In defense of “extremism”

Frank Bruni complains about the loss of the media monoculture in the New York Times:

America these days is an immoderate land of fixed opinions and outsize fixations. More and more we wallow: in our established political philosophy; in our preferred interest group; in our pastime of choice; in whichever health routine we’ve turned into a health religion.

I BLAME the Internet. Well, that and social media and cable television, with its infinity of channels. In theory our hyperconnectivity and surfeit of possibilities have broadened our universes, speeding us to distant galaxies, fresh discoveries and new information. But in reality they’ve just as often had a narrowing effect, enabling us to dwell longer on, and burrow deeper into, one way of being, one mode of thinking.

Whether you’re predisposed to a conservative or liberal view, you can set your bookmarks to Web sites that reinforce what you already believe, take a similar tack with your Facebook and Twitter feeds, and turn for news to Fox News or MSNBC, each an echo chamber for like minds.

And many Americans do just that. The prime-time audiences for Fox News and MSNBC increased significantly between 2011 and 2012, while CNN’s prime-time audience dropped. The percentage of swing voters seemed to shrink, and over the last two decades, the percentage of voters who label themselves “moderate” has similarly declined. 

Bruni is whining about essentially the same “problem” that McRapey lamented in his recent interview.  The Left is deeply and bitterly upset about their inability to control the narrative in the way they were once able to.  Bruni is complaining that although ABCNNBCBS, NPR, the AP, and the New York Times are all still around and putting out news and opinion, Americans don’t have to pay attention to them anymore, and increasingly, they don’t.  Bruni resents the fact that, as McRapey said in the CBC-Q interview, “the internet is a great big world and you
can’t mallet everybody.”

But the Left would like to.  Oh, how they would dearly love to be able to shut out every critical voice, to see and hear no evil, to prevent the innocent ignorant from being able to learn that the Officially Sanctioned Story is not necessarily true and its case is riddled with holes.  This is why the Left so religiously shuns debate, erases its opponents from the history books, and often tries to pretend that the other side doesn’t even exist.  They have to rewrite history, and in some cases jettison it entirely, because the facts and lessons of history simply do not work in their favor.

It’s not the Right that is burrowing deeper into its own way of thinking.  We of the Right have been steeped in leftist propaganda and ideology for our entire lives.  We understand the Left’s thinking, and we reject it due to that very understanding, whereas leftists, when caught off-guard, will readily admit that they are both frightened and confused by what those on the Right are thinking.  This is usually because they are totally unfamiliar with it; in some cases they literally haven’t ever heard anything like it before.  And because their thinking is wholly based on rhetoric and rote-learning, they are almost uniformly incapable of operating on a genuinely dialectical level; what looks like leftist dialectic is almost always, when you examine it, nothing more than rhetoric.

Consider the poor leftist who believes avidly that a) racism is evil and b) evolution is true.  What is he to do when confronted by someone who points out, on the basis of genetic science, that humans are not even all equally homo sapiens sapiens?  If he is to cling to his beliefs, he must either accept a continual state of cognitive dissonance or bury his head in the intellectual sand.  This is why “burrowing” is an apt term for the Left’s response to the changes brought about by the Internet, though not necessarily the Right’s.

Expect more public lamentations from the likes of Bruni as the power of the media gatekeepers continues to fade and more and more independent alternatives whose only credibility is based on their substance, not their credentials or their historical position.  As was once said of liberty, extremism in the pursuit of truth is no vice.  It is, rather, the cardinal virtue.