Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Crowds Make Me Feel Lonely

On Sunday, my girlfriend and I went to a Super Bowl party. The party was a good time, but the conversations that I have with regular people outside of work make me realize how far my views are from mainstream. For one thing, I'm a die-hard libertarian. I find people's individual rights to be a great frame of reference when I think about politics. I don't know how other people form their own opinions but I'm not optimistic they have such a consistent groundwork as individual liberty. Here are a few examples of conversations that led me to the conclusion which is the title of the post:
  1. For example, one guy was talking about Redskins owner Dan Snyder who purchased a property on the Potomac a few years ago. He wanted to remove some trees that were obstructing the view from his house of the river. Some environmentalists didn't like this because the trees are "old". The speaker went on to express his populist "soak-the-rich" ideas about Snyder and how he deserves to get sued. It wouldn't have been congenial for me to have started a debate about it at the time, but it was informative that my pro-property rights and to some extent elitist views are not shared by my peers. There is probably some level of separation that happens which leads to the difference - I would put myself in Dan Snyder's place by saying "if I paid tens of millions of dollars for a home I damn well better be able to do whatever I want with it" and they probably don't project into that situation because they (perhaps rationally) don't believe it will ever apply to them.
  2. Another example but the same guy was talking to two ladies about the "rapist" Ben Roethlisberger. I didn't engage with him but I couldn't let it go without getting the thought off my chest. I turned to my girlfriend and said "you know in this country you are presumed innocent until proven guilty but if the verdict is innocent you're still guilty in the public's eyes just by virtue of being accused".
  3. The final example that I have is from the commercial where they are doing "baby tests" and the baby flies forward and smacks into glass then slides down. The girls' mouths were agape. One girl said "that's awful" and another said "that's tasteless". While I agreed the commercial wasn't a.) funny or b.) effective and so c.) good - it wasn't for the same reason. Obviously they didn't use real babies, but these twenty-something girls' maternal instincts were so strong that they couldn't shrug off a simple (albeit not funny) joke. I have no such proclivities about babies. I think that maybe those women are the types of people that outsource their higher level thinking and will eventually develop into the types that boycott movies that aren't endorsed by the ASPCA/Catholic Church/MADD/whatever other institution they allow to dominate their thoughts and opinions.
The internet has probably allowed our society to have more divergent opinions then ever before. I say this because everyday I read articles and blogs by people that agree with me, which indulges my confirmation bias. Finding people who agree with you isn't hard anymore. The effect is that I feel surrounded by like-minded people despite the fact that those who are actually surrounding me may not share those opinions. Before the internet if you wanted to be up-to-date on events you had only one or two providers of newspapers in a city, only three nightly news shows and if you wanted to debate then you had to settle on whoever was at the local bar. Now you can get the news from the people that filter it through your preferred shade of glass and you can debate with people that already think like you. I wonder if this is the type of mechanism that is leading to outcomes like this article from this weekend calling Obama the most polarizing president ever.

1 comment:

  1. With you on point 2, not sure about point 3, and definitely not on point 1. It was that attitude that resulted in nearly all the Giant Redwoods being chopped down (I own it, I can kill it). In the UK we have public footpaths that cross private land; and that is as it should be. The footpath (and the trees) were there before someone 'owned' the land and will be there (hopefully) after they die.
    BUT I am with you totally on the mindless mindset that means it has become difficult to discuss issues.