Staying Protected Against “Them”

I want to express a guarded admiration for “them.” Before I do that, I will need to say just who I mean by “them” and also to suggest that the clarity of that designation is becoming a little ragged around the edges. I will give some examples and hope you get the idea.

The first stop is the Fox News slogan, “We report; you decide.” I think that is a disastrously bad standard for a respected news station to choose. [1] At the same time, I can see how it would be received favorably by any group of consumers, particularly a group that feels itself being deprived of the right to make decisions. In public relations, you really can’t go wrong by appearing to lodge the decisive power in the hands of another group; the other group seems always to appreciate the vote of confidence.

Another way of putting that slogan is, “We are not very good at telling you what is really news and what is not.” Or possibly, “Don’t think of us as knowledgeable reporters; think of us as a bulletin board, where you yourself can choose what is worth your attention.”

FOX news has been the choice of Republicans for a long time. But as the the Republican party has been becoming more and more populist—and less clearly conservative—it is harder to identify “them.” Are we talking about conservatives or are we talking about populists? Or some other group? Each group would like to be able to decide just what “the news” is, but, for different reasons.

At that point, I would like to introduce today’s entry. Daniela J. Lamas wrote an opinion column in the New York Times today called “When Faced With Death, People Often Change Their Minds.” It is an article well worth reading whether you wind up agreeing with the premise or not and you can see it here.

But it isn’t that issue that attracted my attention. Instead, it was the younger brother of “We report, you decide.” It is D.Y.O.R—“do your own research.” Obviously, that is sound advice in some circumstances, but it is easy to see how it can support simple denial or even conspiratorial thinking, given the segmentation of knowledge sources. Here is an example:

“Two days after getting the jab, a friend of mine’s friend had a heart attack,” a Reddit user wrote recently in a discussion about Covid-19 vaccines. “I’m not saying they’re connected, but D.Y.O.R.”

Let’s see now. What would the research topic be? The correlation between heart attacks and vaccination? The government plot to kill credulous citizens? And where would you look? The annals of the American Medical Association? QAnon for Everybody?

You see the problem.

Also, it clear that in the meantime—you know, while the “research” is being conducted—no one should be vaccinated because, of the likelihood of the resultant heart attacks. As you can hear from the tone, I am having trouble not being angry about it. And, to be honest, it isn’t only because of how stupid it is, it is because of how effective it is.

What, after all, is the alternative to DYOR? Trusting someone who has been trained to distinguish realistic risk from fanatical fright-mongering? We can’t have that. That would lead to trusting “them.” And the thing we know about “them” is that they are not like “us.”

So “them” as marked out in these examples doesn’t seem to come down to Republicans or to conservatives or to more exotic categories like “white males without college degrees.” It seem that “them” refers to people who are systematically alienated from the professional infrastructure of the society. So if you have mastered an academic discipline of some sort—say economics, psychology, geology, biology—you are “them” and are no longer trustworthy.

Such people are allied to the gummint (Ronald Reagan’s pronunciation, which is just perfect for this use) and are therefore the enemy. Fortunately, you have an alternative to relying on such people. You can go to the internet and, you know, DYOR.

[1] An organization that wants to be respected for the quality and reliability of its journalism, rather than for just for being loyal.


About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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