Is it just me or is the way we receive information becoming similar to religions?
In that I mean, we find what we believe and gravitate toward places that fortify those beliefs.
Before we start, let me emphasize that this isn’t an attack on religion, it’s an attack on nonreligious ideologies taking on aspects of religious belief, particularly some of the darker aspects from its history when those religious beliefs were twisted and used to whip people into frenzies in order to do bad things.
With that being said, let’s move on.
Look at our major news outlets and their audiences. There are certain groups who gravitate toward Fox News and others that gravitate toward CNN, each believing they “have it right.” This effect applies to other places, especially the web, where virtual communities coalesce around the interpretations of current events they want to hear.
“Want” being emphasized.
It’s a different world than just 30 years ago, where Americans largely got their news from the evening newscasts and newspapers. It’s not that we didn’t have news outlets that catered to certain ideological dispositions, but usually, magazines and talk radio filled those voids. But the difference was that the majority of Americans received the same information. Sure, we still had the liberal/conservative thing, but they usually based their arguments on the same set of facts, which were spun, but not thrown out the window.
News anchors were household names and they were trusted. Journalists like Ted Koppel, Walter Kronkite, Connie Chung, Dan Rather, Sam Donaldson, Max Robinson and many, many others were in millions of American homes every night and they were trusted by the people who tuned in.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, things started to change. More news channels appeared and it became an all out war to win over what could be called a rather small audience compared to sports and entertainment.
The nightly news on the over-the-air networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS — were tuned out and primetime cable news opinion shows were tuned in. Information became infotainment and broadcast news became the equivalent of talk radio in substance.
And these cable news networks went head to head in the war for viewers.
This war got nasty fast, with what were once adjectives for political positions becoming snarl words meant to jolt the listener into choosing a side. Even worse, one could be what they call “moderate” and pretty much hated by the other “sides.”
Then, Sept. 11, 2001, happened and that war went from the sphere of a few political enthusiasts to spreading into the population at large. Now, almost 17 years later, one’s status as a patriotic American hinges on whether they’re liberal or conservative in the minds of the most vocal of people. Instead of having just positions, there are “unAmerican” and “patriotic” positions. This has turned things into a minefield of sorts, especially for those who have to write about it, requiring them to be careful with every word they say or risk a torrent of harassment, usually on social media, for saying something one group doesn’t like.
It’s especially problematic for journalists nowadays since even saying “the earth is round” can be considered staking out a political position, which is ridiculous because that is not a subjective thing, it is a fact. No matter how many articles a person shares online, no matter how many conspiracy theories they cook up and no matter how loud they are, the earth is still going to be round. Nothing aside from some sort of upheaval in our solar system is going to change that.
That’s an extreme example, but it sort of rounds up where we are today. People believe what they want to believe and now they have the information equivalent of churches to buttress those beliefs. TV news, websites and radio have become places for people to gather around a set of beliefs in order to spread them. Like some religions (and I emphasize some) they even accuse those who don’t believe the same thing as being the enemy, who much like the devil in Revelations, must ultimately be destroyed.
To me, that’s a very dangerous way of thinking. We’ve already seen a wave of violence rooted in political beliefs flower within the last year in Charlottesville and other places. While it may have not been the first time politically motivated violence has happened in the U.S. or within the last decade, it’s the first time in a long time we’ve seen it get to the point where people were actually killed. We didn’t see that with the numerous anti-war protests, the Tea Party protests or the Occupy Protests where each gained mass participation across the country. What happened in Charlottesville was the first time those of us born after the 1960s saw groups of Americans determined to hurt each other.
It also revealed that there are many people wrapped up so strongly in their political ideology that they want to see more of this. As you read this, these groups are bringing in more people willing to commit violent acts. If they’re not committing violent acts, then they’re acting as cheerleaders, espousing the virtues of those willing to fight.
Right now, it seems that we’re at a point where more political violence is a “when” thing and not “if.”
It’s a scary place to be. Both for the public welfare and for American democracy in general.
Belief, especially when it has been warped into a “we’re good, they’re evil” outlook is hard to change. For the sake of the next generation, I hope we can get to accepting facts as facts, whether we like them or not.
Something tells me that it’s going to be a painful process, though.