Embrace the Opposition

One of the interesting side effects of the tremendous number of information outlets on the Web is that fact that you can easily construct an ideological echo chamber, where only news that confirms your existing beliefs reaches your screen.

To combat this, I have a suggestion: log into iGoogle, or Facebook, or whatever portal you use to get news from, and subscribe to a feed from an organization that is diametrically opposed to your views. Tea Partier? “Like” The Atlantic. Borderline socialist? Welcome to Fox News. Find a news source that you vehemently disagree with, and read it. You might learn something new.

19 Responses to “Embrace the Opposition”

  1. BrianN says:

    It’s a nice thought, but people already do this. Unfortunately the effect is not actually to broaden their thinking, but to pull the most extreme position out of it and lampoon it until they are not sure which position someone actually took and which one is just their joke. In the end one third of Americans get their news from pamphleteers and one third from clowns, the clown watchers watch the pamphleteers to see what outrageous thing they can find someone saying and the pamphleteers mock the clown watchers.

    My proposal would be the following:

    1) Make a website that scrapes news stories, and hides the source and substitutes the names of the primary subjects with meaningless names (i.e. make it so you don’t know if it’s about Romney or Obama or whatever). Ask the reader his opinion, then show the full article.

    2) On any given subject write down your argument and read it to yourself 100x. Give at least 5 reasons why you might not agree with yourself.

    3) for every news article about politician from party X link to as many similar situations for politicians from party Y as possible. Also, collect all internet comments from the reader that he might have made about party Y from the historical record and make the reader read them before posting anything about party X.

    4) regarding comment posting and opinion have a general rule, if what you’re about to say is essentially, “the only reason you disagree with me is because you’re stupid and ill-informed,” don’t bother, even if it’s true you won’t change it.

  2. matt says:

    The world would be a better place if we all heeded rule 4.

    Too bad most people are too stupid and ill-informed to do it. Oh, wait… damn.

  3. Pitt says:

    Rule #4 should be automatically invoked by the forum to delete comments before they’re even posted. Man, would that cut down on the mindless chatter. All those Yahoo! articles with 3,000 comments would end up with about 30.

    Even being a fairly right-leaning individual, I get most of my news from NPR; I spend a good hour in the car every day and there’s only 2 or 3 decent music stations, and they all play crappy morning shows anyway; 9/10 mornings it’s 88.7FM and Morning Edition for me.

    Since I live in SC, the right-wing news thing is pretty much taken care of for me; its fairly hard to avoid.

  4. matt says:

    Report: 24 hours into reading Facebook posts from “The Daily Caller”, I’m learning all sorts of things about how organizations like the UN are both completely incompetent and the corrupt, evil masterminds behind a shadowy conspiracy the likes of which the world has never seen.

    Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

  5. BrianN says:


    So are you embracing opposition or just enjoying a freak show?

  6. Pitt says:

    There’s no rule that says you can’t be incompetent and corrupt.

  7. matt says:

    BrianN: First one, then the other.

    Maybe I should just read the articles and not the comments attached to them. The comments seem to be the real freak show.

    Pitt: Good point.

  8. BrianN says:

    I can’t say I’m impressed. I have an instinct to say that both conservative and liberal writing is become more and more polemic, mindless and directed at people who already believe, but I suppose it’s always been that way.

    It’s a really interesting question to ask why people believe what they believe. Nearly everyone thinks they are making rational, evidence based arguments, but few people really are, partly because I don’t think it’s easy to come to rational, evidence based conclusions about many of the most important issues. In many ways what happens is people just join a group, and accept the group conclusions and rationalize it later. Thus you see a surprising link between otherwise irrelevant beliefs, like Keynesian economics and gay marriage. I’d bet in the general population they aren’t linked as tightly, but among polemicists, bloggers and frequent commenters, they certainly are.

    But somehow I guess we have to make decisions and work with the wheels of politics; so I’ll just tell you to stop being a sheeple and wake up to big conspiracy involving someone or whatever. Probably it’s a UFOs fault.

    But seriously, I wonder if there are ways to successfully ask people to question their own beliefs. Maybe even a chance to espouse a “third path,” by which I don’t mean a third party, but a set of talking points and assumptions that can provide some basis for alternative dialog. To me that;s more fun than just making fun of people.

  9. matt says:

    I think the root of a lot of this is the assumption that political and social beliefs are a one-dimensional axis, running from right to left. The assumption, then, becomes that someone with “rightist” beliefs on, say, immigration, is assumed to have “rightist” beliefs on economic issues and abortions.

    As you point out, there’s no reason that this stuff _should_ be bundled together, but it _is_. Beliefs are packaged for convenient shorthand: “Ah, this person gets their news from Outlet A, so they probably believe X, Y, and Z, while viewers of Outlet B believe just the opposite.”

    As someone much smarter than me once said, people treat government like ESPN with only two teams. Rah rah rah!

  10. matt says:

    …just added Fox News to my feed.

  11. matt says:

    I just remembered a History of Science course I took as an undergrad. We were reading Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, and the whole left vs. right political divide was actually the example the professor used to explain the concept of a dominant paradigm.

  12. Pitt says:

    The slightly more relevant analogy for political ideology is the 4 quadrant system- rather than a simple line from left to right there’s a vertical line as well. Thus it helps break out fiscal and social liberal/ conservative. Because it’s totally possible to be a deficit hawk but also pro-abortion-choice; likewise you can be pro death penalty but for socialized health care. Et cetera.

    I was talking to a guy this weekend and I happened to mention that I had voted for Ron Paul in the Republican primary. The first thing he asked me was if I smoked pot. Which is funny – not just because I don’t, but because people have such narrow views of what they feel the candidates stand for. He actually accused me of being pro-Obama, since my voting for Paul would somehow take away votes from Romney. Assuming, I guess, that I would otherwise vote for the un-Obama (R) candidate.

    It’s really extraordinarily hard to have a meaningful discussion with _anyone_ because as soon as you step outside of the bounds of the accepted political sphere, they look at you weird and force you on the defensive. if you’re a Republican, and you say ANYTHING that could remotely be construed as slightly non-negative about a Democrat, immediately they treat you like some sort of alien being who doesn’t understand American politics.


  13. matt says:

    It is interesting how Ron Paul == Legal Weed in the minds of many. It does seem to be the primary driver behind a lot of his college-aged support, that’s for sure.

  14. Mike says:

    To piggyback on what Pitt said, this political climate supports the idea that if I dissagree with you I automatically either abhore you or I am an idiot. There are few out there that seem to believe that disagreement can be rational.

    I would blame the media, but that would be too easy. It is bigger than that. Ratings for 24 hour “news” and political activism seem to require drama for their fuel. Lumping everyone into groups and creating an “us vs. them” environment is an easy way of generating that.

  15. Pitt says:

    It’s exactly like football. ESPN: 2 teams, only one can win.

    I like everyone on this list, I respect their opinions, and no one here follows lock step the ideology of any one party. And there isn’t a single person who posts here that I agree with 100%. Is our little sub-culture so much different from the rest of the population?

    I once told someone (Matt, I think) that I really like Subaru WRX’s but I could never own one because of the stigma and stereotype that goes along with it. Going back to what I said earlier, I like Ron Paul and think he’s got a lot of good ideas, but if being a Paul supporter means being immediately branded a pot head, I might rethink that bumper sticker on my truck.

  16. Mike says:

    Maybe I’m being a little proud and arrogant, but I believe our little subculture is different in that at the end of the day we still respect one another; we’re very tolerant of each other’s viewpoints. In terms of ideology, I would guess that we are similar to the rest of the population.

    I almost attributed our tolerance to the fact that we are all well educated folks, but some of the most well-educated PhD types that I’ve encountered are as intolerant of differing opinions as some of the most ignorant people that I’ve crossed paths with. The aforementioned PhDs usually piss me off more because they are the most likely to break BrianN’s rule #4 (again just my experience).

  17. Pitt says:

    Still, we’ve got more letters appended to the ends of our names collectively than some small southern towns.

  18. matt says:

    Ten days into this experiment. I’ve subscribed to the Facebook feeds for Fox News and The Daily Caller – I read all articles that they post, and often (but not always) the attached comments.


    1. I’m amazed at the number of “birthers”, anti-UN and anti-Fed crusaders, and other assorted paranoids that I’ve seen, many of whom are peddling wholly discredited or just fundamentally false information. And they have all promised to vote against the President this fall.

    2. “Obummer” is apparently the most common derisive nickname for our President. That’s terrible. Not terrible offensive, just terrible stupid.

    3. Many of the articles in these news sites are blatantly biased, omitting information where convenient. On the up side, though, I’ve gotten more rigorous about noting blatant bias in other news outlets as well, and not just ignoring it when it fits my ideological bent. So, that’s positive, right?

  19. Pitt says:

    Is “Obummer” any worse than “Dubya”? I think both extremes have their morons.

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