Freedom From Want, Freedom to Imagine

Here is some interesting stuff from the past few days. Included are online writings I’ve been perusing and my thoughts that were inspired.

First of all, in response to my last post on basic income, a regular commenter pointed out two articles, one from Inc. Magazine and the other from the Atlantic Magazine.

American Entrepreneurship Is Actually Vanishing. Here’s Why
by Leigh Buchanan

Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial
by Walter Frick

The second is the most interesting. That directly touches upon my thoughts about basic income. Like welfare, basic income is a form of social safety net that creates freedom from want and so freedom from fear, including freedom from being punished for taking risks.

As I’ve said before, this liberating support and protection breaks the oppressive morality-punishment link. A society can have rigid social control or a society can have experimentation and innovation, but to the degree it has one is the degree to which it constrains the other.

Putting those two articles together does make one think.

Much of what Americans, especially on the political right, assume to be common sense may very well be blatantly false. But we will never know one way or another, until we try something new or else we’ll keep getting more of the same, which is the point. The stifling of innovation and experimentation is no accident.

It is so rare that people scientifically formulate their ideological beliefs as falsifiable hypotheses to be tested, but most things could be tested if people had the courage to do so. What we perceive as common sense and counter-intuitive depends on the beliefs we dare not question, which often leads to a self-reinforcing reality tunnel where our assumptions create the conditions that result in the evidence that conforms to our assumptions. That is what makes experiments, social or scientific, so dangerous to the status quo.

What little data we have about basic income experiments, it appears that the results are not as many would predict. Social problems decrease while unemployment doesn’t appear to increase, except within specific demographics such as young mothers and students (who are doing non-paid forms of work). One wonders, if such an experiment was ever done on the large scale, that there might be a large increase in such things as entrepreneurship.

What certain people actually fear isn’t the stifling of innovation, but the possibility of encouraging too much of it. Innovation is always dangerous to the status quo. Some of those on the political right might talk a good game about such things, but too many of them want a highly constrained and uneven playing field to determine only a narrow set of innovations are possible, those that can’t challenge the social order itself. What they fear isn’t that a social safety net can’t work, but that it might work too well.

While I was at the website of The Atlantic, I noticed a few other interesting articles about a different topic. They are all by the same author, James Fallows.

Language Mystery Redux: Who Was the Last American to Speak This Way?

That Weirdo Announcer-Voice Accent: Where It Came From and Why It Went Away

Language Mystery: When Did Americans Stop Sounding This Way?

There is another kind of societal change. There once was a faux aristocratic dialect in the US. It survived into the early era of mass media. Along with it, there existed some of the remnants of the ideal of an enlightened aristocracy with its noblesse oblige.

The Roosevelts were among the last major example of an American family of inherited wealthy that embodied both these ideals and the way of talking, and noblesse oblige was a major force driving the Progressive Era and the New Deal. The last wave that still carried on the faux aristocratic dialect were those like William F. Buckley Jr who used it as a pose, although no longer held the worldview of noblesse oblige that went with it.

The post-war period with its rising middle class ended the old order with its quirks of language and such. It was also a time of mass assimilation, some combination of chosen and forced. For example, German-American culture was annihalated in a generation or two, despite it having been the single largest ethnic culture in the country, larger than that of the English ancestry. The German-Americans dominated the most populous region in the US (the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest), as French-Canadians still do in Quebec.

This is what is known as the Midlands culture, which German culture heavily influenced since before the American Revolution. Out of this formed the Midlands dialect. One particular variety of this became Standard American English. This dialect then replaced the faux aristocratic dialect that had previously dominated mass media.

Here is another article from The Atlantic.

America’s Largest Mental Hospital Is a Jail
by Matt Ford

It’s a sad state of affairs.

Prisons have become the one-size-fits-all solution for America’s problems. If we incarcerate the people afflicted with social and psychological problems, then we can pretend that we don’t need to face the problems themselves. The poor, homeless, unemployed, mentally ill, etc are then reclassified as criminals. The problem is dealt with by locking away the victims of the problem, but that is a bandaid on a gaping wound.

Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t justice. This brings me to some other things I’ve come across. There is a book I just noticed, Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado. It could be a worthy read and it sounds like it might be a useful extension and broadening of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Two related articles, the first from Yes! and the second from The New Yorker, are about the long-term costs this has had for the African-American population, often quite personal costs.

40 Acres and a Mule Would Be at Least $6.4 Trillion Today—What the U.S. Really Owes Black America
by Tracy Loeffelholz and DunnJeff Neumann

Kalief Browder, 1993–2015
by Jennifer Gonnerman

The second is particularly heartbreaking. A kid was locked away and tortured for years. It turns out he was innocent the entire time and there never was a trial. Most people don’t get a trial with a jury of their peers, as most people assume is their right, but it turns out many people don’t even get a trial.

Where are the right-wing libertarians when big government steps on the rights of the poor minorities? Where is Fox News to argue that failed, money-draining big government programs like mass incarceration need to be shut down? Where are the GOP politicians, or any mainstream politicians for that matter, to demand a full investigation of the entire US prison system and the industrial-prison complex that promotes it?

Another article from The New Yorker is about one of the main costs of these divides in justice.

What Poverty Does to the Young Brain
by Madeline Ostrander

This is how the personal meets the political, when an entire social order of dysfunction causes brain damage to a significant part of the population. This is also how this dysfunction gets perpetuated as a vicious cycle. This stunting of brain development leads to all kinds of cognitive and psychological problems, which create massive stumbling blocks for those inflicted.

That article reminded me of Robert Putnam’s recent book, Our Kids. I haven’t read it yet, but I noticed some reviews, articles, and interviews mention the neuroscience research.

Poor kids’ brains don’t work as well as rich kids’ brains do
by Doyle McManus

Growing Up Alone?
by Hope Reese

Review – Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
by Carrie Sheffield

Author Robert Putnam sounds alarm about growing inequity among rich and poor youth
by Leslie University

All of that and, from what others have written, it appears that Putnam mostly ignores the larger and deeper structural issues, from rigid class hierarchies to entrenched power. One review pointed out that he was avoiding talking about anyone as the bad guys, as if this shift was a mere side effect.

Richer and Poorer
by Jill Lepore

““Our Kids” is a passionate, urgent book. It also has a sad helplessness. Putnam tells a story teeming with characters and full of misery but without a single villain. This is deliberate. “This is a book without upper-class villains,” he insists in the book’s final chapter. In January, Putnam tweeted, “My new book ‘Our Kids’ shows a growing gap between rich kids and poor kids. We’ll work with all sides on solutions.” It’s easier to work with all sides if no side is to blame. But Putnam’s eagerness to influence Congress has narrative consequences. If you’re going to tell a story about bad things happening to good people, you’ve got to offer an explanation, and, when you make your arguments through characters, your reader will expect that explanation in the form of character.”

(If you want some hard-hitting analysis of how corruption and power go hand in hand, see the recent Salon piece by Corey Robin, Your boss wants to control your vote: The real reason to fear corporate power. The society we have is created by intentional policies that are promoted by those with concentrated wealth and power. We shouldn’t fear pointing fingers at those who are responsiblte.)

If anything, Putnam puts the focus on poor parents.

Putnam misses the mark
by Nicki Ruiz de Luzuriaga

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D Putnam review – concerned, scholarly
by Richard Reeves

Book review: ‘Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis’ by Robert D. Putnam
by Alan Wolfe

It reminds me of clueless people wondering where black fathers are, because of the lower marriage rates. Well, like other disproportionately poor and disadvantaged populations, many of them don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with their kids as they’d like; plus, research has shown how destructive poverty and social stress is to relationships, often either preventing marriages or breaking them up. Also, there are economic disadvantages for poor single mothers to hitch themselves to a poor man, an issue discussed in Putnam’s book and elsewhere.

That said, many black fathers are doing quite well in their rates of visiting with and helping their kids (see here and here). As for those fathers who genuinely are missing, if they aren’t excluded from contact with their kids because of incarceration or criminal records, they likely are working long hours at multiple jobs, forced to seek work elsewhere, or simply unemployed and not in a position to play a supporting role.

Forgotten Fathers: Parenting and the Prison Industrial Complex
by David J. Leonard

Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix
by David J. Leonard

6 Actual Facts Shatter the Biggest Stereotypes of Black Fathers
by Antwaun Sargent

About these systemic problems, some people see hope for reform, whether social reform or political and economic reform. Putnam puts his hope in the former. Others look to the latter, including sometimes myself (as in my last post on basic income).

A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society
By Thomas Piketty

Of course, Piketty was reviewing a book written about reform in another country. Many Americans are too cynical to believe that kind of thing is possible here.

This brings me to my last item for consideration. Corey Robin had another recent piece, that can be found on his blog. In it, he offers an extended quote from an article by William Hazlitt.

“The language of poetry naturally falls in with the language of power. The imagination is an exaggerating and exclusive faculty: it takes from one thing to add to another: it accumulates circumstances together to give the greatest possible effect to a favourite object. . . . Wrong dressed out in pride, pomp, and circumstance has more attraction than abstract right.”

What is possible is largely based on what we can imagine is possible. Hazlitt makes a case for the power of imagination wielded by the reactionary right-wing, a topic of particular interest for Robin. There is power to the conservative imagination because it idealizes and serves power. Power of imagination relates to power in the world, and there is a blunt force in how those on the political right use this power, their aesthetic sensibility being as subtle as a hammer (the reason there are few highly successful conservative comedians).

That said, in one response to Robin’s post, someone pointed out that imagination is obviously not owned by any single group. There is also a long history of its power being used by the political left.

With both Hazlitt’s view and that of the response to it, I felt a resonance to my own thinking. I want to dig below the surface. It’s great to read discussions of data, policies, and real world examples. But that doesn’t get to the beating heart of the matter.

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17 thoughts on “Freedom From Want, Freedom to Imagine

  1. There are a few others:

    Inequality is negatively correlated with economic growth (so contrary to the right wing claim that there is a tradeoff between inequality and growth)
    http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/does-tackling-inequality-reduce-growth-no

    Inequality is also negatively correlated with social mobility:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/what-matters-inequality-or-opportuniy/393272/

    These are examples of “right wing common sense” that are simply not true.

    • As always, thanks for the links. I love that kind of data.

      I’ve been looking at such correlations for years. I remember seeing graphs of such correlations for the first time, probably from The Spirit Level, and it was an eye-opening experience. I just recently came across a graph of inequality and social mobility, in Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land.

      All of that is threatening data to the status quo and especially to the right-wing worldview. I’m never quite sure what those on the political right mean by common sense. It seems to just mean something feels true to them because they believe it so strongly, but obviously that isn’t how they interpret it.

      There is some strange thing going on with this mindset. The most bizarre forms of it actually come from the most well educated and intelligent right-wingers. They are much more clever and convoluted in their rationalizations, much more duplicitous and self-deluding in their rhetoric. It’s an amazing thing to observe, the contortions the human mind can put itself into.

      Here are two posts where I tried to tackle this issue:

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/conservative-mistrust-ideological-certainty/
      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/conservative-mistrust-ideological-certainty-part-2/

      From a different perspective, I considered the significance this has both in the social sciences and the hard sciences, with these two posts:

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/haidts-moral-intuition-vs-ethical-reasoning/
      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/re-the-moral-stereotypes-of-liberals-and-conservatives/

      In the second link, I presented these two articles:

      http://www.asanet.org/press/conservatives_trust_has_fallen.cfm
      http://www.truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=6892:the-republican-brain-why-even-educated-conservatives-deny-science–and-reality

      Then there are a couple more posts that take a larger view:

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/the-science-of-politics/
      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/radical-moderate-enlightenments-revolution-reaction-science-religion/

    • I read both articles you linked and then read the comments at the second article (I really need to stop reading the comments section). It got me thinking.

      Inequality will always lead to plutocracy. Given enough time, that will lead to de facto aristocracy. A monied elite extended across multiple generations inevitably takes the form of inherited wealth, entrenched power, privilege, and cronyism.

      The rhetoric of those on the political right (and sadly of the mainstream, including too often mainstream liberals) disagrees with this assessment, but it is a disagreement based on dogmatic ideology. I don’t doubt that most of them believe it, as that is how reality tunnels operate.

      One thing I’ve noted over the years is how those on the political right simultaneously complain about the supposed abstractions of those on the left while getting lost in their own abstractions. I’ve assumed that this is simply projection. It does seem to me that ideological abstractions are more powerful to the right than to the left, at least in how bluntly and belligerently they get used on the right.

      This is the power of the right-wing imagination, the reason they can imagine a past that never has existed and then act on it as if it existed. They use their imagination of what they think reality is in order to force reality to comply or else force others to agree. Conservatives love propaganda and apologetics. It is their greatest talent, and I don’t mean that in a merely dismissive way.

      For present purposes, my point is that this makes it harder for conservatives, right-wingers, and other forms of reactionaries to deal with data on its own terms. Even concrete reality gets treated as an imagined abstraction to them.

      It would be one thing if this were somehow based on a principled position, but that isn’t even the case. Those on the political right consistently hold the views of others to a higher standard than they would ever do for their own views. This is partly just human nature, and yet it is a bias that studies seem to show they are more prone to.

      It is because of ideological abstractions that certain things get conflated that are really separate (all my posts about symbolic conflation describe that phenomenon) while other things that are in reality inseparable get treated as distinct. It’s the latter that interests me at the moment.

      The political right sees inequality of opportunity as separate from inequality of results. It’s just a distraction when they speak of the left wanting perfect equality, as no one is arguing for that. The point is that equality is an abstraction to the degree results are ignored, because results are about objective reality. What bothers them about results is what bothers them about any challenging data, it doesn’t easily conform to and get controlled by the imagined abstractions of their ideological dogmatism.

      They create these artificial distinctions all the time: negative freedom vs positive freedom, politics vs economics, individual vs group, etc. It’s related to why they can’t or won’t see the connection between concentrated wealth and concentrated power. It is ultimately a religious worldview, even for the non-religious right-wing libertarian. It has its origins in Zoroastrian/Manichaean dualism. It is either/or, which is why they can’t understand the leftist view of both/and along with its desired win/win scenarios.

      There is a refusal to think clearly and carefully. It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around. Such self-serving dogmatism seems so cynical, but I realize that the average person on the right is too lacking in self-awareness to genuinely be cynical. It’s just self-delusion.

    • I do think there is some fundamental difference in ideological predispositions. There is some research on what causes these differences, but it isn’t entirely clear. Much of it appears to environmental.

      There are social conditions and other factors that promote particular ideological tendencies. The conditions of early life are really important, as that can leave permanent changes, but none of it is inevitable. It is interesting, for example, how easy it is to turn liberals into conservatives (a reason for why I think liberalism can allow for conservatism in a way that isn’t true in the opposite direction, liberals being so flexible that they can at least temporarily become conservatives, empathetically taking on the conservative worldview, the very empathetic ability that conservatives aren’t so good at).

      http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2012/04/20/five-ways-to-turn-a-liberal-into-a-conservative-at-least-until-the-hangover-sets-in/#.VXr5Nmoo7MI

      Ironically, this view that ideologies are largely created by environmental influences is a liberal view. Maybe it is unsurprising that liberals are psychologically predisposed to be more sensitive to environmental influences. Not just sensitive, but also more aware, which is shown with the research on eye tracking. Liberals are obsessed with their environments, both immedite and extended (maybe that is also what makes liberals predisposed toward science).

      Still, the research shows that the environment shapes conservatives as well. It’s just once those influences are set in place for the conservative it is much harder to change again. That makes sense since the modus operandi of conservatism seems to be to resist change, real or perceived, at least change that doesn’t support, promote, and protect the status quo of the social order.

      Conservatives, however, will push for radical changes when it is framed according to the conservative worldview, such as when they seek to defend what they perceive as once having existed, even if it only ever existed in the conservative imagination. That is the odd reactionary nature at the core of conservatism, as explained by Corey Robin.

      Most basically, I doubt conservatism or liberalism as separate predispositions are inherent to any single person. Rather, they are two main aspects of the shared inheritance of our common human nature. Given the right conditions, I think people’s worldviews can be shaped to drastic degrees. The human brain has proven to be extremely plastic. The important difference, though, is that liberals will embrace and praise that plasticity while conservatives will fear it.

      It really comes down to fear, something many have noted. The only way we will ever deal with the problems of conservatives and other conservative-minded folk (some liberals included) is by understanding the psychology of fear, the psychology of stress, insecurity, and cognitive load.

      It’s the fear that issues like economic inequality and global warming induces that causes conservatives to deny them and try to avoid them. That is how they deal with threats, and in a hunter-gatherer tribe that might work by simply avoiding a problem such as not going into a tiger’s hunting territory, but it doesn’t work so well for systemic and especially global problems in modern complex societies. Psychological avoidance via physical avoidance can work for a limited physical problem that is contained to a single area, thing, person, etc,. Psychological avoidance, however, doesn’t even come close to working when the problem is both physically real and physically unavoidable.

      I don’t deny that avoidance is sometimes useful, for not all problems can be easily dealt with or dealt with at all. Tactical retreat isn’t always a bad thing. The problem is that conservatives lack discernment about when to do this and when not. They lack discernment because they lack awareness, especially environmental awareness that is required to understand complex problems.

      Here is another good article about how liberals lack the kind of anti-science attitude more typically found among the political right (the author even shows research that breaks it down for fiscal and social positions):

      http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/left-science-gmo-vaccines

      This next one is even better. Maybe liberals don’t bias certain highly intellectual fields. Rather, maybe intellectuality by its nature is biased toward liberalism.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-mooney/does-college-make-you-lib_b_1312889.html

      That gets at the most troubling issue. Conservatives mistrust scientists because in a sense they aren’t as good at it or rather it doesn’t come naturally to them. Theere particular criticisms about scientific issues are rather convenient rationalizations.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/11/10/conservatives-dont-hate-climate-science-they-hate-the-lefts-climate-solutions/

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/11/10/conservatives-dont-hate-climate-science-they-hate-the-lefts-climate-solutions/

      It’s not that liberals never fall into these kinds of cognitive traps. They do, but not as often. Also, when they do, I’m willing to bet it involves issues and conditions of fear, stress, cognitive load, etc. Basically, lliberals will tend toward conservative-style biases, if and only when they are in a conservative mindset. It’s just that conservatives tend to spend more time than liberals in a conservative mindset.

      A simple definition of a conservative is anyone who spends a disproportionate amount of their time in a conservative mindset. If a liberal keeps having their conservatism regularly elicited through fearmongering and such, then it would be fair at that point to stop calling them a liberal. On the opposite side, if a lack of psychological stress and cognitive load causes a conservative to relax enough and stop endlessly freaking out, then for all intents and purposes they are now a liberal, at least in mindset.

      Seeing life as situational and human nature as contingent, instead of fatalistically, is what makes me a liberal. Not even conservatives are necessarily doomed to their own cynical views. We are all social animals who will change as the world changes around us. It’s just that change most of the time happens slowly and so we don’t notice.

      I’ve spent the past few decades watching my parents go from relatively liberal-minded New Agers to reactionary right-wingers. It happened because of a change of environment, from small Midwestern liberal college town to a major military city in the Deep South. Now my parents are back in that small Midwestern liberal college town and they are once again becoming more liberal-minded. For my dad, it also helps that he is aging and his testosterone is probably vastly decreasing, which takes off that aggressive, competitive edge that is dominant in the conservative worldview.

      What is interesting is that my dad in particular has become more open to hearing liberal and alternative views as he has aged. I don’t think that is accidental. Aging doesn’t just change one’s social environment. Your entire body, hormone levels, and brain functioning changes. There probably is some truth, at least for men, in this populat sayin:

      If you’re not a liberal by age 20, you have no heart.
      If you’re not a conservative by age 40, you have no brain.

      There is a third line that sometimes gets added:

      If you’re not a socialist by age 60, you have no soul.

      That is partly describing the rise, peak, and fall of testosterone levels for the average male. If testosterone levels were the only factor that determined male political ideologies, this would somewhat accurately correlate to reality. But there are so many other factors involved, which is why few people actually follow such a simple trajectory of development.

      It would be interesting to test for ideological positions for different age groups across time (and hence across generations). I wonder what patterns would be found. It would be hard to do, since it would require following the same subjects over their entire lifetimes. I have heard of some research following people over extended periods of time, but I’m not sure if any of these studies were looking at ideological positions.

      I do know of research that has correlated testosterone level indicators to ideological labels and positions. It does have a major impact. Other hormones like estrogen also have a powerful influence. Plus, both males and females have all of these hormones, just to different degrees. It isn’t just age that effects these hormones. Environmental conditions, including diet, influence them. On top of that, there are chemicals in our environment and in our food that mimic these hormones (e.g, some chemicals that have been used in plastic containers).

      On top of all that, any of these factors can lead to epigenetic changes which can get passed onto multiple generations. We are creating large-scale population changes and we haven’t a clue what we are doing. One generation might have entirely different ideological tendencies and might be simply explained by a chemical that began to be added to food. The government doesn’t require most additives to be tested thoroughly, especially not for long-term effects and combined effects (of multiple chemicals or other factors).

      There are those in power who are very much interested in all of this. A ton of research has been done over the years, by big gov and big biz, to determine how to influence people and shape their views. This has primarily taken the form of propaganda, PR, and advertizing. But as science advances, more invasive methods will be developed.

      It’s like how tobbacco companies added chemicals to their product that so happened to increased its addictiveness. They claimed that these chemicals were just added for flavoring or something like that, and it was just a mere coincidence that it had the side effect of causing customers to buy more of their product and to increase their profit.

      I’d be prepared to see more of that kind of thing in the future.

    • Here is a big part of the problem:

      http://www.salon.com/2012/02/24/the_ugly_delusions_of_the_educated_conservative/

      “Tea Party members appear to be the worst of all. In a recent survey by Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, they rejected the science of global warming even more strongly than average Republicans did. For instance, considerably more Tea Party members than Republicans incorrectly thought there was a lot of scientific disagreement about global warming (69 percent to 56 percent). Most strikingly, the Tea Party members were very sure of themselves—they considered themselves “very well-informed” about global warming and were more likely than other groups to say they “do not need any more information” to make up their minds on the issue.”

      In this article, it is pointed out that the more a conservative knows the more sure they are about their beliefs, whether they are true or not. Conservatives who are the most well informed are simultaneously the most misinformed. These Tea Party members almost certainly know more than the average American, which isn’t particularly a great accomplishment, but their knowledge is severely limited. They don’t even realize that so many scientists disagree with them. This basically means they know a lot that has been told them by a narrow set of sources that confirm what they already believe.

      Even when an intelligent conservative admits that something like AGW is real, they have to qualify it with truly bizarre statements. Take this for example:

      http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/are-conservatives-irrational/

      “It doesn’t seem to occur to Mooney that dogged resistance to climate science might have something to do with loyalty and priority. If you look at an image of a 10-week-old fetus and see “human,” instead of a lump of insentient human tissue, then climate change is not humanity’s most pressing issue.”

      So, AGW is real… but the babies, fergodsakes the babies!!! What were we talking about again?

      I came across something else of interest. Chris Mooney discusses it in one of his books, Unscientific America. He points out that in the past decades newspapers have eliminated their science sections. It maybe is unsurprising that this is the result of science increasingly being under attack and conservative support increasingly declining.

      http://scienceprogress.org/2008/10/the-science-writers-lament/

      This immediately remineded me of how earlier last century most newspapers also used to have labor sections. Now there won’t be either labor sections or science sections, two apparently insignificant topics. Heck, even comics sections are on the decline. All that is left are business sections, lifestyle sections, and sports sections. What more do we need?

    • In other words, it’s a matter of willful ignorance.

      They can see the data and what it says. They just fear the implications. This is especially true for the educated conservatives.

    • I’d just call it ignorant ignorance. They are ignorant of their ignorance. That isn’t to deny that a few of them are full-fledged willfuly ignorant, but in many cases that is giving them too much credit. As with cynicism, willful ignorance would require more self-awareness than I think they possess.

      They aren’t lying or pretending. This is actually what they believe and ‘know’. One of their greatest sins besides unawareness is lack of curiosity, in particular as it relates to self-questioning and intellectual humility. Willful or not, their ignorance-driven self-certainty is rather convenient.

      I’ve yet to see a conservative give a worthy alternative explanation for why this is more common with the American political right. The author of the American Conservative article amazingly admits most of what Mooney is saying. He is way above average for a conservative in self-awareness and self-honesty. He must be seeing a liberal psychotherapist who is helping him. But even then, he just can’t bring himself to connect the dots, despite Mooney already having connected them for him.

      This should concern conservatives. There are a few of those on the political right that have questioned what has happened. But those who do speak up, of course, become pariah… or simply get ignored. The fact conservatism has become correlated to authoritarianism in this country should be taken seriously, especially for conservatives worried about the future of conservative politics.

      This isn’t seen in all countries. In former communist countries, authoritarianism correlates with left-wing ideologies. Maybe what conservatives hate so much about those old school European communists is that they share the same trait of authoritarianism. It’s the same reason American fundy theocrats hate Islami terrorists, because in both cases they are authoritarians pushing their versions of Sharia law.

      This takeover of the conservative movement concerned people like Barry Goldwater.

      http://www.liberalslikechrist.org/+Reasonable/Goldwater.html

      Maybe he was old enough to remember when most religious activists were on the political left, which is what motivated the Populist and Progressive movements and was still a force in the Civil Rights movement. He somehow didn’t understand the end results of promoting the Southern Strategy.

      Goldwater may have been clueless in his crotchety libertarianism, but at least he seemed basically principled and honest. From the perspective of mainstream politics, he appeared inconsistent. What he was capable of is nuanced thought, something particularly missing on the political right these days. His libertarianism didn’t stop him from supporting government protection of the environment.

      http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/books/article703597.html

      I think he may have been more of a libertarian conservative than a conservative libertarian. His conservatism, at least in that case, was able to trump the typical kneejerk libertarian rejection of government. Many conservationists used to be conservatives. Objectively speaking, there are few issues more conservative than conservation.

      Also, the scientific method is pretty conservative in its slow methodical process. It’s strange that environmental science should be a major battleground for conservatives. It’s why such labels, at least in their basic sense, have become meaningless. Corey Robin interprets conservatism in a way that actually explains the views held and actions taken, but no conservative is going to accept that interpretation. Neither is any mainstream conservative politician or pundit going to embrace Goldwater’s nuanced conservatism.

    • The American Conservative response intrigues me. I think it says a lot more about conservatives than how it first appears. It might seem like a simplistic distraction tactic. One commenter described it as a non sequitir. But maybe that misses the point, on the deeper level of psychology.

      I realized this goes straight back to symbolic conflation. I’m specifically thinking of my last post about that topic:

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/why-are-you-thinking-about-this/

      But it also relates to my comments about the conservative imagination at the end of this post. The conservative imagination is more constrained thann the liberal imagination. This is a strength in that it creates a highly focused instrument that can be used powerfully, but it also can be a weakness in that it narrows the mind, constrains perception and the range of choices. The latter relates to ignorance.

      It isn’t just an intellectual failure for it is more profoundly a cognitive blindness. Conservatives are extremely adept at focusing, a talent that can be used for good or ill, the focus of a surgeon being the former and the focus of a religious bigot being the latter.

      This use of the imagination is rarely conscious and so rarely willful. It’s simply how the conservative mind functions. Also, unlike the liberal mind, there isn’t the ease of being able to shift into a new mindset. The conservative mindset by design excludes other mindsets, which is precisely its purpose. The liberal mindset has many failures, but that isn’t one of them.

      To the writer of the American Conservative article, mentioning the babies was neither a distraction nor a non sequitir. It was the real issue. The issue of babies (as imagined being murdered by monstrous feminists) is the most real thing in the world to the conservative. It is emotionally potent and viscerally real. That conservative was simply being honest in admitting that his imagination lacked the capacity to be emotionally moved and cognitively engaged by climate change. It just wasn’t real to him. But he wasn’t denying it, which should be kept in mind.

      It’s easy to forget how powerful symbolic conflation can be. You and I are poking at the lynch pin. We wonder how conservatives can’t see it. The point, however, is if conservatives could see it then they wouldn’t be conservatives. Their minds are fully trapped within that reality tunnel. From this perspective, it is the complete opposite of willful. They are unable to see they have another choice in how to look at the situation and hence to respond. It’s almost like blaming a blind person for not knowing about the color green.

    • My greater interest isn’t ideology. It’s just one of the lense through which I look at human nature.

      I do like high quality analyses of ideology. My thinking has been heavily influenced by Corey Robin, Chris Mooney, Jonathan Haidt, and many others. They tackle ideology form interesting perspectives that do get at the deeper issues.

      Still, what really gets me excited are the views of someone like Lewis Hyde. He shares my ideological worldview. But he pushes his inquiry much further than most thinkers would. It is his non-ideological framing that has helped me more fully see what I had intuited through ideological examples.

      If symbolic conflation was merely about the ‘conservative’ minset, it wouldn’t be so powerful and captivating. It touches upon all of human nature. It can capture even the mind of the most radical left-wingers. It can at times easily slip past our intellectual defenses. When it does this, it gets under our skin and attaches itself to our brainstem. Liberals certainly aren’t immune. Sometimes, liberals can become the worse carriers in spreading it.

      If this was a problem isolated to conservatives and right-wingers, we would not be dealing with the problems we now have. The reactionary stance of dark imagination isn’t just an individual predisposition or affliction. It can become a collective madness of sorts that comes to dominate an entire society.

      Even that is probably thinking about it too simplistically. I suspect symbolic conflation always functions within the mind. It might be entirely inescapable. But that doesn’t have to say that it must always function in a reactionary way. I’d like to get at what causes this to happen.

      It might be useful to look how sybolic conflation and conservatism in general operates during more liberal times, when peace, prosperity, and stability are the defining conditions of society. It might help to look at countries that have managed to avoid the worst of major conflicts, internal and external, in recent history.

      Even an example like Iceland could offer some insight.

      http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/06/12/iceland-jailed-bankers-and-rejected-austerity-and-its-been-success

      Instead of responding with the globally dominant reactionary conservatism, they took an entirely different tack and jailed the bankers. They chose hope of rebuilding society over fearmongering. That was a different expression of imagination, even though I’m sure plenty of conservatives live there as well, but obviously a different kind of conservative. What made that alternative response possible?

      It would be nice to know the history of culture wars and such in Iceland. How would symbolic conflation take form in the Iceland imagination and what results would it lead to? I imagine there might be a strong strain of racism and xenophobia in Iceland, but apparently that doesn’t get conflated with class and religious issues as happens in the US.

      As another example, how did Portugal go from being a fascist police state to one of the most inspiring social democracies in the world, in a short period of time? How did the Portuguese fight against international pressure, like Icelanders, in order to implement their own policies? How did they escape the fearful mindset of that previous government and peacefully transitioned to something entirely different?

      Imagination is a strange thing. What allows or disallows people to imagine particular possibilities? And what is up with the crazy ability to unimagine actual existing realities?

  2. There have been others who have written about this – consumerism for example has become something that people see as a solution to all of life’s problems.

    Link here:
    http://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/8846775

    Lengthy read, but the article argues that there is a negative correlation between consumerist culture (brought on by advertising) and critical thinking. It also advocates for government action there to promote critical thinking.

    It’s a 15 year old paper. Sadly, around the time of this paper of course, Bush was elected.

    • The gist of it though is that the rise of consumerism has seen a sharp decline in critical thinking, and certain forces taking advantage of this.

      The thesis calls for a massive effort to promote critical thinking by government.

  3. I’d just call it ignorant ignorance. They are ignorant of their ignorance. That isn’t to deny that a few of them are full-fledged willfuly ignorant, but in many cases that is giving them too much credit. As with cynicism, willful ignorance would require more self-awareness than I think they possess.

    Maybe. There’s a reason why the left often accuses the political right of stupidity when they vote against what the left sees as their interests. Maybe that’s a narrow focus.

    I’ve yet to see a conservative give a worthy alternative explanation for why this is more common with the American political right. The author of the American Conservative article amazingly admits most of what Mooney is saying. He is way above average for a conservative in self-awareness and self-honesty. He must be seeing a liberal psychotherapist who is helping him. But even then, he just can’t bring himself to connect the dots, despite Mooney already having connected them for him.

    They still see global warming as a left wing conspiracy theory.

    Others I think hate and fear it. In many ways, the 19th century and the de-regulated capitalism we see today is the right’s idea of a “perfect” world. The existence of global warming means that it is a fatally flawed idea, much like how evolution challenges the idea of religion. Their options are to embrace the data and try to find solutions or to viciously deny it like religious fundamentalists do.

    This should concern conservatives. There are a few of those on the political right that have questioned what has happened. But those who do speak up, of course, become pariah… or simply get ignored. The fact conservatism has become correlated to authoritarianism in this country should be taken seriously, especially for conservatives worried about the future of conservative politics.

    Humans hate thinkers.

    There’s actually a fascinating book on this – The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. It may be worth a read someday for you.

    This isn’t seen in all countries. In former communist countries, authoritarianism correlates with left-wing ideologies. Maybe what conservatives hate so much about those old school European communists is that they share the same trait of authoritarianism. It’s the same reason American fundy theocrats hate Islami terrorists, because in both cases they are authoritarians pushing their versions of Sharia law.

    No but authoritarianism seems to be the common trait here.

    Instead of responding with the globally dominant reactionary conservatism, they took an entirely different tack and jailed the bankers. They chose hope of rebuilding society over fearmongering. That was a different expression of imagination, even though I’m sure plenty of conservatives live there as well, but obviously a different kind of conservative. What made that alternative response possible?

    It would be nice to know the history of culture wars and such in Iceland. How would symbolic conflation take form in the Iceland imagination and what results would it lead to? I imagine there might be a strong strain of racism and xenophobia in Iceland, but apparently that doesn’t get conflated with class and religious issues as happens in the US.

    It would take books to write it, but short history:

    It had been colonized by the Scandinavians (mixed origin) since the Middle Ages.

    The Danes had historically treated them quite harshly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Combined with natural disasters, they lost a large part of their population to famines. Iceland was given to Denmark after the Napoleonic wars and a large part of the population migrated to Canada (Gimli area especially).

    Iceland was a colony of Denmark’s that only got it’s independence after the Nazis occupied Denmark. Although neutral, the Allies occupied it and they voted for independence, which is their current situation.

    The Scandinavians never really developed the feudal culture that enveloped Europe during the Middle Ages – perhaps that is part of why this happened.

    Iceland remains the most equal nation in the world, although inequality has been rising as of late.

    • “There’s actually a fascinating book on this – The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. It may be worth a read someday for you.”

      I’ve come across that book many times over the years. But I have never read it. I’ll keep it in mind for the next time I come across a copy of it.

      “The Scandinavians never really developed the feudal culture that enveloped Europe during the Middle Ages – perhaps that is part of why this happened.”

      I was looking at reviews of The Lost History of Christianity by John Philip Jenkins. It reminded me of how late much of Europe was Christianized. Scandinavians were particularly resistant to being converted and it was largely accomplished by paganizing Christianity. This led to more native and independent forms of Christianity, which I’m sure was one of the forces behind the Protestant Reformation.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianization_of_Scandinavia

      I’d guess this relates to how Scandinavians also resisted feudalism. In general, Scandinavia has had a long history of resisting all kinds of foreign influences. This was obviously assisted by their geographically more remote location, especially for Iceland.

      Whatever the reason, it makes for a nice set of experiments in these countries to show that alternatives are possible.

    • It may very well be the reason for their relatively egalitarian society.

      That and it’s hypothesized that a northern climate by nature tends to lend to high levels of trust due to the harsh nature of the weather. That being said, one big counter to that hypothesis might be Russia, which is not a high trust society.

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