the merits and drawbacks of a given issue and it’s potential solutions. But American politic has degraded into a school yard style fight where two sides are bickering about who’s right, and any attempt at compromise and/or discussion is conveniently avoided.

I fear the results we are just beginning to see. I fear that this suppression of “out of the box” thinking has led us to a point where America is very good at getting herself into situations, but completely incapable of finding worthwhile solutions. The mythical “win/win” situation seems to have become as elusive as the Golden Fleece as both political parties are devoid of new ideas to solve problems, but very capable of creating new ones.

We can blame the politicians and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but I think that is a cop out as well. They are nothing more than figure head representations of We the People. They are our representatives, not our masters. They are not supposed to have much mind of their own: they are supposed to cede to the majority of opinion in their given realm of representation. I don’t expect all politicians to break out of the box and suddenly start coming up with solutions, I expect Joe Citizen to do this. I expect Joe Citizen (and Jane, lest we be politically incorrect) to argue, debate, and THINK about his/her nation and the problems facing her. I expect then that same citizen to vote with that thought process instead of blindly giving acceptance by vote to some ideal that has been spoon feeding them their opinion.