Ideological labels are used in an odd way on the political right. They are wielded more as weapons of rhetoric than as accurate descriptions. This relates to Corey Robin’s analysis of the reactionary mind. One of the most interesting things that distinguishes the reactionary from the traditionalist is how easily the reactionary co-opts from the political left.
This is particularly central to American society. The reactionary mind, like fundamentalism, is the product of modernity. And the American experience was born out of modernity, beginning with post-feudal colonial imperialism. The social order and social identity fell into disarray and so political ideology became ever more primary. The reactionary mind is dynamically adaptive, for it shifts according toward which it is reacting. It thrives in instability and will promote instability, even as it scapegoats its enemies for this very same instability that it requires.
Reactionaries are tough opponents. They feel no moral obligation to fight fairly. Nor will they ever state their true intentions. The mindset and worldview precludes it, at the level of consciousness. The reactionary mind is not just a set of tactics but a way of being in the world, a permanent survival mode of mistrust and deception. Labels in themselves mean nothing to the reactionary. They are like crabs, in camouflaging themselves, that attach things to their shells — pieces of coral, anemones, etc. There is a hodge-podge quality to their stated views, a little bit of this and a little bit of that with no need for principled consistency.
The earliest example of this is the fight over Federalism. The war of rhetoric was won by those fighting for centralized power. They didn’t actually want Federalism. What they were attempting to create, as Corey Robin explains so well, was a new form of hierarchy and ruling elite involving the same old pattern of concentrated wealth and power. They were as much attacking the traditional ancien régime (old order) as they were attacking the revolutionary movement. They co-opted from both of their enemies, but over time as traditionalism declined they increasingly focused on co-opting from the political left. This is the reason conservatives today, as reactionary as ever, use rhetoric far to the left of liberals of centuries past.
The first great victory of American reactionaries was in falsely claiming to be Federalists. They did this by co-opting the revolution itself and, by way of the Constitutional Convention, redirecting it toward counter-revolution. This forced their opponents into the position of being called Anti-Federalists, even though their opponents were the strongest defenders of Federalism. The winners not only get to write the history books but also get to do the labeling. The enemies of Federalism defeated Federalism by adopting the word and making it meaningless. It’s a genius subterfuge, a masterful tactic.
This is how a society like ours, founded on liberalism, quickly had its radical liberalism defanged. Thomas Paine, in a short period of time, went from revolutionary hero to social pariah and political outcast. He didn’t fit into the reactionary scheme of the new centralized establishment. Even to this day, the political right goes on trying to co-opt the label of liberalism, despite the absurdity in calling themselves classical liberals. Now a radical progressive and social democrat like Paine was a classical liberal, but he was largely written out of the history books for almost two centuries.
This pattern has repeated throughout Anglo-American history (and I’m sure elsewhere as well). The capitalists originally were strong liberals with a clear progressive bent. Paine, for example, was for free markets. And like Paine, Adam Smith saw high economic inequality as a direct threat to a free society. Yet the reactionaries took over free market rhetoric to promote the inevitable authoritarianism and paternalism of a high inequality society. Because of this, it has become harder and harder to take seriously the rhetoric of free markets — in its being falsely used to defend crony capitalism, plutocratic corporatism, soft fascism, inverted totalitarianism, neoliberal globalization, market fetishism, and crude (pseudo-)libertarianism. There is nothing free, much less classically liberal, about this capitalist realism.
There are more examples. Consider right-wing libertarians and right-wing anarchists (e.g., anarcho-capitalists). Both varieties of right-wingers typically defend the legacy of inequality and injustice. Their labeling themselves as libertarian and anarchist would have been absurd a century ago. Both libertarians and anarchists arose out of the left-wing workers movement in Europe (Property is Theft: So is the Right’s Use of ‘Libertarian’).
This was admitted by the infamous right-winger Murray Rothbard: One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy. ‘Libertarians’ had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over.” (The Betrayal of the American Right, p. 83). Yet here we are with the political right having successfully co-opted the label of libertarianism and are in the process of co-opting the label of anarchism.
There is nothing they can’t co-opt, once they set their mind to it. This is true even for labels that involve race issues. The theory and label of human biodiversity has become popular among the political right, specifically among alt-righters, the Dark Enlightenment, and other similar types. They use it to promote the cynical worldview of genetic determinism and race realism. The sad part is that the originator of human biodiversity, Jonathan Marks, created the theory specifically to disprove these right-wing claims. The story of this appropriation is told by Angela Saini, in describing Steve Sailer’s email list from the 1990s:
“Others joined in their dozens. By the summer of 1999, Sailer’s roster of members was astounding. Along with prominent anthropologists such as Marks, there was psychologist Steven Pinker, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, and economist Paul Krugman. In hindsight, the large number of economists in the group might have been a warning. There in the mix, too, was the controversial author of The Bell Curve, political scientist Charles Murray. That should have been another red flag. […]
“What intrigued him especially was that Sailer happened to be brandishing Marks’s own neologism, calling his list the Human Biodiversity Discussion Group. […] That school of racism was long dead, he assumed. Yet her on this email list, something strange was happening. Observing the conversations that Sailer steered through the group, Marks noticed the term “human biodiversity” being used differently from the way he had originally intended. Members were using it to refer to deep differences between human population groups. […] When Sailer talked about human biodiversity, he didn’t appear to be using the phrase in a politically neutral way, but as a euphemism. He had spun the language used by liberal antiracists to celebrate human cultural diversity to build a new and ostensibly more acceptable language around racism.
“For those sucked into Sailer’s electronic arena for the intellectual discussion of race, his email list was just a taste of the virulent racism that would later be seen far more often in the shadowy areas of the internet, then more openly on social media and right-wing websites, and finally in mainstream political discourse. Many more soon took hold of the phrase “human biodiversity,” giving it a life of its own online. Today it’s nothing short of a mantra among self-styled race realists. […]
“To be fair, few could have guessed that the email list was a precursor to something bigger. But as the group slowly went defunct, Steve Sailer’s political convictions became increasingly obvious. He and other members of the list went on to become prominent conservative bloggers, writing frequently on race, genetics, and intelligence. […]
“But it all came as a more of a surprise to academics like Jonathan Marks. “I was working on the assumption that these guys were the lunatic fringe. If you had told me twenty years later that they would be part of a political mainstream wave, I would have said you are absolutely crazy. These guys are antiscience. These guys are positioning themselves against the empirical study of human variation and they are clearly ideologues for whom empirical evidence isn’t important,” he says with a laugh. “But I think they were a lot cleverer than us professors” “ (Superior: The Return of Race Science, pp. 88-92).
About his legacy as a scholar, Marks writes: “For me, it increasingly seems as though my lasting contribution will be to have coined the phrase “human biodiversity” in my 1994 book of that name. Unfortunately it has come to mean the opposite of what I meant, due to the distortions of internet racists. In fact, they have even abbreviated “human biodiversity” as a meme for the semi-literate, HBD. […] To have provided racists with a scientific-sounding cover for their odious ideas is not something to be particularly proud of, but I can’t take it back. All I can do is disavow it” (I coined the phrase “Human Biodiversity”. Racists stole it.). That is sad. Yet more of the ideological battleground is ceded to the political right.
With almost fatalistic resignation, the political left accepts defeat too easily. Once again, here we are with the political right having so thoroughly co-opted a label that its very origins is forgotten. It’s a theft not just of a label but the destruction of meaning. It makes genuine debate impossible, and that is the entire point. Reactionaries are constantly seeking to muddy the water. They do everything in their power to control the terms of debate. Their opponents are left in a state of disorientation and constantly on the defense. This is easy for reactionaries to do because they have nothing specific to defend or rather that they keep well hidden what they are defending by way of obfuscation.
Think about that. The New York Times is what goes for the far left of the supposedly liberal MSM. This is how the corporate media and corporatist politicians, across the narrow ‘spectrum’ of elite opinion, have managed to push the Overton window so far to the extreme right, beyond the bounds of the radical progressivism of the silenced majority (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism; & American People Keep Going Further Left). The reactionaries aren’t limited to the overtly authoritarian right-wingers and the crazed alt-right. The entire system of concentrated wealth and elite power, including the privileged liberal class, is reactionary. What they are reacting to is not merely the revolutionary left for, more importantly, they are reacting to the threat of the American public.
We on the political left struggle against enforced ignorance and amnesia. This wouldn’t necessarily mean much if these were isolated incidents but that is not the case. The consistent pattern of rhetorical manipulation and ideological game-playing can be seen across the centuries and it has a lasting impact on the entire society, distorting everything and destroying any hope of a free and healthy society. It’s clearly significant in what it says about the modern political right and the consequences it has for the political left. The lesson is this. Never take them at their word. And never fight on their terms. Labels do matter. In language, there is immense power, to be used for good or ill.
It’s amazing the abilities some species have. But that brings up a question. If they are such an advantage, why doesn’t every species have equally amazing abilities? This particularly comes to mind with perceptual abilities.
Human senses are fairly mediocre. We can’t sense much of the world that many other species can. We make up for it with opposable thumbs and cognitive development. Just imagine how much more bad ass humans would be if we could see like a hawk, hear like an owl, and smell like a wolf.
Maybe there is no evolutionary advantage to having the best possible abilities in all ways. It might actually be a disadvantage, both for the species and for the ecosystem or even biosphere. Any given species being too successful might throw off the balance between species. Evolution isn’t only seeking the survival of species but also the survival of complex relationships between species.
Consider one of the earliest microbes, cyanobacteria. They were so successful that it led to what is called the Great Oxygenation Event. Most other microbes at the time were anaerobic and oxygen was toxic to them. It caused earth’s first mass extinction. Even the cyanobacteria didn’t benefit, as there numbers also precipitously dropped.
Too much success can be a dangerous thing, for all involved. This is a lesson of evolution. It’s the success of the entire system of species that matters, not the success of a single species. The survival of the fittest species is secondary to the survival of the fittest ecosystem and biosphere. As Phil Plait put it (Poisoned Planet):
“It’s an interesting tale, don’t you think? The dominant form of life on Earth, spread to the far reaches of the globe, blissfully and blithely pumping out vast amounts of pollution, changing the environment on a planetary scale, sealing their fate. They wouldn’t have been able to stop even if they knew what they were doing, even if they had been warned far, far in advance of the effects they were creating.
“If this is a cautionary tale, if there is some moral you can take away from this, you are free to extract it for yourself. If you do, perhaps you can act on it. One can hope that in this climate, change is always possible.”
Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky had some strong disagreements a while back, about religion in its relation to extremism and terrorism. It was a dialogue that didn’t really go anywhere. Their ideological worldviews were too different. But it occurred to me what exactly is odd about the conflict.
Harris believes there is something inherent to certain religions and to the religious mindset in general. Chomsky takes the opposite tack by emphasizing conditions and context. Islamic terrorists are the result of a half century of geopolitical machinations that involved Western governments eliminating secularism and promoting theocracy.
It’s a difference of whether one emphasizes civilizational war or common humanity. The divergence of these worldviews extends back to the Enlightenment and even further back to the Axial Age.
That isn’t exactly what I want to discuss, though. It came to my mind that these two thinkers switch positions when it comes to the human mind. Harris denies that there is an inherent self, whereas Chomsky has long argued that there are inherent modules within the mind.
Both seem inconsistent, but as mirror images of each other. Some have noted that Chomsky’s linguistic theory doesn’t fit his political ideology. There is a drastic mismatch. Chomsky dismisses this as two separate areas, as though the human mind and human society had nothing to do with each other. That is odd. Harris, as far as I know, has never even attempted to explain away his inner conflict.
Most on the political right would argue that nearly everything is inherent: human nature, language, culture, religion, genetics, biology, gender, etc. It is assumed that there is a fundamental, unchanging essence to things that determines their expression. I disagree with this viewpoint, but at least it is consistent. There are other areas of inconsistency on the political right, some real whoppers such as with economics. Yet for this set of issues, the greater inconsistency appears to be on the political left.
Health is a longtime interest of mine. My focus has been on the relationship between mental health and physical health. The personal component of this is my depression as it has connected, specifically in the past, to my junk food addiction and lack of exercise at times. When severely depressed, there isn’t motivation to do much about one’s health. But if one doesn’t do anything about one’s health, the symptoms of depression get worse.
It’s for this reason that I’ve sought to understand health. I’ve tried many diets. A big thing for me was restricting refined sugar and simple carbs. It’s become clear to me that sugar, in particular, is one of the most addictive drugs around. It boosts your serotonin which makes you feel good, but then it drops your serotonin levels lower than before you ate the sugar. This creates an endless craving, once you get into the addictive cycle. On top of that, sugar is extremely harmful to your health in general, not only maybe resulting in diabetes but also suppressing your immune system.
Most addictive behavior, though, isn’t necessarily and primarily physical. The evidence shows that it’s largely based on social conditions. That has been shown with the rat park research, with inequality data, and with Portugal’s model of decriminalization and treatment. Humans, like rats, are social creatures. Those living in optimal social conditions have lower rates of addiction, even when drugs are easily available. I’m sure this same principle applies to food addictions as well. It also relates to other mental illnesses, which show higher rates in Western industrialized countries.
This occurred to me a while back while reading about the Piraha. Daniel Everett noted that they didn’t worry much about food. They ate food when it was there and they would eat it until it was gone, but they were fine when there was no food to eat. They live in an environment of great abundance. They don’t lack anything they need.
Yet it’s common for them to skip eating for a day because they have something better to do with their time, such as relaxing and socializing. Everett had seen Piraha individuals dance for several days straight with only occasional breaks and no food. Hunger didn’t seem to bother them because they knew at any moment they could go a short distance and find food. A few hours of a single person hunting, fishing, or gathering could feed the entire extended family for a day.
The same thing was seen with their sleep patterns. The Piraha rarely slept through the entire night. There were always people awake and talking. They didn’t worry about not getting enough sleep. They slept sporadically through the night and day, whenever they felt like it. According to Everett, the Piraha are a happy and relaxed people. They don’t seem to fear much, not even death, despite living in a dangerous environment. They have a low anxiety existence.
Modern Westerners also live amidst great abundance. But you wouldn’t know it from our behavior. We are constantly eating, as if we aren’t sure where our next meal is coming from. And we obsess over the idea of getting a full night’s rest. Our lives are driven by stress and anxiety. The average Westerner has a mindset of scarcity. We are constantly working, buying, consuming, and hoarding. The only time we typically relax is to escape all the stress and anxiety, by numbing ourselves with our addictions: food, sugar, alcohol, drugs, television, social media, etc.
That has been true of me. I’ve felt that constant background of unease. I’ve felt that addictive urge to escape. It’s not healthy. But it’s also not inevitable. We have chosen to create this kind of society. And we can choose to create a different one. Addiction makes us feel helpless, just as it makes us feel isolated. But we aren’t helpless.
As Thomas Paine wrote at the beginning of this country, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Imagine a society where we could be at peace with ourselves, where we could have a sense of trust that our needs will be taken care of, to know that there is enough abundance to go around. A world where the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, and the poor lifted up. All of that is within our means. We know how to do it, if only we could imagine it. That would mean creating a new mindset, a new way of being in the world, a new way of relating.
* * *
I was thinking about a particular connection to addiction, mental illness, and other health problems. This is part of the isolation and loneliness of a hyper-individualistic society. But American society adds another dynamic to this in also being highly conformist — for various reasons: the entrenched class hierarchy, the strictly oppressive racial order, the history of religiosity, the propagandistic nature of national media, the harsh Social Darwinism of capitalist realism, etc.
Right before this post, I was writing about authoritarian libertarianism. There is a weird, secret link between the extremes of individualism and the extremes of collectivism. There is a long history of libertarians praising individualism while supporting the collectivism of authoritarians.
Many right-wing libertarians are in love with corporatism which was a foundation of fascism. Corporations are collective entities that are created by the public institution of government through the public system of corporate charters. A corporate charter, by government fiat, doles out special privileges and protections. Business often does well under big government, at least big business does.
This dynamic might seem strange, but it has a certain logic. Carl Jung called it enantiodromia. That is a fancy word for saying that things taken to their extreme tend to become or produce their opposite. The opposite is never eliminated, even if temporarily suppressed into the shadow and projected onto others. It’s a state where balance is lacking and so the imbalance eventually tips the other direction.
That is the nature of the oppositional paradigm of any dualistic ideology. That is seen in the perceived divide of mind (or spirit) and matter, and this leads to Cartesian anxiety. The opposition is false and so psychologically and socially unsustainable. This false ideology strains the psyche in the futile effort to maintain it.
This has everything to do with health, addiction, and all of that. This condition creates a divide within the human psyche, a divide within awarenesss and thought, perception and behavior. Then this divide plays out in the real world, easily causing dissociation of experience and splintering of the self. Addiction is one of the ways we attempt to deal with this, the repetitive seeking of reconnection that the can’t be satisfied, for addiction can’t replace the human bond. We don’t really want the drug, sugar, or work we are addicted to, even as it feels like the best substitute available to us or at least better than nothing. The addiction eases the discomfort, temporarily fills the emptiness.
It is worth noting that the Piraha have little apparent depression and no known incidents of suicide. I would see this as related to the tight-knit community they live within. The dogmatic dualism of individual vs collective would make no sense to them, as this dualism depends on a rigidly defended sense of identity that they don’t share with modern people. Their psychic boundaries are thinner and more open. Social hierarchy and permanent social positions are foreign to them. There is no government or corporations, not even a revered class of wise elders. Inequality and segregation, and disconnection and division are not part of their world.
You might argue that the Piraha society can’t be translated into lessons applicable to Western countries. I would argue otherwise. They are human like the rest of us. Nothing makes them special. That is probably how most humans once lived. It is in our nature, no matter how hidden it has become. Countries that have avoided or remedied the worst divides such as inequality have found that problems are far fewer and less severe. We may not be able or willing to live like the Piraha, but much of what their lifestyle demonstrates is relevant to our own.
This can be seen in the Western world. Lower inequality states in the US have lower rates of mental illness, obesity, teen pregnancies, homicides, suicide, etc as compared to higher inequality states. Countries with less segregated populations have greater societal trust and political moderation than countries with highly segregated populations. In modern societies, it might be impossible to eliminate inequality and segregation, but we certainly can lessen them far below present conditions. And countries have shown when social conditions are made healthy the people living there are also more healthy.
The world of the Piraha isn’t so distant from our own. We’ve just forgotten our own history. From Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich discusses how depression becomes an increasing issue in texts over the centuries. If you go far back enough, anything akin to depression is rarely mentioned.
She puts this in the context of the loss of community, of communal lifestyle and experience. During feudal times, people lived cheek to jowl, almost never alone. As family and neighbors, they lived together, ate together, worked together, worshipped together, and like the Piraha they would wake up together in the night. They also celebrated and danced together. Festivals and holy days were a regular occurrence. This is because most of the work they did was seasonal, but even during the main work season they constantly put on communal events.
Like the Piraha, they worked to live, not lived to work. Early feudal villages were more like tribal villages than they were like modern towns. And early feudal lords very much lived among the people, even joining in their celebrations. For example, during a festival, a feudal lord might be seen wrestling a blacksmith or even playing along with role reversal. The feudal identity hadn’t yet solidified into modern individuality with its well partitioned social roles. That is partly just the way small-scale subsistence lifestyles operate, but obviously there is more going on than that. This involved the entire order and impacted every aspect of life.
Let’s consider again Paine’s suggestion that we begin over again. This was stated in the context of revolution, but revolution was understood differently at the time. It implied a return to what came before. He wasn’t only speaking to what might be gained for he had a clear sense of what had been lost. The last remnants of feudalism continued into the post-revolutionary world, even as they were disappearing quickly. Paine hoped to save, re-create, or somehow compensate for what was being lost. A major concern was inequality, as the commons were stolen and the public good was eroded.
Even though it wasn’t how it typically would’ve been framed at the time, the focus in this was public health. Paine on occasion did use the metaphor of health and sickness — such as when he wrote, “That the king is not to be trusted without being looked after, or in other words, that a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.” The monarchy wasn’t just about the ruler but about the whole social order that was ruled over, along with its attendant inequality of wealth and power. The sickness was systemic. As with the human body, the body politic could become sick and so it could also be healed.
It never occurred to the American revolutionaries that the problems they faced should be blamed on isolated individuals. It wasn’t limited to a few malcontents. A growing unease spread across colonial society. Even as we think of our society having progressed much over the centuries, we can’t shake the mood of anxiety that continues to spread. Surrounded by abundance and with greater healthcare than our ancestors could have dreamed of, we manage to lead immensely unhealthy and unhappy lives. We are never fully content nor feel like we like we fully belong.
As individuals, we hunger for our next fix. And as a society, we are rapacious and ravenous toward the world, as if our bountiful wealth and resources are never enough. Early colonial trade was strongly motivated by the demand for sugar and now we find present neo-colonial globalization being driven by the demand for oil. Sugar and oil, along with much else, have been the fuel of restless modernity. It’s an addictive social order.
The corrupt old order may have ended. But the disease is still with us and worsening. It’s going to require strong medicine.
A friend sent me a piece by Foster Gamble, An Encouraging Look Forward. It’s from Gamble’s Thrive blog. As you might recall, Thrive was a popular documentary from a few years back. It garnered a lot of attention at the time, but it didn’t seem to have any long term impact. My friend asked my thoughts about it. I’ve looked into Thrive in the past, although I can’t say I keep up on Gamble’s writings.
I must admit that I couldn’t be bothered to read the blog post beyond a quick skim, once I saw Gamble praising Trump as good and attacking socialism as evil (i.e., Trump saving us from the Democrats, specifically the threat of Sanders). This is someone who simply doesn’t understand what is happening… or worse, does understand. He can offer no hope because he can offer no worthy insight. It’s just another old rich white guy stuck in an old mindset. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that he finds hope in Trump, as both are the products of plutocratic inherited wealth. There is a long history of libertarians (and anarcho-capitalists) supporting authoritarians, from Pinochet to Trump. It has been called authoritarian libertarianism, which basically describes how liberal rhetoric of liberty and freedom can be used for illiberal ends.
Thrive comes across as a standard pseudo-libertarian techno-utopia with echoes of Cold War rhetoric and Bircher fear-mongering. The capitalists will save us if we only could eliminate big gov, progressive taxation, social safety net, legal civil rights, and democracy. He is an anarcho-capitalist, like Stefan Molyneux who is another Trump supporter. It turns out that (along with Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Ludwig von Mises, etc) he does like to quote Molyneux.
He is no different than the rest of the disconnected elite, but maybe more clever in co-opting progressive rhetoric — similar to how right-wingers co-opted the libertarian label. Interestingly, Trump was elected on progressive rhetoric (by way of Steve Bannon) and that didn’t work out so well. The economic nationalism that Trump promised is the keystone of fascism. Right-wingers like Hitler and Mussolini were able to persuade so many on the political left by their saavy use of progressive rhetoric by glorifying a bright future — and these fascists did rebuild their countries right before sending them back into destruction. It’s highly problematic that Gamble is making many of the same basic arguments that brought the fascists to power earlier last century.
In his blog post, Gamble writes that, “It’s a turn away from globalism toward nationalism and toward localism that will, if allowed, continue until it finds the true unit of human wholeness — which is the individual, not the abstraction of “the group.” Meticulously honoring the intrinsic rights of the individual is what leads to true, voluntary community — which in fact best honors the needs of most people.”
This dogmatic ideology of hyper-individualism has been a mainstay of right-wing politics for this past century. All else is seen as abstractions. Right-wing ideologues, interestingly, are always attacking ideology because only other people’s beliefs and values (and not their own) are ideological — this kind of anti-ideological ideology goes back to the 1800s, such as the defense slaveholders used against the -isms of the North: abolitionism, feminism, Marxism, etc (and yes Lincoln was friends with all kinds of radicals such as free labor advocates and there was a Marxist in Lincoln’s administration).
From the ultra-right perspective of crude libertarianism, love of the supposedly non-ideological and non-abstract Nietszchian individual is the penultimate goal, specifically in the form of a paternalistic meritocracy of the most worthy individuals, a vanguard of enlightened leaders and rulers, even if those superior individuals are aristocrats, monarchs, fascists, or whatever else. As Gamble says that “the group” is an abstraction, Margaret Thatcher said that there is no such thing as society. We the public don’t exist, in the fantasy of plutocrats. Anyone who claims otherwise is an enemy, which is why democracy is so viciously attacked.
Beyond the dark right-wing conspiracies, the co-opting of progressive leaders is the most dangerous. Many of those interviewed stated that they were lied to and given false pretenses for why they were being interviewed and what kind of film it was to be. It was built on deception. It’s a propaganda piece produced and funded by right-wing plutocrats. All the fancy production and optimistic spin in the world can’t change that fact.
If you want to understand the worldview of Thrive, read the Rational Wiki entry on the Mises Institute or read some of the Misean defenses of Pinochet to get a flavor, such as General Augusto Pinochet Is Dead and More on Pinochet and Marxism. To Miseans, a social-democrat/democratic-socialist like Allende who was democratically elected, promoted compromise, and killed no one is more dangerous than a fascist like Pinochet who stole power through a coup, eliminated all traces of democracy, and went on a killing spree to subdue the masses. The ends justify the means, no matter how horrific. Capitalism must win at all costs, including human costs. As stated by Gamble’s hero, Mises:
“It cannot be denied that [Italian] Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”
My conclusion about Gamble is beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’ve seen this game played far too often. My tolerance for bullshit is approximately zero, at this point. It’s because of plutocrats like Gamble that we are in this mess. I don’t care about his proposed solutions. If we are to gain genuine progress, it will be without the likes of him.
For all my criticism, I must acknowledge the brilliance of using progressive rhetoric to frame an anti-progressive agenda. This is high quality propaganda. Who wouldn’t want the world to thrive with free energy, rainbows, and butterflies? But who exactly will be thriving, the plutocrats or the public? And what kind of freedom are we talking about that requires the snuffing out of democratic process, democratic representation, and democratic rights?
Gamble admits to being “profoundly influenced by Ludwig von Mises,” founding member of the libertarian Austrian School of Economics. As an author, von Mises is celebrated by right-wing presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who claims, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”
If I thought the film was libertarian propaganda, it was nothing compared to what I found on the Thrive website. The “Liberty” paper (under the Solutions section) is a real shocker. Peppered with quotes from Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, and Stefan Molyneux, there is even an attack on democracy! Gamble lumps democracy in with bigotry, imperialism, socialism, and fascism and says they all — including democracy! — violate the “intrinsic freedom of others.”
On April 10, 2012, that nine of the people interviewed in the film had signed a letter repudiating it and claiming that Foster Gamble misrepresented the film to them. These people were John Robbins, Amy Goodman, Deepak Chopra, Paul Hawken, Edgar Mitchell, Vandana Shiva, John Perkins, Elisabet Sahtouris, Duane Elgin and Adam Trombly. In the letter Robbins noted: “When I wrote Foster Gamble to voice my disappointment with many of the ideas in the film and website, he wrote back, encouraging me among other things to study the works of David Icke, Eustace Mullins, Stanley Monteith and G. Edward Griffin. These are among the people he repeatedly refers to in the movie as his “sources.” It is in these people’s worldviews that Thrive has its roots. I find this deeply disturbing. Here’s why…”
In case anyone misses the point—that the state must wither so that man can be free—Gamble shares von Mises’ opinion that like Communism, fascism and socialism, “democracy wrongly assumes the rights of the collective, or the group, over the rights of the individual.”
But wait a minute. Wasn’t that Paul Hawken on the screen a little while ago? How did we get from Paul Hawken to a thinly veiled anti-democracy rant and Ludwig von Mises?
Paul Hawken happens to be one of my personal heroes. A veteran of the civil rights movement, Hawken founded a couple of successful companies in the 1970s, and then went on to became the world’s leading environmentalist/economist with the publication of The Ecology of Commerce in 1993.
In Thrive, he delivers a passionate speech drawn from ideas in his latest book, the marvelous Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.
“If you look at the people who are involved with restoring the earth and stopping the damage, and reversing the depredation, and nurturing change, and reimagining what it means to he human, and you don’t feel optimistic, then maybe you need to have your heart examined,” he says in the film. “Because there is an extraordinary, gorgeous, beautiful, fierce group of people in this world who are taking this on.”
Now, that’s what I’m talking about! Enough of this conspiracy hogwash—let’s do some positive-minded politics! (For a local example, see this week’s cover story about the awesome work being done at Save Our Shores.html.)
In addition to being an admired economic thinker, Paul Hawken is a successful businessman and is nowhere near a socialist. Furthermore, Hawken was among the many sane people who championed the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, which Foster Gamble claims was an Illuminati/New World Order effort to create a global currency and destroy America’s sovereignty.
So—what’s Paul Hawken doing in this movie? I emailed him to find out. He replied he was just surprised as I was to find out he’s in the film.
“I did that interview many years prior under false pretenses,” Hawken replied. “I had no idea I was being interviewed for such a movie. Having said that, I have only seen the trailer [and] don’t really want to see the film, having read about it. I do not agree with the science or the philosophy.
“I do feel used, no question, as do others. It’s a lesson in signing releases.”
Similarly, In an email Thursday, Elisabet Sahtouris said that when she was interviewed for the film, she understood it was to be a very different kind of movie, and is “dismayed” at some of what she saw in the final cut. “I loved the footage shot of me and my colleagues; I deplore the context in which it was used.
“To put the individual above community is simply misguided; without community we do not exist, and community is about creating relationships of mutual benefit; it does not just happen with flowers and rainbows… and no taxes.”
It appears that Hawken and Sahtouris aren’t the only people who regret having appeared in Thrive. In a scathing review on the Huffington Post, Georgia Kelly of the Praxis Peace Center reports that she has heard from several of other interviewees, none of whom had any idea they were helping to make a libertarian propaganda film.
Then, at the end of the film, we finally get into Thrive’s manifesto, it’s vision for the future and how we might get there. There is lots in there that I wouldn’t disagree with, more local food, renewable energy, local banking, local shopping and so on, apart from free energy being thrown into the mix too. But now, it is in this final section of ‘Thrive’ that the dark side of the film emerges. One of the things put forward, alongside local food, renewables and so on, is “little or no taxes”. Eh? Where did that come from?! Ah, now we get into the real agenda of the film, a kind of New Age libertarianism, a sort of cosmic Tea Party, and it all starts to get deeply alarming.
Gamble sets out his 3 stages to get to humanity’s being able to thrive. Firstly, he argues, we need to hugely scale back the defence industry and the Federal Reserve. Well I could go along with that, but then the second is “shrink government’s role in order to protect individual liberty”, and the third is then, because we are now freer, with “no involuntary tax and no involuntary governance” and with “rules but no rules” (?), we can all now thrive. OK, whoa, let’s pause here for a moment. Indeed the film’s website goes further, describing ‘involuntary taxation’ as “plunder” and ‘involuntary governance’ as “tyranny”.
In her review, Georgia Kelly quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes as saying “taxes are what we pay for a civilised society”. In spite of all it’s cosmic graphics and pictures of forests from the air, it is in essence a kind of New Age Tea Party promo film, arguing for a society with no government, no taxes, no laws, alongside “interplanetary exploration”, which somehow combine to create a world that respects the rights of all. Apparently, this would lead to a world where “everyone would have the opportunity to thrive”. In reality, it would lead to a world in which the wealthy would thrive, but the rest of us would lose healthcare, social welfare, libraries, public transport, pension entitlement, social housing etc etc. Sounds more like a surefire route to the kind of Dickensian world that led to the creation of a welfare state in the first place.
Responding to any of the truly global issues, such as climate change (which ‘Thrive’ clearly dismisses as part of the conspiracy), would no longer happen due to intergovernmental co-operation presumably being interpreted as steps towards a ‘one world government’. The film presents its suggestions in complete isolation from any notions of ‘society’ and community, presenting a vision of the future where the entire global population is living the same lifestyle as Gamble, the resources to enable this presumably being imported from other planets, or perhaps created afresh using magic?
Nowhere in the film do you hear the words ‘less’, or anything about reduced consumption in the West. Just as free energy and cures for cancer are our birthright, so, presumably, is the right to consume as much as we like – to think otherwise is to lapse into a ‘scarcity’ mindset. What I find most alarming about ‘Thrive’ is that most of the people who have asked me “have you seen Thrive?” are under 20, and they seem genuinely excited by it. Perhaps it is the simplicity of the message that appeals, the “all we need to do is” clarity of its ask. But having to discuss why free energy machines are impossible and the shortcomings of conspiracy theories with otherwise educated young people who are inheriting a warming world with its many deep and complex challenges is deeply depressing.
“[C]yberpunk sci-fi of the 1980s and early 1990s accurately predicted a lot about our current world. Our modern society is totally wired and connected, but also totally unequal,” writes Noah Smith (What we didn’t get, Noahpinion). “We are, roughly, living in the world the cyberpunks envisioned.”
I don’t find that surprising. Cyberpunk writers were looking at ongoing trends and extrapolating about the near future. We are living in that near future.
Considering inequality in the US began growing several decades ago when cyberpunk became a genre, it wasn’t hard to imagine that such inequality would continue to grow and play out within technology itself. And the foundations for present technology were developed in the decades before cyberpunk. The broad outlines of the world we now live in could be seen earlier last century.
That isn’t to downplay the predictions made and envisioned. But it puts it into context.
Smith then asks, “What happened? Why did mid-20th-century sci fi whiff so badly? Why didn’t we get the Star Trek future, or the Jetsons future, or the Asimov future?” His answer is that, “Two things happened. First, we ran out of theoretical physics. Second, we ran out of energy.”
That question and answer is premature. We haven’t yet fully entered the Star Trek future. One of the first major events from its future history are the Bell Riots, which happen seven years from now this month, but conditions are supposed to worsen over the years preceding it (i.e., the present). Like the cyberpunk writers, Star Trek predicted an age of growing inequality, poverty, and homelessness. And that is to be followed by international conflict, global nuclear war, and massive decimation of civilization.
World War III will end in 2053. The death toll will be 600 million. Scientific research continues, but it will take decades for civilization to recover. It’s not until the 22nd century that serious space exploration begins. And it’s not until later in that century that the Federation is formed. The Star Trek visionaries weren’t starry-eyed optimists offering much hope to living generations. They made clear that the immediate future was going to be as dark or darker than most cyberpunk fiction.
The utopian world that I watched in the 1990s was from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Those two shows portray the world 250 years from now, about the same distance we have to the last decades of the American colonial era. It’s unsurprising that a pre-revolutionary writer might have predicted the invention of the cotton gin at the end of the 18th century, just as unsurprising that he couldn’t have predicted the world we now live in. That is why I would argue it’s premature to say that no further major advancements in science will be made over that time period.
Scientific discoveries and technological developments tend to happen in spurts — progress builds incrementally, which is what makes Star Trek compelling in how it offers the incremental details of how we might get from here to there. We can be guaranteed that, assuming we survive, future science will seem like magic to us, based as it would be on knowledge we don’t yet possess. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were those who predicted that nothing significant was left for humans to learn and discover. I laugh at anyone who makes the same naive prediction here at the beginning of the 21st century.
To be fair, Smith doesn’t end there. He asks, “These haven’t happened yet, but it’s only been a couple of decades since this sort of futurism became popular. Will we eventually get these things?” And he adds that, “we also don’t really have any idea how to start making these things.”
Well, no one could answer what the world will be like in the distant future any more than anyone in the distant past was able to predict the world that has come to pass. Nothing happens yet, until it happens. And no one really has any idea how to start making anything, until someone figures out how to do so. History is an endless parade of the supposedly impossible becoming possible, the unforeseen becoming commonplace. But it is easy to argue that recent changes have caused a rupture and that even greater changes are to come.
Smith goes on to conjecture that, “maybe it’s the authors at the very beginning of a tech boom, before progress in a particular area really kicks into high gear, who are able to see more clearly where the boom will take us.” Sure. But no one can be certain one is or is not at the beginning of a tech boom. That can only be seen clearly in retrospect.
If the Star Trek future is more or less correct, the coming half century will be the beginning of a new tech boom that leads to the development of warp drive in 2063 (or something akin to it). And so following it will be an era of distant space travel and colonization. That would be the equivalent of my grandparents generation growing up with the first commercially sold cars and by adulthood, a half century later, experiencing the first manned space flight — there being no way to predict the latter from the former.
As a concluding thought, Smith states that, “We’ll never know.” I’m sure many in my grandparents generation said the same thing. Yet they did come to know, as the future came faster than most expected. When that next stage of technological development is in full force, according to Star Trek’s future historians, those born right now will be hitting middle age and those reaching young adulthood now will be in their sixties. Plenty in the present living generations will be around to know what the future holds.
Maybe the world of Snow Crash we seem to be entering into will be the trigger that sends us hurtling toward Star Trek’s World War III and all that comes after. Maybe what seems like an endpoint is just another beginning.
* * *
About predictions, I am amused by early 20th century proclamations that all or most great discoveries and inventions had been achieved. The belief was that the following century would be limited to working out the details and implementing the knowledge they already had.
People at the time had just gone through a period of tumultuous change and it was hard to imagine anything further. Still, it was a time of imagination, when the earliest science fiction was popularized. Most of the science fiction of the time extrapolated from what was known from the industrial age, from Newtonian physics and Darwinian evolution. Even the best predictions of the time couldn’t see that far ahead. And like cyberpunk, some of the predictions that came true in the following decades were dark, such as world war and fighting from the air. Yet it was hard for anyone to see clearly even into the end of the century, much less the century following that.
The world seemed pretty well explained and many felt improvements and progress were hitting up against a wall. So, it would be more of the same from then on. The greater changes foreseen tended toward the social rather than the technological. Otherwise, most of the experts felt certain they had a good grasp of the kind of world they lived in, what was possible and impossible. In retrospect, such confidence is amusing to an extreme degree. The following passage describes the context of that historical moment.
Stranger Than We Can Imagine
by John Higgs
It appeared, on the surface, to be an ordered, structured era. The Victorian worldview was supported by four pillars: Monarchy, Church, Empire and Newton.
The pillars seemed solid. The British Empire would, in a few years, cover a quarter of the globe. Despite the humiliation of the Boer War, not many realised how badly the Empire had been wounded and fewer still recognised how soon it would collapse. The position of the Church looked similarly secure, despite the advances of science. The authority of the Bible may have been contradicted by Darwin and advances in geology, but society did not deem it polite to dwell too heavily on such matters. The laws of Newton had been thoroughly tested and the ordered, clockwork universe they described seemed incontrovertible. True, there were a few oddities that science puzzled over. The orbit of Mercury, for instance, was proving to be slightly different to what was expected. And then there was also the issue of the aether.
The aether was a theoretical substance that could be described as the fabric of the universe. It was widely accepted that it must exist. Experiments had shown time and time again that light travelled in a wave. A light wave needs something to travel through, just as an ocean wave needs water and a sound wave needs air. The light waves that travel through space from the sun to the earth must pass through something, and that something would be the aether. The problem was that experiments designed to reveal the aether kept failing to find it. Still, this was not considered a serious setback. What was needed was further work and cleverer experiments. The expectation of the discovery of the aether was similar to that surrounding the Higgs boson in the days before the CERN Large Hadron Collider. Scientific wisdom insisted that it must exist, so it was worth creating more and more expensive experiments to locate it.
Scientists had an air of confidence as the new century began. They had a solid framework of knowledge which would withstand further additions and embellishments. As Lord Kelvin was reputed to have remarked in a 1900 lecture, “there is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” Such views were reasonably common. “The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered,” wrote the German-American physicist Albert Michelson in 1903, “and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.” The astronomer Simon Newcomb is said to have claimed in 1888 that we were “probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy.”
The great German physicist Max Planck had been advised by his lecturer, the marvellously named Philipp von Jolly, not to pursue the study of physics because “almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes.” Planck replied that he had no wish to discover new things, only to understand the known fundamentals of the field better. Perhaps unaware of the old maxim that if you want to make God laugh you tell him your plans, he went on to become a founding father of quantum physics.
Scientists did expect some new discoveries. Maxwell’s work on the electromagnetic spectrum suggested that there were new forms of energy to be found at either end of his scale, but these new energies were still expected to obey his equations. Mendeleev’s periodic table hinted that there were new forms of matter out there somewhere, just waiting to be found and named, but it also promised that these new substances would fit neatly into the periodic table and obey its patterns. Both Pasteur’s germ theories and Darwin’s theory of evolution pointed to the existence of unknown forms of life, but also offered to categorise them when they were found. The scientific discoveries to come, in other words, would be wonderful but not surprising. The body of knowledge of the twentieth century would be like that of the nineteenth, but padded out further.
Between 1895 and 1901 H.G. Wells wrote a string of books including The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man and The First Men in the Moon. In doing so he laid down the blueprints for science fiction, a new genre of ideas and technological speculation which the twentieth century would take to its heart. In 1901 he wrote Anticipations: An Experiment in Prophecy, a series of articles which attempted to predict the coming years and which served to cement his reputation as the leading futurist of the age. Looking at these essays with the benefit of hindsight, and awkwardly skipping past the extreme racism of certain sections, we see that he was successful in an impressive number of predictions. Wells predicted flying machines, and wars fought in the air. He foresaw trains and cars resulting in populations shifting from the cities to the suburbs. He predicted fascist dictatorships, a world war around 1940, and the European Union. He even predicted greater sexual freedom for men and women, a prophecy that he did his best to confirm by embarking on a great number of extramarital affairs.
But there was a lot that Wells wasn’t able to predict: relativity, nuclear weapons, quantum mechanics, microchips, black holes, postmodernism and so forth. These weren’t so much unforeseen, as unforeseeable. His predictions had much in common with the expectations of the scientific world, in that he extrapolated from what was then known. In the words commonly assigned to the English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, the universe would prove to be not just stranger than we imagine but, “stranger than we can imagine.”
Possibly, upwards of a third of Americans are a wild card on polling and voting. These people are some combination of politically misinformed, ideologically inconsistent, anti-intellectually reactionary, mentally unstable, disconnected from reality, lacking self-awareness, socially unconcerned, apathetically indifferent, distractedly careless, cynically trollish, frustratedly outraged, generally irritated, etc. They are unable or unwilling to fully participate in the demands of democracy. Or else they don’t believe we have a functioning democracy to participate in.
Any crazy belief or crazy politician that only gets consistent support from a third or less of the public can be set aside, albeit not dismissed, at least in terms of understanding what is the actual motivation and intention. Even most Trump voters admitted that they didn’t like him nor trusted him to do what they wanted him to do. They voted out of protest, or else for shits and giggles; either way, it’s a clear ‘fuck you’ (maybe ‘fuck you, fuck me, fuck us all’, ‘just fuck it’, ‘who gives a fuck’, or something along those lines). Such people don’t form a monolithic demographic of opinion and values. And for damn sure they aren’t representative of any larger pattern in society, any larger trend among the public… beyond how screwed up it has all become.
Across the entire population, there is more than enough ideological confusion and inconsistency to go around. This largely has to do with how labels are used, or rather misused and abused. Liberals label their positions moderate, the very positions that the political and media elite think of as liberal. Either liberals really are more moderate or the elite aren’t as liberal as they think, although I suspect both are true. That leaves conservatives holding positions that these same elites consider liberal, while conservatives don’t see them as liberal, which questions the very concept of conservatism. There are more conflicted conservatives than consistent conservatives, something not found among liberals. To the degree that liberals are conflicted, it is because they mis-label their views right-ward.
Anyway, the average person probably doesn’t give much thought to how they answer polls and vote in elections. Most people have busy lives. Besides, it’s not as if the education system and news media does a great job of informing the public and explaining the issues. And that is on top of the low quality of options typically given. We also can’t forget the constant bullshit, spin, propaganda, psyops, etc. Framing alone sometimes will completely reverse what people state as supporting. When a combative frame is used, most Americans support harsh punishment of criminals. But when a public health frame is used, most Americans support rehabilitation. So, which is the real majority? Well, both are or neither is.
Here is a major point to be understood and emphasized. As data shows, most people who hold liberal positions don’t identify as liberal. And most people who identify as liberal don’t identify many of their own positions as liberal, instead identifying them as moderate. Also interesting is the fact that self-identified conservatives, many being conflicted conservatives holding liberal positions, tend to identify their liberal and moderate positions as conservative. So, every demographic labels their views to the right of where their views actually are on the spectrum, at least for most major issues. This is partly because of the political and media elite who claim to be moderate and centrist while in many ways being to the right of the general public. The narrative of public opinion and the political spectrum is being defined by a disconnected elite that is heavily biased to the right.
Considering this, maybe it’s unsurprising that the crazification factor is so large. This explains all the noise in public polling. And this probably explains why so many Americans don’t even bother voting. Their views aren’t being represented. In fact, the views of most Americans simply make no sense within the dominant paradigm that controls the political system.
Crazification factor (alternatively known as the “Keyes constant”) is a neologism coined by blogger John Rogers to refer to the portion of the electorate comprising the nuttiest of the wingnuts and the batshit crazy.
In popular usage, it is an application of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, in which you only call attention to data supporting your proposition: you will find endless examples of people online crying “Crazification factor!” when 20-30% of people do something — anything — the speaker doesn’t like, or are even polled as holding an opinion they don’t like.
Rogers later stressed that the phrase was a joke, not some serious statistical proposition.
These errors were things that we lumped into something we called “response style” (psychologists call it response bias). It’s very very hard to observe response style. But I’d say we can make a pretty good guess that Americans – and possibly everyone – do a lot of random responding when it comes to these sorts of surveys.
[M]aybe people just don’t think very hard about how they answer these questions. Maybe some people are confused by the questions. Maybe some are trolling.
Whatever the cause, it seems like you can get 20 to 25 percent of Americans to say any ridiculous thing imaginable. “Do you think eating raccoon poop reduces the risk of brain cancer?” “23 percent of Americans say yes!” “Would you be willing to cut your toes off with a rotary saw if it meant your neighbor had to do the same?” “17 percent of Americans say they would!” Etc.
It makes no sense at all…unless you can get ~20 percent of Americans to say pretty much any ridiculous thing on a survey.
I call this the margin of stupid. Unlike the margin of error, it’s not even a roughly symmetric error — because you can’t have less than 0% of people give a certain answer on a survey, the margin of stupid always biases surveys toward showing some non-negligible amount of support for any crazy or stupid or horrible position.
Whenever you read a survey like this, you must take the margin of stupid into account. Yes, there are Americans who believe crazy, stupid, and horrible things. But dammit, there aren’t that many. Next time you see some poll breathlessly claiming that 21 percent of Americans support executing anyone whose name starts with “G”, or that 18 percent of Millennials believe themselves to be the reincarnation of Kublai Khan, take it with a grain of salt. It’s a lot easier to give a stupid answer on a survey than to actually truly hold a nuts belief.
Sadly, the margin of stupid also probably applies to voting.
This led screenwriter John Rodgers and a friend to coin the term Crazification Factor–an unpredictable and shifting yet relatively consistent bottom, like the silt at the bottom of a pond: “Half just have worldviews which lead them to disagree with what you consider rationality even though they arrive at their positions through rational means, and the other half are the core of the Crazification – either genuinely crazy; or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the bases for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.”
“Crazification” seems not just unkind but simplistic, though I don’t deny a certain baseline: I’d add ironic voting, protest votes–a vote for Alan Keyes is a resonant protest vote–and even people who want to make a spectacle worse. But it still seems to be a useful theory, in the sense that when I see Donald Trump polling really well (26 percent!), or birthers continuing to emit a low hum (27 percent!), I’m no longer shocked: oh, that’s just the Keyes Constant.
Public Policy Polling’s recent poll on conspiracy theories mostly showed up on my Facebook feed as “Four percent of Americans believe lizardmen are running the Earth”.
(of note, an additional 7% of Americans are “not sure” whether lizardmen are running the Earth or not.)
Imagine the situation. You’re at home, eating dinner. You get a call from someone who says “Hello, this is Public Policy Polling. Would you mind answering some questions for us?” You say “Sure”. An extremely dignified sounding voice says – and this is the exact wording of the question – “Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our society, or not?” Then it urges you to press 1 if yes, press 2 if no, press 3 if not sure.
So first we get the people who think “Wait, was 1 the one for if I did believe in lizardmen, or if I didn’t? I’ll just press 1 and move on to the next question.”
Then we get the people who are like “I never heard it before, but if this nice pollster thinks it’s true, I might as well go along with them.”
Then we get the people who are all “F#&k you, polling company, I don’t want people calling me when I’m at dinner. You screw with me, I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell you I believe lizard people are running the planet.”
And then we get the people who put “Martian” as their nationality in psychology experiments. Because some men just want to watch the world burn.
Do these three groups total 4% of the US population? Seems plausible.
I really wish polls like these would include a control question, something utterly implausible even by lizard-people standards, something like “Do you believe Barack Obama is a hippopotamus?” Whatever percent of people answer yes to the hippo question get subtracted out from the other questions.
Poll Answers As Attire
Alas, not all weird poll answers can be explained that easily. On the same poll, 13% of Americans claimed to believe Barack Obama was the Anti-Christ. Subtracting our Lizardman’s Constant of 4%, that leaves 9% of Americans who apparently gave this answer with something approaching sincerity.
(a friend on Facebook pointed out that 5% of Obama voters claimed to believe that Obama was the Anti-Christ, which seems to be another piece of evidence in favor of a Lizardman’s Constant of 4-5%. On the other hand, I do enjoy picturing someone standing in a voting booth, thinking to themselves “Well, on the one hand, Obama is the Anti-Christ. On the other, do I really want four years of Romney?”)
Some pollsters are starting to consider these sorts of things symptomatic of what they term symbolic belief, which seems to be kind of what the Less Wrong sequences call Professing and Cheering or Belief As Attire. Basically, people are being emotivists rather than realists about belief. “Obama is the Anti-Christ” is another way of just saying “Boo Obama!”, rather than expressing some sort of proposition about the world.
And the same is true of “Obama is a Muslim” or “Obama was not born in America”.
The classic case of a “symbolic belief” is what Orwell dubbed “doublethink”: propositions you profess publicly, maybe even sincerely believe you believe, even while, on another level, there’s some part of you that knows better, so that the false belief doesn’t actually get you into practical trouble. Pseudobeliefs may serve any number of functions; I’m using the phrase “symbolic belief” for the ones that either work as a public expression of some associated attitude, or play some role in defining the holder’s self-conception. In a post from last week, a commenter pointed out that there really are vegetarians and vegans, especially in certain punk scenes, who purport to believe that animals are not only morally equal to, but perhaps even morally superior to human beings. As he also pointed out, though, none of them really act as though they believe anything of the sort. Now, you might say that we already have a word for this: Hypocrisy. But I think it’s worth preserving a separate term here, because we usually use that term for people who specifically promote standards of behavior that they either consciously don’t really hold or do hold but are just incapable of adhering to (from weakness of will or whatever), and conceal this inability out of shame or fear. Symbolic beliefs, as I’m conceiving of them, are “sincere”—in that the person holding them probably isn’t consciously or reflexively aware that they’re false, but also shallow, insofar as a subconscious lack of commitment to the truth of the belief renders it behaviorally inert. For those who aren’t hardcore birthers, I’d hazard that the real meaning of professing either uncertainty or positive disbelief in the claim that he was born in the U.S. is something like: “I consider Obama phony, dishonest, and un-American.” It’s not, I hasten to say, that they really believe, deep-down, that Obama was born in Hawaii. It’s more that—as with H.G. Frankfurt’s definition of “bullshit”—the literal truth or falsity of the proposition is a matter of indifference; it’s not really the point.
Over the last several decades, scholars have noted a strengthening link between ideology and party identification among the public, but the causal direction of this phenomenon remains contested. The ideological realignment thesis holds that ideology now strongly influences party identification, but this position conflicts with literature suggesting that party identification remains the primary causal force behind most important political attitudes. This study examines the causal forces at work between ideology and party identification by focusing on the distinction between symbolic and operational ideology. The methodology involves the use of panel data that span several decades, and structural equation modeling. The findings indicate that between 1982 and 1997, symbolic ideology had a strong influence party identification, but operational ideology had little effect on party identification. The results suggest an important revision to the ideological realignment thesis, as the evidence indicates that symbolic ideology has been the primary force driving realignment.
Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics. Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics. Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views. The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.
This raises the question: why are so many people identifying as conservative while simultaneously preferring more government? For some conservatives, it is because they associate the label with religion, culture or lifestyle. In essence, when they identify as “conservative,” they are thinking about conservatism in terms of family structure, raising children, or interpreting the Bible. Conservatism is about their personal lives, not their politics.
But other self-identified conservatives, though, are conservative in terms of neither religion and culture nor the size of government. These are the truly “conflicted conservatives,” say Ellis and Stimson, who locate their origins in a different factor: how conservatives and liberals have traditionally talked about politics. Conservatives, they argue, talk about politics in terms of symbols and the general value of “conservatism” — and news coverage, they find, usually frames the label “conservative” in positive terms. Liberals talk about policy in terms of the goals it will serve — a cleaner environment, a stronger safety net, and so on — which are also good things for many people. As a result, some people internalize both messages and end up calling themselves conservative but having liberal views on policy.
Ideology has two faces: the labels people choose and the actual content of their beliefs. For liberals, these are mostly aligned. For conservatives, they are not.
Polls have generally showed self-identified conservatives outnumbering liberals, with a recent slight increase in the number of liberals. I have often speculated that this is largely due to the success the right wing noise machine has had in demonizing the word liberal. Americans come out more liberal than would be expected by these poll findings when we look at individual issues.
While the pendulum swings both ways, the trend has been toward more liberal policies over the years. Most people wouldn’t think of returning to the days of child labor. Medicare and Social Security are deeply entrenched, to the point that even when Republicans vote for ending Medicare as we know it they realize they have to hide what they are doing. Recent polls show increases in the number of people who support legalization of same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana. A majority even supports the individual components of Obamacare when asked without identifying the policy as Obamacare. […]
This idea that nearly 30 percent of self-identified conservative are really liberals would explain the increased support for liberal positions despite a majority identifying themselves as conservatives.
[…] The general pattern is not surprising. Symbolic ideology is correlated with the most commonly chosen label for issue positions.
A closer look shows important asymmetries. Across all issues, symbolic conservatives are always more likely to label their positions as conservative than anything else, even when an analyst would label many of those issue positions liberal or moderate. Moreover, symbolic conservatives use the conservative label for their issue positions far more frequently than symbolic liberals use the liberal label for theirs. For symbolic liberals, the moderate label is chosen by a plurality on 10 of the 13 issues. On only one issue, support for gay marriage, does a clear majority of liberals label their position as liberal.
The pattern of labeled issue positions among symbolic liberals is not consistent
with the Ellis-Stimson narrative. In that account, liberals’ unconflicted liberals’
ideological commitments and ideological sophistication allow them to apply the liberal label with ease. In fact, while liberals apply the general label to themselves, they do not embrace the term for many of their issue positions and instead more often choose the moderate label.
As one would expect, a plurality of symbolic moderates used the moderate label to describe their policy preferences—with the exception of social security, where slightly more described their position as “none of these.” For eight of the 13 issues, more moderates described their positions as conservative than liberal. The “none of these” option was chosen by 20-30 percent of moderates across the 13 issues. These results are consistent with research that describes moderates, on average, as less political than liberals or conservatives.
Plainly, the mismatch between symbolic ideology and issue position labels is common and is not limited to conservatives. In fact, the avoidance of the liberal label extends to symbolic liberals, which is consistent with the long-standing argument that the label has negative connotations. It may illustrate that the importance of the framing pathway described by Ellis and Stimson and, in doing so, raises a question of about how much framing accounts for conflicted conservatives for whom Ellis and Stimson emphasize the extra-political sources of ideological identity.
Mismatches between Issue Positions and Their Labels
For some of the most popular causes—such as spending on education—positions (and symbolic ideology) show a weak relationship to issue position labels. In the case of education spending, nearly half of symbolic conservatives considered opposing a cut in education spending to be a conservative position. More than ninety percent of liberals opposed this same cut in education spending, but only about one-third call this view liberal, with most liberals calling it a moderate position.
Mismatches are most common for issues on which there is a consensus view. In fact, across the 13 issues, there is an important correlation between the size of the issue position plurality and the frequency of mismatches between issue positions and issue position labels. For symbolic conservatives, the correlation is -0.81—more popular causes create more mismatches (liberal positions labeled conservative) for conservatives. For symbolic liberals, the size of the plurality and labeling liberal positions as conservative has a correlation of -0.71.
Consistent with findings about mismatches between symbolic ideology and issue positions, we find that mismatches for issue positions and their labels occur more often in the form of labeling liberal positions conservative than in labeling conservative positions liberal. More than 30 percent of labeling responses associated the conservative label with liberal positions, while only about 20 percent associated the liberal label with conservative positions.
Pew had a poll from a couple years ago that I missed. If you look at the broad public opinion, it looks like the same old same old. Most Americans have a more favorable opinion of capitalism than socialism. They also have a more favorable opinion of conservatism than liberalism. But it’s always in the details where it gets interesting. The cracks are beginning to show in the Cold War edifice.
More Americans have a positive opinion of progressivism, significantly more than their opinion of conservatism. As many have noted, progressivism has basically become the label for those who like liberalism but are afraid of the negative connotations of the word itself. There isn’t a vast difference between what liberals support and what progressives support.
Even most Republicans give a positive response toward progressivism. This probably relates as well to why many people who self-identify as conservatives will support many traditionally liberal positions. These positions back in the Progressive Era used to be called progressive. Americans strongly support them. That is the true Silent Majority or rather Silenced Majority.
So, if most Americans are actually conservative and the Democratic Party is actually liberal, then why does the Democratic Party have higher positive ratings than the Republican Party for more than a decade? Either Americans aren’t so conservative or the Democratic Party isn’t so liberal. I’d argue it’s both.
If Americans are so conservative, then why do they have a decently positive feeling rating toward what they perceive as ‘liberals’? The positive feelings for liberals hasn’t dropped below 50 in several decades. That ain’t too shabby for a supposedly conservative population. […]
The key values of the ideological divide are the basis of the key issues of society and politics. As such, determining the key issues is important in distinguishing liberalism vs conservatism in the American population. Key issues are important because they are the wedge issues that decide elections. What is telling to my mind is that it’s specifically the key issues of American politics that have been strongly moving leftward. I would conclude two things. First, the majority of Americans are definitely not right-leaning in any clear sense and there isn’t any evidence that the center of public opinion is shifting rightward. Second, however one might add up all the various issues, the majority of Americans are progressively liberal or becoming more progressively liberal on many if not most of the key issues.
According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans identifying as environmentalists is about half of what it was a quarter century ago, when I was a young teenager. Yet the other polls show that Americans are more concerned with environmental issues than ever before.
This is similar to how fewer Americans identify as liberal precisely during this time when polls showing majority of Americans hold liberal positions on diverse issues. Older labels have lost their former meaning. They no longer resonate.
It isn’t as if Americans are becoming anti-environmentalist conservatives. Quite the opposite. It’s just that an increasing number of Americans, when given a choice, would rather identify as progressive, moderate, independent, or even socialist. In fact, the socialist label gets more favorable opinion than the Tea Party label, although libertarianism is gaining favor.
Young Americans are the most liberal of any age demographic, in terms of their politics. They are more liberal than even the supposed liberal class, despite the young not self-identifying as liberal. They are so liberal as to be leaning leftist.
Conservatives are mistaken when they put too much stock in ideological labels and too little stock in substance of views. Their confusion is understandable. Many pollsters have had a hard time keeping up with changing labels, not initially realizing they needed to offer choices beyond the standard binary of liberal or conservative.
Most Americans are surprisingly far to the left of the plutocratic and kleptocratic establishment. Most Americans support left-wing healthcare reform (single payer or public option), maintaining the Roe vs Wade decision, stronger gun regulations (including among most NRA members), more emphasis on rehabilitation than punishment of criminals, drug legalization or decriminalization, etc. They are definitely to the left of Clinton New Democrats with their corporatist alliance between neoliberalism and neoconservatism. Hillary Clinton, for example, has long had ties to heavily polluting big energy corporations.
Maybe it’s unsurprising to learn that the American public, both left and right, is also to the left on the issue of climate change and global warming. This isn’t the first time I’ve brought up issue of environmentalism and public opinion. Labels don’t mean what they used to, which adds to the confusion. But when you dig down into the actual issues themselves, public opinion becomes irrefutably clear. Even though few look closely at polls and surveys, the awareness of this is slowly trickling out. We might be finally reaching a breaking point in this emerging awareness. The most politicized issues of our time show that the American public supports leftist policies. This includes maybe the most politicized of all issues, climate change and global warming.
Yet as the American public steadily marches to the left, the Republican establishment uses big money to push the ‘mainstream’ toward right-wing extremism and the Democrats pretend that their conservatism represents moderate centrism. The tension can’t be maintained without ripping the country apart. We can only hope that recent events will prove to have been a wake up call, that maybe the majority of Americans are finally realizing they are the majority, not just silent but silenced.
[…] from the book Whose Freedom? by George Lakoff (pp. 252-253): […]
It is not that positions on issues don’t matter. They do. But they tend to be symbolic of values, identity, and character, rather than being of primary import in themselves. For example, if you identify yourself essentially as the mother or father in a strict father family, you may well be threatened by gay marriage, which is inconsistent with a strict father morality . For this reason, someone in the Midwest who has never even met anyone gay could have his or her deepest identity threatened by gay marriage. The issue is symbolic, not literal, and symbolism is powerful in politics.
Since the time of the pioneering work of Free & Cantril (1967), scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology (Page & Shapiro 1992, Stimson 2004). According to this terminology, “symbolic” refers to general, abstract ideological labels, images, and categories, including acts of self-identification with the left or right. “Operational” ideology, by contrast, refers to more specific, concrete, issue-based opinions that may also be classified by observers as either left or right. Although this distinction may seem purely academic, evidence suggests that symbolic and operational forms of ideology do not coincide for many citizens of mass democracies. For example, Free & Cantril (1967) observed that many Americans were simultaneously “philosophical conservatives” and “operational liberals,” opposing “big government” in the abstract but supporting the individual programs comprising the New Deal welfare and regulatory state. More recent studies have obtained impressively similar results; Stimson (2004) found that more than two-thirds of American respondents who identify as symbolic conservatives are operational liberals with respect to the issues (see also Page & Shapiro 1992, Zaller 1992). However, rather than demonstrating that ideological belief systems are multidimensional in the sense of being irreducible to a single left-right continuum, these results indicate that, in the United States at least, leftist/liberal ideas are more popular when they are manifested in specific, concrete policy solutions than when they are offered as ideological abstractions. The notion that most people like to think of themselves as conservative despite the fact that they hold a number of liberal opinions on specific issues is broadly consistent with system-justification theory, which suggests that most people are motivated to look favorably upon the status quo in general and to reject major challenges to it (Jost et al. 2004a).
[…] The conservative elites, or at least their advisors, fully understood decades ago that most Americans didn’t agree with them on the issues. Nonetheless, most Americans continue to identify as conservative when given a forced choice (i.e., when ‘moderate’ or ‘independent’ aren’t given as an option).
It makes one wonder what exactly “symbolic conservatism” represents or what people think it represents. Reagan often stood in front of patriotic symbols during speeches and photo-ops. Look back at images of Reagan and you’ll find in the background such things as flags and the Statue of Liberty. Ignoring the issue of “true conservatism”, this symbolic conservatism seems to have little in the way of tangible substance, heavy on the signifier while being light on the signified.
[…] To look at the issues is to consider how values are expressed in the real world. What does it mean that many Americans agree with the symbolic values of conservatism while disagreeing with the actual enactment of those values in policies? What are Americans perceiving in the patriotic and pseudo-libertarian jingoism of the GOP or whatever it is? And why is that this perception appears to be so disconnected from reality on the ground, disconnected the reality of Americans’ daily lives and their communities?
[…] Most importantly, take note that the American public isn’t actually polarized, not even between the North and South — as Bob Moser explained in Blue Dixie (Kindle Locations 126-136):
[…] But the widespread notion that the South is one-party territory ignores some powerful evidence to the contrary. For one thing, more Southerners identify as Democrats than Republicans. For another: more Democrats win state and local elections in the South than Republicans. The parity between the parties was neatly symbolized by the total numbers of state legislators in the former Confederate states after the 2004 elections: 891 Republicans, 891 Democrats. The South is many things, not all of them flattering. But it is not politically “solid.”
[…] So, yes, there is something weird going on here with the American public. Is this confusion artificially created? Is the public being manipulated by politicians who know the American public better than the American public knows themselves? Apparently not, as Alex Preen explained on Salon.com:
According to a working paper from two political scientists who interviewed 2,000 state legislative candidates last year, politicians all think Americans are more conservative than they actually are.
The research found that this was as true for Democratic politicians. All politicians across the board were equally clueless about and disconnected from those they claim to represent. This is why it isn’t a partisan issue. It is a bipartisan ignorance.
In reality, most Americans agree more about most issues than they disagree. But it depends on how you frame it.
If you make Americans choose between the labels of liberal and conservative, most people of course will pick one of them and the public will be divided. You can use that to frame questions and so prime people to give polarized answers. But the fact of the matter is that if you give people another option such as independent, most won’t choose either liberal or conservative.
If you only give Americans two viable political party choices, many will consistently choose candidates of the same party from election to election. But most Americans identify as independents and would prefer having other choices. Consider the fact that some of the voters that helped Republican Trump win were supporters of Democratic Sanders. Few people are ideological partisans. That is because few people think in ideological terms.
Consider specific issues.
If you give people a forced choice question about whether they are for or against tough-on-crime policies, polarization in public opinion is the inevitable result. But if you ask people about crime prevention and rehabilitation, most would prefer that. The thing is few polls ever give people the full, accurate info about the available choices. The framing of the questions leads people to answer in a particular way.
That is because those asking the questions are typically more polarized and so they have an self-interest in finding polarized answers (in order to confirm their own biases and worldview), even if their motivations are unconscious. The corporate media also likes to frame everything in polarized terms, even when it isn’t the best framing, because it offers a simplistic narrative (i.e., entertainment news) that sells advertising.
If you give people a forced choice question about whether they support pro-choice or pro-life, you will get a polarized response from the public. But if you ask people if they are for both women’s rights and abortion limits, you’ll find most Americans support both simultaneously. And if you ask people if they want to decrease abortions, you’ll find almost everyone wants to decrease abortions. It’s just people see different ways of decreasing abortions.
Most pro-choicers aren’t for increasing abortions (i.e., killing babies). And most pro-lifers aren’t for taking women’s rights away (i.e., theocratic authoritarianism). It’s just they see different policies as being more effective in achieving what pro-lifers claim to support. The two sides at worst disagree about methods, not goals or necessarily even fundamental values. Isn’t it interesting that so many pro-lifers support a women’s right to choose, depending on how the question is framed?
If you give people a forced choice question about whether or not they support same sex marriage, you get an almost evenly divided polarization of public opinion, with an ever so sleight majority toward support. But if polling is done differently, it is shown that the vast majority is tolerant of or indifferent toward this issue. People simply don’t care who marries whom, unless you intentionally frame it as a liberal agenda to use the government to promote gay marriage and force it onto the public. Framed as an issue of personal right of choice, most Americans are perfectly fine with individuals being allowed to make their own decisions. Even the average conservative doesn’t want to force their political views onto others, no matter what is asserted by the polarized GOP establishment and partisans who are reactionaries, authoritarians and social dominance orientation types.
If you give people a forced choice question about whether they support gun rights or gun regulations, you will get what appears to be polarization. But if you give them a third choice of supporting both stronger gun rights and more effective gun regulations, most will take that third option. That is even true with NRA members who disagree with ideologically polarized NRA leadership. And it is also true of liberals, a demographic shown to have surprisingly high rates of guns in the household.
In the 2005 Pew poll, the demographic was just called ‘Liberals’. In this 2011 Pew poll, the demographic is called ‘Solid Liberals’. So, I don’t know if it is speaking about the exact same demographic segment of the population. Pew changes the demographic groupings as the data changes. In the new ‘Solid Liberals’ demographic there is only 23% Independents whereas in the previous ‘Liberals’ demographic there was almost 1/2 Independents. Of those Indpendents, they didn’t ask how many self-identified as liberal or something else. Among ‘Solid Liberals’ in general, only 60% self-identified as ‘liberal’ while 31% self-identified as ‘moderate’ and 9% self-identified as ‘conservative’.
What does ‘liberal’ even mean when slightly less than 1/2 of supposed ‘liberals’ don’t self-identify as ‘liberal’? This goes to the heart of the American public’s confusion about ideologies and labels. Given a choice between the two, most Americans self-identify as ‘conservative’. However, when asked about specific issues, most Americans support many liberal positions on key issues. […]
“But the Gallup survey of self-identification of ideology shows that more Americans self-identify as moderates and liberals than as conservatives. Most Americans do not self-identify as conservatives.”
Given a choice between the three, the data I’ve seen shows most Americans self-identify as moderates. So, what is a moderate? They are essentially those who tend toward centrism or at least away from the extreme wings. Considering that, where is the center in American politics? […]
I was looking further at the Pew data. There is another interesting group: Post-Moderns. They are considered Independents and they are the only group to have the majority self-identify as moderates. One would assume, therefore, that they wouldn’t have any bias toward either party. But one would be wrong in that assumption.
Post-Moderns are 62% Independents, 26% Democrats and 2% Republicans. Of the Independents, 19% has no lean, 58% lean to the Democratic Party and 23% lean to the Republican Party. They favor Democrats over Republicans on almost every question, including reelecting Obama. Also, they listen to Fox News less than the average Democrat and listen to NPR at almost the same rate as the average Democrat. They are second only to Solid Liberals in their reading of The New York Times and their watching the Daily Show. They generally seem closest to Solid Liberals on most issues. They are strongly socially liberal. They have the strongest, although qualified, support of the government. They’d prefer it to be smaller, but they see a role for government in many social issues.
Post-Moderns are the only demographic with a majority of moderates which means they are the clearest indicator we have about where the center is right now in US politics. These moderates are more liberal than not. So, the majority of Post-Moderns identifies as moderate even as the majority also supports many liberal positions and policies.
– – –
Here is the reason why the Democratic Party has never been controlled by liberals and especially not by left-wingers.
“The Pew Research poll notes a fundamental difference between “solid Liberals” and the other two groups that lean Democratic — “Hard-pressed Democrats” and “New coalition Democrats”: “both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative.” To the extent that cultural issues — such as abortion and homosexuality — dominate political discourse, these groups can be peeled away from the Democratic bloc to vote Republican. In his classic, What’s the Matter With Kansas? journalist Tom Frank detailed how Republicans redirect economic discontent to explosive cultural issues. In 2012, “moral purity” will be a major Republican theme — particularly if messianic Texas Governor Rick Perry becomes the GOP candidate. The Liberal challenge is to ensure that jobs and economic fairness become the dominant political themes, not “How can we make the US a Christian nation?””
– – –
Here is some data from 2004 which I suspect might be even more true in 2011. The article notes that in 2000 the Independents were evenly split between the two parties but by 2004 they were leaning Democratic and liberal. If this is a trend that fits the other leftward trends, this will continue into the near future as OWS seems to demonstrate.
“The bad news for conservatives is that a majority of independents line up on the liberal-to-moderate side of the ideological spectrum. Twenty-one percent of independents in the Zogby poll described themselves as liberal or progressive, while 37 percent called themselves moderates. In contrast, 30 percent of independents describe their politics as conservative, with only 4 percent calling themselves “very conservative” or libertarian.
“Zogby asserts that the polls indicate independents are trending more liberal in this election year as opposed to 2000. For example, fully 70 percent of independents believe the federal government should play a major role in protecting the environment, a traditionally Democratic concern. “The environment is a Democratic ace in the hole this year,” Zogby says.
“Meanwhile, 82 percent of independents want the federal government to play a major role in protecting individual freedom, suggesting a backlash against the Patriot Act and other attempts by the Bush administration to change the traditional balance between national security and individual liberty. Sixty-two percent feel the government should help ensure that all citizens have economic opportunities, while 60 percent want a dominant role by the federal government in providing social programs to help the needy.
“The liberal bias of independents contrasts sharply with the other elections in which their vote has proved critical. In the 1980 election, blue-collar workers deserted Jimmy Carter and the Democrats to vote Ronald Reagan into office. And in the 1990s, Bill Clinton infuriated traditional liberals but won the presidency twice by appealing to the socially moderate, fiscally conservative instincts of suburban soccer moms. Third party candidates – John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 – attracted disaffected voters who saw no real difference between Republicans and Democrats.” […]
Considering all of this, it blows my mind that 9% of so-called ‘Solid Liberals’ self-identify as ‘conservative’. Pew defines ‘Solid Liberals’ as being liberal across the board, fiscally and socially liberal on most if not all issues. Essentially, ‘Solid Liberals’ are as liberal as you can be without becoming an outright communist.
How on God’s green earth could such a person ever be so confused as to think they are a conservative? What do these 9% of conservative ‘Solid Liberals’ think that ‘conservative’ means? What kind of conservatism can include liberalism to such an extent? What could possibly be subjectively experienced as conservative despite appearing liberal by all objective measures?
Consider the seemingly opposite Pew demographic which is labeled ‘Staunch Conservatives’ (basically, conservative across the board). Are there 9% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ who self-identify as ‘liberal’? Of course not, although interestingly 3% do.
Compare also how many self-identify as ‘moderate’: 31% of ‘Solid Liberals’ identify as moderate and only 8% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ identify as moderate. ‘Staunch Conservatives’ are as partisan as they come with %100 that lean Republican (0% that lean Democratic, 0% with no lean). On the other hand, ‘Solid Liberals’ have 1% who lean Republican and 3% with no lean; that might seem like minor percentages but that means 1 in 100 ‘Solid Liberals’ are drawn toward the Republican Party and 3 in 100 are genuinely independent.
For many years this shrewd hypothesis seemed untestable. Corollaries such as the right lateralization of auditory hallucinations were dismissed as too simplistic—although schizophrenic patients present less language lateralization (Sommer et al., 2001). Yet, the investigation by Diuk et al. (2012) represents a pioneering successful attempt to test Jaynes’ theory in a quantitative manner. The authors assessed dozens of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman texts from up to the second century CE, as well contemporary Google n-grams, to calculate semantic distances between the reference word “introspection” and all the words in these texts. Cleverly, “introspection” is actually absent from these ancient texts, serving as an “invisible” probe. Semantic distances were evaluated by Latent Semantic Analysis, a high-dimensional model in which the semantic similitude between words is proportional to their co-occurrence in texts with coherent topics (Deerwester et al., 1990; Landauer and Dumais, 1997). The approach goes well beyond the mere counting of word occurrence in a corpus, actually measuring how much the concept of introspection is represented in each text in a “distributed semantic sense,” in accordance with the semantic holism (Frege, 1884, 1980; Quine, 1951; Wittgenstein, 1953, 1967; Davidson, 1967) that became mainstream in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (Cancho and Sole, 2001; Sigman and Cecchi, 2002).
The results were remarkable. In Judeo-Christian texts, similitude to introspection increased monotonically over time, with a big change in slope from the Old to the New Testaments. In Greco-Roman texts, comprising 53 authors from Homer to Julius Cesar, a more complex dynamics appeared, with increases in similitude to introspection through periods of cultural development, and decreases during periods of cultural decadence. Contemporary texts showed overall increase, with periods of decline prior to and during the two World Wars. As Jaynes would have predicted, the rise and fall of entire societies seems to be paralleled by increases and decreases in introspection, respectively.
Diuk et al. show that the evolution of mental life can be quantified from the cultural record, opening a whole new avenue of hypothesis testing for Jaynes’ theory. While it is impossible to prove that pre-Axial people “heard” the voices of the gods, the findings suggest new ways of studying historical and contemporary texts. In particular, the probing of ancient texts with words like “dream,” “god” and “hallucination” has great potential to test Jaynesian concepts.
The featured study lends supports to the notion that consciousness is a social construct in constant flux. Quoting senior author Guillermo Cecchi, “it is not just the “trending topics,” but the entire cognitive make-up that changes over time, indicating that culture co-evolves with available cognitive states, and what is socially considered dysfunction can be tested in a more quantitative way.”
Forgetting something is a common human experience. We forget where we left our keys or parked our car, the name that goes with a familiar face or the birthday of a family member, a friend’s phone number or what we ate last night. Et cetera.
This can seem like the fate of humanity with our feeble brains. Yet some people have great memories. That is even more true for some societies. The next time you forget something think about the indigenous people who can remember things for centuries and millennia, in some cases all the way back to the Ice Age.
In our society, a large part of the population can’t even keep straight the details of recent history. We are bad enough about recall of info from within our lifetime. Anything before our birth is usually a vague blur. Maybe we need to work on that.
Using carbon dating on the charcoal flakes, the researchers were able to determine that the settlement dates back 14,000 years ago, making it significantly older than the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, which were built about 4,700 years ago.
To understand how old that truly is, one has to consider that the ancient ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra lived closer in time to you than she did to the creation of the pyramids. Even to what we consider ancient people, the Egyptian pyramids were quite old.
This newly discovered settlement dates back more than three times older than the pyramids.
Alisha Gauvreau, a Ph.D student who helped discover this site said, “I remember when we got the dates back, and we just sat back and said, ‘Holy moly, this is old.’”
She and her team began investigating the area for ancient settlements after hearing the oral history of the indigenous Heiltsuk people, which told of a sliver of land that never froze during the last ice age.
William Housty, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, said, “To think about how these stories survived only to be supported by this archeological evidence is just amazing.”
“This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years.”
The Memory Code
by Lynne Kelly
Kindle Locations 560-584
I believe that it would be only certain genres of information that would survive reasonably intact. The landscape is the basic structuring system for many indigenous cultures, so it is to be expected that records of landscape features would be the most enduring of all traditional knowledge. Consequently, I am very comfortable accepting the long-term records quoted in the following pages that relate to changes in the landscape. Although the content of stories may vary, what will survive longest is the base structure, a description of Country.
Many researchers argue that oral tradition is not a reliable source for information on historical events. I have no reason to doubt their research. Historical events are less critical to survival than the practical knowledge of plants, animals, the environment and the laws and expectations which bind the community. The natural sciences cannot be so readily adapted. Reality acts as an audit on the knowledge stored. As with all cultures, literate and oral, history is adapted to the political will of the powerbrokers who tell the stories.
There are some cultures that recall hundreds of years of historical data. In many Pacific villages, hereditary lines of the chiefs were used as a basic organising structure for the knowledge system. Some Māori can recite an 800-year genealogy dating from when their ancestors first reached New Zealand. In Africa, the king lists for Rwanda were structured by their reign and the quality of their kingship, which in turn acted as a set of subheadings for the many different anecdotes associated with their reign. The Fang of Gabon and Cameroon were able to recite genealogies of up to 30 generations in depth, recalling associated events from centuries ago. However, it is the landscape that offers the best examples of robust, long-term oral tradition.
The Dyirbal language group has lived in northeast Queensland for at least 10,000 years. One myth describes a volcanic eruption and the consequent origin of the three volcanic crater lakes which were formed at least 10,000 years ago: Yidyam (Lake Eacham), Barany (Lake Barrine) and Ngimun (Lake Euramoo). It describes the very different terrain in that time. Only recently, scientists were surprised to discover that the rainforest in that area is only about 7600 years old. Another Dyirbal storyteller told of how in the past it was possible to walk across the islands, including Palm and Hinchinbrook islands. Geographers have since concluded that the sea level was low enough for this to be the case at the end of the last ice age.19
Similarly, the Boon Wurrung and Kurnai people from Victoria, Australia, gave evidence to a select committee of the Legislative Council in 1858 detailing the landforms in Port Phillip Bay, including the path of the Yarra River. These details have since been verified by scientific mapping of the bay floor. It is debated whether the bay was last dry at the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, or had possibly dried out again, about 1000 years ago. At the very least, the geographical knowledge has been passed down accurately within oral tradition for a thousand years.20 Examples like these are being published regularly as geographers explore indigenous stories as scientific records.
“I don’t know that there are a lot of Cubans or Venezuelans, Americans who believe that. The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”
~Barack Obama, 2012 interview (via DarkSkintDostoyevsky)
Not just a moderate but a moderate Republican. His argument was that GOP has moved so far right that he is now holding what was once a standard position among Republicans.
This is supported by his having continued Bush era policies, further legalized the War on Terror, and deported more immigrants than any president before, even a higher rate than Trump. His crown achievement was to pass Romneycare healthcare reform that originated from a right-wing think tank, while refusing to consider that most Americans being far to his left were demanding universal healthcare or single payer. Heck, he even expanded gun rights by allowing guns to be carried on federal land.
The unstated implication is, in order to occupy what once was Republican territory, that has involved the Democrats also moving right. But this didn’t begin with Obama. Mick Arran notes that, “In ’92 or 93 Bill Clinton said, in public, on the record, that his admin would be a ‘moderate Republican administration’. It was.” It’s easy to forget how that decade transformed the Democratic Party. This is made clear by E.J. Dionne jr. in 1996 piece from the Washington Post (Clinton Swipes the GOP’s Lyrics):
The president was among the first to broach the notion of Clinton as Republican — albeit more in frustration than pleasure. “Where are all the Democrats?” Clinton cried out at a White House meeting early in his administration, according to “The Agenda,” Bob Woodward’s account of the first part of the Clinton presidency. “I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans. We’re Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?”
As eminent historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an aide to President Kennedy, posited, Carter was a Democrat in name only; his actions were more characteristically Republican. He observes: “[T]he reason for Carter’s horrible failure in economic policy is plain enough. He is not a Democrat — at least in anything more recent than the Grover Cleveland sense of the word.” Grover Cleveland, it must be remembered, was an austerity Democratic who presided over an economic depression in the late 19th century. According to Schlesinger, Carter is “an alleged Democrat” who “won the presidency with demagogic attacks on the horrible federal bureaucracy and as president made clear in the most explicit way his rejection of… affirmative government…. But what voters repudiated in 1980 [Carter’s defeat] was not liberalism but the miserable result of the conservative economic policies of the last half dozen years.” (Leuchtenburg 17)
It was Carter who, as the first Evangelical president, helped to create a new era of politicized religion. He was a conservative culture warrior seeking moral reform, as part of the Cold War fight against Godless communism — of course, conservatism meant something far different back then, as it still could be distinguished from the reactionary right-wing. Strange as it seems, Carter was a conservative who wanted to conserve, although he didn’t want conserve a progressive worldview. His austerity economics went hand in hand with an antagonism toward welfare, unions, and leftist activists. New Deal Progressivism was mortally wounded under the Carter administration.
As fellow Southerners, Carter and Clinton were responding to Nixon’s Southern Strategy by rebranding the Democratic Party with conservative rhetoric and policies. There was a more business-friendly attitude. In place of progressivism, what took hold was realpolitik pessimism but with a friendly face.