Juan Williams And The Preference Cascade
posted at 12:47 am on October 22, 2010 by Doctor Zero
Everyone has their pet theories about National Public Radio’s stunning decision to fire Juan Williams, and most of those theories are probably correct. Williams is reliably liberal in most of his views, but he’s too friendly with conservatives, and his presence smears a bit too much liberal credibility on the dry right-wing toast of Fox News. It’s a pledge week for NPR, and the high-profile sacking of the tainted Williams will inspire the insulated left-wing audience to push a few more bucks through the feeding slots in their hermetically sealed isolation bubbles.
NPR also received a boatload of the sinister foreign money President Obama has been hyperventilating about, from billionaire George Soros, and all that imported cabbage probably bought him some editorial influence. He might have insisted on a standard of ideological purity that Juan Williams could no longer meet.
Political correctness may have prompted a reflexive dismissal from the mindless drones running NPR, who were last heard musing that Williams should be reviewing his opinions with a psychiatrist. The Volturi do not give second chances.
Fear of criticism by the Islamic front organization CAIR, which the Left takes very seriously, could certainly have been a factor in their decision, as could anticipation of even more pointed criticism from less elegantly tailored sources. NPR certainly isn’t afraid of Juan Williams, and its CEO is no Megyn Kelly.
For the record, NPR stated that Williams’ remarks were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices,” which is an understandable position for them to take. In his conversation with Bill O’Reilly, Williams slandered a Republican congressman with an idiotic, easily debunked conspiracy theory, stating he had advance knowledge of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombings but did nothing to prevent them. Wait, sorry, my bad. That was Rachel Maddow, over at MSNBC, and she’s still got her job. Williams said this, in response to O’Reilly’s assertion that “jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet:”
“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
I think one of the reasons the hardcore liberals who run NPR terminated Williams is their desire to abort a preference cascade. This is one of the major reasons black conservatives, or those like Williams who express some appreciation for the conservative viewpoint, are treated so harshly by the left. The Democrat Party, political vehicle of the Left, depends on nearly-absolute support from black voters for its very survival. Second thoughts from such a captive constituency would be deadly.
As described by Glenn Reynolds in a classic 2002 essay, a preference cascade occurs when people trapped inside a manufactured consensus suddenly realize that many other people share their doubts. Preference falsification works by making doubters feel isolated and alone. In a totalitarian society, the dissenter fears that if he speaks up, his will be a lone voice, easily squashed by the enforcers of the regime. When dissenters realize they are not alone, and the true strength of their numbers becomes apparent, “invincible” regimes vanish with astonishing speed.
The same effect can occur without brutal oppression, when fear of ostracism and ridicule cause people to suppress their own doubts. This kind of preference falsification requires strict discipline from the makers of opinion. Since a free society makes it very easy for individuals to change their opinions, they must be prevented from even considering such a change. Manufactured consensus is very fragile in a competitive arena of ideas, when there is no fearsome penalty for a “Fresh Air” listener who decides to switch over to Rush Limbaugh.
The manufactured liberal consensus about Islamic terrorism rolled off the assembly line a long time ago, complete with a serial number and a limited warranty… which will instantly expire on the date of the next successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Islam is held hostage by a tiny minority of extremists. Juan Williams is more likely to be struck by lightning in midair than share a plane with one of them. The War on Terror was largely the invention of a paranoid and divisive Bush Administration. We repaired much of our rift with the Muslim world by electing Barack Obama, and the rest will be filled in with billions of foreign aid dollars, since poverty is the primary cause of terrorism.
A credentialed, taxpayer-supported NPR liberal cannot be allowed to question this consensus. It will shatter too easily if the clients of liberalism begin connecting dots between underwear bombers and pistol-packing Army psychiatrists. They cannot be left to nod quietly in agreement with the earnest musings of Juan Williams… then look around the room and see all the other faithful liberals nodding at the same time. It’s especially threatening when you consider the enormous increase in audience Williams gains by appearing on Fox News. He wasn’t just an employee of NPR. He was well on his way to becoming the public face of the organization, and his prominence would only increase in the wake of a November wave that destroys the relevance of his peers. This would put him in a position to threaten even more leftist dogma with mild questions. Liberalism has no shortage of fragile beliefs.
Juan Williams came too close to understanding ideas he was supposed to hate. The Left is deathly afraid of what happens when its constituents begin to understand the Right. They didn’t like the idea of millions watching an NPR contributor break the biohazard seal on strictly quarantined ideas.
Williams will be just fine. He’s got a new $2 million deal with Fox News. Getting fired from NPR when you’re a fixture on Fox is like Will Smith learning he’s been kicked out of his local dinner theater company. With a secure position, and considerable sympathy from conservatives who know all about the closing of the liberal mind, he’ll be in a perfect position to get those preference cascades rolling. I have plenty of disagreements with Juan Williams, but I think we can unite in our appreciation for the awesome power of an honest mind.
Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.
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