Friday, September 23, 2005

Conservatives Believe, Liberals Think

Now, i know what you're thinking.

"Oh look, yet another post that deals with the philosophical differences between the primary political and cultural groups in our society..."

Well... uh, you're right. It is. Sorry 'bout that.

I figured people could probably use one, though. Recently things have been going even worse than before in the US and, barring a handful of new under-currents, it looks like the Aristocrats, Theocrats, and Corporatists will be able to keep their crooked fingers around the world's collective throat for a bit longer.

God help us all.

So let's step back and look at some big-picture stuff again. How do Republicans and Democrats differ in mode of thought? This has been discussed a lot and, i think, most people come to the same (or similar) conclusion even if they have to wrap it up in Conservative-speak in order to make sure their side comes out on top. (Maybe they should just embrace the fact that they're reactionaries with zero problem solving skills? Well, they probably wouldn't be very popular then...)

So here's my hypothesis:

Liberals believe, generally, that method is important. Just like your college introduction to logic: if the premises are legitimate and the reasoning is legitimate then the conclusion must be accepted as legitimate to the same degree--whether that conclusion is desired or not. The important part is not what a person believes, but how that person came to that belief.

This is partly why, as Armando was desparing of in that link earlier, Liberals tend to be coming from lots of different directions at once. They all have at least somewhat legitimate reaosning and so the diversity of opinion is inevitable.

If i had to sum it up in a sentence: Liberals believe "You are how you think."

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that it's what you think that's important. The method doesn't matter so much (and can be manipulated for the "right ends") as that you believe things that are "normal" and "right". If you don't think or act or live the approved manner you get tossed out of the club. (I was trying to stay as neutral as possible here, but it's really difficult. Onward...)

For Conservatives "You are what you think."

A Liberal believes in reason, the scientific method, and logic; tolerance is valuable because intolerance ends thought, debate is willingly entered by two parties in order to find the ideal resolution to problems or questions. Liberals believe in the future, therefore how we come to new belief (looking ahead) is important.

A Conservative believes in dogma, obedience, and conformity; tolerance is not particularly valuable and intolerance begins with disagreement (if someone disagrees on what to think there is no problem solving tool--"the other person is always wrong"), debate is one party trying to force another to accept the first party's "right belief". Conservatives believe in the past, therefore what we believe (specifically: that we follow others who have come before us) is important.

Liberals value external input because that input allows refinement of the thinking process.

Conservatives consider external input challenges to their belief system--as though the input was aimed at imposing someone else's "right belief" on the Conservatives in question.

I'm coming very close to "relativism vs. absolutism" or "utilitarianism vs. deontology" here--and to a certain extent that makes sense, but i feel that debate is separate but similar. In some ways i feel this is the over-arching meta-debate that shaped these philosophies, but that does not really make sense. On the other hand it certainly shapes how we, today, view those debates.

For a conservative, facts are things to be massaged or outright altered with the aim that they create "right belief" in others. A lie is as useful as the truth so long as the end result is "right".

For a liberal, facts are of the utmost importance--without correct premises (facts) no amount of reasoning will result in a reliably correct conclusion.

Conservatives see Liberals as enslaved by their own imagination--they do not view science or reason as being superior to anti-science or bigotry, but merely different. Some apparently are incapable of seeing distinctions between the two. Witness, for example, the very popular modern tendency to (when accused, quite reasonably, of racism or homophobia) fire back with "You Liberals are the real racists because you want to destroy the white race." Not in a "white supremecist" sort of way (not necessarily), but rather an inability to distinguish between the two positions and also the fact that the "correct belief" is quite different. All the science and reason and sociology in the world doesn't make a bit of difference because the end result is not the "correct" end result.

Liberals see Conservatives as living in fantasy-land, or in an immature and child-like state from which they never grew out of. The ultimate expression of the Liberal view, most likely, can be found in Suskind's reporting of the "reality-based community" remark:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Liberals tend to feel the above is a rather eggregious example of the "naked emperor" fallacy.

(It's my own name, as far as i'm aware, so don't feel bad if you haven't heard it before. It goes, although i'm thinking about writing more about it soon, briefly: just because something is internally consistent does not make it true. The "Invisible Pink Unicorn" fallacy is a sub-set of this and circular logic is related. It comes from the famous story in which an incredibly implausible, but internally consistent lie makes a whole nation feel very foolish indeed. The other thing i would note about this story that most people seem to overlook: everyone but one person was willing to believe, or pretend to believe which is practically identical in this case, something blatantly and obviously untrue.)

In any case, i believe i have at least outlined some of the differences i have been seeing more and more in US politics.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bloody Ignorant Racists

Yes, i mean you.

I would write a big long essay on precisely how stupid and wrong the author is but there's not really anything there for me to dissect. It's not that the author makes subtle logical errors, not that the author puts forth an argument that merits logical analysis, there's just nothing there to talk about. (Of course: with that in mind you know i'm going to ramble on for another fifteen paragraphs--but don't mistake that for the author saying something substantial, rather: the author has just accidentally exposed something i have been examining for a while and now i'm going to poke it for a bit.) The author just seems to believe that racism (and bigotry) is about being afraid of dark colors, or something. Wake up, pal: the majority of racism exists because a dominant group (a "tribe", if you really want) invents a new, essentially meaningless division in people and then kills (or whatevers) the "bad" ones. German Jews and German non-Jews were essentially indistinguishable (to the point where the Jews had to wear identification so they wouldn't be mistaken for the majority group) and the Hutus and Tutsis are (essentially) identical and the... well, i could go on forever. That the Serbs are different (genetically) is entirely irrelevant: racism was never about the actual genetics of the question (which was always a side-question, if related at all) and has always been about a dominant group ("tribe", if you desire) oppressing a minority group for the dominant group's gain. (Economic, social, political, geographical, or otherwise.)

The skin color argument (in the US) has always been a red herring; discrimination, bigotry, and racism against Africans and their descendents in the US has always been about "tribes". First it was the "Africans" who it was okay to enslave because they were different (and "their own people"--who were from a different "tribe", also--"sold them" to us). Then it was the "coloreds" who were "gentically inferior" (but--here's the important part--they actually never were and that line was only ever a post-hoc rationalization of pre-existing bigotry toward the "other tribe"). Now it's the "thugs and gangstas" who are "culturally inferior", but once again that's just an excuse to hate on people who the author (and the other Conservatrons) don't know.

And let's get serious here: that's really what this is about. It's a new resurgence in racism--back to the old pre-segregation roots--disguised as social commentary. Are gangs and kids with no parents (not necessarily, mind you, because the parents don't care but rather because single moms can't really take care of kids and hold down the 3 jobs required to "make it" under Republican government) problematic? Yes. But do not mistake that, as the author does, for entire groups of people. Do not take this or that example and use that as a stereotype for the entire group.

Contrary, and quite the opposite, to the author's claim: race has everything to do with it.

It's just not the kind of "race" the author wishes it were.

So the author continues talking about "tribes": specifically that "his" tribe, made up of all sorts of different people he points out, is "good" and "moral" and "just" and so on and that "those people" and their tribe are vicious and savage and evil and (most importantly) looters and thieves. He seems to be under the delusion that this backs up his assertions when it is the height of irony. His "tribe" is, presumably, wealthy or at least wealthy in comparison to the poor of New Orleans--i doubt, though certainly i do not know, the author has ever had to steal bread and water in order to live to see tomorrow but he certainly seems interested in throwing other people (people, i might add, who are under considerably worse circumstances than normal) in jail for doing just that. Maybe he wants thirty years on a chain gang, maybe only fifteen. He certainly seems to buy into the "neo-Javert" notion of law--a notion adopted more and more by Republicans (and even Democrats, much to my consternation) these days although that's a separate issue.

But the author clearly has stereotypes and uses them. He sees looters on TV and assumes everyone there is guilty, he hears of murder and rape in what could charitably be described as "Hell on earth" and assumes that this somehow speaks to some moral defect or personality trait shared by all those survivors but not by him or his friends. But of course he doesn't extend that stereotype to those around him (who it would otherwise fit) because he can see by opening his damn eyes that it's not accurate.

I suppose in this way we have made progress. As compared to, you know, 1800 or so. You see: he sees that those around him are much like he is--smart, well-meaning, hard-working, and imperfect but honest: much unlike he dreams those in Lake New Orleans to be. "So," he says, "It's not about race! It's about culture!"

This argument has been gaining steam, as i believe i have pointed out in the past, among Conservative circles looking to start the old "blame-the-[minority]" game up again now that the fire of the 1960s has more or less died down. "Personal responsibility" is another salvo in that same effort and is, in fact, related. (I would like, here, to take a detour to examine this but will resist the urge.) Of course, this argument (like the argument from genetics popular in the 20th century) is merely a justification for previously held beliefs.

What the author either ignores or does not realize is that there were both heroes and villains among the survivors in New Orleans. Some murdered, raped, and plundered--others organized, protected, and "looted" essentials for continued life. The stories about those "thugs with guns" the author frets about getting together and commandeering a bus to drive survivors out of New Orleans, or ones about breaking into WalMart to get precious water and food (sometimes with the outright support of the police, mind you) in order to save lives. While--simultaneously--those whom the author would, i suspect, place in "his tribe" who were supposed to be in charge of helping people sat on their thumbs and held repeated press conferences about how "America is just about to turn the corner with disaster relief!" while doing nothing of substance.

The author, in fact, flatly assumes "his tribe" would behave in a superior fashion but provides no arguments or evidence to support this; and no, anecdotes are not evidence. Do you think--even for a minute--that if you stuck 10,000 comparatively wealthy, white men with sticks up their butts (a'la our author) into a single building and then ran it over with a hurricane things wouldn't degenerate pretty damn quick? Well, it's a hypothetical: but if i were the betting type i know where my money would go.

Others--presumably more "his tribe" than the "New Orleans poor fucker" tribe--didn't really respond with peace, kindness, and loving understanding themselves; instead blocking refugees from the convention center (who, remember, were getting absolutely nothing from anyone until late in the week) from crossing a perfectly dry bridge into the nearby Gretna by police, at gunpoint. These police, the accounts go, did not want "that kind of person" in their city. "That kind of person" being a lawless, looting refugee. They apply the same type of stereotypes the author does and, as a result, people die.

So who has the high ground now?

The author then goes on into an incoherent discussion of "pink" vs. "grey" personalities, taking a brief stop at the end to worship the altar of machismo and full-auto guns and a trip into slamming Hollywood (the idle-middle-class bourgeois to the Republican's Party's would-be aristocrats) with a bizarre fixation on how they're "not as good as" his tribe. (To which i say: the author wasn't down there in New Orleans--with or without a camera crew--so who is he kidding?) The author, in fact, asserts there's some sort of inherent moral good in carrying around guns with the intent of protecting people. Bullshit. This is just the "freedom emanates from the barrel of a gun" argument all over again. "Freedom" does not emanate from the point of a gun, but rather: red-hot death "emanates" from the point of a gun. Did the national guard troops go down to New Orleans to shoot people "looting" life-giving water? Doubtful, but that ended up happening. Did they go down with the intent of censoring the press? No, but that is what happened. Did they go down there expecting to be reprimanded if they actually did the humane thing and rescue people? No, but i know of at least one case of that happening.

Simply put: the soldiers and police are no more and no less inherently moral than the survivors--though they are more "white"--and it's silly to treat them that way. Much like on the side of the survivors: the police and troops had both heroes and villains among them, but nothing about sticking an assault rifle in either of their hands made either group automatically moral or culturally superior or immoral or culturally inferior. Of course, if we want to talk about violence and a culture of brutality: there are currently (or so the nice man on The Daily Show said earlier tonight) more guns in New Orleans than there are in any geographically similar area on the planet. And, in case it isn't obvious, the survivors don't have most of them.

The author, furthermore, assaults "racial politics"--although this remains undefined, much like everything else, i can guess where he's going: if i say "80% of the survivors of New Orleans are black and this did not happen by accident" that's probably "racial politics". Now, the author suggests he's interested in shooting people who engage in this sort of "politics" (and then regretting it) so i am forced to wonder: does he really think the gross disparities between black and white skinned people in New Orleans occurred merely by chance? That, somehow, the law of averages took a fucking hike and black people got bizarrely unlucky? Does he purport (and i know he does, but bear with me) that it is the "culture"--the same culture which he belittles without knowing anything about, or at the least, not providing any argument about--that hurts them? In other words, is he saying the only reasonable explanation for this disparity between black and white skinned people in New Orleans is that black people don't follow the rules for "his tribe" and that if you disagree with him: he'll shoot you dead? And does he expect us to believe, based on this reasoning, that bigotry or prejudice played no role in the plight of the Hurricane Katrina survivors?

Do i look like i was born yesterday?

The author then goes into a long, drawn-out repetition of the old "HATEFUL, MURDEROUS ASSHOLES WITH GUNS KILL FOR YOUR FREEDOM" meme. At this point even i am having trouble seeing the relevance to the original part--and specifically, that original part is the part i am interested in. As though it's us--the "Democrats", or "sheep" as the label gets applied--who want to hide away from anything related to violence and it's "Republicans" (or "sheep dogs") who bravely confront it and make the world safe...

...Huh? In what universe? In the one i live in the Republicans, not the Democrats, are the ones who want to know as little as possible about what's actually going on--a phenomenon the author of this post engages in even while he claims the opposite--and the Democrats (more often, at least--it would be nice if the Democrats grew a spine, but if we're working with the metaphor as presented the Democrats are a toothless old sheep dog ready for retirement, the Republicans are the wolves, and everyone else is lunch) who are demanding things come out into the open.

Just take a look at the difference between investigative methods recently proposed by the two parties: The Republicans want (and get) a closed-door non-investigation controlled by Republicans and used to enhance the political power of their leader. The Democrats want a real investigation (when it's not them who totally fucked everything up it's much easier to ask for heads to roll, but again: do not mistake this for cowardice or hypocrisy) to ensure the problems are addressed.

Which one of the two is working to fix the problems that have revealed themselves recently--The ones so coolly dismissed by the author?

I'm going to quote this next part because it's really quite bizarre:
And in Louisiana last week the governor cried and the mayor blamed everyone but himself, and half the country bought every single stinking Pink lie about global warming and missing National Guard units and blamed the sheepdogs while the wolves raped and pillaged and looted everything in sight.

So--let me see if i get this straight--the one explicitly and officially in charge of protecting the American People in time of national disaster totally abdicates his duty (i don't care who or what group of people had that responsibility: they work for Bush or are Bush himself and abdicate they did) and the author purports that quite the opposite happened? That their failure was actually not their failure and that this proves they are somehow guardians of the people?

I'm starting to see why this "pink"/"grey" distinction is so incomprehensible: it has to twist impossibly in order to fit the results desired. But it doesn't--and can't, the speed limit (as noted) is still 186,000 miles per seocnd.

And now i'm being told that, as our ice caps and glaciers melt more (a process that has been underway for some time now and is evinced by photographic evidence so clear even someone so muddled as our author could not deny it) and subsequently raise sea level which sinks more cities below sea level we're not going to see a repeat of the New Orleans flood? Because "global warming" is a lie?

And this is the same person who regards tears for the dead as deriliction of duty.

I'm starting to see why Bush's zombified approach to disasters plays well for these people.

Well, here’s the news flash: Nagin isn’t incompetent because he’s black. He’s incompetent because he’s incompetent. Condoleeza Rice is black. [...] Rice and Powell are two of the most competent people on the planet.

Well this is sure funny.

It seems Nagin isn't incompetent because he's black--he's incompetent because he's a Democrat. I don't know, maybe that's not a fair assessment of the author's views. But the author neglects to enlighten us as to what precisely was wrong with Nagin's performance.

In contrast: let me explain why Condoleeza Rice does not deserve to be described as anything nearing "competent": while people were drowning (i'm sure the author has heard this line before) she was shopping for shoes and watching Monty Python plays. Now, i can hear the whining already ("Oh NO! She didn't have any responsibilities in the disaster at all and you're an evil liar for even considering!") but as foreign governments begin offerring aid--some of it quite substantial, including an entire communications network to replace the fallen one in New Orleans offerred by the Canadians--Rice, Secretary of State, was not only not on the job but decidedly elsewhere. Nagin, meanwhile, not only didn't go on vacation while his city drowned but he was actually out there trying to make things better. Not very effectively, but he was at least doing his job.

In short (Hah! I kid!): the author is a racist fuck. The author likes killing people and doesn't care about responsibility for his tribe--only for those others whose tribes are far away. He feels this way because feeling otherwise (in other words: that his position in life is not a result of his "hard work" and "personal responsibility" but rather a gigantic global lottery in which he hit the jackpot and billions of others lost) is unbearable. He wants to believe that the people who make his life of comfort possible are inherently good people and on the side of justice (against those who would prey on the weak) and that they are infailable. He, apparently, does not want to discuss situations in which the "grey sheepdogs" guarding the "pink sheep" go rabid or fail to protect their charges from the "wolves". He wants to believe all that is needed is unquestioning loyalty to the powerful and willingness to kill, kill, kill--that if that's how things are run then everything will always be fine. He can't handle complexity bceause complexity introduces doubt and failability and those are poison to his absolutist/safety-at-all-costs view of the world. He wants badly to be a "sheep dog"--something he appears to admire--but cannot tolerate that the job is more complex than marching around with assault rifles and therefore can do little but sit on the sidelines and cheer... and pretend he's "part of the team" whenever possible.

When his "tribe", when his "sheepdogs" fail spectacularly and let the wolves have tasty mutton dinners he refuses to entertain the notion that they were at fault--that they abandoned their duty to the "pink sheep" they are responsible for protecting--and instead blames others who he derides as too "pink" to get the job done. Because he, himself, is too "pink" to deal honestly with the truth of the matter.

What i'm getting at is that i have met his enemy and it is him. He is the "pink sheep" who lives in denial while others go around making the world livable for him. But it's not just enough for him to be his own enemy: he's going to make sure the rest of us suffer, too.

See, i can even refute his assertions using his own system. But i categorically reject his systems and methods of thought as they are inadequate to describe the fullness of the situation we are facing today.

If he wants to look at what Al Gore would do, as opposed to George Bush, let's look at what Al Gore is doing. To wit: Al Gore has a private plane which he is flying in and out of New Orleans, in direct contravention of the orders of the most powerful military on the face of the planet, and rescuing the survivors of Katrina personally. George Bush is hiding from the big, mean reality and trying to figure out who he can get away with blaming for this whole disaster.

I'll leave the rest of the exercise up to my readers.

(Edit: So i'm reading DailyKos today and come upon a story that made me think of this post: specifically the line contained within the story:
Something bad is going to happen, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

This is a sort of "grey" thinking that the author has categorically ascribed to Republicans and explicitly asserted the Democrats were constitutionally incapable of entertaining. As he puts it:
The Pink Tribe motto, in fact, is the ultimate Zen Koan, the sound of one hand clapping: EVERYBODY IS SPECIAL


The Grey Tribe motto is, near as I can tell, THINGS BREAK SOMETIMES AND PLEASE DON’T LET IT BE MY BRIDGE.

Incidentally: he's wrong about the Zen Koan part. "Special" does not necessitate statistical superiority, although he seems to believe otherwise.)