If you are liberal, as I am, you are probably regularly frustrated and mystified by the ignorance and misinformation of your family, friends and acquaintances of conservative persuasion. There is just no way to talk sense to these people, and, thanks to a new study, there are viable and identifiable causes for conservatives’ inability to consider alternative philosophies or develop open-minded approaches to societal and philosophical matters. In short, their minds are closed, and they don’t want to listen to any other viewpoints. So says Chris Mooney in his new book, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.”
At its core, Mooney’s book postulates then proves this immutable fact: Conservatives are largely born into authoritarian households, grow up to be rigid in beliefs and ideology themselves, and then seek out affirmation for those beliefs without considering other viewpoints. Enter FOX News, the perfect outlet for the conservative. Reinforcing old, illusory and non-factual beliefs is what FOX does best.
Mooney’s hard data are the results of public opinion surveys which ask respondents about their beliefs and “information media” preferences. The surveys’ subject matters were climate change, health care, the Iraq War, the Ground Zero mosque, the 2010 elections, and other currently debated topics. The results show that those who watch FOX News are more likely to be misinformed about factually uncontestable matters (for instance, were there really no WMDs found in Iraq). But this begs the question: Which comes first the conservative or FOX News? Mooney’s research provides an interesting answer.
While watching FOX News certainly makes one more misinformed and ignorant, naturally predisposed ignorant and misinformed people seek out FOX News to reinforce their stupidity. In other words, if you’re born stupid you cannot get smarter by watching FOX News; however, ironically, the dumber you are the more likely you are to do the one thing that will keep you dumb: seek out outlets like FOX News to reinforce your stupidity. It’s a Catch-22, but don’t tell conservatives that. They will not understand the reference, and they will deny the scientific results of any survey which claims they are stupid anyway.
According to Mooney, political conservatives tend to have a higher need for closure. They are uncomfortable with loose ends that are a natural residue of life’s complexities. For instance, it is comfortable and simplistic for conservatives to decry the welfare state, while at the same time being oblivious to the fact that investment banks and military defense contractors are the biggest welfare vacuums in America. Corporatists suck billions of tax dollars down their greedy holes, compared to the drop-in-the-bucket consumed by the genuinely needy.
Conservatives are, by and large, authoritarian/absolute in their beliefs, and they limit challenges against their belief systems by surrounding themselves with sources of information that will tell them they are right…and by defiantly, even violently, challenging those who tell them they are wrong.
The author then goes on to note that they’re also disinclined to watch anything else. FOX keeps constantly in their minds the idea that the rest of the media are “biased” against them, and conservatives duly respond by saying other media aren’t worth watching—it’s just a pack of lies. According to Public Policy Polling’s annual TV News Trust Poll (the 2011 run), 72 percent of conservatives say they trust FOX News, but they also say they strongly distrust NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. Liberals and moderates, in contrast, trust all of these outlets more than they distrust them (though they distrust FOX). This, too, suggests selective exposure of conservatives.
What does this all mean? As long as there is a FOX News there will be right-wingers, and as long as there are right-wingers there will be a FOX News. Our only hope is to grab them when they’re young before intransigence and ignorance settle like concrete in their brains.