Just a word of health advice to those of you with high blood pressure: If you hate-read, hate-listen or hate-watch, it might be a good idea to stop, or at least taper off. It’ll only result in higher blood pressure for all of us.
Yeah, I realize that may cut down on the number of letters we receive at the newspaper, but as a stroke survivor, I’m even more cognizant of my own blood pressure and the tendency I have of not being able to stop reading wildly insulting comments on news sites and Google+ feeds.
They’re like Pringles: Once you pop, you can’t stop.
What am I talking about? As New York Magazine’s Jesse Singal put it:
“[M]any people seem strangely drawn to material that they know, even before they’re exposed to it, will infuriate them. And hate-reading in its purest form involves not just seeking out the aggregated fodder of Media Matters or Newsbusters, but actually going straight to the source: a conservative mainlining Keith Olbermann; a liberal recklessly exposing herself to a Rush Limbaugh monologue.”
That could be anything from “those people” (Democrats, Republicans, cat owners, everyone but you, etc.) that just ticks you off, not necessarily because of what is said, but because of the topic and/or the entity delivering it.
Singal offers some possible explanations for why we do this: “One is that hate-reading simply makes us feel good by offering up an endless succession of ‘the emperor has no clothes’ moments with regard to our political adversaries.”
You know that feeling—that gratifying bit of vindication when an opponent spouts off stupid stuff, the more inane, the better. Media psychologist Mary McNaughton-Cassill of the University of Texas at San Antonio told Singal: “If the commentary is dumb enough, it may actually have a boomerang effect in that it reassures us that our opponents aren’t very smart or accurate.”
Sarah Sobieraj, who with Jeffrey M. Berry wrote The Outrage Industry, suggested to Singal that hate-reading is basically a way to obtain the benefits of political discussion without all the drawbacks … you know, like interacting with actual people who might have a different opinion. That’s just icky, and requires effort (especially to refrain from hurling insults).
“It’s definitely a safer way to encounter ideas you disagree with politically than talking with people you disagree with,” she told Singal, “which is something we know that in the United States we avoid at nearly all cost. People don’t like to talk about politics with people they disagree with.”
Sobieraj also believes that it’s part of what sustains political activism; in a sense, you have to find what’s unacceptable to the other side so you can beat them over the head with it, which fuels more outrage. For political commentators, the plan is to tick people off, and collect a paycheck. (These guys have it all figured out!)
Hate-reading seems custom-made for trolls, and you know how I feel about them. Entire sites and message boards like Democratic Underground and Free Republic draw a lot of this sort of “discussion.” Not that I’d call it that … it’s more like target practice at a canned hunt.
Hate-reading is somewhat like confirmation bias, sometimes defined as the filter through which you see a reality that matches your expectations. In confirmation bias, you seek out information that backs up your beliefs and pretty much ignore everything else regardless of what’s actually true. With hate-reading and its companions, you seek out that with which you don’t agree—and if it also happens to be badly written or articulated, that’s like getting a kitten or a puppy on Christmas morning.
I can smell the schadenfreude already. Or is that dog poo?
I can understand passion, and there are a lot of things I’m very passionate about (family and my cat, for two). I definitely understand obsession—one of my obsessions is research, and it’s one reason I wouldn’t get Internet at home for the longest time (until it became necessary for my job). I often will get so sidetracked by research—sometimes for what I’m writing, and sometimes about random things that pop into my head—that what I am researching for falls to the wayside.
For some people, hate-reading is an obsession. I know people who can’t stand certain columnists we run, but never miss a column, just so they can revel in the inanity and then complain. No amount of insistence that they avoid those columns helps; they’re masochists.
I wish that I could really understand the obsession some people have for people they hate, so much so that even a simple phone call can turn into an hour-long diatribe on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gwyneth Paltrow, or whoever or whatever else irritates them, and every conversation ends up being about that hated subject. There are people I can’t mention certain people to, and God forbid I mix up the haters’ hatees.
I’m getting too old for this.
Once again, it’s a case of extremes, and we all know that the middle path is much more sensible. Sure, hate-read every once in a while, if just to get the blood flowing. And yep, you can seek out things that agree with your version of reality.
However, for sanity’s sake (and to maybe cut down on those pharmaceuticals needed to lower blood pressure), why not seek out a well-rounded mix of information? Yeah, I know that some people will never do that (generally those on the far fringes), especially if it means that someone other than their preferred source could possibly be correct.
(The hell you say!)
The world is full of a range of opinions, and many, even on the same sides, refuse to march in lockstep (Hallelujah!). It’s one of the reasons the Voices page does its best to offer more than one side (though conservative columnists still dominate). We’re not Fox News or MSNBC.
We’re certainly not raking in that kind of dough.