Busting Political Cultural Bubbles

political partiesCulture can be generically defined as the beliefs and customs of a particular society, group, place, or time. In short, a way of life shared by people or social groups at any moment in time. Culture changes over time because the passage of time brings change. From a purely historical context these changes can be profound to incremental. The harnessing of fire and electricity, farming to feed entire communities, the printing press, the automobile, and the integrated computer circuit took place at various points in time that made massive impacts on culture as a whole as well as political culture.

Political culture is the result of combining a political systems history with the history of the people in a society. So it is rooted to the overall cultural changes that occur over time (history) in any society. This matters because the political culture governs the core beliefs and policy ideas of a political system or party. In America today, many of those that participate in the political process, vote, or are otherwise engaged in the political culture do so from a bubble.

Individuals gravitate to these bubbles of political culture because they are comforting, they protect from the fear of the unknown, and they feed the want to be “right”. This holds true regardless of ideology or political party. But the danger of being inside the bubble is isolation. Being isolated from others members of the same society that live outside the bubble has a long history of ending badly for the society as a whole. Wars, racism, sectarian violence, bigotry, sexism, and many other evils have erupted from or been feed by cultural bubbles.

In America today, bubbles of political cultural within the society as a whole have helped add to the current level of polarization. These political bubbles reveal themselves when individuals only receive their political news and opinions from one point of view. The radio and cable news political commentators have become the go to source, if not the only source, for political information for many individuals. And these commentators combination of political slant and spin, becomes “gospel” for many individuals who have not been exposed to the reality outside of that bubble.

Rank them in any order you want from either ideological slant, the political “commentators” on radio, cable television, and in print are, first and foremost, entertainers. Their job is not to get elected. It’s to attract and maintain as many listeners, viewers, or readers as possible. If their main goal was to help the majority of Americans, wouldn’t at least one of them have run for office? In my opinion, there are three reasons they don’t run for even statewide office: 1) they couldn’t win; 2) they don’t want to take the pay cut; or 3) they would have to answer specific policy questions without spin which would hurt their future as entertainers. This doesn’t mean they’re not true believers. What it does mean is that whether they’re true believers or not, they are still paid to be entertainers. And the belief is that in order to be entertaining when talking politics on TV or radio, you must take a hardline, be opinionated, and be uncompromising, not because it makes for good policy, but simply because it helps drive and maintain ratings. Many of these political entertainers should be congratulated for having the talent to make a lot of money by repeating the same basic concepts daily.

They accomplish this by not technically lying but by spinning, telling half-truths, taking things out of context, and promoting conspiracy theories. A classic technique they often use is to attack one fact with another fact that, in reality, is not contradictory. Voters should just remain aware that any opinion given is coming from an entertainer whose main goal is to preach to the choir and keep you from changing the channel so they can sell books, advertising, and so forth. If all or most of your political information is coming from these political entertainment sources, then you live in a bubble and it’s more than likely you are politically misinformed or under-informed. Politicians in Washington DC are often accused of living in a bubble, but if you are getting all your political information from cable news or talk-radio shows that have a similar spin, that is also living in a bubble. Fortunately, it is easy to burst the cable news/talk-radio bubble: just spend some time getting your news and opinions from different sources. Knowledge is your friend, my friend.

The political liability of this bubble is the perceived detachment from the concerns of the majority of Americans who do not live in a political bubble. One of the most fundamental motivators of individual voting dynamics is whether or not a politician is perceived to care about “your” concerns or problems. For many voters, a policy position or ideology is moot if they believe a politician does not understand or care about their basic wishes or desires.

In the end, an individual can choose to live in a culturally isolated bubble but a national political party must extend beyond the edges of any bubble or risk becoming evermore regional or marginal.

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