Saturday, February 05, 2005


John Holbo has some useful thoughts on the impropriety of pretending that all left-wingers (or right-wingers) are represented by the worst ideological extremes. Bloggers do it all the time -- cherry-pick a completely indefensible statement by an obscure extremist on one side or the other, and then blame the entire other side for supposedly agreeing with (or failing to denounce in vigorous enough terms) the extremist. A left-winger (or a right-winger) could spend all day culling out objectionable posts from Free Republic (or Atrios or Daily Kos), and then pretending that such posts represent a complete lack of intelligence or good-will on the right (or the left). But such extrapolations are misleading and unfair.

But people do tend to extrapolate from their own personal experiences, like it or not. A liberal who grew up in a small town in red-state America might end up running into unintelligent and closed-minded conservatives, and might then reason (falsely) that all conservatives share those characteristics. A conservative who attends an Ivy League school might run across some provincial and self-righteous liberals, and might then reason (falsely) that all liberals are intolerant. In either case, the availability heuristic is kicking in, causing people to overestimate the prevalence of something merely because they personally witnessed it.

Indeed, due to the availability heuristic, I wonder if blogging (or the Internet more broadly) has increased the level of hostility amongst intelligent people on either side of the political divide. Bloggers in general seem to be drawn to controversy -- i.e., pointing out the idiotic things said by someone on the other side, commenting on the above, purporting to rebut the above, etc., etc. This can all be quite entertaining, but it causes both sides to be more aware of the idiotic things that are occasionally said on the other side. This in turn causes them to overestimate the other side's idiocy, which in turn causes hostility to rise even further because each side feels that the other side is wildly exaggerating. It's a vicious circle.

Stuart Buck


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It could be that blogging has the effect you mention. For myself, I used to give money (not a lot) to the University of California, my alma mater, but I decided from his blog that Brad DeLong was such a jerk that I have stopped. Without blogs, the idiocy of one Cal professor (or even a bunch of them) would never have been in my face. In other words, maybe now I'm overestimating the idiocy of Cal professors, which before I wasn't even thinking about.

6:58 PM  
Blogger nshumate said...

I don't think the example of the availability heuristic really applies to blogs, since, well, there isn't limited availability. Anyone from either end of the spectrum can find reasonable bloggers to read of all stripes and colors. I think we're looking more at a different human impulse: "Fish in a barrel." We'd all much rather shoot down the opponent who is very obviously a moonbat than go toe-to-toe with a thoughtful and reasonable opponent with whom we disagree. (Otherwise known as: "Well, your husband plowed under his corn to build a baseball field!")

4:16 PM  
Blogger Alessandra said...

Related topic:
blog readers do not want to learn anything new
also refers to entry on the intolerance of tolerance and on trolls, an interesting blog phenomenon.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Stan said...

One doesn't have to cherry pick to make fun of liberals. Simply use comments from prominent Democrats such as Kennedy, Gore, Kerry, Pelosi, Reid, et al. These are people that the other side has embraced by electing them to office and choosing them to leadership positions. And then voicing agreement with the idiotic comments after they are made.

Add Michael Moore. His embrace by the party makes him fair game to use as symptomatic of the group. They invited him to Carter's box at the convention, delegates went crazy over him at meetings, and many of them have showered him with praise. Under those circumstances, it is perfectly fair to slam his comments and work as representing the party. Same for Whoopi Goldberg et al whose unusually vulgar performance was immediately endorsed by Kerry as representative of our country.

8:51 PM  
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