Lesson four.

A few weeks ago, a post from February 2011 was graced with a comment from one Marianne Black.  (According to WordPress stats, that post is one of our most popular pages of all time here at the Palace.)  In that piece, entitled Promising new research hints at possible treatment for Conservative Personality Disorder, I revealed publicly for the first time the details of my CPD hypothesis, and pondered what might be done about the epidemic of right-wing conservatism in the United States.  Here, in its entirety, is Ms. Black’s comment on that post:

Incredible! You have just proven my theory about team group behavior in primates! You see, those who identify themselves as “Left” or “Liberal” (the current definition of liberal, not the original definition) have almost exactly the same complaints as the opposing team, those who identify themselves as “Right”, about them! Humans, and chimpanzees, really like to form groups, clubs, tribes, cliques, and every group honestly believes they are the “good” group. Any 2 opposing groups nearly always have the same complaints and accusations about their “enemies”, each team thinks the other team is the “bad” one. It’s got nothing to do with real logic; using actual logic does not employ emotion, or adrenaline. When we feel like “putting stuff in the water” to “cure” the other side, we are participating in Primate war drama behavior, both humans and chimps LOVE this, it provides a serious rush, and also creates a feeling of group bonding. Look up how many Native American tribe names mean “The People”, you can get an understanding of this self-centered POV. Chimpanzees fight each other for food and territory, for absolutely no reason except control, they don’t know how to NOT be enemies, and put aside their adrenaline rush chemical reward dominance behavior. And humans are no different, they just name their social groups that they love to belong to, names like Democrat and Republican, Liberal and Conservative. If you pay attention, you can see this behavior all over the place, and the behavior that always accompanies the “belonging” to a “team” is trashing the other team, finding fault, ignoring and denying faults within one’s own “team”. Just watching modern baseball fans is a fascinating study of this; it’s a GAME, and fans actually make it a LIFESTYLE, and act like they are ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS, with very high running emotions, as if it’s some kind of REAL fight. It has also escalated tremendously in the last couple of decades, in the same time frame as “Left vs. Right” emotional team behavior.
Humans will rationalize, defend, and deny the behavior till the cows come home, but it remains. There is no logic in emotion, and there is no emotion in logic. You can’t solve an equation by throwing rocks at it and calling it names. Chimps don’t know this, but humans can learn.
Thanks again for this page! So interesting, and so detailed, and the comments fall right in with the theory!

I finally got around to responding to this in the comment thread itself—but then I realized it’s been a while since we had a good object lesson around these parts.

Okay, class.  Pencils ready?  Let us begin.

__________

Welcome Marianne.  I wanted to respond to your comment shortly after you posted it.  But two unfortunate circumstances conspired to intervene:

1) I had been VERY BUSY breaking Navy Seals and whatnot.
2) I had no idea what you’re on about.

I’m happy to say that the first problem has now abated, in large part due to the excessive heat here in New York.  I have been holed up in the Palace where there happens to be a distinct dearth of Navy Seals and whatnot, and where the temperature is maintained constantly at that of a typical meat locker.  (This is necessary because some of the Top Secret laboratory experiments in our world-renowned CPD research program require a very cool working environment.  We are working with delicate human brain tissue here after all, and I shudder to think of the explosions that might result should the ambient temperature rise to the level of incendiary conservative rhetoric.)

And now the second problem has also abated, without my even giving it much thought.  At some point I realized that there is a reason that I had no idea what you’re on about, and the reason is this:  neither do you.

Don’t get me wrong here:  I am not saying that you are a terrible writer, or anything like that.  You’re no Molly Ivins, that’s for sure, but I can indeed comprehend what you write and I think I understand pretty well the points you are making, as well as the inherent premises upon which they are based.  But you are a terrible thinker.  Let me see if I can clarify for you (and for my beloved Many Tens of Loyal Readers™) how this is so.

First, a caveat. To be fair, my post about Conservative Personality Disorder (“CPD”) is a bit tongue-in-cheek.  Obviously it wasn’t written for submission to some highly esteemed, peer-reviewed psychology journal, but for my own personal amusement on my own personal blog.  Nevertheless, the hypothesis embodied therein is based on multiple lines of evidence, the pioneering work of serious scholars (e.g. John Jost et al. and Robert Altemeyer) and well-documented real-world observations.  I may have taken a whimsical and mocking approach to explaining CPD, but that neither negates nor diminishes the veracity and value of the CPD hypothesis itself.  That, I’m afraid, can only be accomplished by presenting compelling evidence and sound reasoning that rebuts it.  And that, my dearest, newest commenter, is what your comment conspicuously lacks.  Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Incredible! You have just proven my theory about team group behavior in primates!

It would indeed be incredible if one of my blog posts (and the comments thereon) had proven anything at all, much less your theory about team group behavior in primates.  That is because a blog post is a single data point (or, if you include the comments, a small, self-selecting sample), and therefore it could not possibly “prove” even a well-grounded theory.  In the best case scenario, a single blog post might add weight to an existing body of evidence and thus bolster—not prove—the theory or hypothesis under consideration.  In order for that to be the case, your established research protocol would need to be applied in the same way to my blog post as it was to the other evidence, which would itself need to be substantial and well-validated.  That is clearly not the case here.   You are simply making an unsupported assertion, and thus no one has any good reason to take your statement as fact, or even to consider it.  (This is also known in the CPD research trade as “pulling $#!+ out of your @$$.”)

Ironically enough, you have indeed “proven” something with a single comment:  you have proven that you lack even the most cursory understanding of scientific principles, research methodology, sample size and statistics.  Since you are apparently some sort of accomplished expert in the field of comparative primate behavior, it strikes me as just a wee bit odd that you are not even remotely familiar with these basic concepts.  What gives?

You see, those who identify themselves as “Left” or “Liberal” (the current definition of liberal, not the original definition) have almost exactly the same complaints as the opposing team, those who identify themselves as “Right”, about them!

Here we have another unsupported assertion, and no reference to what these alleged “almost exactly the same complaints” might be.  I have a sneaking suspicion as to why this particular assertion is unsupported.  It’s because it is not true.  That is, the complaints from the left about the right are not the same as those from the right about the left.  To take only an obvious and general example, the right has a long tradition of mocking lefties for their empathy with expressiona like “bleeding heart liberals.”  In the same vein, lefties often observe that conservatives are callously indifferent to the suffering of others, particularly those who are not in their own “tribe,” if you will: i.e. white, Christian, non-poor, native-born heterosexuals.  These “complaints” are not even close to “exactly the same”—they are, in fact, diametrically opposed.  (They are also both true by the way, at least for the most part.  And so the question we face is whether we should elect to positions of power in a country as diverse as the United States people who display a distinct lack of empathy for anyone outside their own “tribe,” or people who display empathy for individuals who are not like themselves at all, i.e., believe that their “tribe” includes everyone—including conservatives.)  But as I said, this is a general example.  Let’s look at some specific ones:

The ACA is the “crown jewel of socialism” that “steals $574 million from Medicare.”
Michelle Bachmann, CPD case.

“Michelle Bachmann makes incoherent statements, and has no understanding of either socialism, Medicare, or both.”
-Iris Vander Pluym, liberal.

See any difference there?  Here’s another one:

“What does it say about the college co-ed [Sandra] Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
Rush Limbaugh, CPD case.

“Rush Limbaugh is a delusional and misogynist shitstain, and has no understanding of either birth control, prostitution, or both.”
-Iris Vander Pluym, liberal.

Do you see how these are, in fact, completely different criticisms?  Okay, one more:

“[T]hey want the federal government controlling Social Security, like it’s some kind of federal program.”
George W. Bush, CPD case.

“Hahahahahahaha.”
-Iris Vander Pluym, liberal.

All right—that last one was just me making a joke to crack myself up.  Sorry!  But you can probably see where I’m going here.  In order to support your contention that conservatives and liberals have “almost exactly the same complaints” about each other, at a minimum you should have spelled out what those supposedly similar complaints are.  But now, the bar is even higher:  you also need to make a compelling case that the completely different complaints I quoted above are somehow atypical or aberrant.

Good luck with that.

Humans, and chimpanzees, really like to form groups, clubs, tribes, cliques,

This is true in a general sense: we are indeed a social species, with all that this entails.

and every group honestly believes they are the “good” group.

And this is another unfounded assertion. As I explained above, the liberal view is that everyone is in the same group.  The conservative view is that there is us (good! because we’re us!) and there is them (bad! because they’re them!).  For example, when liberals advocate for a single payer health care system (“Medicare for all”), they are not advocating for taxpayer-funded healthcare for only themselves and their families, but for every single person in the country.  On the other hand, when conservative governors reject the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and the federal dollars that would otherwise flow along with it, they are knowingly denying healthcare to millions of working poor people, while enjoying excellent government-funded health care for themselves and their own families, of course.  These are just facts.  If being indifferent (I’m being generous here) to unnecessary human suffering on the scale of millions of people is considered “good” by a certain group, then either the word has no meaning, or that group doesn’t really care whether or not they are “good.”

Beyond that, what you have engaged in here is a logical fallacy known as “false equivalence.” You can read more about it at that link, but here is an example that illustrates the gist of it:

Political party A says the sky is red, Political party B says the sky is blue, therefore since they must both be equally wrong, and the truth must be somewhere in the middle, the sky must be purple.

By asserting that liberal and conservative claims are equal, you are arguing that there is no way to determine whether one of these groups is deliberately lying (or honestly mistaken, though mistaken nonetheless) about the color of the sky.  That is why false equivalence a logical fallacy: the incorrect premise that the two positions are equal leads to an incorrect conclusion.  There is, in fact, a correct answer to the question of what color the sky is (or more precisely, why on a clear day the Earth’s atmosphere appears blue to humans who are not colorblind).  It’s not a huge deal if some individual adults insist among themselves that the sky is bright red, or that a particular anthropomorphic god is real or any other nonsense. (Actually, I would argue that it is problematic for a democracy if people who insist that the sky is red vote, but that’s another conversation.)  On important policy issues with profound moral implications such as unwanted pregnancies or catastrophic climate change, I am sure you would agree that it matters a great deal whether a powerful political movement is touting facts or fictions.  If a prevailing ideological movement with enormous political power is delusional, irrational and empathy deficient—and I believe I have made a convincing case that right-wing conservatism is exactly that—then big problems like unwanted pregnancies and catastrophic climate change will remain unsolved or, more likely, worsen.  And that is not good.

Any 2 opposing groups nearly always have the same complaints and accusations about their “enemies”, each team thinks the other team is the “bad” one.

Here you’ve slipped in yet another false equivalence: that liberals and conservatives are analogous to opposing “teams.”  Among other problems with your statement is the fact that many liberals remain blissfully unaware that conservatives have declared war on them and everything they value, including the very notion of reality itself.  But putting aside that conservatives see liberals as “enemies” while liberals generally do not hold the reciprocal view, we have already dealt with your notion of tribes (or if you prefer “teams”):  the liberal view, again, is that everyone is in the same tribe.

It’s got nothing to do with real logic; using actual logic does not employ emotion, or adrenaline.

Now you can of course correct me if I am wrong, but it seems you are positing that one cannot make a perfectly sound, logical, and well-supported argument that is presented with emotional or even highly inflammatory language.  If that is what you are saying, well, that would be profoundly stupid: the tone of an argument and its content are not the same things.  (Also, “real logic” and “actual logic” are the same thing as “logic.” Hopefully you are not engaging in the No True Scotsman fallacy here, but given your history thus far this is not exactly outside the realm of possibility.)

When we feel like “putting stuff in the water” to “cure” the other side, we are participating in Primate war drama behavior, both humans and chimps LOVE this, it provides a serious rush, and also creates a feeling of group bonding.

You do realize—dear dog, I hope!—that we are not actually advocating “putting stuff in the water” to “cure” the “other side.”  That is a joke.  (Just FYI: there is also no actual Palace lab where we are doing actual experiments on actual human brain tissue—although the part about the Palace maintaining the temperature of a meat locker is true.)  Even if it were possible to put some substance in the water and thereby eradicate right-wing conservatism in its entirety, it would be extremely unethical.  But now I want you to ask yourself a question:  if it were possible to put something in the water to “cure” liberals, would right-wing conservatives do it?  (I think you know the answer, if you are honest with yourself.)

But while I may be joking about a “cure” for CPD, I am not joking that right-wing conservatism needs to be addressed seriously, before the country and the planet go completely down the shitter (if it is not too late already).  I am doing my small part on this blog by pointing out and mocking conservative delusions, irrationality and sociopathy.  I do this because I believe that ridiculing bad ideas can be quite persuasive (at least for some people).  And this is why your “both sides do the same thing” trope is unhelpful, if not downright disingenuous.  The right routinely engages in outright eliminationist rhetoric, and right-wing terrorism is real:  the Oklahoma City massacre, a campaign of assassination attempts on abortion doctors and liberal politicians and figureheads spanning decades, the bombing of women’s clinics and other violent atrocities.  That is actual primate war behavior.  There is nothing like it on the left.  There is just me and a few others shouting into the abyss that wingnuts are fools and we empower them at our grave peril.

Look up how many Native American tribe names mean “The People”, you can get an understanding of this self-centered POV. Chimpanzees fight each other for food and territory, for absolutely no reason except control, they don’t know how to NOT be enemies, and put aside their adrenaline rush chemical reward dominance behavior.

And here is—surprise, surprise—yet another false equivalence.  There is in fact a well-documented correlation between political conservatism and a dominance orientation (see e.g. Jost et al. on rationalizing inequality and the conservative preference for hierarchies, as well as Altemeyer on Social Dominance Orientation).  Liberals value equality (which, just by the way, is a founding principle of our republic).  Conservatives quite openly do not.  This disparity results not in the primate poo flinging matchup you envision, but in one group flinging turds at another group which does not respond in kind, but with bewilderment. 

“WTF?” we say.  “If you keep flinging your shit all over the place, there will be flies and horrible rampant diseases and everyone will suffer, including you.  Now get down from those trees and help us pick up all this crap and bury it properly so we can can all live in a better place.”

“No!  Hahaha!” comes the response.  “We’re gonna keep flinging our poo at you!  And there’s nothing you can do about it!  We WIN!  You LOSE!  Losers!  Hahaha!  FLING MORE POO!  FLING MORE POO!  FLING MORE POO!”

One of these things is not like the other.

And humans are no different, they just name their social groups that they love to belong to, names like Democrat and Republican, Liberal and Conservative.

And yet still more false equivalence: “liberal” and “conservative” are not social groups that humans “love to belong to.”  They are worldviews, one of which happens to embody a more accurate assessment of reality and a more empathetic approach to other human beings than the other one does.  You are actually onto something with the Democrats and Republicans, although not for the reason you think.  It’s pretty clear that the Democratic party as a whole and the leadership in particular are conservative, and that is why we see the poo-flinging we do:  their ideology is just not all that far apart, so there is indeed much mutual poo-flinging solely for the purpose of power and control (i.e., domination).  Only a conservative could be so delusional as to conflate the modern Democratic party as a whole with liberals.

If you pay attention, you can see this behavior all over the place, and the behavior that always accompanies the “belonging” to a “team” is trashing the other team, finding fault, ignoring and denying faults within one’s own “team”.

Actually, if you pay attention you will see no such thing.  I am getting pretty tired of typing “false equivalence,” but here we go again.  This urge to belong to a team is not universal: it is demonstrably more pronounced in conservatives (see Altemeyer on right-wing authoritarians).  It’s hardly a groundbreaking observation that conservatives tend to follow their leaders in virtual lockstep, while getting liberals to cooperate in the same way is frequently likened to herding cats.  Incidentally, is “trashing the other team” the same thing as “pointing out reality”?  No, I don’t think it is.  Further, if what you say is true and both liberals and conservatives are equally finding fault with each other while ignoring and denying the faults of their own “team,” then you shouldn’t have any trouble pointing us to specific examples of this universal phenomenon.  Where are they?

Just watching modern baseball fans is a fascinating study of this; it’s a GAME, and fans actually make it a LIFESTYLE, and act like they are ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS, with very high running emotions, as if it’s some kind of REAL fight. It has also escalated tremendously in the last couple of decades, in the same time frame as “Left vs. Right” emotional team behavior.

I agree with your assessment of sports fans, but not that it is remotely like left vs. right “emotional team behavior.”  That equivalence is—wait, what is the word I am looking for here?— oh yes: false.  I leave it to you and my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ to figure out why: you should all be pretty good at it by this point in our lecture. (Here’s a hint: whether the Yankees or Red Sox win a particular baseball game, typically no one dies as a result.)

Humans will rationalize, defend, and deny the behavior till the cows come home, but it remains.

Humans are indeed very good at rationalizing, defending and denying many untrue things.  One of the ways they do this is by continuously making unsupported assertions.  Another common method is by employing fallacious logic.

There is no logic in emotion, and there is no emotion in logic.

I cannot for the life of me fathom why you are stating what amounts to “logic and emotion are two different things.”  Everyone with even minimal cognitive functioning is aware of the distinction between the two.  But if what you are getting at here is that one cannot make a perfectly sound, well-supported, logical argument that is presented with emotional or even wildly inflammatory language, then I must again point out that this idea is profoundly stupid.

You can’t solve an equation by throwing rocks at it and calling it names.

Ah.  I think I see what the problem is here: you are laboring under the delusion that right-wing conservatives are rational, and that therefore practical solutions to real-world problems can be achieved by resort to sound reasoning and compelling evidence.

Bwahahahahaha!

Sorry.  Um, what I meant to say there was “Citation seriously fucking needed.”  Even if “mocking ridiculous conservative ideas” were somehow equivalent to throwing rocks at them and calling them names—an equivalence that you will no doubt be unsurprised to learn I most emphatically dispute—the implied corollary that “mocking ridiculous conservative ideas” is not persuasive, or is somehow counterproductive to my goal of shifting the U.S. electorate to the left, remains entirely unsupported.  We can, therefore, dismiss it without further ado.

Chimps don’t know this, but humans can learn.

Frankly, I’m less and less certain of the extent to which humans can learn much of anything.  (Care to take a guess why that might be?)  I mean, they certainly have the capacity for rationality, but many of them stubbornly refuse to engage in it.  Some actively eschew it, and attempt to prevent others from engaging in it as well.

Thanks again for this page! So interesting, and so detailed, and the comments fall right in with the theory!

My pleasure.  I am glad you enjoyed my writing and/or your confirmation bias.  If you are inclined to move the proverbial goalposts, and assert that your comment was also a bit tongue-in-cheek, or perhaps that it was intended to be satirical or mocking in exactly the same vein as my post, well…you might want to consider leaving this particular activity to the professionals.

There is one more point I want to make.  As Setár, self-appointed Elf-Sheriff of the FreethoughtBlogs Star Chamber said the other day on a Phayngula thread:

There is also the phenomenon of the self-identified “centrist” or “independent”, who “sits on the fence” complaining about “both sides” all the time, even though the regressives’ conduct involves strawmen, silencing tactics, lies, threats and overall dishonesty and bullying while the liberals’ involves calling out that conduct. [Emphasis in original.]

What Setár, self-appointed Elf-Sheriff of the FreethoughtBlogs Star Chamber’s comment suggests to me is that Centrist Personality Disorder may be well worth exploring.  A case can certainly be made that this particular affliction has infected the entire mainstream media and much of the Democratic party—with the exception of those already infected with Conservative Personality Disorder.  (Obviously.)

Finally, I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention that your comment contains a significant number of non-ironic exclamation points and ALL CAPS WORDS.  And while that observation may sound like just a minor personal quibble with form, it’s also a symptom of CPD.

Cheers.

__________

Related posts from the Palace’s free online university:

4 thoughts on “Lesson four.

  1. You sound pretty uptight and bitter about his comment, which I thought had a reasonable point; that is If you look at the overall point instead of nit pick sentences. All this sounds like to me is that you yourself have some symptoms of CPD … I did enjoy your original post though.

  2. Hi Joemm-

    Uptight and bitter? Hahaha. If that were so I never would have approved the comment. And if I didn’t feel it warranted serious consideration, I would have just replied “Teh logix, Ur doin’ it rong” and left it at that. I had an absolute ball responding to that comment, and had hoped that would come through. If it didn’t, well…to quote Billy Bob Thorton in Bad Santa, “Well they can’t all be winners, now can they?”

    As for your assertion that the commenter has a “reasonable” point, maybe you are aware of the missing evidence and sound reasoning that would make it so. If you could point me to that I’d be most grateful.

    We all exhibit symptoms of CPD. You, me, Billy Bob Thorton in Bad Santa.
    That’s why it’s a useful practice (if not a necessary one) for me to critically analyze and respond in detail to arguments in opposition to mine, especially those with superficial appeal. A persuasive argument – with sound reasoning and supported by solid evidence – would enlighten me as to how and why I am wrong, so I can change my views accordingly. Unfortunately neither the original comment to which I responded nor your own is even the slightest bit helpful in this regard.

    Glad you enjoyed the OP. I really hope you stick around and when warranted, call me on my shit.

    But you’re going to have to up your game. ;)

  3. I think his point was that humans like other primates evolved an “us” versus “them” mentality, and that political ideology whether on the right or left is a part of this. You might assume that liberals are not because they are supposed to be open-minded, tolerant, more anti-racist, less nationalistic, etc, but anytime someone labels themselves as part of group, such as “Democrats” or “Progressives,” and towards a cause, especially when it has an enemy, “Republicans,” it triggers our brains to work in the same way.
    Both liberals and conservatives create a schema and filter reality purely from that point view. Often they accuse each other of the same things, Take elitism, from a conservative stand point liberals are all indoctrinated pompous elites from big cities on the coast, while they, the conservatives, believe they speak for the common person. Liberals on the other hand believe that the right wing speaks for big business and billionaires, while they speak for the common person. This is just one example and it may or may not be a good one. But that’s my general idea. I
    Humans evolved to think in terms of groups not rational individuals. It is easier for them to pick a side and scold the other than remain open-minded. However, because we are smarter than chimps we can become aware of all this and work past it. Instead of ostracizing conservatives that do not know what they are talking about, one should be listening to other points of view and constantly re examining their own. If our views match perfectly with a particular political party I would seriously wonder how much of that was our own view and how much of it is just part of a group mentality.
    I hate the tea party, but I heard Noam Chomsky say in an interview something that made sense to me. Instead of demonizing them we should understand where they coming from and ask why the left has failed to appeal to them. I think conservatives have some good points about personal responsibility, having a strong work ethic, and a strong sense of right and wrong. That is if your listening to ordinary people instead of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. I think Occupy would have been more successful if it appealed to these things.

    Anyway that is just how I see it. That guy communicated it really poorly.

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