Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Do You Live In A Bubble? Why Not Let Some Asshole With An Agenda Decide For You!

Recently a friend, whom I otherwise respect, posted this link to face book exhorting his friends to take this test and see if they live in a bubble. This is exactly the kind of self-flagellating thing liberals love to do, wherein they mistake punching themselves repeatedly in the stomach for meaningful social action. "Oh no! Do I live in a bubble?" they ask themselves, as if this is a question that a) has any actual objective answer, or b) would mean anything if it did. But by engaging with such a stupid conservative straw man they can feel smugly self-satisfied with their commitment to open-minded bi-partisanship, again as if that means anything.

The test is designed to see how much of a sheltered bubble you live in versus how much you interact with other people. Which, in theory, is not such a bad idea. It's good to know people with different perspectives! It's not a particularly great thing to live in a tiny echo chamber!

But you can take one look at the author of this quiz and know exactly where it's going. It was created by Charles Murray, who works for the American Enterprise Institute. While the name sounds fairly neutral, it should more properly be labeled "Incredibly Regressive Billionaire Thinktank About How The Gubmit is Bad And Anything to the Left of Attila the Hun is Communism and Should Be Destroyed For the Sake of America's Future." But I guess that isn't as snappy and would probably lead to really expensive letterhead.

Anyway, I took the quiz myself and it would surprise anyone who knows me, and therefore knows how carefully I cull my circle of friends and avoid at all times interaction with anyone who doesn't agree 100% with me on every possible issue, that I actually have a pretty large bubble! Crazy, right?

Well, not really. Because of the many, many problems with this quiz, it assumes whomever is taking it is a big city liberal (which, given that it's being hosted on NPR's website, is probably a fairly safe guess, but it purports to be for everyone). So it doesn't actually measure how much you interact with people who are genuinely different than you in anyway, it measures how much you interact with working class people in small towns (who are assumed by this quiz, and the assholes who write these sorts of things, to be the exact opposite of big city liberals). The reason I supposedly have a much larger than average size bubble is because I grew up in a rural small town and have had my share of manual labor jobs over the years. That's it, that's why my bubble is so much bigger than most other people's.

Hell, if you live in a small town and have a working-class job, even if every person you knew was exactly like you, thought exactly like you, did all the exact same things you do, and were in every way what we would think of as living in a bubble, you would score as having a giant bubble. Which makes this a fucking terrible test from a measurement perspective, since it doesn't even come close at all to measuring what it purports to measure.

But an even bigger problem is the way this is just a gussied-up version of the "real America" versus...well, they never say what everyone else is living in. "Fake America?" "Unreal America?" "The Loose Federation of States Formerly Known as America?"*

I mean, they could have saved a lot of time and trouble if they just asked what they're clearly getting after. Instead of a 25 question quiz, Murray could have just written "When's the last time you left your vegan cafe and changed your own oil, homo?!?" and that would have just as thoroughly gotten to the point he's trying to make without wasting nearly as much time or involving nearly as much obfuscation.

To make it even funnier, it turns out the hypothetical all-white, working-class, small town, Reagan masturbation fantasy that Murray is using as his comparison point for real American is actually, statistically speaking, a terrible representation of "real America."

So in a turn no one could have predicted**, this quiz is not actually about encouraging people to examine their possibly-cloistered lives to see if they couldn't include more and different people in their social circles, but is instead just another completely-inaccurate fantasy of the right-wing culture wars. And while it's at it, it fails both in terms of science and ideology! What a great quiz! Take it right away!

*Unrelated fun story: whenever assholes go on about "real America" I always feel compelled to ask them if Manhattan is part of "real America." Of course it is not, they'll gladly let you know. NYC generally, but Manhattan specifically, is pretty much exactly what these assholes are trying to juxtapose "real America" against. Once that is established, I tell them I assume they must not be too upset about the September 11 attacks, since they didn't happen to America by that logic. This usually ends in that person getting very angry at me.

**Just kidding! Literally anyone with a functioning adult brain could have easily predicted that!

No comments: