Wednesday, August 19, 2009
getting it wrong to prove you're right
Here's why, no matter how much I agree with Frank's outrage, his reaction was the wrong one.
She's still "crazy," and even more convinced that 1) she's justified in her "crazy" and 2) she was not given a fair hearing by Frank (and by extension, Obama and his administration).
That Hitler-mustachioed Obama poster is more important to her than ever. She's more entrenched in her opinions than ever. She's more convinced that the gov't is fundamentally untrustworthy and indifferent to her opinion than ever. She's more afraid of her perceived encroaching disempowerment and marginalization than ever. So she, and everyone else who fits this description, will be shouting louder, about Nazis and death panels and abortion mandates and whatever, than ever.
It's just more dialectically and epistemologically complicated than people in favor of health care reform want to admit. Olbermann wants to ask "why are people believing these lies?" without delving into the fact that this is the wrong question, or at the very least, the wrong way to ask this question. It's an alienating question, and perceived alienation is precisely the problem! Why don't you just dump some lighter fluid on the conflagration of crazy, then, and act all outraged when what you get back is an out-of-control wildfire.
Rachel Maddow did a better job last night on this, putting together the fact that these wildly divergent perceptions on health care are demonstrably linked to which information sources are trusted. But all the way through the segment, it's "off-the-kook-end theories" and "it's wrong, it's just not true, they exist in their own mini-verse." And then, it's Bill Maher who's invited to comment on this phenomenon, who of course is not at all provocative, and is totally nuanced. (snort.)
Can we please, please, please stop giving people excuses--no, rational justifications--for remaining in their epistemic mini-universe? Don't we want them to come out of the mini-verse? Why should they, when at every opportunity, we mock them and call them crazy and insult their FoxNews and their trusted pundits? When we say to them, "what planet do you spend most of your time on?"
I'm not saying we shouldn't be challenging these demonstrable falsehoods. Of course that needs to happen. But it flat-out doesn't matter if that's the first and only thing that happens. It doesn't matter if someone you don't trust anyway tells you that the people you do trust are lying. It doesn't matter if someone you don't trust tells you your firm beliefs and perceptions are false and distorted. It doesn't matter. It gets tuned out. And when the frustration mounts and the people you don't trust call you crazy, well, that just goes to show that you shouldn't be trusting them anyhow.
So next time, when someone like Frank confronts someone like that woman in the video, and says, "I'm going to answer your question with a question," please, please let it be this question:
"What do YOU want out of health care reform? Because I'd like to know."