Thursday, February 19, 2009

Talk Radio Viruses

I just caught most of Right America: Feeling Wronged, and what struck me most was that the people were repeating talking points they had obviously heard somewhere - most likely on the radio. But not just repeating, but doing so with genuine emotion attached, and believing what they were saying as if it were the most obvious truth.

And it got me thinking that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest were able to infiltrate these people's beliefs by mimicking their thought patterns, speaking to their common fears and grievances, articulating actual feelings they have, then once hooked, steering them to a particular narrative, e.g., Obama's a socialist.

It's like a virus that tricks your immune system by mimicking it. Limbaugh will mimic the listeners' thought patterns, and once their attention and trust is hijacked use whatever normal skeptical and critical faculties they have against those speaking the truth. So if you say to one of his believers - actually, Obama's a capitalist and his tax plan just differs in terms of what bracket pays what, their skepticism, i.e., their immune system against falsehood, will immediately kick in and dismiss it. Instead of the healthy skepticism fighting bullshit, it's been subverted to fight the truth.

I don't know the long-term consequences of having 10s of millions of people with inverted critical faculties - in the near term it was Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Alberto Gonzalez, etc. - but I doubt they're good.