Friedersdorf Blames Right Wing Echo Chamber

Conor Friedersdorf, one of the smartest conservatives (real conservative, not just an anti-liberal) around, accurately blames the current budget and debt ceiling showdown largely on the right wing echo chamber that values conflict with liberals (and fellow conservatives) over intelligent policymaking.

“Republicans can pretty much say whatever they want, no matter what the bizarre logic and no matter what connection it has to what they were saying five minutes ago, and Fox News will totally accept it and blast it for hours or days,” Jonathan Bernstein observes. “The result? Republicans have become incredibly lazy. After all, why bother constructing a coherent argument if you don’t need one.”

It’s true. In order to get good press from the conservative media, Republican politicians need not craft a brilliant political strategy or impress with policy substance or excel at persuading the public that conservative ideas are the way forward. They need only find themselves in conflict with President Obama and Democrats…

Watch Sean Hannity. Listen to Rush Limbaugh. With few exceptions, the focus is winning whatever fight happens to be dominating the current news cycle. Each one is treated as if it is as maximally significant as any other, and that is no coincidence. If you’re driven by partisan tribalism more than ideology, if getting in rhetorical digs at liberals thrills you more than persuading adversaries or achieving policy victories, it makes sense that you would fight substantively inconsequential battles with no more or less vigor than any other…

The amount of conservative hackery broadcast and published every day remains staggering. In private, that fact is widely acknowledged even among movement conservative pundits, who can hardly deny something so glaringly obvious. But I have long been in a tiny minority of observers who regard conservative media as something that must be reformed if the right is to recover. How can an ideological movement succeed if its leaders and its rank and file daily rely on bad information from sources that constantly peddle fiction as fact?

As long as the right wing values belligerence and invective over intelligence and thoughtfulness, this is going to continue. All of the rewards — electoral, financial and in terms of status and standing — go to those who scream the loudest, declare themselves the purest and attack anyone who speaks intelligently about anything. With those incentives in place, Ted Cruz becomes inevitable.

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  • Jordan Genso

    How can an ideological movement succeed if its leaders and its rank and file daily rely on bad information from sources that constantly peddle fiction as fact?

    Depends on how you define “success”, because it seems to me that what they are currently doing is working for them all too well. If they have no desire to actually govern, and instead simply want to prevent the Democrats from governing, then their actions so far have been successful. Why would they throw out the strategy if they are getting what they want most, which is to annoy liberals?

  • Scr… Archivist

    I’m glad more people are noticing this. It’s about tribalism, belonging to the right people and repeatedly announcing your loyalty to the right people. Policy is for eggheads, and if facts get in the way of identity politics they must not be facts.

    Bob Altemeyer described the problem in The Authoritarians (2006), specifically chapter 3, section 6, about what he calls “ethnocentrism”. I think it explains more than just ethnic identification.

    [A]uthoritarians see the world more sharply in terms of their in-groups and their out-groups than most people do…. This dizzying “Us versus Everyone Else” outlook usually develops from traveling in those “tight circles” we talked about in the last chapter, and whirling round in those circles reinforces the ethnocentrism as the authoritarian follower uses his friends to validate his opinions.

    It essentially boils down to, “I know I’m right because the people who agree with me say I am.”

    Because authoritarians depend so much on their in-group to support their beliefs (whereas other people depend more on independent evidence and logic), high RWAs [Right-Wing Authoritarians] place a high premium on group loyalty and cohesiveness.

    Authoritarian followers want to belong, and being part of their in-group means a lot to them. Loyalty to that group ranks among the highest virtues, and members of the group who question its leaders or beliefs can quickly be seen as traitors.

    The need for social reinforcement runs so deeply in authoritarians, they will believe someone who says what they want to hear even if you tell them they should not.

    The next section is about dogmatism. Throughout this book, Altemeyer used survey-based sociological research, but the writing is conversational instead of academic. I recommend this brief book to readers trying to figure out the thinking of right-wing followers.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Perhaps it is about governing. Not in the “what is best for the country” sense but in the much older sense of getting control of the levers of power and patronage. In general doing well for yourself and yours.

  • machintelligence

    I’m always glad to see someone recommend “The Authoritarians.” It is available free online to read or download.

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

  • daved

    With those incentives in place, Ted Cruz becomes inevitable.

    That leads to an interesting possibility. I think it’s pretty clear that Cruz is a self-serving demagogue who’ll say anything if he thinks it will help him. But he’s unique at the moment, in terms of both his naked ambition and his (I hope temporary) success. However, there’s really no reason why there couldn’t be one or more like him, assuming persons of the requisite intelligence and lack of character could be found. How long will it be till we see more like him? Watching them go at each other could be amazing.

  • caseloweraz

    The 1896 Cross of Gold speech by Democrat William Jennings Bryan is considered one of history’s great speeches.

    This is certainly a rhetorical stretch, but I wish someone in the Republican Party would stand up and declare, “You shall not crucify the GOP upon a Cruz of scold!” or words to that effect. Meaning that the Tea Party/Ted Cruz brand of belligerence and invective must be abandoned. I wonder how such a speech would play at this point. It’s plausible that a moderate Republican with the guts to stand against the tide could advance his political fortunes by doing so — not immediately, probably, but in some future campaign.

  • joschad

    This makes for ironic reading. I don’t read much on freethoughtblogs anymore (Dispatches being the occasional exception) because the blogs here have become so self-congratulatory, snarky, and whiny, and aside from some butthurt libertarian once in a while, there is very little substantive disagreement in the comments or in the articles posted here. While I share most of the political stances and worldview of the people here, this place is its own little echo chamber.

    In fact I know I’m wasting my time writing this because it will either be ignored or negatively critiqued by people who would count me as some kind of troll instead of a happily identifying in-group member.

    Oh well. This place is still nowhere near as bad as the Daily Kos.

  • zenlike

    Hmm, I give joshad only a 2 on the trolling scale. Weak. Very weak.

    I demand better trolls.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    joschad “This makes for ironic reading. I don’t read much on freethoughtblogs anymore (Dispatches being the occasional exception) because the blogs here have become so self-congratulatory, snarky, and whiny, and aside from some butthurt libertarian once in a while, there is very little substantive disagreement in the comments or in the articles posted here.”

    To be fair, we are pretty awesome.

    “In fact I know I’m wasting my time writing this because it will either be ignored or negatively critiqued by people who would count me as some kind of troll instead of a happily identifying in-group member. “

    Would you prefer a disapproving glare? How about stony silence? Grab a muffin and some coffee from the table over there while you think about it.

  • http://fullmetalfeminist.wordpress.com CaitieCat

    When I see this concept mentioned, it often makes me want to do a bit of self-examination, make sure I’m not doing the same thing. After all, my daily reading consists (in English) of entirely reliably leftist, progressivist, and/or feminist sites or parts thereof: the Guardian, the Washington Post, Krugman, digby, Shakesville, FTB (and by no means all of FTB), Scalzi, Hines, and a few other smaller-rep writers. I don’t do Facebook – I exist there, sort of (different name combo) – so I don’t deal with my family members posting their loopy fascist fantasies, and I filter certain words found in my family’s more irritating e-mails to dev/null.

    So am I different? I think so. The main reason is, much of my reading is by or about people who do closely watch various parts of the right-wing noise machine. I’m aware of their memes, their ideas (such as they have, beyond “wreck it all I wanna be a baron”), their leaders. And I’ve changed my mind on things, based on facts and arguments I’ve accumulated over time. I value the implementation of ideas, changes, that I think would make society better; I find no particular joy in “beating” conservatives, because I’m not in a game or at war with them, I’m working at trying to make a better society. I don’t advocate even rhetorical violence to my opponents, and I would be disgusted by any actual violence to them.

    And most importantly, I face facts. Fact is, most people don’t think like I/we do. Most aren’t atheists in the sense that I am. Most aren’t feminists. Most aren’t socialists. I don’t delude myself into thinking that, despite the polls, most people are secretly with me, cheering me on. I think I know better, yes. But I also have room for the idea that they think they do too.

    It’s one of the ways in which the Internet has been both a great enabler of human advancement, and a force for further tribalization/fragmentation of society, at the same time. Before it and its rudimentary predecessors* existed, if I wanted to find people like me, I had to seek out physical meeting spaces, clubs, what have you. Now, if I want to find a group of ambidextrous differently abled hard-sf-loving non-libertarian people of Maltese background, I just start the appropriate Facebook page.

    But it’s also allowed the epistemic closure which is wreaking havoc on governance in many countries: people can choose to get all their social contact and factual input from a closed loop, wherein fact-checking becomes “being a traitor to the truth we all know really exists” (cf. “unskewed polls”).

    No solution herein, I’m afraid. Interesting thought experiment, though. Is there a way to break through that epistemological wall? How do we reach under, through, or over it?

    * Any other FidoNet/bbs veterans out there? GEnie? Compuserve? AOHell? 😀

  • exdrone

    I think Friedersdorf’s observation is in line with Kristiansen and Hotte’s Value Justification Hypothesis and Haidt’s Social Intuition Theory. People tend to make moral and political stances intuitively and then adopt post-hoc rationalizations to justify them. The echo chamber serves the need for rationalization. It is supportive and comforting to those who just want to justify their beliefs.

  • Jordan Genso

    @7 joschad

    I don’t want to sound like I am automatically criticizing you (and I in no way view you as a troll), but I don’t catch the irony. Are you suggesting that liberal echo chambers have the same negative influence over politics that the conservative echo chambers do, so that when a liberal echo chamber points out the problems caused by the conservative echo chambers, it is actually hypocritical?

    Or is it simply that because you consider this community an echo chamber, it is therefore ironic when it points out the harm done by other echo chambers… because you consider all echo chambers to be by default equally bad?

    If you are not attempting a false equivalency, I apologize, but the only way your comment makes sense to me is if you are actually equating the two sides. And as someone who doesn’t see an equivalency, I don’t see the irony.

  • scienceavenger

    @7 It shows that you aren’t reading the blogs much, because I see disagreements on a daily basis. What are doing, confining your readings to PZ’s feminism articles?

    I also disagree with your use of the term “Echo chamber” to describe these blogs. It take far more than general agreement on issues to make an echo chamber. It also takes a tone deafness to how one’s views are heard by the other side, and we here are acutely aware of how the other side views us. You don’t see liberal politicians making the kind of obscure (to the other side) references like the Right’s obsession with Ayers, Alinsky and ACORN.

  • Michael Heath

    Scr… Archivist writes:

    Throughout this book, Altemeyer used survey-based sociological research, but the writing is conversational instead of academic. I recommend this brief book to readers trying to figure out the thinking of right-wing followers.

    I too recommend it, and it’s free. You can download here: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    However Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians is the culmination of pioneering work where the quality of the samples are questionable; they’re small and not convincingly representative in regards to whose sampled. Dr. Altemeyer didn’t get as much grant money as he deserved. So after reading Altemeyer I also highly recommend Chris Mooney’s Republican Brain. Mooney reports on an emergent set of research that follows Altemeyer which is extensive, more convincing, and more illuminating. However that subsequent work by researchers other than Altemeyer stands on the shoulders of an authentic giant, Bob Altemeyer. That’s why I recommend him first. Mooney’s work also validates that while Altemeyer’s work deserves skepticism, subsequent researchers find Altemeyer’s insight is predominately correct.

  • Chiroptera

    scienceavenger, #13:

    I would also add that a true “echo chamber” also isolates the participants from real life facts and well-informed opinions that contradict the “common sense wisdom” of the echo chamber.

    That may be what you meant, but I thought I’d make it more explicit.

    I also agree — a bunch of people who agree with each other is not necessarily an echo chamber.

  • http://thewordsonwhat.wordpress.com/ Rob F

    There’s also the fact that getting conservatives riled up is a real moneymaker. Indeed, although a Canadian and one who doesn’t get US talk radio, it seems to me RWTR could even be called “entertainment”. I believe that this column by Frum, although written in the context of the successful passage of PPACA, remains relevant (all emphasis added by me):

    I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by <i/mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds [sic].

    So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

  • Scr… Archivist

    Michael Heath @14,

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out.

  • pocketnerd

    Thus spake ZaraCaitieCat:

    Any other FidoNet/bbs veterans out there? GEnie? Compuserve? AOHell?

    /me raises a hand

  • caseloweraz

    @Archivist:

    You might find my review interesting.

    http://www.chris-winter.com/Erudition/Reviews/C_Mooney/Repub_Brain.html

  • caseloweraz

    CaitieCat: * Any other FidoNet/bbs veterans out there? GEnie? Compuserve? AOHell? 😀

    All of the above except FidoNet — as well as BIX and Prodigy. I ran a BBS for seven years: 1984-1992.

  • caseloweraz

    Sociologists Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj of Tufts Univesity have studied such “echo chambers.” Columnist Ruben Navarrette quotes them as writing in the journal Poetics: “These venues offer flattering, reassuring environments that make audience members feel good. Fans experience them as safe havens from the tense exchanges that they associate with crosscutting political talk they may encounter with neighbors, colleagues and community members.”

    According to Navarrette, the study lumps Rachel Maddow in with Limbaugh and Hannity as part of this “outrage industry.” I don’t think that’s fair to Rachel Maddow, but I haven’t read the study yet. Oxford University Press will release a book version in January; an early version of the study is here:

    http://ase.tufts.edu/polsci/prospective/OutrageIndustry.pdf

  • eric

    @7 – I have to agree with @13. if you aren’t seeing disagreement on Ed’s blog, you must not be reading his posts on free speech.

  • grumpyoldfart

    The worrying thing is that the Republicans might regain the Government before they make any changes to their procedures. I hate to think what will happen then.

  • Michael Heath

    joschad @ 7,

    I agree with your observation. I also know it takes more time and energy to thoughtfully respond to people with solid arguments who disagree with you. Perhaps people on the Internet are getting over the novelty of finding a lot of people who share the topics that impassion them, while also increasingly seeking to limit their on-line discourse given how it competes with our time in meat-world. That may cause a segregation effect.