Palace receives interesting feedback on Lesson four.

Loyal readers may recall my recent post entitled Lesson four, in which I highlighted a recent comment on a very old thread and pointed out exactly why I disagreed with it in excruciating detail (“I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” -Blaise Pascal).  Frankly, I cannot understand for the life of me how anyone managed to slog through that interminable post, but nevertheless someone apparently did.  Brand new Palace commenter Joemm had this to say about it:

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.

You may be aware of SIWOTI syndrome: it’s an acronym for “Someone Is Wrong On The Internet,” and we suffer from frequent outbreaks of it here at the Palace.  To keep it in check we take commonsense measures, such as avoiding David Brooks columns.  But there is another malady much worse than SIWOTI, one for which there is no known countermeasure:  SIWOMB.  Someone Is Wrong On My Blog.

And so of course I had to respond to Joemm, and did so as follows:

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. ;)

And to my pleasant surprise, Joemm responded—with a considerably upped game:

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.

Now I find myself suffering from an intractable case of SISWOMB: Someone Is Still Wrong On My Blog. This obviously cannot stand—at least not unrebutted.  And since Joemm responded with a detailed reply… well, you know what’s coming.

__________

I very much appreciate your reply, Joemm.  I have to wonder, though, how closely you really parsed the comment and my take on it, since (a) a lot of your points were addressed in my post and you have not rebutted them, and (b) you keep referring to the commenter as a male. Her name is Marianne Black, and her gravatar is a girl in pigtails.  But on to your latest comment:

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.

And I disagree. As I said in my post, “liberal” and “conservative” are not social groups, 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. And again, there is solid research that this urge to belong to an in-group (in the us-vs-them sense you describe) is not universal: it is significantly more pronounced in right-wing conservatives (see Altemeyer on right-wing authoritarians).

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.

I get what you are arguing here, but you are conflating two very different things: a liberal worldview, and political labels such as “Democrats” and “Progressives.” As I said in the post:

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).

The poo-flinging scenario I presented in the post is a more accurate assessment of the dynamic between liberals and conservatives: conservatives see it as us-vs.-them, but liberals see it as we’re-all-in-this-together.  I argued there (and elsewhere) that the right has indeed launched an all-out war against liberalism in all its facets, and that liberals do not take this as seriously as they should, and thus do not respond appropriately. We can talk about why this is so (IMO:  denialism, projection, as well as the live-and-let-live mentality on the left is a big part of the problem, and there are no easy solutions).  And you are correct that human brains can be triggered to adopt the conservative us-vs.-them mentality when they face (or perceive) a threat to themselves and their kin.  But one group consistently shows higher levels of fear (e.g., of change, of death, of anyone not like them) than the other group—care to guess which one that is?

Both liberals and conservatives create a schema and filter reality purely from that point view.

Does filtering reality through one of those schema result in an assessment that is actually closer to reality than the other one? Or does abstinence-only sex education really work to reduce teen pregnancy, sexual activity and STDs among young people?

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.

Finally, someone has offered a specific example in support of the argument that both sides accusing each other of the same thing! THANK YOU!

Still, FAIL.

I have not seen anyone on the political left use “elite” as an epithet, except as applied to entire groups, such as the DC power establishment (“political elites”) and the mainstream press (“media elites”).  It’s possible I could have missed it, though.  But unless you can demonstrate that this charge of “elitism” is nearly as ubiquitous on the left as it is on the right, then your example is indeed not a very good one.

But further to my larger point, are liberals all indoctrinated pompous elites from big cities on the coast? A check of the 2008 electoral map by county belies this assertion.  Go click on some red states there, ones whose electoral votes went to McCain: Montana. South Dakota. Alabama. Hell, even Texas. What do you see? Numerous counties going for Obama (who campaigned as a liberal—though he certainly does not govern as one). And the reverse is true for many blue states: North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, and my own deep blue state of New York all contain large swaths of red counties that went for McCain. And while it’s true that conservatives have managed to turn “liberal” into an epithet—one I wear proudly—I have seen research (that I’m sorry, I cannot put my finger on just now but will try again later to find it) that shows that when people are polled on specific policies such as the drug war, Social Security, public education, government spending on research and infrastructure, etc., a solid majority are in agreement with liberal policies—even people who self-identify as conservative. So the answer to my question is no, liberals are not all indoctrinated pompous elites from big cities on the coasts. Conservatives are [SPOILER ALERT!] factually wrong.

As to whether conservatives “speak for the common person” or even believe they do, I find that claim extremely dubious as well. Sarah Palin’s “real America” comment comes to mind. She said:

We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.

The urban population is 82% of the total U.S. population (2010). The city slicker, not the small town dweller, is by definition the “common person”—by far. (None of us are real Americans of course.  Bunch of slothful, unpatriotic anti-Americans, the lot of us.) Wait, what’s that I hear?  Nothing.  Silence, in the place of conservatives speaking for urban citizens, i.e., the common person—unless of course we redefine “speaking for” as “gutting our public education systems” or “cutting and undermining public transportation,” for instance.

It’s no secret that conservatives are overwhelmingly white, Protestant Christian, and skew male, with a pronounced…shall we say, disdain, for women’s bodily autonomy, social and sexual independence, and economic equality.  Sheer numbers are just not in the conservatives’ favor demographically speaking, and the projections get worse for them going forward as blacks, Hispanics, feminists and non-believers grow in their relative numbers.  But one thing is certain: right-wing conservatives do not speak for the common person.  And if you’re right that they believe that they do, then they are, factually speaking, delusional.

Are liberals correct that the right wing speaks for big business and billionaires? Yes they are. Deregulation and low taxes for mega-rich individuals and corporations is not, the last time I checked, Occupy Wall Street’s raison d’etre.  Do liberals speak for the common person? Yes, they do.  Women’s rights, workers’ safety, minimum wage laws, LGBTQi equality, food safety, environmental regulation, and the drive for universal single-payer healthcare are not exactly key planks of the conservative agenda—and that list is hardly exhaustive.

Humans evolved to think in terms of groups not rational individuals.

Humans evolved to successfully reproduce their genes—full stop.  To the extent that humans evolved big brains capable of rational thought is to that end, and that end alone.  Sometimes (e.g. when triggered by fear, as noted above) the us-vs.-them mentality is dominant and rational thought gets short-circuited.  However, humans are also social species with all that entails: complex systems of cooperation, collaboration and interdependence lead to much better outcomes for the human species than the us-vs.-them mentality does, ever did, or likely ever will.  (See: all of human history.)  Which is why I point it out.  Relentlessly.  And I’m going to spell it one more time:  the liberal view is that everyone, including conservatives, is in the “group.”  There is only “us.”  There is no “them.”

It is easier for them to pick a side and scold the other than remain open-minded.

Maybe so, but I ask again:  are the criticisms coming from both sides equally accurate?

However, because we are smarter than chimps we can become aware of all this and work past it.

Citation definitely needed.  Are we smarter than bonobos, too?  You know, our equally distant primate cousins.  Because they have a completely different paradigm: they fuck.  A lot.  Like, everyone, all the time.

But in all seriousness, maybe you’re right, and “we” can work past this us-vs.-them mentality.  But I ask you to consider whether some of us are already past it.  And are working to drag those who are not past it, past it too.

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.

You mean like conservatives avoid ostracizing liberals, listen to other points of view, and constantly reexamine their own?

Bwahahahahaha!  Listen: if our goal is to diminish the political prevalence of conservatism (HINT: it is), and reason and evidence have zero effect on conservatives (and in some cases the opposite effect), why on Earth should we not work tirelessly to ostracize conservatives?

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 would agree that we should seriously wonder about that, if liberal views did in fact match perfectly with any political party.  They do not.  And of course this is sometimes true on the conservative side, too. But it’s also true that conservative views are far more closely represented by the Republican party than liberal views are by the Democrats, who have become a party of center-right, Republican-lite wannabes.  What does that tell you about how much of that is my 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.

And I have posited a hypothesis for understanding where they are coming from and why the left has failed to appeal to them.  So have others, like Altemeyer and Jost et al.  Further, if you do not want to see right-wing conservatives demonized, you really need to take it up with them.  Maybe convince them to stop advocating for truly evil policies, and engaging in eliminationist rhetoric.  Just a suggestion.

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 really detest the trope that conservatives somehow value personal responsibility, having a strong work ethic, and a strong sense of right and wrong more than liberals do.  It is so easily refuted (respectively: bank bailouts, vast numbers of working-class and working-poor liberals, and sexual hypocrisy—just a few examples that leap readily to mind) that it goes beyond insulting and into the realm of the laughably absurd.  (FYI—that’s not demonizing, it’s mockery.)

I think Occupy would have been more successful if it appealed to these things.

You can of course think that, and I can think otherwise.  I can also, for instance, think it’s a mistake to count Occupy out.

__________

In closing, I just want to say I really enjoyed this discussion, and that I sincerely appreciate your engagement here more than I can say.  Conversations like this one are exactly what I had hoped for when I started this blog—though it’s true, I did not anticipate the severity of my own SIWOMB syndrome.

Many, many thanks — and I hope you stick around.

2 thoughts on “Palace receives interesting feedback on Lesson four.

  1. You made the comment,
    “ I really detest the trope that conservatives somehow value personal responsibility, having a strong work ethic, and a strong sense of right and wrong more than liberals do. It is so easily refuted (respectively: bank bailouts, vast numbers of working-class and working-poor liberals, and sexual hypocrisy—just a few examples that leap readily to mind) that it goes beyond insulting and into the realm of the laughably absurd. (FYI—that’s not demonizing, it’s mockery.)e the comment”

    I don’t think most conservatives, not Republican politicians, supported the bail-outs, but correct me if I am wrong about that, and can you elaborate on what you mean by working-class and working poor liberals? Also, how many conservative leaning people do you talk to? I am making a distinction between T.V conservatives and conservatives that do not do politics as a full time profession, along with independents that just lean that way.

    I think liberals should use the ideas having “a strong sense of right and wrong,” a strong work ethic, “and “personal responsibility” more often in their rhetoric. The logical extension of these things, to me, would mean helping those in need and taking responsibility for the environment.

    You also said,

    “Does filtering reality through one of that schema result in an assessment that is actually closer to reality than the other one?”

    I wasn’t making the argument that conservatives are equally right (they’re not). My point was that when someone labels themselves as a “liberal,” they see themselves as part of a group. You said that these labels were not part of a group, as opposed to Democrat or Republican, but a world view,

    “I get what you are arguing here, but you are conflating two very different things: a liberal worldview, and political labels such as “Democrats” and “Progressives.”

    I think you made a good point in separating “liberalism” or “progressivism” from the Democratic Party. Obama, if you go purely off what he has done, is basically a center right politician, but so was Clinton. I can’t think of a single president the left is satisfied with having gone far enough however, even FDR, but this is completely besides my argument.

    Either way you look at it, I see it as a group mentality. If you claim you have a liberal point of view you are putting yourself as part of a group, people who are liberal that think like you. That liberal point of view was not decided from pure reason independently, or maybe it was (I can’t get into other people’s heads). Maybe you have some psychological studies to cite? The more likely case is that it was chosen among two dominate approaches to American politics in this time period. This will make anyone more likely, but not always at all times, to be bias. I don’t see how you can debate that. Whether or not someone is more right, aside from that bias, is beside the point. I don’t think that conservatives and liberals are two equal teams against each other. I think the liberal view is more accurate with reality. I guess that is why I said that her (thank you for correcting me) view was reasonable, but not right,

    “ 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.”

    I think that we need to get past the liberal-conservative view point and look at politics, government, and ethics in more interesting ways.

  2. Hi Joemm. I’ve been traveling (heading out again today) and am still catching up—didn’t want you to think I’m ignoring you. Your comment deserves a well-thought out reply, and you shall have it as soon as I can manage it.

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