Monetization of Beliefs

Once upon a time, in a land not very far away, people’s beliefs were part of their identity but were not for sale.  Here’s how that changed:

A kid with a gift for engaging conversation was encouraged by his friends to give a presentation at a public meeting.  It was a hit, largely because he read the audience well and made some outrageous remarks that they would have liked to say themselves but were too timid (or too polite).

Soon he was invited onto a local radio talk show, where he employed the same technique.  He was invited back regularly.  When the aging host retired, he was recommended to take over the show, and that’s how he got his first real job.

This radio talk show catered to listeners from one extreme of the political spectrum, so the new host constantly expressed extreme views in ways that were both amusing and gratifying to his listeners.  After a while he had expressed certain beliefs so many times that it was easier to just believe them than to keep reminding himself to pretend to.  Those beliefs became an integral part of his public personality.

His fame/notoriety grew until it wouldn’t fit into radio alone.  He was hired onto a television “news” program to “add color” in his inimitable way.  This inflated his ego; the salary was also impressive, so he doubled down on the technique that had brought him so far.  Pretty soon he was an “anchor” with even higher salary and fame/notoriety.  You know him.

Today this process plays out in the Internet: Facebook → blog → influencer → own website → own social media empire. But the same thing happens: when pundits construct outrageous opinions to please an audience, just because they please the audience, those opinions turn slowly into indelible beliefs that the pundit can never change, because they are part of his successful public personality.

(I suppose I should cite B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” here.)

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