CONTROVERSY LEVEL: Probably a 10 of 10.
It’s about as controversial as I can get I suppose. This topic is what causes most of the conflict between people when discussing politics (in the American context anyway). Again, not controversial to me, but will be to some.
So this is going to be a decent amount to read, because I’m going to be fleshing out a lot of stuff. I do suggest that anybody interested read the entire thing before passing judgement. In this writeup I want to 1) explain how propaganda and media dictates the way issues are constructed in the United States, 2) identify who profits from this, and 3) give helpful advice for avoiding the barrage of BS we hear every day via news, parties, politicians, businesses, and really anybody else who has stake in manipulating how we think.
*** I’ll even go through a case to show how this stuff works (immigration is the topic *GASP*).
First, you have to know what political polarization is. Don’t know what it is? NO PROBLEM, read here. Essentially it boils down to the fact that political debate in America has two distinct “sides” or “teams,” and this approach is causing problems. After all, it’s a physical law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
OK, so Americans casually discuss politics in terms of what the media claims is liberal (Democrat) and conservative (Republican).
Usually, Democrats are labeled as welfare-advocating, immigrant-loving, tree-hugging pacifists who want nothing more than a socialist/communist state. Opposite that, Republicans are labeled as war-profiteering, minority-hating, business-loving, gun-toting wealthy white men.
In reality, there is a mixed bag of ideas and positions within each party — so much so that the labels really mean very little. Regardless, stereotypes generally only hold weight only if we’re talking about hardcore party loyalists. Other than that, it’s all a construction, and the result of propaganda that surrounds us on a daily basis.
It’s the “them” vs. “us” mentality — and for that to exist, there must be two identifiable sides. Because propaganda has been so successful at presenting these constructions, American politics can be presented more as a sport, and less of a debate. By constructing images of “them” and “us,” people in turn take personal offense when a policy position is challenged; after all, an attack on the party is essentially an attack on a personal level. This, in turn, makes politics more entertaining and appealing — after all wouldn’t you rather watch two dudes scream at one another than then discussing an issue? In fact, the term ‘political party’ is because they used to be just that; a party. Back in the day, people would get together, drink heavily, and talk about what policies are the best.
I suppose there are two sides of this coin. One, it may convince some people to participate in politics and have some vague idea of the problems in the world; however, it also promotes a hostile environment where groups of people are targeted, perhaps victimized, stereotyped, and, worse of all, problems remain unresolved.
Lots of people profit from keeping a highly polarized political system.
First, news media executives and employees profit FAR more if they create a coherent and distinctive “sides” for people to join. So, MSNBC taps into the conception of the stereotypical Democrat, and Fox News taps into a conception of the stereotypical Republican.
Why do they do this? Ratings. Does it matter that they are contributing to a hostile political environment? Not at all — the money is coming in. It’s because media is a business (not a non-profit), and the only thing a business HAS to do is make a profit. Is it bad? Naw, it’s just businesses doing what they are suppose to do. Also, let’s face it, most people have very little interest in moderate news. When was the last time you watched CSPAN? NEVER!
So, rather than investigating issues, forming ideas of how policies may impact society, and genuinely considering solutions to problems, it’s far more entertaining to have “political pundits” harass opponents.
What the hell is a pundit? Supposedly a “political expert.” What is a political expert? Well, whatever MSNBC or Fox News says they are — and usually those “experts” are doing little more than peddling whatever conception of the world the news station (or party) dictates. Also, they know that Americans are busy with work, family, and other stuff — so media is the perfect outlet to transmit propaganda.
The party-centric news stations don’t care about news; they care about the circus. Media has essentially become a sport.
So, viewership is up for media, and the outlets are making money from advertisements (more propaganda), and advertisements for other businesses are reaching more people! This is good business all around!
***It should be said that there is absolutely NO problem with taking a political stance and peddling whatever view you want. But there IS a problem when those intentions are not made transparent. Banners like “fair and balanced” should be abolished from party-centric media. The only news that should carry this banner should be research-intensive, investigative, documentarian news. At the end of the day, there will always be a spin on everything people say; however, there is a difference between having evidence (some form of numbers or documentarian footage) to back up claims, and simply overgeneralizing and sensationalizing.***
Worse yet is that polarized news outlets never get their ideas challenged by the viewer — because they all have the same ideas! Also, if you subscribe to that camp of thought, there are no shortage of additional blogs, websites, tweets, Facebook pages and whatever you want to reinforce the same ideas. In this way, there is no challenging the media-centric conservative or liberal view, and you can effectively live in your politically constructed bubble without interference. Also, it’s pretty explicit that MSNBC or Fox News are acting as recruitment tools for the political parties.
Then politicians buy into this circus because voters do. So now politicians peddle the same talking points that news outlets do — then break whatever promises they made during the campaign. Why do politicians run on these platforms? Because the issues presented by media outlets are so successfully marketed that politicians MUST follow suit with the outlets — and perhaps politicians pocket money from appearing on these outlets as well.
What about the LIBERAL NEWS CONSPIRACY!?
My reaction is: Who cares? Even if there is a liberal slant to the news, that just means that the overall consensus of the United States is leaning toward the left. After all, media outlets (businesses) will only show what’s profitable. Perhaps a few years from now there will be a conservative slant.
If there is a liberal slant, then obviously that view is making money, and if it wasn’t, I guarantee you it would be a conservative slant. Just because the United States overall is watching more liberal news doesn’t mean there is a conspiracy — it just means that producers are giving their consumers what they want.
While information consumption is up, I would argue that information is not nearly the quality that it was 20 years ago. The internet allows almost any type of speech, and I even see that ridiculous conspiracy theories are gaining traction with younger audiences. Why? Probably because people in general have a propensity to want everything to make sense, and a conspiracy theory offers such an explanation.
Interestingly, there once existed regulations that required news outlets the same amount of time for each view of an issue, and this policy no longer exists. Thus the individual chooses what (s)he wants to hear.
So, what are the real ISSUES!?
Well, all of the issues that media covers are that — issues. However, the solutions are all constructed in ways that align with party views.
How does this work?
Let’s take one issue: immigration (I can feel the reader’s blood boil already).
The Republicans market immigration as free-loading foreigners coming into the country to take advantage of our social welfare system — and welfare MUST be abolished according to this view.
By contrast, the Democrats market immigration as a problem where illegal immigrants are impoverished, minority do-gooders who need to be given a chance. Keep in mind that both of these are broad generalizations reinforced by media outlets.
So can anybody tell me the problem from those pitches?
No. First, news outlets are tapping into people’s fears, passions, and emotions. The media, and the parties, effectively dodge the problem in favor of painting a rough sketch of what an immigrant is. This way the debate stays on the people rather than the problem. The Republican propaganda aims to convince you that undocumented immigrants are dangerous and taking advantage of “us,” and Democrats are trying to convince you that immigrants are harmless, joy-seeking people who should be given a chance.
In reality, immigrants are just that — people. And, as with all people, there is a mixed bag of intentions and interests.
SO what is the ACTUAL problem?
There are two problems. The first is that there isn’t effective border security. The second is to figure out what to do with undocumented immigrants who effectively got into the country. That’s it. The problems have nothing to do with the immigrant’s intentions or identity.
Why isn’t there effective enough border security?
Not sure. We should probably ask Border Control and Immigration, the State Department, Homeland Security, or a number of the other specialists on the matter. Maybe Border Control doesn’t have an effective management structure; maybe they need more personnel; maybe upgrades to equipment needs to be made; maybe there there are gaps in the security that need to be researched and identified yet. There are lots of potential problems that could be contributing to the immigration issue. However, instead of addressing this issue, each party (and therefore news network) prefers to politicize immigrants instead of the issue — because this is what gets ratings.
Do people need to stop coming into the country without going through the process? Yes. But you can’t prevent people from trying to get in illegally. … that’s not going to happen. So why are we discussing the people instead of the problem? Because talking about the problem is boring and less-sensational — and, more importantly, doesn’t yield ratings, and therefore advertisements.
WAIT!!! What about those ALREADY in the country ILLEGALLY!?
Here’s where the problem IS complex. What to do with undocumented immigrants?
Well, the Supreme Court has ruled several times on undocumented immigrants, and it generally upholds the 14th Amendment, which protects individuals. For example, the Court upheld in the late ’80s that even though children have no social security number, they must be given free lunches at school. Similarly, immigrants DO get some welfare components like food stamps.
WHY do THEY get free stuff that I PAY FOR!!!!!!?
Because they’re individuals, and no individual can be deprived life, liberty, or property. If you recall, we have unique protections for individuals in the United States. First, the Declaration says that the mission of the United States is to ensure life, liberty, and property for individuals. ALSO, we have this nifty little set of rules called the Bill of Rights as well as the 14th Amendment.
SOOOOOOO, even though they aren’t technically legal in the American system, they ARE still individuals. AND, in the United States, you can’t just assume that somebody is illegal, search them, and say they’re guilty. That’s would be like somebody driving drunk, getting away with it, and then somebody suspecting they drove drunk only to convict them of the crime after the fact. You can’t do that.
Also, once rules (amendments and stuff) like that are no longer universal, then similar arguments could be made for different or marginalized groups in society. That’s what people call a “slippery slope.” We have protections against that — regardless of legal status. As far as food stamps and welfare goes — well, the argument is that it ensures life (again, upheld by the Supreme Court). After all, you can’t live if you can’t eat.
This is not a liberal (Democrat) argument; it’s a legal one.
So what can you do about people who got into the country illegally?
Really not much — unless they out themselves as being undocumented.
I’ve heard Republicans say that we should ship immigrants back to where they came from. Wow. That sounds stupid.
Because of the protections afforded to individuals, that would be an expensive process. First somebody would have to investigate, or the undocumented immigrant would have to out themselves (as in get arrested for some unrelated crime to discover their status). Then you would have to present that investigation to some authority to be able to legally kick them out, and then somehow transport them.
That sounds pretty time intensive and expensive — and that also sounds like tax dollars, and isn’t that against the Republican position? So practically speaking it’s worth considering legalization for those who made it in. In order to free funds and time to make a coherent plan on how to secure the border, it may be worth the proposal of legalization in the hopes of collecting some back tax, and future taxes rather than maintain the welfare burden.
**Also, as a side note, you can’t say that undocumented immigrants can be identified because they speak foreign languages — because there is NO official language of the United States. Why? Because we have liberty — the principle that you can do what you want. Also, individuals are guaranteed free speech.
So, at the end of the day, the problem SHOULD be presented as two separate issues. One is border security (the most important), and the second is those undocumented immigrants who are not in the system.
So how can I interpret the news to avoid propaganda?
It’s pretty simple. Learn how to look at facts ONLY, and make a call based on however you judge facts. Facts are simple things that you cannot dispute. Places events occurred, times of events, names of people or states involved in the event.
CHECK THIS OUT:
Here are some facts:
— There was a riot at 5:00 PM in Los Angles.
TRUE. There was an act of rioting, and it happened at 5:00 PM in a physical location.
— There were two black males who robbed a convenience store yesterday.
TRUE. There were two men, and they were black. These two men robbed a store, and that store was a convenience store, and it was yesterday.
— There were two white males who robbed a convenience store.
TRUE. Same as above.
— Osama bin Laden was shot by a member of SEAL Team Six.
TRUE. Osama bin Laden was shot (despite other conspiracy theories), and it was by a member of an organization called SEAL Team Six.
— America has military bases around the world.
TRUE. The United States has military bases in many countries that are in fact around the world.
— A hispanic male was convicted by a criminal court of molesting a seven-year-old girl.
TRUE. There was one male, and is of hispanic background. A court ruled that he was guilty of this crime.
All of these statements, though some can be disturbing, are facts. They happened, and those people involved were identified. These statements identify people, times, and places and events that occurred. That is a facts.
Here are speculative statements (i.e. NOT facts):
— Most black males commit crimes.
WHAT? What is “most?” Is this in the United States only? What counts as a crime? Marijuana, DUI, crack or cocaine, murder, assault, or other crimes? This is a super-general statement backed up by nothing.
— A majority of illegal immigrants just want a better life.
WHAT? What is “a majority?” Was there a survey? Even if there was a survey, how do you know the population of illegal immigrants (I assume we don’t know the exact number)? What does “better life” mean? At best, this is anecdotal, and not backed up by anything.
— More guns lead to more security.
WHAT? How? So, in a world where EVERYBODY has a gun, EVERYONE is more-safe? … What if a gun accidentally goes off, causing a chain reaction? What if intentions are misread? Does everybody need a gun, or is it only some people? If so, who is worthy of gun ownership? Maybe guns in reality make people more-paranoid, or maybe gun ownership leads to a desire to kill others. I don’t know. This statement assumes way too much.
— All religious people are crazy.
WHAT? Is/are God(s) real? You don’t know; it cannot be proven nor disproven. It’s a tautological logic. There is no evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God. Soooo … you can’t say that believing in God is crazy — because it’s not. Because the creator question has been unanswered ever since humans have been existing, it’s obviously presumptuous and arrogant to say that religious people are crazy.
— Slavery and race is not relevant in today’s issues.
WHAT? Holy crap. I bet people were saying that during the Jim Crowe era as well. I suppose segregation was just a formality. Because slavery was 100+ years ago, its gone? There is no residual effect on families? All whites accept blacks as equal? I suppose the fact that black groups have increased poverty rates, less education percentages, are segregated into ghettos (go to the southside of any city), and are behind almost every curve statistically speaking, is because of their lack of trying? The mere fact that people imply that African-Americans are subpar indicates racism. Racism is the view that some races are superior over others — and I KNOW that this view is still alive in the United States. All I have to do is look on Facebook for empirical evidence.
— (Religion X) is the one true religion.
WHAT? Wrong. At the end of the day, valuing ideas like this can be a dangerous proposition. The valuation of ideas implies that some are below others. In the case of religion, each belief is driven by the desire to discover ethical conduct best fit for the people. However, because people buy into the theology so deeply, religion can also be weaponized. At the end of the day, no religion is superior over the other — because they are all trying to attain the same thing, which is to understand the nature of the world and its origins from a spiritual perspective. Yet religion, race, and ethnicity are three of the easiest things to mobilize because they are so intimately intertwined with the individual themselves, so an attack on the religion is an attack on the person. So, this statement is untrue, false, and dangerous because there is absolutely no way to substantially claim that one religion is more-valuable over another. Instead, these ideas are used to mobilize people most of the time.
Is this blog propaganda?
You paranoid people. But sure, I suppose it could be. Depends on how you look at it. Am I trying to get you to think like me, or am I trying to get to you question how I think?
The arguments I make are only solid if you buy into the assumptions — that politicians only want to get re-elected, businesses only want profits, some people want to consume information only to confirm their pre-existing beliefs, and the United States exists for the sole purpose of preserve life, liberty, and property (although this claim is legally backed). If you can buy into those assumptions, then the argument that follows is pretty straightforward.
So, I’m not peddling policies for either side, but I am encouraging individuals to scrutinize claims by evaluating facts (not speculative statements), identifying the assumptions, and evaluating intentions and motives.
People can listen to whatever they want, but they should be aware that things are changing, and personal beliefs are challenged every day. Whatever is “truth” today, will most likely be history tomorrow.
As Bob Dylan once said:
“… There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a-changin’.”