The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 3, 2014

Marta Mossburg, columnist: Talking points sometimes reflect less than reality

— I hope “messaging” dies in 2014. It is rotting the country from the inside out like an ambrosia beetle whose name is so sweet but ultimately kills the trees it invades.

It is a main reason Detroit could not change its ways before bankruptcy and the reason Chicago’s public pensions are $27 billion in the hole. (Public employees “deserve” higher salaries and better pensions, and we must “invest” in public schools regardless of outcome.)

It is the reason people believed “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” It is the reason no one can discuss race relations unless he or she espouses the politically correct viewpoint and why science matters less than philosophy from matters ranging from climate change to sexuality to single parenting.

It is the reason President Barack Obama increasingly only lets the public view images of him and his family pre-approved by his administration. It is about winning regardless of reality. It disguises and controls, mocks language and has turned national political figures into mere vehicles for a script written by someone else for a cause higher than themselves. And it is so boring — and bizarre.

Remember when Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart made headlines for questioning Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius on Obamacare? When he asked her in October why big businesses were allowed to delay having to comply from the law but not individuals, all she could do was repeat talking points over and over again, prompting him to ask her, “Am I a stupid man?”

Thankfully, he is not. But that is the goal of messaging — to annihilate the cognitive dissonance that occurs when what you hear and see someone like Ms. Sebelius repeat things over and over again that don’t jive with reality. It is to make the listener and watcher become one with the message as if it were a savior come to rid people of individual thought.

Without modern technology messaging could never have risen to such prominence. It has never been easier to inundate individuals with a particular set of talking points in so many formats from which a person can absorb them.

In a world of readers of print, messaging couldn’t work nearly as well by design. As media theorist Marshall McLuhan said in 1977, “literate man can stand back objectively and look at situations. The TV person has no objectivity at all.” Reading, McLuhan said in the same talk, requires people to guess quickly, as words have multiple meanings, and make quick decisions. TV, he said, “is subjective, totally involving.”

Not only do we have TV these days, we have Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other “totally involving” mediums that have replaced print as the place where people get their information. So not only is it easier to repeat a message multiple times more easily in today’s world, which psychology teaches is in itself key to having people think favorably about a particular idea or person, but the mediums through which Americans seek information influences how we think about it.

The messaging people know this. Americans should wise up.

If a porn addiction can rewire the brain to make it more difficult or impossible to enjoy sex with a real person, one wonders how a collective addiction to social media could be changing our brains to make it more difficult to see issues and people for what and who they really are.

Modern politics depends on messaging, and particularly progressive politics where the movement is more important than the individual, so I do not hold great hope for civil discourse in 2014. But I do hope that the utter disconnect between the message of Obamacare and the reality of it makes people realize when they are being messaged and forces them to think instead of just absorb.

Wet sponges are good for cleaning dishes but are not capable of critical thought.

Marta H. Mossburg writes about national affairs, culture and Maryland, where she lives. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.

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