Me and Make Believe

In science, a lot of time and effort is put into framing a problem. You have to have an agreed upon set of rules before you can investigate the natural world. Those rules need constant updating as new information is discovered. You can’t test something unless you know what you are testing and how to evaluate the possible outcomes. In the gum-flapping game, an old rhetorical trick is to frame your argument in such a way that the only good conclusions just happen to be those you are asserting. The point here is that framing an issue is a big part of understanding it, or not understanding it as the case may be.

That’s what we see here with this column by Ross Douthat. Since I’m prone to saying horrible things about people I don’t like, let me just say I have no opinion of Mr. Douthat. For some reason he is widely read by the commentariat. There are a lot of writers out there and I can’t know all of them. What got my attention is the cornucopia of incorrect premises in this one piece.

Some years ago now, when the conservative media group Newsmax put in a bid to buy the limping, failing Newsweek, I wrote a post arguing that trying to reinvent one of the newsweeklies as a (moderately) right-of-center publication was as good a bet as any. Here was the nub of my argument:

What’s “right-of-center”? This expression gets used a lot, but no one ever bothers to define it. It seems to be a label for non-liberals the Cult does not want to murder. Otherwise, right-of-center is the Bigfoot of political positions.

I thought back to that piece when I read this week’s big Pew report on media and political polarization. The report includes lots of fun tidbits (conservatives have more friends who share their views, but liberals are more likely to break off a friendship over politics), but like a lot of people I was most struck by this chart, showing where, roughly, on the ideological spectrum different publications and channels find their audiences. You’ll see that the overwhelming majority of the media properties surveyed had audiences clustered somewhere on the left-of-center, with Yahoo! News and the Wall Street Journal claiming audiences closest to the political middle. Meanwhile, exactly one property, Fox News, had an audience that was more conservative but within hailing distance of the center, and then there was a small cluster of shows and programs with audiences to Fox’s right (Breitbart, Drudge, Limbaugh, The Blaze, etc.).

What’s a “conservative”? The term liberal is easy as they make the boundaries clear. Throwing the Reason Magazine crowd in with the National Review types and then sprinkling in The Weekly Standard people is the definition most liberals give, when pressed. That still leaves a vast area of political thought outside the Hive that does not fall into the conservative bucket.

Then we have the mythological political spectrum, upon which all of us my reside somewhere – or else. Liberals claim Hitler is the extreme right so that puts him right next to Thomas Sowell somehow. The fact that neither man have a thing in common does not seem to matter. Putting that aside, how can someone be sort of a Stalinist? That’s what left-of-center must mean, if the commies are over on the left end of this spectrum. Therefore, being left of center means you want to starve some Ukrainians, but not all of them, I guess.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve found it tough to pay much attention to people who play along with the Left’s bifurcated view of the world. Putting Steve Sailer in the same bucket as Jonah Goldberg is useless if you are trying to understand the ideological map of the country. The reason this is popular with the Left is they are only interested in who is and who is not in their movement. If that’s not obvious to you, I’m not sure if you have anything to contribute to the debate. That and it is simply boring. A lifetime of watching guys like Mr. Douthat try to fit the world into the fantasy map of the Left has just been done to death.

What tries my patience even more than that is the insistence that there are two morally equivalent ideological forces battling it out for the soul of the people. No one in the ruling class has any serious thoughts about changing things. Why should they? It’s a good deal for them. What we have is a jostling for minor status points amongst the political parties. No matter who wins, nothing will change. Both parties talk big in the same way beer companies subtly promise you their product will get you laid. Carrying on like there’s a real ideological battle being waged with real consequences just makes the writer a sales rep for the status quo.

4 thoughts on “Me and Make Believe

  1. I have spoken with many a lefty who believed with certainty that he was a centrist. Given their circle of friends, education, reading and viewing habits, they are.

  2. That chart is the funniest thing I’ve seen in years. Glenn Beck and Limbaugh are way out in the right wing outlands, but MSNBC is slightly to the left of center, along with HuffPo and Politico; Al Jazeera America is in the same category as the NYT (they are, but not in the way the chart portrays); with Slate and The New Yorker (!?) furthest left, though not as far left as the barn burners on the right. Given that, 40 years ago, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly would have been Kennedy Democrats, and Jon Stewart would have had his own file in J. Edgar Hoover’s desk, I’d say that Ross Douthat is missing the larger story here. But then Douthat used to be a senior editor at The Atlantic, and is a favorite of David Brooks.

  3. Political labels are useful for our reptilian overlords, they control both Capitalism and Communism since the 19th century with the Rotschid and Karl Marx, some True Russian intellectuals like Dotoevsky and Bakunin were aware of this fact and said what was going to happen.

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