Mike the Mad Biologist

I want to follow up on something from a post about the educational failure committed by our political press corps (italics original; boldface added):

That so many people lack even a basic understanding of how government works and what it does–even among likely voters (keep in mind that your average Tea Buggerer spends a lot of time gathering ‘information’ and is a likely voter)–is a catastrophic failure of our news media.

The more I roll that around in my head, the more terrified I get. For those not familiar with wonky political terms, a low information content voter is a euphemism for someone who doesn’t know a fucking thing about the political issues of the day. Now, you might be thinking that I’m going to segue into a rant about the Tea Buggerers. That’s a fair assumption, but you would be wrong. Low information content voters come in two types. First, there are those who are just uninformed. If a pollster asked me what I thought about a particular baseball player (I’m not a big baseball plan), any answer I gave would probably be pretty stupid (or very lucky). And if I were asked a leading question, my answer could superficially seem informed (all that schooling and stuff). Actually, I probably would say “I don’t know”, since one advantage of scientific training is the discipline to say three very important words: I love you I don’t know. And before you get too high and mighty, if you vote in local municipal elections, how much do you really know about each candidate?

But then there’s the other type of low-information content voter, the voter who really doesn’t grasp that the political system can actually make a difference–that is, do stuff:

But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. (This was also true of a number of committed voters in both camps–though I’ll risk being partisan here and say that Kerry voters, in my experience, were more likely to name specific issues they cared about than Bush supporters.) At first I thought this was a problem of simple semantics–maybe, I thought, “issue” is a term of art that sounds wonky and intimidating, causing voters to react as if they’re being quizzed on a topic they haven’t studied. So I tried other ways of asking the same question: “Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what’s been happening in the country in the last four years?”

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief–not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

But neither of these archetypes explain the Tea Party. And that’s why it’s so damn terrifying.

Tea Buggers spend a lot of time acquiring misinformation. To hold the beliefs they do requires a lot of work, as does maintaining those beliefs. They read things on the intertoobz (just as you are right now). They watch faux news–and sometimes even actually news-like products. They regularly vote. They disproportionately attend rallies, town halls, and even actual government meetings (e.g., school board hearings).

They have filled themselves up with propaganda and falsehoods. Not been filled up. This was an active process.

I’ll stop now because this is getting depressing.

Comments

  1. #1 Mokele
    February 23, 2011

    We need to return to having poll tests. If you can’t answer some civics- and history-style questions, your vote is thrown out. I’m in favor of non-multiple-choice, like “Write the entire text of the First Ammendment” or “What was the 3/5ths compromise?”. Grade on a curve, so that only the top 20% have their votes counted.

  2. #2 greatbear
    February 23, 2011

    I’d be satisfied if we limited the vote to only people who could make it through the first round on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”.

  3. #3 Rob Jase
    February 23, 2011

    Tea baggers are willfully ignorant of information, misinformation is eaier to take in & digest as it already matches their presuppostions.

  4. #4 D. C. Sessions
    February 23, 2011

    Tea baggers are willfully ignorant of information, misinformation is eaier to take in & digest as it already matches their presuppostions.

    Or leads to conclusions that are agreeable to them, such as “we don’t have to worry about that.”

  5. #5 KennyG
    February 23, 2011

    @Mokele

    Right, because poll tests worked oh so well in the 1950s Deep South.

    Wait…

  6. #6 Nemo
    February 24, 2011

    I’d be satisfied if we limited the vote to people who didn’t suggest that we should limit the vote.

  7. #7 Miles
    February 24, 2011

    There’s pretty much a consensus among experts on both sides of the aisle that free markets are better than socialism and everything benefits from America and God. Deferring to the experts isn’t exactly crazy; it’s rational.

    The problem is that the corporate media’s job is to convince the public that the corporate interest is the national interest. Is it any surprise that private ownership of media and private campaign financing are working as intended? Our politicians and journalists are bought and paid for, so why shouldn’t people be confused about which way is up?

  8. #8 kermit
    February 24, 2011

    I was raised by biblical literalists. It occurred to me half a century ago that these folks put a lot of energy into believing demonstrably wrong things. Lying takes effort, and lying to oneself takes the most, I think. It requires constant social reinforcement to maintain an internal map which has little to do with observable reality. And beliefs – for these people – are essential for identifying somebody’s tribal affiliations.

    Also, authoritarians need enemies to justify their anger and bullying; it requires Hellfire and brimstone or Glen Beck’s whiteboard to make enemies out of the liberal neighbors, or that nerd kid across the street who likes science. And then they vote :(

  9. #9 anandine
    February 25, 2011

    Mokele said, We need to return to having poll tests.

    Heinlein once wrote that, when a person entered a polling booth, a machine should generate a random quadratic equation, and the voter would have to solve it to get to vote. That might be a little extreme.

  10. #10 Samantha Vimes
    February 28, 2011

    Especially, anandine, considering dyscalculia is a very narrow learning disorder (that may most often stem from a problem with neural paths relating to the fingers) and in no way means the person cannot do logic, and considering how many engineers seem inclined to Creationism or woo, numerical skill is no guarantee of realistic understanding of other matters.
    If one were to make a test, it would probably be best to base it on ability to weed out logical fallacies, which would mean the person probably can evaluate information they hear about politics.
    But a person should be able to vote, period. It’s up to a democratic society that wants to stay democratic to bring up the general information level, not to try to create a oligarchy of the educated.

  11. #11 Wow
    February 28, 2011

    “There’s pretty much a consensus among experts on both sides of the aisle that free markets are better than socialism”

    I keep hearing this.

    Never heard any proof.

    Just assertion.

    I mean, maybe your mom can’t make good apple pie.