Features/Dissent

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Dissent and Information Segregation

It's amazing how much we live in worlds of self-created information.

Well, yes, other conworlders and I obviously do, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about fundamental disconnects in perceptions. I've watched a number of arguments, lately, online. Participated in a few. Read editorials.

The most outstanding thing I came away with from all of it was a realization that people almost never changed their opinions about the matters being discussed.

It's incredibly frustrating. Again and again I watch people who I know are keenly intelligent and insightful, people who have a sense of intellectual integrity, look at the same world, the same information, and yet somehow come up with vastly different understandings of it than each other or than myself.

It's disheartening really. It's a blow to my sense of human potential. We hardly ever see past our preconceptions.

We think we know about the possibility that we see only what we want to see, and therefore, we think we can guard against it. I have less and less confidence that we can. It's amazing how subtly and powerfully perceptual biases can create rifts between the information that different people have.

In American politics, the religious decry the rising anti-religious sentiments of the age; the non-religious feel like society has never really gotten out from under the boot heel, and are alarmed by the recent resurgence of religion in politics. The liberals are running scared that the conservatives are quite effectively stamping out dissent to their overpowering political machine. The conservatives are screaming frustrated with the liberal media and PC brainwashing.

And, somehow, there are still intelligent people who can't bring themselves to shake Creationism.

It's always the other-guys who are in control of the media. Because when someone says something you agree with, well, most of the time, they're just intelligent and well-informed, not biased. But it's even more subtle than that: when the spin of a media-report plays to what you agree with, it is nearly invisible. When it runs counter to your opinions, it is jarring and noticeable. So you the amount you notice spin in your direction is never as much as you notice other-guy spin.

This leads to people of different ideologies having access to totally different basic sets of information, because few people can stand to read the writers that they observe being biased and manipulative, or bother to even if they can. So down the line, two intelligent people can have so much separate back-story built up, that, presented with the same article that both can accept as unbiased, they see vastly different pictures. And both can have unassailable arguments for their picture, because the differences don't come about necessarily because of any flaw of logic. You can argue with someone's logic, maybe get them to see their logically flaws. But when they're logic isn't flawed, and it's just that the foundations of their arguments are different, there's very little that can be productively said.

And then, it becomes frustrating and upsetting to talk to people who disagree with you, because it seems like they are purposefully twisting and misinterpreting the facts. And then dialogue starts shutting down between the sides of an ideological difference, and that creates an even stronger disconnect. First, obviously, because it creates even stronger segregation of information. But perhaps even more importantly, it means you are no longer regularly confronted by the realization that your beliefs are not obvious, that intelligent people can completely disagree with you. And the other-guys then become faceless, because you're not talking to them anymore, and then they become easily classifiable as evil and/or stupid. And all this goes back and reinforces the differential perception of spin.

It's a positive feedback loop, self-perpetuating condition of division and breakdown of communication. It's scary. We can add it to the list of other really scary things in the world today. Like, "what are we going to do about Africa?"; and the Plan for a New American Century.

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