A little over 20 years ago, I started writing a monthly column for a hobby magazine. It was devoted to a small subset of the hobby, but had a decent circulation and a certain reputation inside of it. Why did I do it, besides being an opinionated SOB? Well, it brought a bit more “name recognition,” got me a serious discount on advertising, and I got paid for it. It wasn’t by any means a “you can do this for a living” gig by any means, because the “pay” was about what I was making in an hour at my real job. After all, this was a hobby, something I was doing for fun, to enjoy. Being given a soapbox to pontificate on various aspects of the hobby was just icing on the cake.
What I did find out was that there were a number of people who were way too serious about the hobby. Inside the “bubble” of that part of the hobby, they were big deals. Reinforcing that were a group of people who wanted to be just as “important” as those people were, who were impressed by the various achievements and titles they’d gotten. Their entire sense of self-worth was tied up in how well they were doing, or had done, in the hobby, and their “importance” inside of it. In real terms, it didn’t amount to much. Very few people in this world cared about the hobby, let alone had heard of anyone in it. Even in the hobby at large, not too many people knew who “they” were. I made myself distinctly unpopular with some of them by pointing this out, along with saying in print “Hey, it’s a hobby. Lighten up.”
The people I was unpopular with back then were those whose perception of their stature didn’t match the reality. Inside the very small pond, they were big fish, but in the ocean they were guppies. I have been having flashbacks to those days for the past year. While the Internet has the capability to enable people to draw information and perspectives from a wide range of sources, the reality is that people don’t often take advantage of that. Instead, they cluster in on-line groups with like-minded people, and form a “bubble” where information is only what they want to hear, and mutually reinforce each others opinions.
This would be generally harmless, since most of the time people have some form of reality check. However, when it comes to the extremes – particularly for politics – it causes some real problems. It’s on both sides of the political spectrum. Visit RedState, Free Republic, FireDogLake, or Docudharma, and you’ll see a remarkable homogeneity of political thought. They’re “purists,” and they’re all convinced of one thing: That they represent the thinking of the majority in this country. Look at any poll on a given subject, and it turns out they often represent a minority, and on their entire agenda, a small minority. Even within their own party, they don’t always represent a sizable percentage. When you take into account “independents,” those who aren’t affiliated with any party, it ‘s even smaller.
In the real world, people aren’t “pure” when it comes to political stances. It’s quite possible to have a stance that might be considered “conservative” on one issue, while on another have a stance that is considered “liberal.” They are aware of nuances, the shades of gray that don’t quite fit into the “for/against” thinking of the purists. Which is why the purists are so often dismayed when reality strikes, and their agenda doesn’t seem to get anywhere. Because their perception of their agenda, that the “majority” agrees with them, turns out not to be the reality.