“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment,” physicist Albert Einstein once observed of the stratification of our society. “Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”
The center keeps shifting to the left.
Illustrative of the shift is the way the media covers politics in Carson City. They describe as ultraconservative those who balk at the governor’s proposed increase in state general fund spending by $1.3 billion, while those Republicans who support him are moderates. Not liberals, moderates. That is the argot of the moment.
With the leftward shift, people have no qualms about saying that requiring gender specific bathrooms and locker rooms and showers in elementary school is “extreme” and “hateful.”
“I didn’t realize when I was growing up that I was a horrible segregationist because boys went to the boys bathroom and girls went to the girls bathroom. We want to maintain that,” Republican Ira Hansen was quoted as saying on this topic recently.
Things have changed, sir.
If you hint at the least bit of intolerance toward those who were once openly referred to as amoral, immoral or, heaven forfend, perverted, the tolerance lobby will beat the crap out of you — socially, legally and, occasionally, physically.
It doesn’t require a nuclear physicist to figure it out.
According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 47 percent of those surveyed approved of President Obama’s job performance. Among Democrats, 79 percent approved, and that was up 3 points from October. Among Republicans, only 7 percent approved, and that was down 4 points from the previous poll.
Divided and growing further and further apart.
Perhaps some of the credit or blame for the split in attitudes can be found in the news media trending away from the journalistic icon of the past century — objectivity.
In the late 19th century newspaper publishers changed their business model, which relied on income from selling copies of the paper and political patronage to one of relying on advertising revenue. Advertisers wanted the maximum number of eyeballs so papers dared not alienate any potential readers by being partisan.
Media of all types seem to be willing to show partisan stripes today.
There is also the Amazon Effect.
Computerized marketing works by reinforcing your previous choices by offering more of the same: “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought …” Click on a book by conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin and your helpful algorithm suggests books by Thomas Sowell, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Karl Rove. Type in the name of any liberal writer and you get the obverse of the coin.
A few years back the speaker at a national convention of newspaper editors was one of the gurus of computer-age marketing, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of the ubiquitous Google.
Schmidt noted that the computer can offer to broaden your exposure as well as narrow it. Obviously, for every synonym there is an antonym. It makes no difference to the machine.
The Google guy noted that, when people were given an option of “show me an opposing view,” two-thirds would never look at it.
Then there is the problem of hearing coherent messages above the cacophony of the information bazaar. According to Schmidt, from the dawn of human history to 2003 about five exabytes (a billion gigabytes) of information was created. He said we now generate that amount every two days. That was five years ago.
He also observed that of the news reporting in all those bytes, fully 80 percent of stories contained no original content, while of the remaining 20 percent, half came from newspapers.
Then, many don’t bother. A recent poll of Nevadans found 89.4 percent either did not know Sandoval supports the largest tax increase in Nevada history or mistakenly thought the governor supports keeping taxes low.
The explanation for why so many can observe the same event and reach different conclusions is outlined in my general theory of political relativity.
No observer is stationary. All are themselves in motion at different velocities, in different directions along the political spectrum from red to blue.
The theory goes something like this (e=mc²): The energy of one’s convictions equals the mass of one’s deductions times the speed of insight squared. Explosive.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.