We’ve talked a lot in Thoughts in Between about how the world is getting “weirder” (see, e.g. TiB 150
, which is dedicated to this topic). One explanation is Bruno Maçães
’ thesis that “virtualism” is the successor ideology to liberalism: pluralism persists not because of toleration, but because increasingly different groups in society can immerse themselves in distinct narratives and fantasies that become
reality for them (There are some tragic examples
currently in the news). I recommend Julian Lehr’s essay, “Is this real life?
”, which we discussed in TiB 135
, for a good discussion of the forces that have made this possible.
Perhaps that sounds absurd to you - or you think it’s a pathology on “the other side” of some political or cultural divide, but there’s increasingly strong evidence that our identities and affiliations shape our realities, whoever we are. For a long time
, we’ve known that partisanship has influenced perceptions of political and economic reality, at least in the US. Democrats are much more likely to believe that the economic outlook is positive if there’s a Democrat in the White House, and vice versa. A new paper
by David Brady, John Ferejohn and Brett Parker suggests that the effect has become much stronger over the last twenty years.
The authors find that the impact of partisanship on economic perceptions has roughly doubled since 1999. Moreover, it used to be that severe recessions caused perceptions to converge across the political spectrum, but even this effect has faded. Perhaps most interestingly, the paper reports a near-symmetric effect on both sides of the aisle; there is no “reality-based community”. I suspect the effect would be weaker in Europe, but I wouldn’t be surprised to be similar results in the UK. We should worry about these findings: without a shared fact base, political community is impossible.