The proliferation of media outlets and the segmentation of society have meant that it's much easier for people to hive themselves off into like-minded cliques. Some people live in towns where nobody likes President Bush. Others listen to radio networks where nobody likes Bill Clinton.
In these communities, half-truths get circulated and exaggerated. Dark accusations are believed because it is delicious to believe them. Vince Foster was murdered. The Saudis warned the Bush administration before Sept. 11.
You get to choose your own reality. You get to believe what makes you feel good. You can ignore inconvenient facts so rigorously that your picture of the world is one big distortion.
And if you can give your foes a collective name â€” liberals, fundamentalists or neocons â€” you can rob them of their individual humanity. All inhibitions are removed. You can say anything about them. You get to feed off their villainy and luxuriate in your own contrasting virtue. You will find books, blowhards and candidates playing to your delusions, and you can emigrate to your own version of Planet Chomsky. You can live there unburdened by ambiguity.
Improvements in information technology have not made public debate more realistic. On the contrary, anti-Semitism is resurgent. Conspiracy theories are prevalent. Partisanship has left many people unhinged.
I would only add that information tech makes it harder, not easier, to bridge the gap between groups and ideas. And, as Lileks noted recently, when you talk to someone from a different camp, it's like talking about creationism or something. There's no common ground, no common set of facts that are agreed upon.
Though I keep harping on information tech and that lazy impulse to seek the like-minded, it's not the only contributor to this problem. People are agents now, if you believe in something you work for it, join a group, work in the clinic, get out the vote. And once you put your time and effort into it you're that much more likely to identify with the group, make it a part of you, make it that less likely to change. And you accept the common ground of the group...
Back to class...