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Commentary

The ‘perfect storm’ that is killing our democracy

Cartoon stating "That's odd. My Facebook friends who were constitutional scholars just a month ago are now infectious disease experts."
Used with permission.

I’m sure psychologists have some term for the phenomenon, but recently I became aware of an aspect of how my mind works, and I’m calling it the “Witchy Woman Effect.”

Here’s how it happened.

I was mowing.

When I mow, I like to put in my ear buds and stream music. On this particular occasion the streaming service was making the choices based on what it deems I like, and it does a pretty good job.

So I’m mowing along, and the Eagles’ Take it Easy played.  As the final “I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me, oh oh oh, Oh we got it easy, We oughta take it easy” faded out, my mind immediately went to Witchy Woman.

That’s not what played next, but it’s what I was expecting to hear.

Why?

Well, on the Eagles’ album “Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975),” Witchy Woman is the next track after Take it Easy.

Witchy Woman came after Take it Easy on the original vinyl, it came after Take it Easy on the CD, and I’m sure it came after Take it Easy on the 8-track and cassette versions in between.

But the thing is, I haven’t listened to that album, in order, in years and years. In my earlier life, I’m sure that song progression was played numerous times, but I have no idea how many times since then that I have heard Take it Easy played somewhere without Witchy Woman following it.

The Witchy Woman effect opened my eyes to something that tied back to the column I wrote a few weeks ago about our racial attitudes.

There are times I hear certain words or phrases, and my mind immediately goes to what it was conditioned to hear, even if the conditioning happened years ago.

If you are old enough to remember when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played basketball, you will remember him as a superstar. However, my dad didn’t like him because he changed his name, and so any time Abdul-Jabbar came on TV, my dad had a very racist nickname for him.

When I became a man — and I hope I followed what the Apostle Paul said and put away childish ways — I recognized the racist attitude in the name may dad used, and yet that epithet still comes to mind when I hear Abdul-Jabbar’s name, much as I don’t want it to.

Our minds get conditioned by what we hear over and over — and the Witchy Woman effect takes hold.

And that is why I believe our democracy is in real trouble.

Back when I grew up and there were three news networks, there seemed to be more wide-ranging political opinions. There were some liberal Republicans out there and there were some conservative Democrats.

With the advent of talk radio and cable TV stations, the polarization began. Because instead of everyone hearing the same news, and being able to discuss it, we were now able to seek out sources of information that either conformed to our ways of thinking or reinforced ideas that might have been marginal in our minds.

I deliberately did not use the word “news” in the preceding paragraph because what most people think of as news on their favorite stations is actually commentary, with just enough carefully-selected news stories to reinforce whatever point of view the station is peddling.

Studies have shown that people who only associate with like-minded others will get more and more extreme over time.

The word “indoctrinate” is defined as: “teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” That’s what talk radio and cable TV “news” has done to us. We hear the same things over and over and over, and the Witchy Woman effect takes hold, and our minds get trained.

Over time we get indoctrinated, and over time our positions get more and more entrenched.

According to a Harvard study, people who only associate with like-minds literally reach the point that, when confronted with indisputable evidence that conflicts with their world view, they will double-down on their world view.

That situation makes it very difficult to solve problems because these people become the loudest voices in their political parties, and the ends keep moving farther and farther out.

Since the parties now tend to nominate from the extremes, nothing gets done when they reach Washington, D.C. or wherever they hold office, because the “base” will not accept anything other than a “take no prisoners” stance on issues.

Now, add social media to that environment, and we do have a perfect storm, because social media provides the means for people of all persuasions to virtually yell and scream at each other, insult people who don’t agree with them, propagate falsehoods, and just generally act in nasty ways.

So we have an increasingly divided, indoctrinated population that has learned that it can get what it wants through its loud and bullying tactics, and elected officials who pander to the loudest voices because that gets them what they want.

In essence we have “mob rule” at the local, state, and national level.

I feel like we all need to put the brakes on, so I’ll ask a question: when was the last time you reconsidered your political opinions, or tried to see the other side of an issue?

Go ahead — I’ll wait.

As one post so aptly put, “You have a good point – I’ll rethink my position,” said no one on Facebook.

We deal with complex issues today, and in-your-face memes won’t solve any of them.

The social media companies are complicit in this by allowing massive propagation of falsehood and hate. Here’s a case in point:

Last week I ran across a post in my Facebook feed. There was a photo of three national politicians. One of the comments under the photo was “kill them all.”

“Kill them all.”

I reported the comment to Facebook. Maybe not surprising is that Facebook said the comment didn’t violate its standards.

If “kill them all” doesn’t violate your standards, what does?

Based on the Facebook feed that runs past my eyes whenever I happen to log on (which typically makes my blood pressure goes up every time I do) I thought it might be helpful to share some things from posts I have seen that might indicate that the poster has been indoctrinated either by the far left or the far right, although I have no illusions that it will do any good.

  • If you believe that an election is between Republicans and Socialists, you are right-wing indoctrinated.
  • If you believe elections are between Democrats and Fascists, you are left-wing indoctrinated.
  • If you think there is no difference between protestors and rioters, you are right-wing indoctrinated.
  • If you think nobody is looting or rioting, or that it is justified, you are left-wing indoctrinated.
  • If you think all police are racists, you are left-wing indoctrinated.
  • If you think no police are racist, you are right-wing indoctrinated.
  • If you think it is your God-given right not to wear a mask, or that the numbers are grossly over-reported, or that COVID-19 is a hoax, or that it’s overblown, or that it’s going to magically disappear, you are right-wing indoctrinated.
  • If you think it is practical to totally shut down everything for an extended period in the face of the pandemic, you are left-wing indoctrinated.

There are more, but I’ll leave it there.

The problem is that if all you hear all day is Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson, you are going to end up with a very skewed view of reality.

And if all you listen to is Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell, you are also going to get a very unbalanced view.

And I can guarantee that there is no way the Sean Hannity people and the Rachel Maddow people are going to be able to put their heads together to solve problems.

Our democracy depends on us being able to talk with one another, and not yell at each other. If we can’t develop that capacity, all is lost.

It’s not my place to tell anyone what to do, but may I respectfully suggest that we attempt to listen and not shout, and maybe tune out talk radio and cable commentary for a while?

Randy Keck is the publisher and owner of The Community News, now in his 25th year.

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