Almost every time I visit the lobby of my bank, the flat-screen TV in the waiting area is tuned to the Fox News Channel. One day, I asked a bank representative why. She said that too many patrons found CNN offensive.
A couple of days later, I was at a mom-and-pop diner and the TV was tuned to CNN. As I sat picking at my food, a customer in the booth next to me mumbled that he would take his chicken fried steak to go unless they changed the channel.
Wow, I thought. What's happening to us?
Was ignorance always a matter of principle? Or was it something we embraced over the last ten years or so?
The current extent to which close-mindedness permeates every aspect of the American conversation is as shocking as it is sad. Tunnel vision passes for awareness and obtuseness is acclaimed as virtue. Open minds are openly discouraged, taunted and endangered.
For all the unprecedented access we have to information, news outlets and divergent viewpoints, we are less informed than perhaps ever before and much more easily manipulated. We fell for WMDs in Iraq, "Mission Accomplished," the myth of the liberal media, "Too big to fail, "Death Panels," etc., etc. We were duped by lie after lie and mocked by sham after sham.
If a shill for our viewpoint says it, we believe it. If a shill for the opposing viewpoint says it, we refuse to believe it. And, if evidence arises to challenge our position on an issue or disprove it, we simply cry conspiracy or recuse ourselves from reality.
In chapter fourteen of The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck says the thing that the powers that be must bomb to preserve themselves is downtrodden folks' cognitive shift from the individual "I" perspective to a collective "we" plurality. As long as disenfranchised folks are struggling alone, the world is aright for the ruling class. But the minute two or three or a thousand disenfranchised folks get together and begin struggling in unison, then those "who hate change and fear revolution" have a problem. To manage the downtrodden, Steinbeck says, you must keep them apart and "make them hate, fear and suspect each other."
Does this sound familiar?
If you listen to the partisan mouthpieces on talk radio or tune in to the broadcasting arms of our two major political parties on TV, it should. By fostering animosity and ignorance they render us easier to control. By demonizing or dehumanizing their opponents, they promote hate, fear and suspicion.
Essentially, both sides play their part. When liberals behave condescendingly towards conservatives, the powers that be nod approvingly. When conservatives call progressives communists or Nazis, the ruling class tap dances gleefully around their cash registers. Divisiveness diverts our attention from the facts and polarization paralyzes our efforts towards reform.
Steinbeck was commenting on the potential power that could be harnessed through solidarity. But the disenfranchised never acted on these instructions purposefully or methodically, especially in a long-term sense. And whatever gains were made here and there were subsequently thwarted or lost.
The powers that be, however, took note. Today, they no longer have to worry about bombing us. It's easier just to place microphones or cameras in front of rabid ideologues and let them rage-bait us into a WE Smackdown frenzy.
Know this. The values of Liberals are closer to those of the Christian Coalition than the ruling class. And the Tea Partiers have more in common with Progressives than the corporate elite.
If we had any sense, we'd be more inclined to brave the bombs of the powers that be than quibble over their scraps.