[UPDATED: added new and/or improved links. Also, WordPress ate my post title. I found this entirely unacceptable, so I am putting it back. Take that, WordPress!]
People, I just don’t know why I bother to click on linkbait at mainstream American media outlets like the Washington Post. Today, I got suckered by We think our enemies are idiots, and that’s a problem: The psychological explanation for our partisan strife, by psychologist and assistant professor of management and organizations at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Adam Waytz. The piece is full of false equivalencies between conservatives and liberals, and finishes up with the usual pointless whinging:
“if we believe our political opponents are as rational, thoughtful and empathic as we are, then we are likely to pursue political compromise through rational debate, civil discussion and collaborative analysis of the facts.”
What bubble does Adam Waytz exist in, where American conservatives are rational, thoughtful and empathic? In this amazing Bizarro Bubble, the Republican party actually wants to pursue compromise, and Fox News thrives on rational debate, civil discussion and collaborative analysis of the facts.
If you truly believe that women cannot get pregnant from “legitmate rape,” you are definitely not rational or thoughtful. If you think uninsured people should be left to die, you have a cavernous empathy deficit. In either case, you should not be anywhere near a public office, because holding an “alternate view of reality” is not only about being flat-out wrong factually, it has demonstrably harmful and often deadly consequences. That makes it morally wrong, too.
Here is the gist of what apparently passes for insightful analysis at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and as publication-worthy by the esteemed editors at the Washington Post:
Another example is Thomas Piketty’s claims about income inequality to climate change. His champions who believe in rising income inequality and his detractors who see little cause for concern both say the other side is biased. Climate change believers and skeptics alike see their opponents as mistaken and lacking in basic analytical skills.
The arguments here, such as they are, rarely grapple with the interlocutor’s alternate view of reality, let alone the merits of the point. Rather, they center on the other side’s deficient mental capacity, and all the ways that “you” are less reflective, less rational, less empathic and more biased than “I” (or “we”). In other words, we see our opponents’ minds — their capacity for reason, emotion, thought and desire — as less sophisticated than our own minds, a phenomenon my colleagues and I have termed the lesser minds problem.
That’s pretty hilarious, because “the lesser minds problem” is a perfectly apt description of both the source of this crap and how it ends up in the Washington Post. You see, in the real world, income inequality is either rising, or it is not. (SPOILER: it is.) Man-made climate change is either happening, or it is not. (SPOILER: it is. Even the Department of Defense knows it, and is acting accordingly.) “Rational debate, civil discussion and collaborative analysis of the facts” will get you precisely nowhere with those whose minds are not remotely interested in actual, verifiable, demonstrable reality.
Remarkably, Waytz comes close to nailing the problem with this:
If I believe that I think more thoughtfully than you and feel more deeply than you, then it makes little sense for me to try to reason with you, much less listen to what you have to say.
Exactly correct. But he thinks the problem lies in merely believing that one’s political opponents are less thoughtful, rational and empathetic, not whether this is actually true and what to do about it. Worse, he appears to have no idea that conservatives are not only constitutionally resistant to facts, but that exposing them to more facts makes conservatives even more resistant. It does indeed make little sense to try to reason with conservatives, much less listen to what they say (except to mock it, of course).
Waytz really thinks he’s on to something when he scolds us:
This suggestion to disavow oneself from beliefs of mental superiority is preached often, but rarely practiced.
And thank the fuckin’ Lard it is rarely practiced. I hate to break it to Waytz, but conservatives in both parties (and Republicans especially) are openly waging war on Social Security. Unions. The environment. Education. Food and water. Immigrants. Cancer patients. Muslims. The poor. Gay and trans people. The oceans. Palestinians. The middle class. Black people. Brown people. The young. The elderly. The disabled. Science. The Earth. The godless. History. Women.
If conservatives were even remotely rational, thoughtful and/or empathic, would any of that be the case? Further, even if it were possible, when we are talking about life and death issues, why would anyone with any sense and empathy ever want to pursue “political compromise” on such matters, through “rational debate, civil discussion and collaborative analysis of the facts” or otherwise?
You know what? It doesn’t matter to me one whit if global warming deniers think I’m the one with a lesser mind. “Alternate interpretations of reality” are neither legitimate nor worthy of respect to the extent that those interpretations do not comport with, you know, actual reality. I am sick and tired of the Waytzes (and Linds, and Mooneys) not only ignoring reality themselves, but urging us all to respect and accommodate those who remain stubbornly, intractably untethered to it—and proud of it.
Lesser minds, indeed.