New Orleans The Presidential primaries are coming hot and heavy now that we’ve left the frozen tundra of Iowa and New Hampshire and politics are moving west and south. For all of the sound and fury about how neither state is representative of the rest of the country, this is the time when the pols and pundits really get scared about what “real” Americans in the rest of the country think, and even worse, how they might vote. Looking down from their noses, we are now moving into the land of the so-called “low-information voter,” which Wikipedia defines as people who might vote for Bill Clinton because he used to eat at McDonald’s or who think that John Kerry and Barack Obama are elitists because one windsurfs and the other golfs. Some are arguing that the Donald Trump phenomenon is a revolution of the low-information voter and the high-brows will broad brush all of everything from Trump to Sanders as populism, a code word for unbridled demagoguery. A survey recently found that in the South and West we don’t get enough sleep: we’re dangerous and unstable people!
We all have to concede that there is some very rich irony in all of this since we also supposedly live in the “age of information.” Is the problem low-information or drowning in information? For too many, the “trusted advisor” who is weighing the information streaming to the brain is coming through their Facebook portal directly in an echo-chamber of “friends” and supporters that facts don’t pierce.
It’s a vicious circle. I read a scary book recently by Rob Brotherton entitled Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe in Conspiracy Theories. One of the more disturbing points he established is the fact that if someone believes in one conspiracy, they are more inclined to believe in almost all kinds of conspiracies. Once the wall of rationality is breached, then the deluge, and you’re washed up on distant shores, perhaps forever.
Take for example the bizarreness of the Oregon wildlife refuge occupiers, armed and argumentative. No matter how much we love our Western ranchers, and god knows I do, on the face of it we know that they fail the smell test when they argue they just want to make public land their own private plaything and business park. None of us ever believe there’s really a “free lunch” out there. But, whoa, Nellie, there are teeny-tiny armed militias beating this drum and some loose dog politicians circling around the pack. There are people who believe one of the occupiers was murdered even after the police put out the video, which even if inconclusive leaves little doubt it may have been something crazy, but it wasn’t assassination, no matter what their Facebook friends claim.
Still, it’s not the voter who is to blame, but the exploiter. The big whoops who know better, but trim their sails to the fringe in order to pull them into their wake, regardless. The politicians who take the conspiracies and make it their cause. The insiders who manipulate votes, fears, and emotions about outsiders to their own self-interest rather than peoples’ benefit.
Until we all put our foot down and step into the mess to sort it out, we’ll just have more and more of this.