[FoRK] Is Balkanization really a problem?

Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> on Mon May 28 13:05:32 PDT 2007

On May 28, 2007, at 2:22 PM, J. Andrew Rogers wrote:

> Government services are not inherently entitlement based, but they  
> do have a tendency to move in that direction, particularly social  
> programs.


>> To explain that, you have to look beyond the usual suspects and  
>> beyond (just) the slow-moving trends.  The thing that seems to  
>> most clearly correlate to the "unreasoning" of America is the  
>> incredible growth and success of the right-wing propaganda machine  
>> in this country since the late 90s.  (Yes, I know it existed  
>> before then, but it really came into its own during the Clinton  
>> witch hunts.)
> The "unreasoning" has always been there, people only notice it when  
> it is a different kind of unreasoning than they are used to.

Disagreed, it's worse --- a *lot* worse, and a lot more pervasive ---  
than it was even 10 years ago.  The trend in question has been in  
place and trending for about 40 years --- that's about how long ago  
America hit its tipping point from receiving the majority of its  
"news" via print to receiving the majority of its news via  
television.  But we've passed the elbow in the curve over the last  
decade or so.  (If you want a specific date when we hit the  
inflection point, I'd peg it precisely at October 7, 1996. ;-)

The surprising bit today isn't the polarization, the partisan rancor,  
etc. --- in fact we're well below the historical peaks on those  
dimensions.  The surprising bit --- the relevant, worrying bit --- is  
the degree to which reason plays little or no role in the positions  
adopted, in the marked decline in public participation and interest  
in the so-called "public" discourse.  These twin declines are both  
significant relative to historical norms and in both cases are  

> This is not a new problem.

The problem I'm discussing *is a new problem.*  You can't dismiss  
that novel problem by simply and inaccurately equating it with an old  
problem (whose existence, btw, I agree with you on.)  Failing to  
recognize the novelty of the situation is perhaps one of the most  
dangerous mistakes we can make, IMHO.  Let's not whistle past the  


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