A Crowd Mentality, of Sorts
This is the third and final installation in the series, “Tips for a Better Informed Public.”
The thought of formal debates brings back memories of such things in high school, filled with pandering and fast paced talking. More relevant do the issues related to debates become when presidential debates are posed to again bring in massive ratings. After my last two entries on media misperception, I could think of just two more issues I see as crucial to diminish to achieve an acceptable understanding of news. Broadly speaking, they are the reactions instinctually generated when actively watching two opposing sides, e.g., sports teams or political parties—taking every step to believe victory, paramount to which is an idea I call the fallacious appeal to logic; and perhaps the origin of that, pledging a brand loyalty, accepting the identity of a team as one’s own.
On the topic of brand loyalty, I cannot say it is something always or even usually harmful; it is fine to root for a sports team, or a favorite clothing company, for example. But at times when political implications are involved, or when anything capable of large change is involved, this instinctual loyalty must be dropped in favor of neutral reasoning. I am thinking particularly about conservatives’ loyalty to the republican party, for which Donald Trump is currently the figure. For each gaffe on his part, it seems, an obligatory rebuke is heard from conservatives desperately trying to distance themselves from his unpopular ideas, followed with even a drastic poll deduction even up to ten points. But immediately when an apology is said, the polls again tie up between him and Clinton, as if voters were looking for any excuse to elect a republican candidate (or perhaps a male one). I believe this brand loyalty is not only an unreasonable boost to the favored candidate, but basically a dismissal of the opposing party, thereby conducing closemindedness and a narrowing of options.
I should admit while brand loyalty is not always dangerous, it is hard to distinguish the reasoning of it when behind not-dangerous things and when behind dangerous things. That is, I understand how hard it must be for people to drop brand loyalty on serious subjects, when it is just as hard to drop on unserious subjects, something I can relate to; my own biases for Microsoft over Apple, and at least initially Ryan Lochte over Brazil were strongly felt and hard to ignore, simply because I identified myself as an existing Microsoft user and American patriot. So then, again in by now cliché words, I can only say … I don’t expect brand loyalty to be eliminated on a large scale, but can only ask that it be at least considered in important matters.
My other point, which centers within the practice of using emotional, instinctual markers to gauge a rational argument, can best be illustrated by imagining a formal high school debate, and the styles of communication which will arise audience approval. The topic is on how best to create jobs with economic policy, and the debaters stand confidently—debater two does, anyway, while debater one actually slouches a bit. Point one for debater two. Debater one, in a rational, concise manner, suggests extra taxation on the rich, to fund social programs for the poor. Debater two counters by supporting trickle-down economics, which he says has worked previously, and throws around esoteric terms the audience is sure to not understand, in a confident flurry. After not understanding, but assuming he must because he is the one who is saying it, the audience nods, believing him to be a higher intellect. Point two for debater two. The list can go on—debater one talks slowly, while debater two talks rapidly with meaningless words and especially big meaningless words, winning him another point. The overall idea is this implicit instinctual reaction to debates, or any medium which is supposed to be proven on rational grounds, including conspiracy theory videos or just opinion articles, wildly diminishes our ability to do so.
One of the examples I portrayed, of the debater throwing around meaningless jargon and coming off as intelligent, particularly annoys me and grabs my interest. After a cursory search, it seems the closest existing fallacy would be the argument by pretentious jargon, although it does not also capture the part in which the debater’s language is meaningless and possibly non sequitur. I like to refer to the error of debater two as a fallacious appeal to logic (or pandering to logic), therefore, which is basically a grouping of relevant fallacies such as argument by pretentious jargon. Better explained, it is any faulty, disguised logic which comes off as confident and trustworthy.
I think much of the bias behind brand loyalty and tendency to accept a fallacious appeal to logic comes from feeling like a mere spectator. For brand loyalty, it is this spectatorship that puts blind faith into the associated brand, the feeling that makes one feel less like a cog in a machine—which would involve accepting at least some responsibility for the brand itself—and more like a buoy within a current. For accepting the fallacious appeal to logic, the issue of spectatorship is seen when one assumes himself so little of an informed, relevant citizen, that he believes there must be a more relevant, understanding class, and attributes that quality to the overconfident jargon-thrower at hand. Of course, there can be many other explanations for why brand loyalty and falling for faulty logic exist, but I find this aspect of feeling like a third party to be enormously relevant here and relatively easy to be aware of.
In this series of media misperception, I have outlined issues which I felt to be most prevalent and pertinent, in the sense of practicality, to address. Discussed were the failure to fit events into trends, which diminishes from any long lasting change, and could lead to a failure to address the real issue at hand, and a failure to predict and prepare for future issues; the outsider bias, which distorts reality, and ironically fuels self-proclaimed realists who act with overconfidence with little understanding; and now, the fallacious appeal to logic and brand loyalty, which stem from blind faith and feeling as a necessary part of a team. I hope this will at least inspire change in the way we see or run media, although my hopes are scant, in honesty. I can only wonder if fifty years from now, these topics will again be due to public consumption.