Thursday, December 11, 2003

How we form our political opinions

All through the debate that has raged since 9/11 one of the underling themes that has most interested me is how people come to have the political opinions they hold.

The issues surrounding Afghanistan and Iraq in particular have highlighted this since the views on these issues that people have is unpredictable. There are people on the Left who supported military intervention and people on the Right who opposed it and vise versa. And really there are good arguments on both sides. So what is it exactly that leads someone to come down one way or the other?

I think one of the major failings of the Left is its poor analysis of this issue. The Left have a particular problem with dealing with people with different opinions. Since the Left have a belief that people are intrinsically Good they need to find some way of explaining why, for example, someone could support Bush and/or his foreign policy. The easiest option to say it is because of the media.

But that explanation makes quite a large, and essentially wrong, assumption about how the mind works. For peoples' opinions to be influenced by the media there needs to be some mental process for this to occur. It cannot happen by magic, it requires that our minds function in such a manner so as to enable a form of brainwashing to take place.

A problem the Left is that they do not offer any explanation as to what such a mechanism could be. Indeed there is no mechanism. One only has to consider what happened in totalitarian states to see this. In such states the government had complete control of the media and yet were still unable to convince all the population of its point of view - otherwise they would not have required the brutal security apparatus which is a central feature of such states. Totalitarian regimes ruled through fear not persuasion.

So if it is not possible to control people minds when there is complete control of the media what chance is there in more open societies?

This is not to argue that the media has no influence. Its just that the way it influences political opinion is not clear and usually overstated.

Two examples of opinion:

Frontpage Interview: Christopher Hitchens

and via No Right Turn:

The Pro-War Left and the Anti-War Right



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