LOL things matter?
Lately I've been getting caught up in the "LOL nothing matters" school of thought. It applies pretty broadly, across elections, policy, economics etc. The basic logic is:
- The Internet makes it easy to construct your own personal reality.
- No matter the fact, issue or position, you can find people advocating it.
- Since we are naturally less skeptical of things we want to be true, we will gravitate towards sources that confirm our priors.
- This only gets easier over time, never harder, as communication tech improves.
- The American left and right live in mutually-incompatible realities.
- Everyone is susceptible, but:
- The right has a big head start.
- The right has a Schelling point (Fox News, talk radio) to coordinate local-reality facts and talking points.
- (something something religiosity and affinity fraud)
- Left example: thinking GPA is a fairer alternative to SAT to evaulate college-bound seniors, because of racial disparities in SAT scores. (The hole in that: GPA is just as disparate)
- Everyone is susceptible, but:
If we take this seriously, then facts literally do not matter, and so talk of trying to moderate policy to appeal to moderate voters makes no sense. And without being able to counter fantasy with facts, things can go off the rails pretty fast.
An example: 2020 election trutherism ("stop the steal"). Polls are showing 60 to 80 percent of Republicans not believing Joe Biden's electoral victory was legitimate. (The usual caveats with opinion polling apply: people tend to percieve the questions as "are you Team Red or Team Blue" and answer accordingly). No amount of information on election procedures will convince any of these people that van-loads of fake ballots didn't get dropped into the counts. (How would the total number of ballots still line up with the total number of people who cast votes?)
This goes back a long way, at least to Gingrich; I remember posting (forget the forum, probably Fark) that we should exploit the reality bubble by just telling Republicans they already won the election, and any reference to "President Kerry" was just the lieberal MSM mainstream media. Somewhere a monkey's paw curled its finger...
Taken literally this all leads to despair though - there's no plausible way to make communication harder, human nature won't change, so this can't possibly get any better. So I have to be skeptical of it because I'm prone to despair.
Possible weak points:
- We overestimate peoples' knowledge of politics, even taking into account that
we overestimate peoples' knowledge of politics.
- There's been some reporting that more politically-engaged people believe more misinformation, because they know the party line.
- Example: Donald Trump saying during the campaign that women should be punished for having abortions. He knew the party line well enough to know he should say abortion should be illegal, and punishing people when they do something is what it means for something to be illegal. But he didn't know that the party line was that women shouldn't be punished, just doctors.
- Maybe there's a limit.
- Best as I can tell there isn't a limit to how far away from extant reality this can all stray, but I could be wrong.
- Maybe the right isn't that well coordinated.
- Outgroup homogeneity bias is a thing; it could be that the right is just as internally contentious as I experience the left to be.
I think I need to do some study in this area, like I did with econ when that was driving despair. I know there are disinformation researchers e.g. Zeynep Tufecki. Surely some people out there are studying this type of unintentional self-reinforcing disinformation. I should see what they have to say.
Promising a future post with what I find out.