You Are What You Read

I have a theory: what you read, what radio station you listen to, what TV station you watch shapes your political and spiritual views.  Perhaps they shape you even more than your parents’ views, or your friends’ views, or how you were brought up.  One could argue the converse of that statement—what you believe shapes what you read, listen to, and watch—but I think it’s the other way around.

Perhaps I should narrow my statement a little bit: what you read, watch and listen to before you turn 35 shapes what you believe.  Once you turn 35, you pretty much believe what you believe, and then you watch/read the things that reinforce your views, and it would take something big to dislodge you from those views.

College is fundamental in shaping a person’s views.  It’s a time when their professors have a huge influence over what they believe; it’s a time when they’re questioning what they believe (and what their parents believe); it’s a time when kids are just beginning to think about the larger issues of society, and are given the stage to participate.

Don't Vote: It Just Encourages the BastardsIt’s also in college that kids start reading the things that they’re not required to read.  In high school, most read only for assignments.  In college, they start reading other things to “find out who they are.”  No one tells them to start reading the “Communist Manifesto,” or, or, or The New York Times editorial page, or to watch CNN or MSNBC; they just do.  No one tells them to read “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans,” or, or, or The Wall Street Journal editorial page, or to watch Fox News; they just do it.  (Side note: the funniest book title that I’ve heard today is P.J. O’Rourke’s new book, “Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards”).

There are those college kids (and high school kids) that don’t follow this trend; they’re perfectly happy to remain who they are, without “searching” for something new to be.  But, for the most part, kids shape their political thought between ages 18 and 35.  Those who haven’t, in my opinion, are those who don’t vote and who stay home and watch football on Sunday.

Think about your own experience.  Do the things you read and watch mainly agree with what you believe?  Do they shape what you think about certain topics?  If you read a publication on the “other side” of an issue, do you find yourself questioning your own view?  Do you listen to Rush Limbaugh, and find yourself thinking that those who don’t are idiots?  Do you watch Keith Olbermann, and think that everyone on the right is crazy?  Do you watch Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, and find yourself pointing and laughing at all the other silly people in the world?

What do you think?  Are you shaped by what you read/watch/listen to?  Or is it the other way ‘round?

  • Danny Crouch

    Well written and poignant, Bob, thanks!
    I agree with you. And I agree with your questions, perhaps pushing us to check ourselves and what we believe and why.
    Do we also need to be careful what we read?
    I’d say we must always search for truth, and in so doing stay open, while at the same time, once we know something to be true, we need to feed that knowledge, and therefore be careful no to become distracted by half-truths.

    • Bob

      Do we need to be careful what we read? It depends. If you recognize that what you read/watch/listen to influences what you think, and you’re willing to be influenced to opinions/beliefs that you don’t believe in now, then you don’t have to be careful about what you read. You can read anything that comes across your desk, and then you have to trust that you’ll know when an argument is logical or not, worth considering or not.

      If, on the other hand, you think that you’re particularly susceptible to falling for the “next big idea” in theology/politics/whatever, then perhaps you shouldn’t read things that you don’t KNOW to be true. Right? Have you ever approached your pastor and asked, “Hey, is this a good book to read?” I have. It’s because I know that (a) I’m not the world’s expert on the minutiae of theology, and (2) I could be taken in by a small half-truth about a church doctrine that’s potentially dangerous.

  • fivebares

    Danny’s statement is really good. Truth can be found in a lot of places. No one has a monopoly on it, politically. This is the difficult aspect of politics in any country in a fallen world. The only whole-truths are found in God. Almost all truths you find in politics are half-truths at best…

    As an aside, I don’t think Stewart/Colbert’s purpose is to laugh at all the silly people. Not that every joke is making an intense statement, but as satire, it’s got a purpose and is trying to influence thought…you could argue even better than the Limbaughs and Olbermann’s…

    • Bob

      Michael, I have to admit, I only put the Colbert/Stewart reference in there because I knew it would get a rise out of you :) I think that humor (and satire especially) can be extremely effective at influencing thought, because it puts your guard down before it makes the point. I’m reading a book on personal leadership, and the author, a prof at Vanderbilt, states that people tend to be inflexible about their thinking when it comes to something the believe strongly about. Example: You can rail about how the Democrat had an extramarital affair, and then go ahead and vote for the Republican (John Ensign) because he “just made a bad decision.” I think humor tends to disarm this natural response, which makes it effective as a tool of influence (even more so than Limbaugh or Olbermann, as you say).

  • fivebares

    Totally true, and fits in well with your premise here, because people avoid “real news” for Colbert/Stewart-type shows a lot these days, thinking that they’re getting away from particular messages. But like you’ve suggested by this topic, there’s always a message, just different delivery. I like your take here, and especially your response to Danny, because it clarified how you’re not saying you shouldn’t read various thoughts and be open to various ideas, you just have to make sure you’re at a place where you are comfortable with your will power to make wise decisions before doing so. Of course, there’s a little bit of trial and error time before you reach that point…which then begs the question of how much of your self which you now use to discern was shaped by something it shouldn’t have been shaped by. We have to be careful, for sure, but we also have to trust that God is in control of who we are becoming and not burden ourselves too heavily. And then once we get to a place where we’re comfortable with our positions, we can be like Chesterton said, (and I paraphrase), “have open minds but with the purpose the same as an open mouth, in that when it finds something solid to close down on, it does so”. Not that we can’t let ourselves be influence as we age beyond this point, because God still has work to do, and to become too staunch would be arrogant. But you get the idea…

  • Broc

    Well, I am not sure if I agree, but from your post I am also not sure if you are looking to generalize or simply spark discussion. For me, it really comes down to the “chicken and the egg.” Do people watch news or media because they agree with it, or do they agree with it b/c they watch or listen.

    The problem I see with “news” today is real news shouldn’t have it own agenda. Fox’s right wing bias and MSNBC’s left wing bias both are NOT news. Now, they may at times actually report some current affairs which people are interested in however, both organizations do not present facts and let the viewer decide which side to take. Both “news” (fox and msnbc) agencies are actively attempting to push a politcal agenda.

    The distorted information sometimes put out by both sides have contributed to the level of extreme divide between the two political parties. Both sides create an atmosphere of; they are destroying america and we have to save it. They are wrong and we are right. They are evil and we are just. Just because someone believes that people who make over $250,000 should be taxed at a rate of 39.5% and not 35% doesn’t make anyone a socialist, its 4.5% people! Went off on little tangent….sorry

    • Bob

      To a certain extent, I agree with you, Broc. It could be a “chicken or the egg” problem, but I think this one’s easier than that. My opinion is that people fall into their media habits when they’re in high school and college (they don’t intentionally pick their media habits), and therefore their minds are shaped by those media that they happen to listen to/watch during those formative times.

      Re: the 4.5%, though, I have to say… when you’re putting together a project or proposal for a small/medium business, you HAVE to take into account the taxes that will come out of that project, and 4.5% will make or break a project; and that’s what makes or breaks the U.S. economic growth, because most of our economy is small/medium business.

  • Broc

    “Therefore their minds are shaped by those media that they happen to listen to/watch during those formative times.”

    I don’t believe people happen to watch something, like it is an accident. I think people watch something b/c they chose to. I watch Bill O’Pinhead and Keith Overthetop every now and then to hear the right and left talking points from time to time. Now does that constant media chat impact people’s opinions….YES; which is so important that people hear both sides to an issue or argument. NEWS agencies should report the NEWS without an agenda (FOX, MSNBC). I know political editorial/opinion has its place but pretending its NEWS is not where it belongs. America needs balanced political debate. Tell the American people something often enough they will eventually believe it….Like tax cuts for the rich create jobs, people actually believe that voodoo economics….lol jk.

    “You HAVE to take into account the taxes that will come out of that project, and 4.5% will make or break a project”

    Your chose of words is always interesting. You highlight HAVE and then sneak in a “WLL make or break a project”. No it MAY make or break a project, you can’t speak with certainty when discussing future tax impact. I am sure that I have done the same hundreds of times but this time it caught my eye. It may adversely impact some business, but for some businesses 35% is still to high, business will fail and other will prosper. The design of the higher tax rate for higher income earners is to place a higher burden on them b/c they can hold it, and allow a smaller tax burden on the lower and middle class. If 39.5% really is too much for a majority of small businesses around that $250,000 line, I have said before, I would have no problem at moving that 39.5% tax line to $400,000 or $500,000. Hey, 39.5% did NOT break our business economy during the Clinton years. American business as a whole had its best quarter in the last ten years making over 1.5 TRILLON dollars; A LOT of money is being made. However, they are not investing that money back into the American public by hiring…YET. My point is rich people like always find ways to stay rich…do not tell me they can’t afford 39.5%.

    • Bob

      Ever wonder why banks spend so much money to be at college orientations to get their branded credit cards into the hands of eager students? Or why advertisers vie for spots in the 18-29 demographic, or why TV shows brag about their viewership in the 18-29 demographic? It’s because companies know that if they get someone to enjoy their brand first, then there’s a much higher rate of brand loyalty. It’s the same with political media. Most kids (to the shame of their parents) go into high school and college with no previous knowledge of politics or the world around them. They have no bias as to what media is good, or what media is bad. They can’t choose something (as you say) that they know nothing about. They may be curious (or become curious in college), and they experiment. That media channel that they first “click” with is the brand that they stay with over the long term… the channel has created brand loyalty. Sure, there may be a channel that fits in with their previous biases (even if they don’t quite know what those biases are), and they may be pre-disposed to that brand.

      But they don’t, on the whole, CHOOSE the things they watch (in terms of political media). This is why Fox News has Bill O’Reilly and MSNBC has Keith Olbermann… because they are the most likely candidates that those channels think will connect with their target audience… they’re opinionated, engaging, articulate, etc. If political media were a medium that people, for the most part, CHOSE to watch (based on previous bias or knowledge), then Fox and MSNBC wouldn’t feel the need to have any showmanship. Everything would be dry and academic.

      I would bet that there’s a good portion of the population that (a) banks with the same bank that they started their first account in college at, and (b) watches the same news channel that they watched in college. It’s all about brand loyalty.

      On the other subject… the whole tax rate debate reminds me of a situation from my Economics 101 class: there was a bakery that had a huge window in front, and one day a beggar comes by and sees a freshly baked loaf of bread in the window. He so wants that loaf of bread that he picks up a rock and hurls it through the window, and grabs the loaf of bread, and runs off. The baker then has to spend $1,500 to replace the window. An observer of the entire situation says, “Well, it really is providential that that beggar broke that window. Everyone won in this situation. The beggar won, because he was fed. The window company won, because it got the extra business, and the owner of the window company was able to feed his family. And the baker won because he was able to both feed the beggar and employ the owner of the window company, and his business didn’t suffer.” So, the observer goes off and breaks another window, because the first situation worked out so well.

      The moral of the story: economics isn’t about immediate consequences. It’s about secondary and tertiary and quaternary consequences of actions. Yes, the beggar got food and the owner of the window company got work. But the baker was out $1,500 that he could have used for something else. He could have used that $1,500 to expand his business or start a new product line. The window business owner could have used that extra plate of glass to furnish a new business, so as to grow the entire community.

      You may have a point in saying that higher income earners can have a higher burden on them because they can “hold it,” but economically speaking, asking those higher income earners to pay higher taxes hurts other people:
      1. It hurts the companies that sell luxury items, because high income earners are the people that buy luxury items.
      2. It hurts the “little people” that work at the companies that the high income earners own… they hire fewer people, or higher the same number of people for less money.
      3. It hurts their companies in the sense that they don’t have the necessary capital to expand their companies.
      4. It hurts the companies that the high income earner may have invested in… the stock market is affected because high income earners don’t have money to invest.
      5. #4 hurts the people that work for the companies in the stock market, because less investment means less capital for those companies to expand, hire, etc.

    • Bob

      Hey, thanks for turning me on to Parker/Spitzer… I’m enjoying watching some of their stuff. I actually have a video of them in my new post today.

  • Pingback: My Daily Reading Habits | Brevis from Bob Ewoldt()