The Illusion of Majority Extremism

Originally posted on

We live in a world of extremes. While logical voices while middle ground ideas abound, it often feels like those voices are silenced. The other day, I was watching The Today show, where they discussed a recent poll. According to that poll, most Americans thought they were smarter than the average American. I wonder if that poll is influenced by the personalities in the media. Do you hear anyone voicing a middle ground, try-to-make-everyone-happy solution? If so, I bet they were taken off the air real fast for being extremely boring.

As a journalism major, I love media and news. I can’t imagine starting my day without The Today Show, or at least some NPR. Despite my enjoyment, I still recognize the patterns. There’s always a hot he-said-she-said story to get the nation’s blood boiling. Usually, someone pretty and innocent has had something terribly unfortunate happen to them. While these stories are entertaining enough while I’m getting ready for work, they’re hardly the sorts of stories imperative to my life.

What about what’s happening in Venezuela? Does anyone really know what’s going on down there? When was the last time a major news outlet gave this issue 30 seconds of time on T.V. news? Information is out there, if you understand you have to depend on your Google Search skills to learn anything. The mainstream media isn’t going to tell you anything? And what of Syria? Of India? OfEurope?

This photo, “Which One Is Not Like The Other: Time Magazine’s Four World Issues For a Week in Late 2011” is copyright (c) 2014 Joe Wolf and made available under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

There are real, impactful events happening in the world today, and they are far more important than whatever stupid thing some shock jock said the other night.  Yet, this is what our news is full of. Crazy, outlandish remarks generate better ratings than drab stories from around the world. Not only are some of these stories ‘boring’ old news, but they’re depressing. Why bother the nation with that when Donald Stirling can get their blood boiling?

This is what frustrates me about extreme views and has me convinced that humanity is not naturally prone to extreme opinions. In the context of our media, extreme opinions are used as distractions. Somewhere up the chain of command there is a person who chooses to cover a stories about a rich people making racist remarks over major events shaking up global politics. Today, we might argue that decision is made because media consumers want to hear about racist rich people more than they want to hear about global politics. I have to wonder, if the world really is that way, was it always so?

There’s a debate out there about who dictates the content of our media. Is media reactionary, choosing to discuss stories and ideas the public shows interest in or is the public interested in certain topics because that’s what they see covered by the media? Is media a reflection of our society or does it dictate our society?

The truth is that both elements are at play. Society is influenced by media and media is influenced by society. The difference I  think we’ve seen in these most recent decades is that media has become increasingly selective. On the other hand, most of society is happy to accept whatever they are spoon fed by the media. In this way, mainstream media is able to silence the voices they don’t think will result in good ratings and effectively remove from mainstream society the existence of other ideas.

This phenomena creates the illusion of an extremist society where you can only be fundamentalist Christian or atheist. Were you can only be fat or skinny. Where you can only be a slut or a prude. Yet, I know, based on my own opinions and the opinions expressed by commenters on this blog that there is indeed a middle ground. Unfortunately, many are pessimistic about the likelihood of those ideas to become mainstream in society.

I think one of the big reasons why this pessimism exist is because a part of us wants everyone to accept the world as we see it. The truth is, we don’t have to agree with each other to have a peaceful society. We don’t all have to be the same to live in harmony. Of course, that requires the idea that someone can think and live differently from you and still be a good person. The extreme stereotypes of society might make you think that’s an unrealistic possibility, but it’s really not that unreasonable.

For example, I saw an episode of Sister Wives where the adults of the family were talking with a homosexual college student. They got along just fine. The gay man even commented on how he related to them, saying that monogamous people are just living life, but when you choose to be polygamous, suddenly you’re living a ‘lifestyle.’ That was a shared experience between them, since he was often told he was living a ‘lifestyle’ while straight people are just living. Being fundamentalist Mormons, I think it’s safe to assume the family does not approve of homosexuality. Despite that, they were still able to get a long with this man and made it sound like they’d never support anything to take his rights away.

The extremes of society are an illusion. While there are plenty of people out there who hold those extreme views, I’m willing to bet a majority of Americans support more harmonious, middle ground ideas. Many, unfortunately, have become so pessimistic due to the stories the media chooses to define our world that they don’t even try anymore. Some don’t even bother to vote, thinking it a waste of time.

We don’t have to live in a society of extremes. With a little effort, we can change the dialog. It all starts with a voice. Don’t let yours be silenced by pessimism and illusions.

Do you feel like you hold extreme ideas or moderate ones? Would you compromise some of your more extreme ideas in the interest of peace? What is the most outlandish opinion you have ever heard someone seriously hold? Are you smarter than the average American?

Twitter: @tkrv12


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