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Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About This? Two Criminal Cases, Two Separate Media Realities – BCB #65
Also: Resources for talking with people different from us, and what fuels mass movements?
Whether you’re following the Hunter Biden investigation or Donald Trump’s multiple indictments depends entirely on whether you’re tuning into a Red or Blue channel. We previously mentioned that Blue doesn’t talk much about Hunter and Red is trying to ignore the charges against Trump. Now we have the data.
These charts count the number of 15-second segments that mention either “Hunter” or his ex-business partner Devon “Archer” (yellow) vs. “Trump” or “indictment” (green), as captured by the Internet Archive.
This analysis confirms that Blue media barely talks about Hunter’s case, a common complaint of Trump supporters:
Corruption should be top news yet nobody wants to talk about it … Should I say democrats and liberals don't want to talk about it?
On the other hand, Red has “indictment fatigue.” They don’t really want to hear about the charges against Trump, and Red media is mostly obliging them.
In any conflict both sides will complain that important topics are not getting enough attention. “Why isn’t anyone talking about this?” is to be expected, and as this data shows the complaint has some basis in reality — it’s usually the other side that isn’t talking about it.
The deeper problem is that there is no objective measure for how much coverage a topic should receive. What percentage of their time should CNN, Fox, and MSNBC spend on Trump vs. Hunter? What should the graphs above look like? Our answer would be: whatever moves the conflict toward a better place, but it’s hard to translate that into numbers.
Regular readers don’t need to be reminded of the importance of stepping out of our political comfort zones and fostering relationships with people across societal divides. Heidi and Guy Burgess of Beyond Intractability have published a nice list of resources to guide your practice, and perhaps help you reflect on how you may be contributing to the problems you care about.
The Importance of Really Listening — For Ourselves, Others, and Democracy - Some of our biggest errors are that we generally assume that we correctly understand the world and that being wrong is bad. Rather, we often are wrong--and that is good!
Listen To and Talk With (not to) the Other Side — Even if you think you know what the other side thinks, you likely don't--and they don't know you either.
Break Down Negative Stereotypes — Don’t assume a person you don’t know is just like you expect them to be. Give them a chance to surprise you!
Be Willing to Consider the Possibility That You May Be Wrong — Most of us are so enmeshed in our own worldviews that we don't consider that we might be wrong. It helps to listen to outsiders and consider that possibility.
Listen Actively and Empathically — Empathic listening is amazingly powerful--sometimes that is all that is needed to defuse destructive conflicts.
See the Complexity -- It's not Just "Us versus Them" — It is impossible to effectively confront a conflict if you don't understand what is going on--in all its complexity.
Psychologist Rob Henderson makes the case that American philosopher Eric Hoffer’s mid-20th century insights on mass movements are more relevant than ever to today’s polarized society. Hoffer started life as a manual laborer, and in his 1951 book, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, he refuted the conventional wisdom that people in bleak conditions are the most frustrated; rather, the people who almost have it all are often the most aggressive protestors.
“Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.” He points out in the years leading up to both the French and Russian Revolutions, life had in fact been gradually improving for the masses. He concludes, “It is not actual suffering but the taste of better things which excites people to revolt.”
This frustration can be channeled in wildly different directions; despite elaborate ideologies, mass movements are not so much driven by a vision of how things should be, but by rage at how things are now.
Hoffer wrote that, “When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any movement...In pre-Hitlerian Germany, it was often a toss up whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis.” Indeed, the official figure from the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party was that fifty-five percent of their members were former communists. … The shared factor among extreme mass movements is not ideology or practice but a shared hatred for the present and a yearning for a (subjectively defined) utopian future.
Within this framework, Hoffer provides two useful solutions to populism and polarization: to take shelter within a community, and to engage in work we find meaningful.
The sense of accountability that comes from being part of a community and the reciprocal actions required to sustain membership counters the urge to lose oneself in a larger collective identity. In addition to membership in a cohesive community, engaging in meaningful work provides a buffer against radicalization. This is one reason why mass movements attempt to undermine the value of work, or claim that anyone who earnestly and unironically participates in the system is a victim of false consciousness or propaganda or has somehow been duped.
Quote of the Week
Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents… Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without a belief in a devil.