Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Books, Politics, and Making Judgments

As I mentioned earlier, I've been listening to books on CD while driving to work. It sure makes the time fly past.

The first book I read was Empire by Orson Scott Card (OSC). I really enjoyed Ender's Game, and the Alvin series. The Empire book is a fictional account of the beginnings of a civil war in the United States set during present time. I enjoyed the book - but a review isn't what is on my mind.

While reading Empire I got the distinct impression that OSC was conservative. The main heros in the book were conservative military folks, so I first figured it was just because the way he was telling the story. I actually thought back to his book Folk On The Fringe, where I got a similar impression of OSC.

The plot of Empire revolves around the point that the "left" and the "right" are at such odds with each other, each side pretty much fanatical in their beliefs that they are right and the other side is wrong. In a situation where one side (doesn't matter which) decides to take over - you're either with them or you're against them. And that's how a civil war might begin. So it's actually a pretty realistic scenario, provided you have the right people in the right places.

At the end of the book, OSC talks about how he came up with the idea for the book, and how he, himself, has been attacked by the left and the right with equal fanaticism.

That's what got me thinking...

I looked him up on Wikipedia, and he's a self proclaimed Democrat because of his views on gun control, his views on free-market capitalism, and his thinking that the Republican party tolerates racism. But he's supportive of Bush's war on terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, support for Israel, and Fox News. I can see how both sides might attack him.

I must admit, my gut feeling is that he's all wrong about the war and supporting our miserable failure of a president, Bush. But his comments at the end of Empire got me thinking, "am I just attacking him because he's pro-war-on-terror?" I had certainly classified him as a Republican based on that.

Honestly, I don't care where OSC stands politically. I'll read his science fiction because it's well-written and is a lot more interesting than a lot of the cruft out there. Empire, Pastwatch, and Alvin are all good examples of alternative histories (futures) that I enjoyed.

Back to my thinking... OSC talked about the polarization of our country, which very real (to some extent), but what I found interesting was how he parroted the "liberal media" line. I used to accept that line, but I cannot any longer. In my opinion, the media has become corporate, not "left" or "right". There are just so many reasons to reject the label "liberal media" - the most obvious is that they're in it for the money - just look at what non-news shows are: sex and violence. Why? Because it sells. It sells to liberals, it sells to conservatives.

The other main reasons I reject "liberal media" is that the news simply repeats the White House press releases. Look at the run up to the war, the news stations were hyping up the impending conflict - not doing any investigation of whether it was warranted or not. Look at the coverage for the '08 presidential election. The 8 or so Democratic candidates were "hampering" the debates, but the 10 or so Republican candiates "participating in the process." What else gets big coverage? Obama not wearing a US flag lapel pin, Edwards' hair cut, Edwards being rich, Clinton's being a woman (her clothes/cleavage/femininity get coverage). I'm not saying the media is "conservative" - but I'd hardly count that kind of coverage as being "liberal" when no such similar views of the Republican front-runners is present. Moving away from the presidential election, how many conservative pundits can you name? How many liberal? I bet you can name three times as many conservatives as liberals - and you can't count Colmes because he's a complete pushover. Lastly, the "liberal media" label seems to be used just like "activist judges" - namely when conservatives disagree with what they're saying.

Ok, so Trey doesn't buy the "liberal media" tag line, where's he going with this?

Turns out the second book I got from the library was Al Franken's The Truth: With Jokes. Good liberal punditry. (And you can't use him for the pundit count because he's now in politics, ha!)

So, am I just listening/reading views I like/already agree with? I guess so, so I'm really no better than the rest of the country. I've got a viewpoint, I pay attention to views that reinforce my thinking, and ignore the ones I don't like, right?

I'm trying not to. Until recently, I don't think I got my news primarily from the standard networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and OPB radio. While I didn't listen to Rush Limbaugh, I also didn't listen to Al Franken on Air America. And some time around 2004 I read an Ann Coulter book because a Republican friend of mine said he'd read Al Franken if I read Coulter. He didn't follow through with his part of the deal.

Anyway, because of this "left" versus "right" stuff, I tried to think about how I make decisions about who I believe versus who I do not. And it's pretty simple. I believe people who bring facts to the debate, and who (when cross-examined) debate the issue at hand.

Take, for example, Al Franken versus Ann Coulter (I'm listening to her Godless book right now). The Franken book is chock full of quotes and references to studies. The Coulter book (so far, I'm only through chapter 3) has very few quotes and no references to any studies. Coulter does very little work to try to prove her point, she just makes sweeping generalizations with very little evidence. I've read that Coulter uses lots of second sources, which would explain why she puts forward the controversy of Bob Casey not being allowed to speak at the 1992 democratic national convention because he was pro-life. The only problem is that other pro-life governors did speak at that convention. Yes, I agree with Franken's conclusions (Bush is horrible), but he gives me reasons to. Side note: Coulter's first few chapters are on crime, and I think it's disgusting how she goes on for paragraphs describing in detail the horrific crimes (brutal rapes/murders) done by criminals let out by Dukakis. She repeats the graphic tales many times, with no apparent point other than to link the word "liberal" with this imagery.

Another example of the dichotomy of styles of influence was a pair of interviews on Fresh Air. The first guy interviewed was talking about his book detailing the influence of Isreal lobby, and he gave examples of various ways the lobby had influence. The second guy's response to the book was essentially going on and on about how anti-semetic the book's ideas were. Now I don't know anything about the book's subject, but who should I believe? My choices are: a rational man putting forward ideas with evidence, or the man spewing angry rhetoric who fails to address any of the points raised by the first one?

That's pretty much it, I tend to agree with people who present a rational argument for their case. Usually there's only one side that does that, so I don't often have to try to weigh the two different arguments.

If I get a rare case where two sides both seem to have arguments that hold water, then I'm on my own and have to do some research. Thank goodness for the web.

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