There's a lot that can be said about the inanity of hit pieces one finds in the media nowadays. One can moralize about the rise in partisanship and whatnot, but what gets me isn't the close-mindedness. It's the stupidity. What I've come to realize is as people become less willing to consider views which differ from theirs, they become less capable of spotting errors.
I think that's why hit pieces are rarely intelligent. I'm not opposed to hit pieces in principle. I am just bothered at how bad a job people do of and with them. For instance, this new article by Michael Mann and Bob Ward in the Guardian is incredibly terrible.
I don't say this because I disagree with any points the article makes. Whether I agree or disagree with the piece's ideas is irrelevant. The piece is terrible as a matter of form. The best demonstration of this is these two paragraphs:
The website for the Coalition makes many inaccurate and misleading assertions, such as: “Readily available data from both governmental and non-governmental sources confirms that extreme weather events in recent years have not happened more often or with greater intensity.”
In fact, the Fifth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2013, concluded: “Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950.”
I find it mind-boggling any editor would allow this to go to print. It makes no sense. The first paragraph cites a claim that extreme weather events have not increased in frequency or intensity. The second paragraph cites a report saying such weather events have changed.
That's not a contradiction. As far as that quote is concerned, the changes in extreme weather events might have been they became less frequent or less severe. Or their intensity and frequency may have remained constant, with the change being in something like their location.
I am sure Mann and Ward could have found plenty of quotations which actually made the point they wanted to make. They didn't though. Neither did any editor involved in approving the article. I think that says a lot. Most importantly, I think it says there is no incentive for being intelligent in hit pieces as intelligent arguments are no more effective than any others.
This gives rise to a hypothesis I've been considering. What if the reason for the rise in bias/partisanship we've seen in the last decade or two (at least in the United States) isn't due to differences in social values or things like that? What if it is much simpler? What if, on some level, people realize being more partisan means they don't need to be as intelligent?
My hypothesis is this: People are becoming more partisan because doing so normalizes stupidity. As long as you are within your safe, little group, it doesn't matter how smart or dumb you are. You'll be right regardless. And if anything ever makes you feel insecure about yourself, that's okay, you're still smarter than "those stupid Xs."