Friday, March 21, 2014

It's Not a Talk Show, It's a Win Show

"If you don't believe in God,
then you must believe in Satan."

I don't often dip my toe into the rancid pool of politics, but when I do . . .
A friend of mine, defined by conservatives as a “liberal” but really just a left-leaning moderate, did a talk show with Jesse Lee Peterson, a pretty far-right conservative host.  I don’t have a lot of experience with these shows.  I’ve listened to a few Rush Limbaugh episodes, and of course the attendant sound bites that receive media attention.  A few others have passed across my radar without making much of an impact.  They aren’t speaking to me, just about me.  Because I voted for Obama, or support Social Security and unemployment protection, I’m labeled.  It’s interesting to be told how I’m a liar, how I hate America and how I’m tearing down the country, but only for so long.  It gets stale after the first ten or fifteen minutes, and it’s a rote script pretty much across the board.

The caveat here is that I don't listen to liberal talk shows either, unless NPR can be considered that.  The wire to my TV was cut years ago, so neither liberal or conservative news programs make it into the house either.  I have no idea if the same is true on the other side of the extreme. But far-right conservative talk show hosts seem to operate by a rote script dictated from the hive mind.  It seems like they have a checklist of things they know their audience will equate with and latch onto, and spend their allotted airtime filling in as many boxes as possible.
A modern-day warrior, mean, mean stride
Today's Tom Sawyer, mean, mean pride.

It's almost like they have a hand of cards, and they only need to play them in the right order, like a stacked deck for solitaire, to win. The win is guaranteed.  It’s never in question.  Depending on the topic, they can lay down the "atheists are evil" card or the "liberals lie" card or "[insert group] hates America" or "socialism/feminism is destroying our nation" to counter any opinion, legitimate or otherwise.  All the interviewee has to do is casually mention an opinion, like say “Feminists have a point in regards to the inequality of pay”, and the host sinks in the meat hooks and proceeds to try to tear them apart using the Tried-and-True™ statements their listeners have already heard and, since they’re still listening, believe.

It’s not just an interesting study in conformation bias and false dichotomy.  It's a self-perpetuating cycle.

I can haz false dichotomy?
These hosts don’t appear to be interested in any kind of dialogue or discussion at all.  They don’t invite interviewees, of any stripe, with the idea that through questions and answers, a mutual understanding can occur.  They don’t subscribe to the notion that an opposing opinion can have any merit or be worth any degree of investigation.  Instead, the tactic seems to be one found in high school debate.   They’ve taken a position they may or may not really hold to be true, say all values come from the Christian God.  Then, they’ve built themselves up through research and argumentation to the point where they just runs through the list of "gotchas".

They aren’t interested in dialogue or understanding. They are interested in the win.

The win earns them listeners.  The win gives them the ratings.  The win keeps them employed and fattens their bonus when they attain a certain market share.  They play to the win because that’s what we want.  We all want to be on the winning side, and if pedantic rhetoric and sophistry provides a sense of that, false or otherwise, who cares?  Where is the harm in setting up a false dichotomy of us-versus-them, if it allows the listeners to nod and smile, smug and safe in their beliefs?  The hosts are judged by their results, stacking the deck increases the number of Ws they have in the column.

The trouble with cheating at solitaire isn’t just the false sense of accomplishment.  At the end of the hand, you’re just playing with yourself.

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