The Violent Narcissism of Small Differences

There are “many features of… warfare that turn out to be shared with wars in many other traditional societies… Those shared features include the following ones… So-called tribal warfare is often or usually actually intra-tribal, between groups speaking the same language and sharing the same culture, rather than inter-tribal. Despite that cultural similarity or identity between the antagonists, one’s enemies are sometimes demonized as subhuman.” (Jared Diamond, The World Until Yesterday, p. 120)

That isn’t something I’ve heard before. I’m surprised it isn’t a point brought up more often. It entirely undermines the case for racism being biological and instinctual. This intra-tribal warfare involves people people who are extremely similar — in terms of ethnicity/culture, linguistics, lifestyle, diet, health, genetics, etc (and one would presume also in terms of epigenetics and microbiome). They are more similar to one another than is the rather diverse population of white Americans. Yet these basically identical tribal bands are able to not just see each other as different but even as subhuman. It gives credence to Freud’s theory of the narcissism of small differences.

In modern nation-states, we forget how abnormal is every aspect of our society. Based on unrepresentative WEIRD research, we’ve come to some strange conclusions about human nature. Looking at the anthropological record demonstrates how far off from reality is our modern understanding. We think of warfare as only or primarily occurring between nation-states and we think of nation-states in ethno-racial terms. The world wars were fought with rhetoric declaring the other side to be of a different race or not fully human. That happened between the English and Germans who today are thought of as being so similar, what we now think of as white Westerners. But perceived differences has never had much to do with objective reality.

We should also put violence in perspective. We obsess over some violence while ignoring other violence. Most killings happen within societies, not between societies (unless your one of the populations historically targeted by Western imperialism). And most killings happen within specific demographics, not between demographics. For example, most American whites are killed by American whites, not by foreign terrorists or American blacks. About terrorism, most of it is committed by Americans against Americans; in fact, often whites against whites.

Race is as much a rationalization of violence than it is a cause. Westerners wanted to steal land and resources, to exploit populations. So, they invented racial ideology to justify it. But this basic tendency toward justification of violence is nothing new. As Jared Diamond describes, even groups that are essentially the same will use othering language in order to psychologically distance themselves. Otherwise, it would be harder to kill people. But creating perceived differences is quite simple (as shown numerous times: Jane Elliott’s eye color experiment, Rebecca Bigler’s shirt color experiment, Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment, etc).

Race is a social construct and a rather recent invention at that — for certain, it didn’t exist in the ancient world. There is nothing in human nature that demonstrates an instinct for racism. Rather, what humans are talented at is seeing differences and turning them into categories. This could be as simple as where one lives, such as two tribal bands or two neighborhood gangs fighting. Or it could be based on what clothes are worn and, when people are too similar, they will create artificial differences such as gang colors. But once we’ve created these differences, our minds treat them as essential. We need to learn to step back from our learned biases.

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On Conflict and Stupidity

There was a sad conflict that I came across the other day. I read about it as told by one of those involved, Kayla Renee Parker (Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing).

It was between Parker who is a black college student and the white lady who was her professor. Both are avowed anti-racists and it apparently became a holier-than-thou fight between two social justice warriors. The student was probably being an immature antagonistic asshole. And the professor was acting less than professional and civility went out the window once she began venting on social media.

I’m not sure that in the end it actually had much to do with racism itself, as both sides had problematic understandings. No doubt the professor’s less than clear quiz question was to blame for the initial confrontation. And Parker in the original version of her article dismissed a black scholar because she thought he was white, as if the value of his scholarship was determined by the color of his skin. It maybe had more to do with two people with personality issues, although the professor in a position of authority had less excuse for her misbehavior.

My initial response was to side with the student, even with her immaturity. She is young and so it is expected that she would be immature. The professor did come off as arrogant, the kind of liberal class intellectual that irritates me. And her Facebook posts were the complete opposite of what a professor should be saying in public, although she probably didn’t understand privacy settings and so possibly didn’t realize that she wasn’t just privately venting. Anyway, it’s hard for me to feel too bad about her career being destroyed, even if the student shouldn’t take pride in having helped. That professor (now former professor, I assume) has serious issues and maybe should seek a different career or at least counseling.

On the other hand, after reading the comments section, I saw some of the criticisms of Parker’s account of the situation. It made me realize that I’d want to hear the professor’s side of the story before making any final judgment. But in the end, I don’t really care. People fight all the time, especially those looking for a fight. Both people involved seem to have wanted a fight and so I guess they both got what they wanted. It’s not my concern.

There was one thing that I noticed that was of interest to me, as it connected to other thoughts I’ve had recently. In a discussion about this heated altercation, some social media postings by the professor were shared in the comments section (I forget where I saw this). One was an old tweet maybe from last year where the professor quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “On Stupidity.” As I recall, it was in reference to Trump voters and so she was basically calling them stupid. This is standard partisan posturing. It’s how many in the liberal class always perceive those on the political right, and it is true that the average Republican IQ is lower than the average Democratic IQ, for whatever that is worth (I might argue that this makes the ignorant stupidity seen among too many Democrats to be even more inexcusable, as it can’t be blamed on mere lack of intellectual ability).

No matter who is involved, conflict can have a way of making people stupid. And we are a society riven by conflict. I was just discussing this in terms of inequality, stating that: “People, under extreme duress and unhealthy conditions, tend to think and act stupidly and that stupidity gets magnified on the collective level.” A central point I made is that this negatively affects everyone, including the middle-to-upper classes. In that post, I quoted from Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder:

“Inequality affects our actions and our feelings in the same systematic, predictable fashion again and again. It makes us shortsighted and prone to risky behavior, willing to sacrifice a secure future for immediate gratification. It makes us more inclined to make self-defeating decisions. It makes us believe weird things, superstitiously clinging to the world as we want it to be rather than as it is. Inequality divides us, cleaving us into camps not only of income but also of ideology and race, eroding our trust in one another. It generates stress and makes us all less healthy and less happy.”

This is directly related to Bonhoeffer’s “On Stupidity.” He was talking about Germans under the Nazis, but his writings are directed toward a greater understanding of our shared humanity. Bonhoeffer is a useful case to study, as he took seriously what it meant to be a good person in a not-so-good world. The United States is a divided society, even if not as violently and oppressively divided as Nazi Germany. The one way in which this country is more divided is in terms of inequality, as it is the greatest degree of inequality the world has ever before seen. Even though we don’t have concentration camps (yet), this kind of economic division and segregation has severe consequences.

This goes to a point that Bonhoeffer was making. It’s not just about stupidity on an individual level but about stupidity as an oppressive atmosphere. Accordingly, he wrote that stupidity “is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one… And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem.” He is basically referring to what some would call groupthink and tribal politics, the conditions under which people lose the capacity for independent thought. People get caught up in conflict without understanding what is really dividing them. Ignorance and fear is a bad combination.

This ‘stupidity’ might better be thought of in terms of psychological dissociation and cognitive dissonance. As is made clear, it isn’t mere intellectual inadequacy. More than anything, it is a failure of awareness and imagination. The mind is constrained and so, no matter how smart people are in terms of IQ tests, they end up expressing a kind of stupidity. Their full cognitive resources aren’t being used to a degree that would be most optimal. Their minds are shackled and their vision has blinders.

For some reason, this kind of ‘stupidity’ wasn’t as apparent to me when I was younger. Something seemed wrong with the world, of course. Still, I didn’t entirely appreciate how a particular culture and social order could shape how people think and even how they are able to perceive the world around them. It was only after spending more time on the internet in the early 2000s that the human mind was more obviously laid bare for my viewing pleasure. It was a shock to my system. Maybe I was naive, but I had a basic faith in humans back then. I assumed that most ignorance was passive, not willful. That the problem was a lack of access, not a lack of curiosity. It turns out that I was horribly wrong.

I remember one of the early incidents that was incomprehensible to me. The local newspaper, the Iowa City Press Citizen, created a comment section for their online articles. This was used mostly as a local forum. I was attracted to this because this is a highly educated town and I expected high quality discussion, but I ended up being disappointed.

There was one situation where I was trying to make a factual-based argument and so I linked to the source of the relevant piece of data. I was utterly shocked that these well educated people wouldn’t look at or acknowledge facts that didn’t support their preconceived opinions. That didn’t fit my apparently idealized view of what it meant to be well educated. It was a weird experience because it literally would have only taken a minute to look at the evidence. It never occurred to me that, besides a few dogmatic cranks, so many people would be disinterested in informed debate. I’ve come to realize, all these years later, that it is a rare person who is all that curious to learn anything new.

A woman that was involved in that online discussion seemed like a nice person and a good liberal. She was college educated and had worked as a social worker. Her views were in many ways progressive and she probably was a partisan Democrat. She was a more or less typical example of a liberal class professional. I had talked to her in many discussions and in private messages. I genuinely liked her, but she was completely stuck in her opinions. As someone who has changed views over my lifetime, I always assumed that changing one’s views was a normal human ability and not a rare, exceptional heroic act. When I see new info, I rethink my beliefs and conclusions, occasionally even coming to question my biases and assumptions. I appreciate new info that forces me into new views. It’s a pleasurable, not traumatic, experience. Why would anyone resist new info? I will never understand that.

I was intrigued to come across this woman’s name in a book about local race issues, A Transplanted Chicago by Robert E. Gutsche Jr. I don’t feel like stating her name, but I’ll give you her initials (M.H.C.) which would allow you to quickly figure out her name if you looked at the back section of the book, in the List of Names and Terms. Gutsche uses her as an example because she became one of the select members of the newspaper’s “Writers Group.” Using her experience and authority as having been a social worker, she wrote a racist/racialist article that was published (Kindle Locations 1820-1825):

“While this piece was not written by a newspaper staff writer, it was selected by an editor and commissioned by the opinion page editor; in fact, after this story appeared in 2010, I spoke with both the author and the editor about what I considered its incendiary language (i.e., “inner-city refugees”), broad characterizations (i.e., “perpetrators of urban decay”), and how this particular story contributed to overall coverage of the Southeast Side. Both the article’s author and the editor said that the language was provocative, but said that, in fact, that is what they wanted. Indeed, [M.H.C.] told me that her opinion page editor encouraged her to “stir up” the opinion page and blogs through her writing.”.

So, she was stirring up the pot of shit when racial tensions are already high in a city known for its institutional racism (the county has one of the highest racial disparities of drug arrests in the country). This was at a time when violent crime had been steadily declining for a couple of decades. As the percentage of minorities increased in town, the rate of violent crime had simultaneously gone down. Yet the local media obsessed over racializing issues and scapegoating the small number of blacks that moved here. Now consider the fact that this is a highly liberal college town, as Solid Blue as they come and filled with Hillary Clinton supporters — you might remember her as the first lady of a sitting president who called black youth super-predators that had to be brought to heel, in a speech she gave in support of the racialized crime bill her husband signed into law (and her husband, by the way, a few years earlier campaigned by standing in front of shackled black prisoners with the infamous Klan site of Stone Mountain in the background).

This is the kind of dark-hearted, cynical stupidity that America is so well known for. The reason it is stupid is because the very privileged liberals who attack right-wingers as bigots will shamelessly spin dog-whistle rhetoric or else support those who do so. They can’t even see it in themselves, as it isn’t part of their conscious identity and worldview. It’s the same basic psychology that allowed so many Germans to not know what was happening under the Nazis. People simply don’t want to know what makes them uncomfortable. This is made possible because of the social conditions when inequality takes hold — leading to divisiveness, isolation, partisanship, fear, and anxiety. The collective mind shuts down. This is a mass stupidity that spreads like a shadow upon populations, from local communities to entire nations. All the individual has to do is fall in line and not question, not think too deeply.

Bonhoeffer’s short piece on stupidity should be read in full. I offer it below. But I wanted to frame it. In Letters and Papers From Prison, “On Stupidity” is directly between two other pieces — before it is “On Success” and following it is “Contempt for Humanity?”. Looking at these other pieces gives a larger perspective of his thought. From “On Success,” he begins with these words:

“Even though it is indeed not true that success also justifies the evil deed and the reprehensible means, it is similarly out of the question to regard success as something that is ethically wholly neutral. It so happens that historical success creates the ground on which alone life can go on. The question remains as to whether it is ethically more responsible to go to war like Don Quixote against a new age or, conceding one’s defeat and freely consenting to it, finally to serve the new age. Success, after all, makes history, and the One who guides history always creates good from the bad over the head of the men who make history. It is a short circuit when the stickler for principle, thinking ahistorically and hence irresponsibly, simply ignores the ethical significance of success. It is good that for once we are forced to engage seriously the ethical problem of success. As long as the good is successful, we can afford the luxury of thinking of success as ethically irrelevant. But the problem arises once evil means bring about success.”

That is what I so often see as a moral justification, success. Partisan politics always is about how to win or how to maintain power. It isn’t about doing what is right or rather what is right is determined by those who control the narrative. Even the most popular of candidates holding majority positions like Bernie Sanders are dismissed out of a bizarre logic that the lesser evil, no matter how weak of a candidate, is the only practical option and only moral choice. This ends up being self-defeating, which is to say stupid, because Sanders had a better chance of defeating the greater evil of Trump than did the lesser evil option of Clinton. Not much of a lesser evil, it turns out.

It goes far beyond partisan politics, of course. The most obvious form it takes is the realpolitik of geopolitics, unsurprisingly supported by the likes of the Clinton New Democrats. The US government constantly acts in ways that worsens the problems that we are facing, such as supposedly fighting terrorism by harming vast numbers of innocent people and the inevitable result is to radicalize those populations into even greater support for terrorism against the US. It’s a stupidity that dominates our entire society. Yet it always presents itself as pragmatic and realistic, often fueled by an ignorant righteousness along with fear-mongering patriotism. Might makes right. No one can doubt that the US is successful in terms of material wealth and military power. But success to what end?

This brings us to the other piece, “Contempt for Humans?”. Human stupidity easily turns one’s own mind toward dark thoughts. But Bonhoeffer didn’t give into despair, seeing it as his moral duty and compassionate opportunity to hold the world in a vision of love. He was a Christian, after all, and more than willing to die for his faith. Here is the heart of his message:

“Whoever despises another human being will never be able to make anything of him. Nothing of what we despise in another is itself foreign to us. How often do we expect more of the other than what we ourselves are willing to accomplish. Why is it that we have hitherto thought with so little sobriety about the temptability and frailty of human beings? We must learn to regard human beings less in terms of what they do and neglect to do and more in terms of what they suffer. The only fruitful relation to human beings— particularly to the weak among them— is love, that is, the will to enter into and to keep community with them.”

That would be why he focuses on the social underpinning of stupidity. To his Christian worldview, relationship with God and through God to humanity is always an individual act. That is where he found himself, sitting in that prison cell and waiting for his fate to come calling. He was just a lone voice speaking out during troubled times. He did what he could, what he felt he must, but in the end there was nothing left for him to do other than speak the truth as he understood it. There was no time left for excuses and pity. He pointed out these human failings and yet did so with what kindness he had, not to strike out in hatred at those who had condemned him.

This post started with an incident of conflict. Two people, in their sense of hurt and defensiveness, felt compelled to attack each other. It’s an all too human thing to do. Yes, it’s stupid and pointless, but we’ve all been guilty of it at one time or another. It’s so easy to get pulled into such melodrama, as if winning or rather making the other lose will somehow bring us satisfaction. Even as I write these words, I find myself in a pointless online debate. Assuming that the other person is the stupid one and not oneself, it still doesn’t serve any purpose or rarely does so. The stupidity of this society that we are immersed in wasn’t created through rational argument and won’t be undone through victorious debate or intellectual persuasion.

The only answer is to look beyond the darkness that surrounds us, hoping to find some light to guide us. For Bonhoeffer, the light he sought was love itself, grounded in faith. That is certainly a better option than a hatred that slowly consumes you. It’s hard living in a society like this where trust seems rare and divisiveness is everywhere. We each have to find our own light in the darkness, whatever helps us to see more clearly, even if just enough light to stumble along. Or failing that, we will get lost along the way.

On a personal level, it makes feel tired. I don’t have Bonhoeffer’s faith. But I can appreciate his wisdom, whether or not I’m up to the task of following his example. I’ve had my fair share of stupid conflicts and I suspect that I haven’t seen the end of it. My mother used to play a song for me as a child and in it there was a line stating that, “God isn’t finished with me yet.” Ain’t that the truth! All of humanity is an ongoing project and we seem to have misplaced the plans.

* * *

“On Stupidity”
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

“If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who lives in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

“Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in must cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

“But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.”

Polarizing Effect of Perceived Polarization

“You probably have the sense that polarization is getting worse in our country, that the divide between the left and the right is as bad as it’s ever been in any or our lifetimes. But you might also reasonably wonder if research backs up your intuition. And in a nutshell, the answer is sadly yes.”

That is how Robb Willer began his TED Talk, How to have better political conversations. A commenter said, “He never answered why the polarization has gotten so much worse though.” In my opinion, it hasn’t gotten worse.

The US presently isn’t more divided than it was during the 1960s, isn’t more divided than it was during the violent early 1900s, isn’t more divided than it was in the decades leading up to the Civil War, and isn’t more divided than among the founding generation of Federalists vs Anti-Federalists. This is another one of those simplistic, superficial, and misleading mainstream narratives. And yet it is an extremely compelling story to tell.

People aren’t disagreeing more than ever. It’s just that they are being heard more and hearing others more, because of the growth of mass media and social media. People are being faced with knowing what others think and believe, not being allowed to remain in blissful ignorance as in the past. People feel polarized because they see it in activist groups, mainstream politics, and corporate media. That experience shouldn’t be dismissed, as it feels all too real and does have real consequences. Still, this sense of conflict is misleading. 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.

Here is the takeaway. The general public is not polarized, as research again and again has proven. It is the mainstream media and political elites, the political parties and think tanks, the lifelong partisans and ideological activists who are polarized. In economic terms, it the middle-to-upper class and not the lower classes that are polarized.

The apparent hyper-partisanship comes from not increasing number of partisans, but from increasing number of moderates identifying as independents and increasing number of non-partisans entirely giving up on the political system. I’d also add that it isn’t that this has happened equally across the board. Studies show Democrats aren’t any more liberal than they were decades ago (more conservative, if anything; or at least more neocon and neoliberal), even as Republicans have moved ever further to the right. This has caused public debate to become disconnected from the public opinion, disconnected from the beliefs, values and concerns of most Americans. On many major issues, the general public has moved to the political left which exacerbates this disconnection, creating a situation where the two choices are a conservative Democratic Party and a right-wing Republican Party.

The problem is that the polarized (or rather polarizing) minority entirely controls public debate and the political system. Watching this meaningless spectacle of polarized conflict and dysfunction, the non-polarized majority is some combination of not registered, not voting, voting third party, voting semi-randomly, identifying as independent, politically apathetic, demoralized, hopeless, resigned, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, etc. Some of the general public can be temporarily manipulated by polarization, such as when given forced choices and when threatened with fear-mongering, but in the end their basic values and concerns don’t support polarization.

Meanwhile the party insiders of both main parties, when the issue is important enough to the interests of themselves, their cronies and the donor class, always seem to find a way to agree and cooperate about passing bills and enacting laws that further push public policy toward neoconservatism and neoliberalism. The culture war framing makes for good stories to tell on the corporate media for mass consumption, but they aren’t what drive actual politics.

At the very highest level of wealth and power, there is very little polarization and a whole lot of collusion and cronyism. Some would argue that even the political elite aren’t actually more polarized. They may be arguing more about more issues, even as the substance of conflict might not indicate any greater disagreement overall than in the past. Others, such as myself, would see most of the partisan bickering as yet more political theater to keep the public distracted.

Certainly, there is no polarization in the deep state, the double government, or whatever you wish to call it. Major public policies aren’t left to chance. Research has shown that the general public has little influence on what politicians do. Some take this argument further, pointing that often even elected officials have little power to change things. That is because elected officials represent a miniscule part of the entrenched bureaucracy. Besides, many political elites don’t necessarily operate within the government itself, such as think tanks shaping policy and lobbyists writing bills. For those who aren’t part of the ruling elite, this discourages them from getting involved in politics or running for office.

How would we know if our society is more polarized, in what ways, what it means, and to whose benefit? Polls don’t just tell us what public opinion is. They shape public opinion and polling during elections can influence voting behavior. And what data the corporate media decides to report and how they frame it shapes the public mind. Some might call it public perception management. Is the public really polarized or made to feel polarized or that everyone around them is polarized? What is the agenda in making the public feel divided and individuals isolated?

One thing is so clear as to be beyond all argument. We don’t have a functioning democracy: gerrymandering, establishment-controlled nomination process, third parties excluded from debates, partisan corporate media, perception management, think tank propaganda, astroturf organizations, paid trolls, voter disenfranchisement and suppression, campaigns and political access determined by big money, revolving door politics, regulatory capture, legalized bribery, pervasive secrecy and unaccountability, etc. So, we don’t have elections that offer real choices and actual influence. And because of this, we don’t have political elites that represent the citizenry.

I’m not sure what polarization means within a political system that is oligarchic, plutocratic, corporatist, and inverted totalitarian. Is it really polarized or is it working according to design? And for the all too real divisions that exist, are they ideological or demographic? Are the majority of poor, white and non-white, politically polarized in any meaningful sense when most of them are so politically apathetic as to not vote? As inequality grows along with poverty and desperation, will our greatest concern be how polarized are the tiny minority of the remaining middle-to-upper class?

* * *

Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects
Political Elites Disconnected From General Public
Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism
Warmongering Politicians & Progressive Public
Racial Polarization of Partisans
Most Americans Know What is True
Liberalism: Label vs Reality (analysis of data)
Non-Identifying Environmentalists And Liberals
US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism
Public Opinion On Government & Tea Party
Claims of US Becoming Pro-Life
Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich
Most Oppose Cutting Social Security (data)
The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2
Vietnam War Myths: Memory, Narrative, Rhetoric & Lies

* * *

7 in 10 Americans ‘Not Upset’ with Gay Marriage, New iMediaEthics Poll Finds
by Andy Sternberg and David W. Moore

Liberal Policy Preferences are Everywhere
by Yeggmen

America Is Much Less Conservative than the Mainstream Media Believe
by Eric Alterman

America Not as Politically Conservative as You Think
by Lee Drutman

Why most conservatives are secretly liberals
by John Sides

You’re Probably Not as Conservative as You Think
by Tom Jacobs

You May Think You’re Right … Young Adults Are More Liberal Than They Realize
by Ethan Zell and Michael J. Bernstein

The End of the Conservative Movement (Still)…
by George Hawley

Ideological Labels in America
by Claassen, Tucker, and Smith

Political Ideology
by Jost, Federico, and Napier

Operational and Symbolic Ideology in the American Electorate
by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson

The Ideological Right vs. The Group Benefits Left
by Matt Grossmann

In Search of the Big Sort
by Samuel J Abrams

Who Fits the Left-Right Divide?
by Carmines, Ensley, and Wagner

Despite Headline, Pew Poll Does Not Show a Polarized America
by Todd Eberly

Most experts think America is more polarized than ever. This Stanford professor disagrees. And he thinks the 2016 election has only buttressed his interpretation.
by Jeff Stein

Polarized or Sorted? Just What’s Wrong With Our Politics, Anyway?
by Alan I. Abramowitz and Morris P. Fiorina

Disconnected: The Political Class versus the People
by Morris P. Fiorina

Has the American Public Polarized?
by Morris P. Fiorina

America’s Missing Moderates: Hiding in Plain Sight
by Morris P. Fiorina

Moderates: Who Are They, and What Do They Want?
by Molly Ball

Politics aren’t more partisan today–we’re just fighting about more issues
by Heather Hurlburt

Preference Change through Choice
by Petter Johansson, Lars Hall, and Nick Chater

(Mis)perceptions of Partisan Polarization in the American Public
by Matthew S. Levendusky and Neil Malhotra

(Mis)perceiving Political Polarization
by Nathan Collins

Americans overestimate political polarization, according to new CU-Boulder research
by Greg Swenson

The Effect of “False” Polarization
by Matthew S. Levendusky and Neil A. Malhotra

Your opinion on climate change might not be as common as you think
by Leviston, Walker, and Morwinski

Constructing Public Opinion
by Justin Lewis

Does Media Coverage of Partisan Polarization Affect Political Attitudes?
by Matthew Levendusky and Neil Malhorta

Do Partisan Media Add to Political Polarization?
by Anne Kim

The Limits of Partisan Prejudice
by Yphtach Lelkes and Sean J. Westwood

Elite Polarization and Public Opinion
Joshua Robison and Kevin J. Mullinix

How polarisation in Washington affects a growing feeling of partisanship
by Harry J Enten

Elite Polarization, Partisan Ambivalence, and a Preference for Divided Government
by Lavine, Johnston, Steenbergen, and Perkins

Ideological Moderates Won’t Run: How Party Fit Matters for Partisan Polarization in Congress
by Danielle M. Thomsen

How party activists, not voters in general, drive political polarization
by Gillian Kiley

Polls of Persuasion: Beware of the Horse Race
by Alicia Wanless

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
by Jordan Michael Smith

So why doesn’t the United States fly apart at the seams?

Nation Builders
Simon Winchester’s ‘Men Who United the States’
By Stephen Mihm
The New York Times

“So why doesn’t the United States fly apart at the seams? James Madison may have had it right when he argued that a large, decentralized republic spread over a vast territory was more likely to survive than one confined to a much smaller landmass. A sprawling, diverse nation like the United States would necessarily encompass so vast a variety of people that no single group could consistently impose its will on the others. In Madison’s pragmatic if paradoxical vision, our very differences would keep us together. The nation would remain united because no bloc or faction can command sufficient political power to divide it and destroy the union.

“Of course, Madison couldn’t foresee the conflict over slavery, when two distinct sections of the country went to war over their differences. But this has been the exception, not the rule. Today, the nation is rarely, if ever, united on any single political issue. Our loyalties are too divided, too fractured and too unpredictable. Our diversity divides us, but in the process, guarantees that the larger union endures.”

Cryptonomicon: Democracy & Moderation, Conflict & Violence

I’m not going to do a full review, much less a fair and neutral analysis, of Cryptonomicon. The book is large with multiple storylines, one of which involves World War II. The passage that caught my attention, however, comes from the storyline set in the late 1990s when the book was written. Before I get to that passage, let me make note of the worldview of the novel and of the author’s other novels.

I’m going to take a partly critical view on Neal Stephenson’s work or at least aspects therein, but I’m not trying to dismiss his work. I enjoyed Snow Crash, in particular. It felt like a very plausible future in many ways. Stephenson can be a fun writer to read. He is imaginative. So, my purpose here isn’t to do a review of Cryptonomicon or literary criticism of his ouevre. I simply want to use his writing as a way of offering cultural criticism since Stephenson very much seems like a product of our culture. So, I will be narrowly focused in this sense.

I haven’t read all of Stephenson’s books (nor do I want to try). From what others have written, it seems that all of his fiction involves conflict and typically fighting, often outright war. As Al Dimond explains:

Conflict is a theme that runs through every Stephenson novel that I’ve read. That’s a pretty vague theme, you might say. Well, how about this: they’ve all ended in the middle of violent struggle. The corporate wars and virtual swordfights of Snow Crash, global factional fighting in The Diamond Age, small-scale jungle combat in CryptonomiconCryptonomicon‘s story of World War II, its central thesis made explicit in Enoch Root and Randy’s conversations in jail, is the clearest statement that Stephenson basically believes in conflict. He believes that the right side (the progressive side) will eventually win if there is conflict. That without conflict societies lose their sense of what they believe in the first place and can’t progress. Whether or not you believe that what I’m calling progress here is good, this is something that rings true to me: in a world of competitive civilizations, the progressive ones wipe out the others. We always worry that they (we) may wipe out themselves, too, just for the sake of completeness (ha, not really, actually just because we know no other way, or because there’s still enough inequity and thus conflict to keep us fighting and thus progressing). This is a subject that I’ve got to do some reading on, because I’m sure Great Books have been written on the subject.

One could easily conclude that Neal Stephenson, going by his fiction, seems to have little faith in the ideal of social democracy working out its problems without recourse to violence and revolution. There seems to be no overarching socio-political worldview that can encompass the diverse opinions and viewpoints of his characters. Some group apparently has to win and everyone else lose… or else there will be endless fighting and competition between forces. One might say that it is a bit of a Social Darwinian vision. Unsurprisingly, there is a libertarian bent to many of the narratives and characters.

The following is by David Axel Kurtz. This is from the beginning of his post which is a celebration and apologia of this worldview:

In Neal Stephenson’s novel Cryptonomicon, there is nothing more derided than irony. It is seen as the enemy of the artist, an obstacle to creativity, and the antithesis of true production.

If there is a protagonist to Crypto it is Randall Lawrence Waterhouse. He is comparable in many ways to the author of the story. They both came from the American heartland. They both ended up in the Pacific Northwest. They both came of age at the time of the computer’s introduction. They are both highly educated. They are both “white male technocrats.” They are both nerds.

The nerd as hero. I have nothing against that in principle. It is better than Rambo, but Cryptonomicon has both types: the nerd-hero and the soldier-hero. The greatest enemy of all is not taking one’s mission deadly seriously (i.e., irony is bad). No matter which type of hero you are in this world, you have to fight for what you believe in. There is no pacifist-hero of slow, gradual democratic change… for I guess that would make a boring story (and some would say make for a boring ideology)… very few stories, ideologies or products are sold without some drama involved, even if the only drama is the conflict of not having the beautiful woman in the advertisement.

Kurtz identifies the character Randy (Randall) with the author Stephenson. That is something I wondered when I came across the passage where Randy takes on the smug humanities professor G. E. B. Kivistik, a truly pathetic caricature in the tradition of right-wing fear-mongering about the academic liberal elite. What I wanted to know is: Why was the author setting up a straw man for his antagonist to knock down, unless that caricature is genuinely how the author perceives such people? The scenario was a libertarian wet dream. This immediately put my defenses up and made me start to pay closer attention to the story. I’m still not entirely sure where the author comes down on this.

Randy sees himself as self-accomplished and hardworking. He doesn’t see the privilege he has had a white guy born and raised in America. Nor do those inspired by this passage see this. It has become a manifesto of white male victimhood.

Dominic Fox explains this worldview in terms of a “tribal sociology”:

The point to understand here is that Randy is right for a small, local value of “this society”: if you are in a position to participate in the social customs and network of the Dwarves, the path to advancement is indeed to “work hard, educate yourself, and keep your wits about you”. If you are amongst Hobbits, you need to practice quite different virtues. Tribes such as these act as force-multipliers for personal effort (working one’s ass off, something Kivistik has also presumably done in his own way), provided it is directed towards goals that the tribe esteems and is in a position to reward. What is “entrenched” is of course not Randy’s personal position within the tribe to which he is affiliated, but the position of the tribe itself, with its considerable resources of knowledge and power.

The ideological move common to Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age is to displace class analysis (which would have something to say about hierarchy and exploitation, as fundamental operators of the division of the social world) into a “pagan” compartmentalisation of the world into competing tribes, a flat ecology of value-systems whose historical development is governed by something like an evolutionary fitness landscape. This is apparent from Cryptonomicon’s opening metaphor of the “first self-replicating gizmo” as a “stupendous badass”, and progenitor of a tremendous and varied proliferation of badassery throughout the natural and, by metaphorical extension, social world. This compartmentalisation enables Stephenson to range across wildly varied social and moral environments, and gives the Baroque Cycle its bewildering sweep and scope as well as its synoptic power. But it leaves Randy Waterhouse essentially mystified as to the nature of the opportunities available to him, and unable to grasp the Hobbits’ point, rendered as it is in language that seems offensively fatuous and vapid to him, about “false consciousness”.

An even more scathing criticism came from an unknown author of an essay, Retronomicon:

[W]hat’s most striking given recent political events, Cryptonomicon reads now like a lengthy, pulped-up pamphlet from Ron Paul. In its fascination with electronic cash and the gold standard, the book was dated even at the time of writing (remember, Paypal made its debut only a few months after publication, and the bubble burst in Silicon Valley a year later). Like seemingly all libertarian fantasies, there’s a lot of water, boats, and islands involved. Reading it critically, one is struck by the attempt to normalize some pretty wild ideologies, like tying Holocaust prevention to the possession of homemade automatic firearms. Pull back from the engaging spy-counterspy plot for even a second, and the whole thing starts to unravel, particularly since the dot-com bust has put a lot of its present-day speculation to death. Indeed, the WWII sections are still the strongest in the book, if only because they focus on a character who is not A) a self-indulgent technocrat or B) a particularly deep thinker.

But what I remember bothering me even as I read Cryptonomicon for the first time in college, is the dinner-party flashback in which he viciously burns a strawman of liberal arts and academia. In a novel that often goes out of its way to champion nerdiness (particularly the unexplainable romantic plotline, in which the tough-but-beautiful girl seems to fall for the protagonist through a courtship that bears no resemblance to human behavior), the dinner party stands out as a towering triumph of misplaced Mary Sue dialog.

This critic is speaking of that same passage. Further on, s/he gets into the meat of the issue:

Let’s set aside the poor-little-white-male victimhood schtick for a second, since it’s patently transparent. Look at Kivistik’s original question, the one Randy derides so readily: How many onramps will connect the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway? If you strip away the metaphor, all he’s asking is “who’s going to make sure the poor can also access the advantages that the Internet brings?” This isn’t some far-fetched academic pretense: it’s a classic question of the Digital Divide. Perhaps a superhighway is indeed a bad metaphor for this, although I think it actually works rather well. But to argue about the highway, instead of connectivity for the poor, is to miss Kivistik’s point entirely.

And in a book written by an honest author, instead of one using his protagonist as a mouthpiece for radical cyber-selfishness, a professor from Yale would point that out. But Cryptonomicon is not that book, sadly. That the author is capable of writing these sentences himself, and then misinterpreting his own words, is a sign of a shocking lack of empathy with his characters. And yet, I get no sense that he’s writing from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, since the same tone of self-congratulatory geekishness pervades the entire story.

This gives voice to my intuitive response when I initially read the passage in question. It seems the author expects us to take fully seriously this portrayal of academia and its takedown by the idealized nerd-hero outsider. Nonetheless, I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

In the passage, Randy defends himself against the accusation of being a technocrat… worse still, a privileged technocrat. I haven’t done a thorough search about the author’s views on such things, but I did come across an interview where he discusses a technocratic society:

The success of the U.S. has not come from one consistent cause, as far as I can make out. Instead the U.S. will find a way to succeed for a few decades based on one thing, then, when that peters out, move on to another. Sometimes there is trouble during the transitions.

[ . . . ] for the era from, say, 1940 to 2000 it was the engineer, the geek, the scientist. It’s no coincidence that this era is also when science fiction has flourished, and in which the whole idea of the Future became current. After all, if you’re living in a technocratic society, it seems perfectly reasonable to try to predict the future by extrapolating trends in science and engineering.

It is quite obvious to me that the U.S. is turning away from all of this. It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works; the depiction of technical sorts in popular culture has been overwhelmingly negative for at least a generation now. More recently, the cultural right has apparently decided that it doesn’t care for some of what scientists have to say. So the technical class is caught in a pincer between these two wings of the so-called culture war. Of course the broad mass of people don’t belong to one wing or the other. But science is all about diligence, hard sustained work over long stretches of time, sweating the details, and abstract thinking, none of which is really being fostered by mainstream culture.

Since our prosperity and our military security for the last three or four generations have been rooted in science and technology, it would therefore seem that we’re coming to the end of one era and about to move into another. Whether it’s going to be better or worse is difficult for me to say. The obvious guess would be “worse.” If I really wanted to turn this into a jeremiad, I could hold forth on that for a while. But as mentioned before, this country has always found a new way to move forward and be prosperous. So maybe we’ll get lucky again. In the meantime, efforts to predict the future by extrapolating trends in the world of science and technology are apt to feel a lot less compelling than they might have in 1955.

That seems to offer a clue.

In Cryptonomicon, Randy denies being a technocrat, denies even knowing what that means. The author in this interview, on the other hand, offers a loving portrayal of the technocratic society he was born into. Growing up, Stephenson saw strife and bickering take over our country. Little of the optimism that brought us to the moon was left by the time he was an adult.

Stephenson states that, “It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works”. That is pretty much the opinion of Randy and how he sees the humanities professor. Following this statement, Stephenson also makes a similar statement about the “cultural right”. He is speaking of the culture wars and so the “cultural right” he speaks of is the religious right. However, he separates out the technical class out of this culture war. That is precisely the view of Randy as he sees himself as the outsider. This so-called “technical class” is stereotypically known for its libertarianism and I doubt Stephenson is unaware of this when he makes such statements. He is speaking about a specific group with a specific ideological tendency.

Stephenson seems to have sympathies for the libertarian-minded, but at the same time he sees a broader view:

Speaking as an observer who has many friends with libertarian instincts, I would point out that terrorism is a much more formidable opponent of political liberty than government. Government acts almost as a recruiting station for libertarians. Anyone who pays taxes or has to fill out government paperwork develops libertarian impulses almost as a knee-jerk reaction. But terrorism acts as a recruiting station for statists. So it looks to me as though we are headed for a triangular system in which libertarians and statists and terrorists interact with each other in a way that I’m afraid might turn out to be quite stable.

As he further explains, “Myth of Redemptive Violence, which he sees as a meme by which domination systems are perpetuated. But he is clearly all in favor of people standing up against oppressive power systems of all stripes.” Despite all the conflict and violence in his fiction, he apparently hasn’t embraced this as normative. Still, the fictional worldview being presented is certainly not one of moderation or even any obvious hope for moderation. Stephenson’s stories offer some particular conflict resolved or semi-resolved in a world of conflict, maybe never to be resolved.

Like me, Neal Stephenson was a child of the Cold War. He is of a slightly older generation, a young Boomer. So, he is even more of the Cold War era than I am. That “triangular system” of stability is very much a product of the twentieth century, but when Stephenson spoke in that interview it was several years after the 9/11 terrorist attack and in an entirely new decade following Cryptonomicon. In this new century, conflict and violence has become a lot more personal to Americans. It isn’t about oppressive foreign countries or dystopic futures. We have come to a point where statism, terrorism and libertarianism are being brought to their extremes.

Stephenson explores the world where great heroes go on quests and great men fight for what they seek. Most of us on this teeming planet aren’t great heroes or great men. We are just people trying to get by and hoping for a better world for the next generation. What is everyone else supposed to do while all the great things are happening? Is there any room for democracy to emerge, for grassroots change that doesn’t require conflict and violence?

An Amusing Example of Hypocrisy

I comment on a lot of videos, but I feel particularly compelled to comment when someone states something that is misinformed, is illogical, is a bad example, et cetera. That was the case yesterday when I responded to a video by MrHerrIQ (Why Leftists do not debate rightwingers even when they attempt to?).

He seems like he might have the capacity for making a good argument, but he wasn’t making one in this video (to be fair, he does admit that he is ranting). I pointed out some problems with his argument. For example, he said that leftists just repeat themselves (which he bases on his claim of having debated a thousand leftists and having won all of these debates in recent years). I pointed out my own experience that, yes, I do often repeat myself in arguments with rightwingers (I’m not talking about the average conservative) because it often seems they don’t understand or acknowledge anything only stated once. I also pointed out that the data shows that liberals (the same as his ‘leftist’?) are the most educated demographic and that most scientists identify as liberals… by which I was implying that there might be an intellectual inequality between liberals and rightwingers which might explain communication difficulties.

By the way, if I sound condescending, please realize I’m responding to a video that was condescending to all leftists. Take note that I usually don’t generalize about all conservatives. Instead, I try to speak about specific demographics such as ‘rightwingers’ (to be more specific, US ‘rightwingers’)… which I often define in the context of the psychological research about Right-Wing Authoritarians (RWAs) or, in other contexts, as the far right which in the US population usually means the social conservatives and fundamentalists (anyway, the research shows a correlation in the US population between RWAs and social conservatives), although the label ‘rightwingers’ can sometimes be used to more loosely apply to the radical right such as anarcho-capitalists, objectivists, and militant libertarians (these latter groups often don’t identify as conservatives). However, it would appear MrHerrIQ is using the ‘rightwinger’ more generally to refer to all right-leaning people (in all countries?) which isn’t how it’s typically used in the US. Also, his use of ‘leftist’ leaves me uncertain since to me that implies someone on the far left. So, I don’t know if he means all people who lean left or if he means the far left (Communists? Marxists? Anarchists?). My sense is he means the former because he is speaking very generally, but some of his comments could be interpreted as specifically referring to just social liberals (which isn’t how I would define ‘leftist’). I think in one of his videos he mentioned English isn’t his first language and so maybe he doesn’t understand the US context for these words… which might explain some of his frustration considering the YouTube viewership is a largely American audience.

Another commenter pointed out an even more obvious flaw to the argument: It was just a straw man from start to finish, although it’s hard to know if he was making a straw man argument as I’m not sure exactly that he was presenting a false argument or just a false portrayal (he seemed to conflate his idea of a liberal with his perception of the behavior and arguments of liberals; and, so, his dismissive portrayal of how liberals supposedly argue was seemingly being presented as a disproving of the argument of liberalism in general)… to put it simply, I was confused by what he was even trying to communicate. He presented his argument using only his personal experience which he didn’t even go into detail about… and then using these vague references he made a generalized portrayal of all leftists (Are these self-identified ‘leftists’ or his he assuming to know who is and isn’t a ‘leftist’?). To put it in simpler terms, his argument was that leftists suck at argument because he doesn’t like leftists and they’re stupid losers.

If the straw man fallacy doesn’t apply, there are potentially many other fallacies that could be applied to various aspects of the presentation of his argument (as well to my interaction with him in comments and private messages): appeal to ridicule, fallacy of distribution, psychologist’s fallacy, reification fallacy, accident fallacy, cherry picking, fallacy of composition, hasty generalization, association fallacy, sampling bias, ad hominem, appeal to emotion, weasel words, poisoning the well, et cetera. I don’t know. It would be difficult trying to analyze in detail (sentence by sentence) the precise logic or lack thereof within his argument… and I don’t feel that motivated.

He is free to have his opinion, but I was hoping he would expand on his argument using more objective evidence (and, of course, a more clear presentation). In particular, a simple definition of terms would’ve been helpful along with maybe some demographic data to clarify exactly the group of people he is talking about (I’m assuming the demographic labeled as ‘leftist’ would be different depending on the cultural context of different regions of the world… and I don’t know the country this guy lives in or what his personal experience has been with so-called ‘leftists’).

I was wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. I realized he might only be referring to leftists from his own country, although he seemed to be generalizing about some hypothetical ‘leftist’ that exists beyond any specific context (which I might accept if he was speaking about liberals in more psychological terms in reference to scientific research). I’m fairly sure that what he thinks of as ‘leftist’ isn’t how most US liberals think of themselves. So, I was prepared to have a debate about possible cultural differences of how we perceive labels and how we interact with those who are different.

Alas, that wasn’t to happen. I noticed today he had left a response to me:

@MarmaladeINFP
“I don’t exactly follow the argument being made,”
1)This is my experience with leftists in debates, 2) What is yours? 3) Why do you think this is?
“I know that the research shows that liberals are on average higher IQ and higher educated.”
Since the 1960’s cultural-revolution, education has gotten liberal so this could be a chicken and the egg scenario with a-political high IQ individual being influenced by leftists. However if high IQ select against itself, it lacking in value.

So, I clicked on the link to the comments page. He had removed all of my comments along with all of the comments of those who disagreed with him. I just had to laugh. I hadn’t seen such blatant hypocrisy in a long while. He was making an argument about why leftists don’t debate rightwingers. And, when leftists try to debate him, he removes their comments. I wonder if he has enough self-awareness to even realize the hypocrisy of this.

After laughing, it did make me feel a bit sad. He obviously is frustrated about not being able to communicate to those who are different than him. But, because of this frustration, he has given up trying to communicate those who are different than him. So, he has resigned to find comfort in his preferred reality tunnel and block out all the voices that disturb him.

If he just seemed mean-spirited or uneducated, I could dismiss him. But he seems intelligent. I always find it sad when I meet someone (even a stranger) with potential for intelligence who is afraid of intelligent debate. I’m not sure why it makes me sad, but it does. Maybe it’s just a matter of seeing yet another example of wasted human potential. We humans have so much potential and yet look at the world we collectively create with all of its conflict and suffering.

I’m included in this. I too waste potential. I wish I was a better person. I wish I knew how to debate rightwingers, how to communicate to communicate well to people in general. But I fail at this as most people fail.

– – –

I would share my comments to him on his video, but he deleted them. In order to add some more context, here is a message he sent me:

Put yourself in my situation.
I’ve debated a thousend leftists and the last 300 has not impressed me enough for me to find that it’s a netgain for me. If you want to debate me, you have to somehow ensure to me, you’re legitt.
You wont lose your face, your facade wont break.
You will be honest and admitt your shortcommings.
You will not repeat youself and reconstruct your argument.
You will abide by the rules of logic.
No red herrings.
You will not be passive aggressive, sarcism could be argued to be appealing to ridicule and it’s just mere autosuggestion at most.
Make your own points, I shouldn’t have to dragg them out of you or ask of you what assumptions you are basing your argument on.

If you can do this, I will have a yellow card, red card system. I tolerate 1, possibly 2 fuck ups. Nothing more. I used to but not anymore.

What is it that you would like to argue about?
Leave a PM on youtube and I will get into contact with you when Im available.

Perhaps you’re the one, who knows.
From where Im standing I doubt it, but if the shoe was on the other foot, you wouldn’t blame me.

My response:

You’ve debated many people. So what? I’ve debated many people. Many people all over the web have debated many other people. It happens all the time. You aren’t special.

I have to ensure you? (By the way, you probably mean ‘assure’. I think I heard you say that English isn’t your first language.) Why don’t you assure me? You are the one who deleted my comments. I didn’t delete your comments. As an outside observer, your actions look like hypocrisy. But you claim you aren’t a hypocrite. Why should I trust your words when your actions imply otherwise? How do you accidentally delete that many comments (something like 10 or 20 of them)? It doesn’t seem possible. So, unless you can explain that to me I don’t feel assured.

Yet, your tone here is that of condescension. You will condescend to allow me to debate you if I follow your rules. So, should I condescend to overlook your apparent act of hypocrisy?

Anyway, your rules seem to only serve the purpose of your trying to avoid debate. Why are you afraid of open and fair discussion?

For example, one of your rules is: “You will not repeat youself and reconstruct your argument.” This would be a difficult rule to follow. English isn’t your first language. So, there might be many miscommunications. Also, does it count as repeating if I state again comments you’ve deleted?

Another example of one of your rules is: “You will not be passive aggressive, sarcism could be argued to be appealing to ridicule and it’s just mere autosuggestion at most.” This is purely subjective. Do you have to prove I’m being passive aggressive or sarcastic? Or is it merely your personal perception? Why do I have to conform my behavior to your subjective biases? Also, once again, what about miscommunications? I assume you come from a different culture than I do. How am I supposed to know what is considered passive aggressive or sarcastic in your culture?

And yet another example is your last rule: “Make your own points, I shouldn’t have to dragg them out of you or ask of you what assumptions you are basing your argument on.” This rule is utter nonsense. Every single comment any person makes has an infinite number of assumptions it’s based on. This also comes back to the issue of culture and language. How am I supposed to know what assumptions you care about or what assumptions you are or aren’t aware of? Do you hold yourself to this same standard? How am I supposed to know all the assumptions you are holding in the context of all your rules?

All in all, your rules are unrealistic and unfair expectations. I suspect that is their purpose. No one could follow all those rules. Or, rather, one could only follow all those rules to your satisfaction if they happened to share all your assumptions, all your values, all your beliefs, and all your cultural biases. Have you considered that this might be at the bottom of your frustration with interacting with those who are different from you? You seem to want others to conform to your expectations and your worldview. Have you considered that it might be more fruitful if you were willing to meet people in the middle, willing to compromise, willing to understand new perspectives?

I have no doubt that, from where you’re standing, you doubt it. You’re frustrated because you’ve set yourself up for frustration. And then you blame others for your frustration. It seems like a no-win situation. From where I’m standing, I have plenty of doubts about both your actions and your words. I don’t know you and so I don’t really care who is to blame. I’m not blaming you for anything, but you do seem to be blaming others. Why do you keep telling me to see things from your perspective? Why don’t you try to see things from the perspective of others? If you actually understood the liberal view, you wouldn’t be blaming liberals. So, why are you blaming liberals for your lack of understanding of the liberal view?

I’m being honest with you here. I’m not attacking you. I’m just calling them as I see them. I’d love to try to have a fair and rational discussion with you (I’ve never liked to ‘debate’ per se), but you’ve so far given me no assurance that you’re even interested in trying. All your comments seems to show that you see everything in terms of being about you. That isn’t a helpful attitude. Even so, if you’re willing to seek a middle ground of understanding, I’m all game. But if you just want a battle of egos, a pissing match, a game of rhetoric, then no thanks.

On a side note, I suspect your real frustration has nothing to do with liberal vs conservative, nothing to do with politics or ideology of any kind. I’ve studied psychology for years, specifically personality types. I’ve seen these kinds of communication difficulties many times. If I had to make a quick (and, of course, rather superficial) guess, I’d say you are probably what is called in MBTI an NT (iNtuition Thinking) or to be more exact I’d guess an INTJ (Introverted iNtuition Thinking Judging). I’ve found most conflicts of communication are at least partly if not mostly grounded in psychological issues. I learned a lot about myself and about others by studying personality types and trait research. It’s easy to blame others. It’s much more difficult to come to self-awareness and self-understanding.

After that, he sent me a message that was pages long and so I won’t quote it here, but it was just a continuation of what he had already said. Basically, he was saying that going by his own experience he knew that he was intellectually superior to most people and that he had grown tired of debating the lowly leftist masses. Here is my response to that long message:

Reading this new message, I feel even less assured. You believe you are right and you believe you are intellectually superior to almost everyone. I don’t hold such arrogant assumptions about myself. And I tend to not like to interact with people who are that arrogant.

Also, your arrogance seems naive. You say you’ve won all these debates. But how do you know? Did you declare your own victory? Maybe those you debated also had the exact same opinion about themselves. Maybe even others told them that they had won.

The only thing that you’ve made clear is this. No matter what I say, you will claim I broke one of your rules. No matter how well I argue, you will simply claim you won. It’s not that you’re tired of debating. It seems you’re tired of even trying to debate.

Why not drop the arrogance? Just relax. You seem to be taking everything too seriously. The reason I don’t like debate is because I’ve found closed-minded people love debate. I like people who enjoy learning. In particular, I like people who like learning new perspectives. But you’ve given no inkling that you actually understand others or want to understand others. In such a situation, how can useful or pleasant communication even be possible?

Just the fact that you generalize about all ‘leftists’ shows a lazy intellect. It also demonstrates that you are unlikely to treat respectfully anything I present. You assume you’ve already got my type figured out, but going by your own words I’m not sure you understand leftists at all. If I tried to discuss/debate anything with you, I’d probably just end up being more fodder for your self-fulfilling prophecies. Think about it. Who will decide who wins the debate? You will, of course. And, since you haven’t admitted to losing a debate in years, why would you admit any such thing now? In your eyes, I can’t win for losing.

You seem intelligent, but there is something about you that seems self-enclosed almost to the point of narcissism or something. I don’t know if I’d be able to break through the protective barrier you are hiding behind. Honestly, I don’t at the moment see it’s worth the effort.

You say I came to you. Yes, I did. And then you deleted my comments. You responded that it was an accident and that it was only 8 comments. I still don’t see how 8 comments could be deleted accidentally. It just doesn’t seem logically possible. I could understand accidentally deleting 1 comment, but 8 comments is no accident. My allegation of hypocrisy still stands and you have yet to refute it. From my perspective, such hypocrisy is a sign of your character. I can only assume that if I were to discuss/debate with you that I’d expect more of the same underhanded behavior.

If you hadn’t deleted my comments, we could already be having a discussion/debate. I offered you evidence in those comments. You dismissed that evidence and you didn’t even offer any evidence in return. I just don’t know. meh


Like Father, Not Like Son

Like Father, Not Like Son

Posted on Nov 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

I got annoyed at my dad during a phone conversation the other day.  I hung up on him which is the first time I’ve ever done that in my life.  And now I don’t even feel like talking to him at all.  My mom’s family is known for their ability to hold long-lasting grudges and I can almost feel that desire in me.  I’m willing to bet that I’m capable of it.

I don’t know if he was in a bad mood or what.  He was determined to be crtical about everything which in and of itself is something I can sympathize with, but what bothered me was that he was doing it in a self-righteous way (with an implication that my opinion was worth less than his).  He was arguing that there was only one truth and he so happened to be in possession of it. 

At first, I tried to point out the positives for sake of balance and then I tried to be conciliatory, but he just wouldn’t have it.  He wouldn’t leave it as simply a differences of perspectives… because, as a moral conservative, that smacks of moral relativism.  Someone has to be right and therefore everyone else must be wrong (Extraverted Thinking types I tell ya).

He was complaining about the lazy selfish kids these days (not like the good ol’ days when kids were obediant and submissive to authority… sure).  Basically, he was coming off as a bitter old man who has forgotten what it was like to be young.  He is a moral conservative and seems to think that Obama (who mobilized all those lazy selfish youngsters) is one of the first signs of the end of the world.  I’m the last to argue against the imperfections of this existence and the failings of human nature, but I’m not usually one of those that will try to pin it all on a specific group of people.

The thing is that he can be one of the nicest people.  He seems to genuinely like people and he is always helping others.  At the same time, he can be one of the most arrogantly judgmental people that I know.  He sees himself as a self-made man and arrogance is often the flaw of this type of person. 

He has had his struggles in life like everyone, but he has never known really hard times… such as involving racial prejudice, poverty, major illness, or long-term depression.  I don’t get the sense that he has a deep understanding of or compassion for the suffering of others which are the very things I value above all else.  This isn’t to say he isn’t compassionate.  He is a caring person in a patriarchal fatherly kind of way.  He cares about the poor as one who has never been poor, but he does care.  He goes to great effort to make a positive difference in the world.

His morality seems to be primarily based upon intellectual principles and a sense of social obligation.  He does have a more accepting side that is very much genuine, but his righteous side is never very far away.  It can actually bother me even more sometimes when I sense him trying to hide his righteous side.  If someone is going to feel judgmental towards me, they might as well just get it out in the open.

What I was thinking about is how people can have such contradictory sides of their personality.  I’m the same way.  I can be extremely compassionate and understanding, but there is another part of me that is severely misanthropic.  Despite or because of my understanding of suffering, I can simply get stuck in my suffering… even selfishly stuck.  My dad, because he isn’t overwhelmed by such an intimate knowledge of suffering, is much more able to actively help others. 

Theoretically, balance is always possible and to that extent desirable.  However, experience has shown me that this ideal of balance is rarely a reality.

I’m not in a morally superior position to judge my father.  I guess what my annoyance comes down to is that he wants to put himself above others as an example of superiority.  He wants to be admired and looked up to.  He has a side of him that feels quite the opposite of superior, but this is the side that he rarely shows.  I know that it bothers him that he feels his sons don’t respect him, but I’d respect him more if he’d let that more vulnerable side show more.  However, maybe that is the same as saying that I’d like him better if he was more like me.

From the perspective of the societal standard of morality, he is a much better man than I am.  He is a respectable professor and church leader.  He has high expectations that he strives hard to live up to.  He gives of himself constantly in that his life revolves around others.  He is one of those people who needs people to need him.  That is what our society values.  He is an admirable representative of our society’s aspirations.  He is the American ideal of ambiton (with its concomitant shadow of the advantages and privilege of being a middle class white male… which my dad would deny).

He is an Extraverted Thinking type which has been the ideal male personality type of our society.  He is a very well developed person in terms of his personality inclinations.  He even has come to sense the more Feeling side of life in his older age, but of course this gets subjugated to his dominant function of Extraverted Thinking.  His moral righteousness may even be an expression of his being in the grip of his inferior function of Introverted Feeling.  Our inferior function becomes stronger as we age which can both be good and bad.

I’m the opposite of him as my dominant function is Introverted Feeling.  My being raised by two Extraverted Thinking types has left a lasting impression on me.  I sense that a significant element of my depression is how much I’m drawn into the grip of my inferior Extraverted Thinking. 

Our weaknesses are simply the other side of our strengths.

The practical purpose of my thinking about this is the consideration of my relationship with my dad… what it could be and what I don’t want it to be.  If he was always as righteous as he was the other day, I very well might gladly refuse to speak to him for the rest of my life.  Fortunately, he rarely behaves in such an overtly righteous manner.  Most often he tries to be kind and friendly.  When he is in a good mood, which is more often than not, he enjoys being humorous and entertaining.

In the past, it seemed I was closer to him than my brothers.  I’ve tended to be forthright in speaking about my life to my parents whereas my brothers tend to keep the personal out of their relationships to them.  Nonetheless, my brothers get along with my dad better maybe because of that formality.  My brothers interact with him through more neutral subjects such as computers and finances.  I’m the only one who will debate with my dad about what he deeply values (we both love to debate), and I seem to be the one he feels the most comfortable with being honest about his opinions (which was what did happen during the recent phone conversation).  Even so, we’re usually both good at coming to a middle ground (which is what didn’t happen during the recent phone conversation).

My famly isn’t all seriousness.  My brothers and I learned our humor from our dad, and so humor is a major aspect of how we all relate.  However, its my oldest brother who has the most similar personality to my dad and also the most simlar of a sense of humor.  They’re both more congenially entertaining in their humor.  My humor, on the other hand, goes between the extremes of inanely silly and cynically dark.  My dad often uses his congenial nature to try to manipulate people… manipulate in a good-intentioned kind of way.  But, good intentions or not, I’m stubbornly resistant (a trait from my mom) to being anyone who tries to change me or my mood.  I’m what I am and that is just the way it is.

Because of all this, my dad is an extemely more likable person than I’d ever hope to be.  I’m not much of a people pleaser whereas my dad is the gregarious type who is the life of the party.  In his adult age, he has gained the confidence and popularity that he feels he lacked as a chld.  He is proud of his accomplishments and the person he has become.  He is very capable in what he does and he is very knowledgable.

I’ve learned a lot from him.  I too have become a knoledgable person in my own way.  And one aspect I’m superior to him is in my obsessive compulsion to see all sides to every situation… which he sees as moral relativism.  His knowledge is highly specialized and focused, but my knowledge is randomly wide-ranging and motivated by undirected curiosity.  I learned my rationality from him, but as an Extraverted Thinking type rationality comes more natural to him as being a well developed attribute of his everyday behavior.  His rationality is usually focused on practical matters of living a responsible life (even his humor has a tinge of social responsibility to it).  My rationality, because its more of a learned attribute and because its ruled by my Introversion, is more detached and neutral.  I don’t try to conform my rationality to any particular moral belief system as he does.

My dad and I live in very different worlds, and yet there is quite a bit that we share.  My base personality might be more of my mom’s contribution, but my dad has had an immense impression on me. 

He is the standard by which I feel judged in my failure to live up to his example, and he is the standard of our society that just doesn’t make sense to me personally.  He has all the proof on his side, the respectability, the “hard-earned” money.  He lives his moral ideals.  When he dies, there will be a long line of people wanting to make grand statements about what an admirable fellow he was. 

I have nothing tangible to show for my life besides who I am as an individual, but to him what matters is what you do and what you accomplish.  Its obvious from his perspective that his opinions are superior because the life he has lived is superior.  The proof is in the pudding. 

I’m sure he’ll want to reconcile, but I’ll always know his true opinions even when he hides them.  He wouldn’t judge me directly, but I represent what he sees as problematic in the world.  He wouldn’t say it that way to my face.  Still, those are the facts.  And that is what erupted the other day in that phone conversation.

I really don’t know how to relate to him.  If we weren’t father and son, there wouldn’t be much to base our relationship upon.  That seems to be the way family is.  The close friendships I seek are with people who aren’t like anyone in my family.  I get along with my family actually quite well, but family is what they are.  At one time, I almost had a friendship-like relationship with one of my brothers, but even that has mostly dissipated with his own family responsibilities and stresses.

My family is there for me in a distant kind of way.  If worst came to worst, they’d help me out.  But my life would have to be horribly bad before my family would intervene.  I’d have to be homeless or suicidal or something.  I mean what could they do?

For all my dad’s accomplishments, any good advice he could give me would most likely be worthless to me.  He cares about me as a father… in the way that being a father is a social obligation… but he doesn’t know me.  And I’m sure that I don’t really know him either.

As I get older, I start questioning who it is that I would turn to in times of need.  I’m starting to feel that I’d more likely turn to a friend than to family.  I have sincere doubts about the support my family can offer.  Then again, I have sincere doubts about the support anyone can offer anyone else.

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about 12 hours later

AB517 said

LMAO … I have no insight … let us be clear on that.
To doubt humans is human. 
Hey Marm.  Good to see ya.  I have been reading your stuff and I am sorry I have no responses. This one caught my eye.
I can not believe this would/could cause the rift Marm.  This sounds exactly like my relationship with my father.  He did not “know” me nor I he.  It is the way for most of us.  I loved my dad and he was the smartest bravest man I knew. 
I know as a father that I talk to my children at times as if they were property and I work on that.  They also do the same to me.  The statements of “kids today are ….” Is as old as humans themselves.   My niece and nephew are in their mid 30’s and have children.  I still have to stop myself from running up to them, picking them up, and kissing them like they are five.  They are people now … just regular ol’ people … with the same flaws I have … but boy I love them.
Some days we are not in the “mood” for them on exactly the same day they are not in the “mood” for us.  You have stated many nice things about him so focus on them and be vigilant of yourself.  I say these things on the bases of a “normal relationship” (what ever that means) between parents and children.
My sister gets hung up on “yeah, but how do you know”.  Nobody knows … ease up on the gas … to stop spinning the tires … pick a direction … and move.  Data collection is a tricky business, not enough leads to horrendous mistakes and taking to long ends up in nothing getting accomplished or so scattered it is meaningless.
Just because you ask advice does not mean you have to use it.  Do not feel bad that you can not turn to your family … that is ok … it is you that wishes you could.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 20 hours later

Marmalade said

I don’t normally think about who might be following blog.  I sorta remember telling you about this site.  I’m glad my blog was interesting enough for you to read even if you had nothing to add.

I can understand why this one caught your eye.  Its more personal than most of my blogs  I considered not posting it as its mostly just me venting.

Yeah, this by itself wasn’t the cause of the rift or the sense of rift.  It was just symbollic of our relationship.  I know its not anything unusual.  Its common among family, and its common in all kinds of relationships.  Its hard to remember people are just people.  I’m almost incapable of thinking of my father as anything other than as my father.  That is just who is to me.  Our roles in life become very clear in our close relationships.

I generally focus on the the ways we get along.  For the most part, we get along just fine.  I am grateful for all that I’ve learned from him.  He is a pretty good father.  I have no major complaints of how I was raised.

The difficulty I have is our roles get in the way.  I don’t really care about him as the role he plays  My interest in him is in the person who he is.  I usually enjoy relating to him even if it isn’t at the same level of a friendship.  I’m not sure if I act like a son, but I feel that he acts like a father.  He is a person who seems to like roles.  I don’t.  To him, its his duty to act as a father and so any discussion between us always has an inequality of power.  We can’t just talk. Often talks with him can feel like negotiations of our relationship.

Whatever… that is just the way it is.

By the way, I just tried to visit the Agnostic forum.  It seems no longer to exist or something.  Was it closed down?  If so, that is too bad.  It was a fairly nice group where discussions were mostly civil.

2 days later

AB517 said

Yeah it is down.  POOF … it was gone.
Do not negotiate, let him be him and you be you.  If he is locked into a role, so be it.  You can understand he is talking as if he is still your caregiver.  This puts you in a position where you understand him.  You do not have to agree with everything thing he says nor do you have to address every point.  To him you’re still his “young” son and, how I know you, I would think he loves you an awful lot.
Maybe he is not a touchy feely guy.  My dad was a WW2 paratrooper, he never changed a diaper.  He missed out, and so did I, but that does not diminish the respect and love for him.  He did the best he knew how.  I tell my kids now ‘Hey this is our first time being parents … we are learning and will make mistakes too”
It is good to talk to you again Ben.  I know you know this stuff already and you will move past it.

Good and Evil on TV

Good and Evil on TV

Posted on Sep 6th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
From some recent shows, I’ve noticed two specific types of characters.   The shows I’m thinking of all are based in a small town where normal social order is lacking or shifting. 

One character plays the role of a patriarch of the town, but not necessarily in a formal position of authority.  Even though this character is amoral in his behavior, he isn’t evil.  He values loyalty, and he only hurts those who get in his way.  He isn’t primarily interested in power nor in grand visions.  He just wants to keep the status quo and enforce a loose order.  He is confident in his ability and inspires other people’s confidence in him.  He doesn’t always have a clear plan, but he is a man of action that gets things done.

The other character plays the role of an opposing authority figure and maybe in a less political position.  He isn’t interested in power or money.  He is trying to be a good person, but has personal issues.  He is somewhat a loner in that he feels that its up to him to figure things out, and there can be a conflict between his relationships and his sense of duty.

The two characters have to test eachother.  The latter character in particular doesn’t fully understand the former character.  They have different motivations, but their purposes aren’t always in conflict.  They’ both value the town and are protective of it.  When other people seek harm to the town citizens, these two characters slowly develop an uneasy truce.  An outside threat creates a common enemy.

Neither of these characters play the traditional roles of good and evil.  In coming to a truce with eachother, they come to a more complex and nuanced understanding of morality.  Both characters are capable of good and evil, but the moral lesson is more about relationships than about individual behavior.  What is important is the life of the community.

The shows I have in mind as examples are Deadwood, American Gothic, and Invasion.  In Deadwood, the two characters are Al Swearengen (played by Ian McShane) and Seth Bullock (played by Timothy Olyphant).  In American Gothic, the two characters are Sheriff Lucas Buck (played by Gary Cole)  and Dr. Matt Crower (played by Jake Weber).  In Invasion, the two characters are Sheriff Tom Underlay (played by William Fichtner) and Russell Varon (played by Eddie Cibrian).

Of course, between these two men is a woman.  In Deadwood, its Alma Garret Ellsworth (played by Molly Parker).  In American Gothic, its Gail Emory (played by Paige Turco).  In Invasion, its Dr. Mariel Underlay (played by Kari Matchett). 

This female character is in the middle of the conflict and she is trying to define her own identity.  Her allegiance is uncertain.  She has experienced emotional struggle which might have involved the death of someone close to her.  She both mediates and exacerbates the conflict between the two male characters.

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Marmalade : Gaia Child

36 minutes later

Marmalade said

I’m always amazed how a simple thought can take so much time to write up. 

I was watching the tv show Invasion.  I noticed the “evil” character was more amoral than immoral, and wasn’t just a stereotype that lacked depth or development.  It reminded me of other characters from other shows, and that made me think about the opposing character.  Considering those two male opponents then lead me to consider the related female character.

I decided to blog about it.  Of course, its hard for me to write just a quick thought about my observation.  And, after adding in hyperlinks, an amazingly amount of time had passed.  🙂

Anyways, my basic motivation was my interest in the amoral patriarchal character.  In tv shows, this character is often the most interesting.

I just had another thought.  This pattern even fits other types of movies, including movies without small town settings.  X-Men has a similar dynamic between Professor Xavier and Magneto, and Dr. Jean Grey plays the mediating female role.  Its not an unusual pattern, but its interesting to me because it has a more complex message of morality.  This pattern, however, seems to have become more popular.  Complex moral messages in general have become more popular such as with the more gritty realistic comic book movies.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 4 hours later

Nicole said

i’m not familiar enough with most of the references here, but these do seem very familiar themes, very American ones too. Very much about individualism above all, with nods to community but I don’t really get the feeling that it’s about community, it seems to be about these individuals “finding themselves”. I found the X-Men movies troubling on a number of fronts.

I’m not sure it’s so much a more complex morality, certainly more shades of grey, but it seems to me more a delighting in muddying or ambiguities rather than truly searching for morality and meaning. Like aspects of traditional existential that glory in stark aloneness… Sartre and “hell is other people”…

Hmm… not sure what it is that bothers me so much about all this, my friend. Have to think about it some more. It actually surprises me today.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

Its fine that you feel bothered by it.  I just find it interesting as it seems to represent a shifting view of good and evil in our society.  I would imagine that the basic pattern is archetypal and has precedent in mythology, but I’m here concerned with a specific cultural manifestation of it.  I would agree that they’re very American themes which includes a heavy focus on individualism.  You are right that its not exatly about community, but there is a strong sense of place and town identity.  The town itself is a character in these stories. 

The X-Men movies entirely lack this latter aspect.  I could understand why you’d find those movies troubling.  They are very violent.  I’m sure you’d also find Deadwood in particular quite troubling for it is very violent, but I’m sure its for the most part historically accurate in its portrayal.  American Gothic has the most clear portrayal of good and evil, and the amoral character in that show is the most strongly evil in the traditional sense.  Invasion is the least violent of all of these, and in some ways has the most interesting ideas.

I’m not arguing for the moral merit of these shows.  I just found the pattern interesting.  I don’t know if any complex morality is being communicated, but there is a morally complex message.  It could be seen as shades of grey, but I think that is just a part of it.  I’m a person who is attracted to moral ambiguities because they clarify my sense of what it means to be human.  I understand the desire for moral distinctions and I’m not arguing against that.  Part of what I like is that the characters in these shows are striving to make these moral distinctions.  In all these shows, there are characters trying to do the right thing.  For instance, Deadwood is very violent and yet there are a number of characters that attempt to challenge the wrongs they see.

Another thing is that these shows are actually have merit as quality storytelling.  I like these shows because I like good stories that make me think. 

Don’t worry about it, NIcole.  That it bothers you doesn’t bother me.  I had nothing I was trying to accomplish with this blog other than communicating a mior observation of my own.  Feel free to speak your own mind about morality on tv.  I’m sure I wouldn’t disagree with much of anything you might say.  What are some other quality tv shows that portray what you feel is a complex understanding of morality?

There is, as you say, the traditional American theme of individualism, but these shows don’t leave it at that.  Relationship is important also, especially in the Invasion series.  Invasion has more emphasis on family than the other shows I’ve mentioned.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 12 hours later

Marmalade said

I was thinking about what attracts me to these stories.  There is something compelling to me about a situation where the normal social order is lacking.  In Deadwood, its a frontier town that is having an influx of wealth.  In American Gothic, its an isolated small Southern town that has had a traumatic past.  In Invasion, its a town surrounded by swampland after a hurricane.  All these towns are in transition, but there is still some basic order that is being maintained.

In such a situation, moral questions become more poignant.  People can’t just follow the status quo, but have to make moral decisions for themselves.  Also, the consequences are quickly apparent and will have long-term effects.  During conflicts, the best and the worse is brought out in people.

At the same time, the partial disorder isn’t utter chaos.  Its not a crisis where all of society is under threat and its not a warzone.  People in these shows still have everyday relationships of family, romance, and friendship.  Its these everyday relationships that become of central significance.

about 13 hours later

Asteri said

I recognized the Invasion’s one… but finally the “good” and “bad” go together hand in hand… and I would not consider them patterns because in this TV series, do not know about the other one, the Good is the human kind and the Bad is the alien kind… I watched all 6 DVD’s recently and am sure there will be more… would not consider  the alien species bad either, just looking for survival… but you never know what the director had in mind, right…

Generally speaking, there will always be white and black colors, as contrast, in life or movies… contrast, contradiction provokes and takes out the best in us, developing toward what’s called evolution… is like the Yin and Yang… we are not complete without the other side of ours…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 13 hours later

Marmalade said

Hello Lili!
I’d separate Invasion from those other shows.  I recently watched it and it was the reason I was thinking about all of this.  I appreciated that this show didn’t simply make the aliens evil monsters.  Its one of the most unique alien stories I’ve come across.

about 13 hours later

Asteri said

Hi Ben 🙂 Did you watch Taken? I would recommend that one too… I am not the advocate of Alien species, but just because they are different does not make them evil :))) The evil monsters form TV shows are just human nightmares, not the reality… Well, in my real life I just see the good side in people… LOL

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 21 hours later

Marmalade said

Its because of alien lovers like you that they’re taking over the world.  See if you’re looking on the good side keeps them from turning you into a pod person, that is assuming you aren’t already one… hmmm….  🙂

Yes, I’ve watched Taken.  That is a really good show.

1 day later

Asteri said

hmmmm… shall I answer that? LOL

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

LOL, Asteri and Ben!

Oh, I know that you won’t be bothered by the fact I’m bothered. We are long past those kinds of worries, you and I. I was just struck as I responded by how much it bothered me. I think it has to do with the moral relativism of postpostmodern society in general and North American society in particular, that this kind of show is prevalent.

I wouldn’t be able to provide you with other shows unless you want my detailed analyses of Voyager or Enterprise. You see, I haven’t watched TV for well over 20 years now, except for recordings on DVDs and the occasional show at a friend’s house. So I’m not au courant.

But the shades of grey and ambiguities are really apparent in Voyager and Enterprise, especially some episodes. The Star Trek universe started out as very traditionalist with Roddenberry but mutated after his death into a more and more accurate reflection of the American society’s ideals that engendered it. It remained tremendously idealistic at its core of course, which makes it very different from the shows you discuss, but very often in episodes these kind of “frontier” worlds’ dilemmas are described, and the faithful Starfleet crew has to find a way to deal with them in terms of their moral imperative – The Prime Directive.

Enterprise is interesting in that regard as it’s pre-Prime Directive, so the crew tends to interfere more – for example on the world where a group of humans had been abducted from Earth and enslaved by the aliens, but rebelled and now were oppressing the aliens, the crew intervened and set in motion events that would lead to the emancipation of those aliens. Very touching episode.

So, I think in all this rambling I am starting to figure out what is bothering me about all this. It is the individualism. I see it as a disconnect from the true self and encouraging of rampant egoism, which is counterproductive IMO to full self-development and the good of the community.

You know I’m not a conservatrve by any means, and I’m not looking for black-and-white, which to me is just as false in another way.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

The individualism thingie is a weird artifact of modern culture.  I know Americans are obsessed with it more than some people (such as Asians), but it seems every society that becomes industrialized also becomes more individualistic.  We Americans just are conveneient symbols of individualism with our Hollywood movies of Bruce Willis. 

It could be insightful to look at which American movies and shows are popular in other countrres that are very different from America.  I know that the differences even between English-speaking countries can be significant.  Even though I occasionally watch foreign films, I’m terribly ignorant of the kind of entertainment that is made elsewhere in the world.  I’m mostly only aware of what the British produce, and the British are more similar to Americans for obvious reasons.  I wonder what the relationship is between individualism and Protestantism.

Voyager and Enterprise you say?  Those are some of my favorite shows.  I grew up watching Star Trek with my dad.  He is a strong conservative, but somehow managed to stomach the liberal idealism in that show.  In Next Generation, they added the Ferenghi to balance out the rampant Socialist idealism of the Federation.  I guess Socialism could be considered the opposite of individualism.

Another good space show is Serenity.  It was created by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) partly in response to the Star Trek world.  This show has the equivalient of the Federation (called the Alliance) which defeated the rebels.  This government is idealistic like the Federation, but it has a darkside for it has to keep a tight control as its government rules over a wide area of space. 

Some of the characters in Serenity are former rebels that have become smugglers.  The lead character (Mal the captain) has lost some of his own idealism and has been forced in to a more practical lifestyle in order to retain his own independence.  It could be interpreted as individualism, but I don’t think that Mal would see it that way even if he might pretend to just be an individualist at times.  He barely makes ends meet and he demands and inspires loyalty to the ship in order to keep things running.

Most of this show is about the planets on the outer edge of the Alliance’s power.  In Star Trek, the crew visits the “frontier” worlds.  In Serenity, the crew lives in the “frontier”.  So, Serenity shows the Alliance from the view of outsiders.

From a moral pespective, its an interesting show.  Like the previous shows I mentioned, all the characters are in a transitional situation… more similar to Voyager in certain aspects.  One thing about transitional scenarios is that they allow much room for character development.  As the show goes on, the Captain’s true idealistic and impractical side starts showing through.  He regains a larger sense of purpose beyond just keeping his ship running and staying outside of the control of Alliance authorities.  Another character shows clear development.  Jayne was a mercenary who becomes a member of the crew.  He initially represents unadulterated selfishness and rugged individualism.  He joins the crew simply to earn money, but the Captain intends to win his loyalty which he slowly accomplishes.

I like both Star Trek and Serenity, but they seem to show two different sides to idealism and power.  In both, the various captains are forced to consider how to live up to their idealism while maintaining their responsibility to their respective crews.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

The individualism thingie is a weird artifact of modern culture.  I know Americans are obsessed with it more than some people (such as Asians), but it seems every society that becomes industrialized also becomes more individualistic.  We Americans just are conveneient symbols of individualism with our Hollywood movies of Bruce Willis. 

Not sure, Ben. The world is also become more and more defined by American culture, so it’s hard to say if  where the causality lies.

It could be insightful to look at which American movies and shows are popular in other countrres that are very different from America.  I know that the differences even between English-speaking countries can be significant.
 

Very much so. For example, though I found the UK heavily Americanised, it still retains a lot of culture and entertainment of its own, and it was fascinating… if I had had time to watch TV I could tell you more. 🙂 And here in Canada, we remain distinct 🙂 especially here in Quebec… lol

Even though I occasionally watch foreign films, I’m terribly ignorant of the kind of entertainment that is made elsewhere in the world.  I’m mostly only aware of what the British produce, and the British are more similar to Americans for obvious reasons. 

Not more similar than Canadians surely?

I wonder what the relationship is between individualism and Protestantism.

Well, you have your protestant work ethic which we don’t suffer from much here in Quebec, merci beaucoup mon ami lol, lots of joie de vivre and wine and weekends away and long holidays… One could argue Protestantism is more individualistic, emphasis on “personal salvation”, but … not sure.

Voyager and Enterprise you say?  Those are some of my favorite shows.  I grew up watching Star Trek with my dad.  He is a strong conservative, but somehow managed to stomach the liberal idealism in that show.  In Next Generation, they added the Ferenghi to balance out the rampant Socialist idealism of the Federation.  I guess Socialism could be considered the opposite of individualism.

Not really. Here in Canada (and in the UK and a number of European) we are quite socialist in our democracy, and are still very individualistic. We see socialism as the best means of nurturing individuals 🙂

I certainly wouldn’t call the Ferengis socialist idealists, or community minded. They are the most selfish individualists of any in the Star Trek universe.

The Vulcans would be the socialist idealists.

Another good space show is Serenity.  It was created by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) partly in response to the Star Trek world.  This show has the equivalient of the Federation (called the Alliance) which defeated the rebels.  This government is idealistic like the Federation, but it has a darkside for it has to keep a tight control as its government rules over a wide area of space. 


Some of the characters in Serenity are former rebels that have become smugglers.  The lead character (Mal the captain) has lost some of his own idealism and has been forced in to a more practical lifestyle in order to retain his own independence.  It could be interpreted as individualism, but I don’t think that Mal would see it that way even if he might pretend to just be an individualist at times.  He barely makes ends meet and he demands and inspires loyalty to the ship in order to keep things running.

Another familiar American theme – the rugged self-sufficient individualist 🙂

Most of this show is about the planets on the outer edge of the Alliance’s power.  In Star Trek, the crew visits the “frontier” worlds.  In Serenity, the crew lives in the “frontier”.  So, Serenity shows the Alliance from the view of outsiders.

Interesting! You see a bit of this in Voyager and Enterprise, or Deep Space Nine, too, where the Bajorans are very hostile toward and suspicious of the Federation.

From a moral pespective, its an interesting show.  Like the previous shows I mentioned, all the characters are in a transitional situation… more similar to Voyager in certain aspects.  One thing about transitional scenarios is that they allow much room for character development.  As the show goes on, the Captain’s true idealistic and impractical side starts showing through.  He regains a larger sense of purpose beyond just keeping his ship running and staying outside of the control of Alliance authorities.  Another character shows clear development.  Jayne was a mercenary who becomes a member of the crew.  He initially represents unadulterated selfishness and rugged individualism.  He joins the crew simply to earn money, but the Captain intends to win his loyalty which he slowly accomplishes.

I like both Star Trek and Serenity, but they seem to show two different sides to idealism and power.  In both, the various captains are forced to consider how to live up to their idealism while maintaining their responsibility to their respective crews.

Yes… thanks!

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

Not really. Here in Canada (and in the UK and a number of European) we are quite socialist in our democracy, and are still very individualistic. We see socialism as the best means of nurturing individuals 🙂

Life in general is usually a mix.  No government or person is entirely one thing or another.  Individual and community aren’t opposed of course.  I was just thinking in terms of extremes.  Ideas are often shown in extreme form in shows.

I certainly wouldn’t call the Ferengis socialist idealists, or community minded. They are the most selfish individualists of any in the Star Trek universe.

I wasn’t calling the Ferengis socialist idealists either.  I was saying the exact opposite.  I was meaning that they balance the socialist idealism of the show in general.  In Next Generation, they never show how people make a living.  The show presents poor communities on some planets, but somehow everyone in the Federation is born wealthy enough that they need no money.  However, the Federation doesn’t offer everything that people want and in that case people have to turn to the black market (ie capitalism) of the Ferengi.

In case you were wondering, I wasn’t arguing against socialism and for capitalism.  I don’t believe that any system is perfect.  Its probably best when such political systems balance eachother out.  In terms of Star Trek, I was partly just writing of my dad’s view.  My dad certainly isn’t in favor of socialism.  He has some LIbertarian leanings, but he isn’t a Libertarian because he has even stronger leanings towards the belief that the individual has a moral responsibility to society which oddly could be seen as a type of individualism because its still a focus on the individual being the basis of society.

Another familiar American theme – the rugged self-sufficient individualist 🙂

Mal does have this as a persona, but I don’t think its his basic personality.  The rugged individualism became emphasized in his life because the cause he was fighting for was lost.  Instead, I’d say he is more of a natural-born leader type.  He has a strong sense of moral responsibility to his friends and crew, and he doesn’t seem prone to work alone. 

However, the scenario of the story is not one of community although there is a family component.  There is a doctor character who freed his sister form a government facility.  This doctor represented someone who had been dedicated to the idealistic society and to helping people, but put his love of family as a higher responsibility.  Also, Mal’s right hand man (woman actually) from his war days has complete loyalty to Mal, but is married to the pilot.  Mal treats his crew something like a family.

Cultural Shift: Generations, Race, Technology

I’ve been thinking about society in terms of cultural shifts.  I sense we’re in the midst of a shift or several shifts combined.  Three main factors have come to mind.  I was thinking about racial conflicts in the US (in particular in my own small midwestern town), there is of course a lot going on with technology as the information age is just starting to hit its stride (is the industrial age ended yet?), and the ever so fun topic of generations.  Here is some of what I came across, but I plan on doing much more research.

 – – –

The first article is quite interesting.  It’s about the US shifting towards a new racial majority.  I was discussing this yesterday with somone in the comments of my local paper’s website.  They challenged my assertion that this shift was supposed to happen so soon.  It’s always hard to say with predictions, but I’d think the Census Bureau would be fairly accurate.  It does seem that I was partially correct in that the shift will happen with the younger generation within the next decade or so.  I’ve heard that already for Gen Y race isn’t much of an issue.  I was a Gen Xer in the South and in the 1990s bi-racial dating was acceptable.

However, in many small midwestern towns, race was never an issue in the past because some people grew up never or rarely seeing anyone who wasn’t white.  My town is a relatively more racially diverse town (still as a college town the other races tended to be of a higher class such as wealthy people from other countries), but is only now feeling the the full impact of Chicago’s overflow (increasing inner city population?).  Crime has increased and the population in general has increased.  Even though there is more gang activity, I suspect that the crime is as much a result of cultural conflict as anything else.  It’s hard to know what is causing what with changes in various factors: race, poverty, crime, culture, racial tensions, downward turn of economy, etc.  I somehow doubt that the conflict going on in my town is simply a local issue and instead probably connects to the shifts going on in the entire country.

The End of White America? by Hua Hsu (The Atlantic)

Whether you describe it as the dawning of a post-racial age or just the end of white America, we’re approaching a profound demographic tipping point. According to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those groups currently categorized as racial minorities—blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians—will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023, which means that every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.

Obviously, steadily ascending rates of interracial marriage complicate this picture, pointing toward what Michael Lind has described as the “beiging” of America. And it’s possible that “beige Americans” will self-identify as “white” in sufficient numbers to push the tipping point further into the future than the Census Bureau projects. But even if they do, whiteness will be a label adopted out of convenience and even indifference, rather than aspiration and necessity. […] To take the most obvious example, whiteness is no longer a precondition for entry into the highest levels of public office. The son of Indian immigrants doesn’t have to become “white” in order to be elected governor of Louisiana. A half-Kenyan, half-Kansan politician can self-identify as black and be elected president of the United States.

As a purely demographic matter, then, the “white America” that Lothrop Stoddard believed in so fervently may cease to exist in 2040, 2050, or 2060, or later still. But where the culture is concerned, it’s already all but finished. Instead of the long-standing model of assimilation toward a common center, the culture is being remade in the image of white America’s multiethnic, multicolored heirs.

For some, the disappearance of this centrifugal core heralds a future rich with promise. In 1998, President Bill Clinton, in a now-famous address to students at Portland State University, remarked:

Today, largely because of immigration, there is no majority race in Hawaii or Houston or New York City. Within five years, there will be no majority race in our largest state, California. In a little more than 50 years, there will be no majority race in the United States. No other nation in history has gone through demographic change of this magnitude in so short a time … [These immigrants] are energizing our culture and broadening our vision of the world. They are renewing our most basic values and reminding us all of what it truly means to be American.

 Not everyone was so enthused. Clinton’s remarks caught the attention of another anxious Buchanan—Pat Buchanan, the conservative thinker. Revisiting the president’s speech in his 2001 book, The Death of the West, Buchanan wrote: “Mr. Clinton assured us that it will be a better America when we are all minorities and realize true ‘diversity.’ Well, those students [at Portland State] are going to find out, for they will spend their golden years in a Third World America.”

 – – –

This next article is making too broad of generalizations for my taste, but I thought it interesting anyhow.

The author is pointing out a decisive point that might represent a shift in culture.  The year 1994 is presented as a highpoint of popular culture which so happens to be the year of my highschool graduation.  I don’t know if the author has some useful insight or not, but it does seem possible that technology has forced culture into more diffuse manifestations.

As for the possibility of decreasing intelligence, I’d question what is being tested.  The younger generation is obviously focused on different kinds of activities which would require different kinds of intelligence.  Still, this is important as standard IQ tests have apparently always shown steady increase in the population until now.  The Flynn Effect was named by the authors of The Belle Curve which was a highly controversial book because it commnted on the connection between race and IQ.

Green Day’s Dookie and the Peak of Western Civilization by Martin Cizmar

By the late 1990s, The Flynn Effect — a phenomenon whereby each generation had a steadily increasing IQ — no longer was in effect. Sure, SAT scores are on a steady upswing, but psychologists seem to be concluding that intelligence quotient (the best available measure of our raw intelligence) is slipping downward.

[…] Reading over those lists it’s obvious: There may well have been a year that matched 1994 sometime in the ’40s, ’50s or ’60s, but there sure hasn’t been one since. I, for one, seriously doubt there will be again. The Internet has made popular culture too diffuse, making it impossible to gather the sort of critical mass necessary to launch an all-encompassing mega-trend like grunge.

 – – –

The next article is critical of the Boomers.  I have a less clear opinion about health care reform, but the sentiment of this article is something many post-Boomers can resonate with.

The Boomers were the largest generation that had been born at that point and Gen Xers were tiny in comparison.  They were a generation that dominated all segments of society (media, advertising, politics, and career opportunities) for a half century.  Not only were they big but they were loud.  They always made sure their voices were heard and they’ve been an ideologically divisive force in our society.  Constant complaining and bickering.  They started more wars in their time of power than any generation ever in US history.

And now they’re retiring and they potentially could be a massive drag on society.  Who is going to support their health care?  Certainly not themselves as they’ve been bad about saving and certainly not the small cohort of Gen Xers.  We must turn to the even larger Gen Y, but it’s funny that he Boomers love to project their own narcissism onto Gen Y which is the only generation that can offer us the hope of getting beyond all the problems Boomers helped to create.  Of course, Gen Xers has their part to play as practical leaders if the Boomers will just get out of the way.

Anniversary Irony: How the Woodstock Generation is Sabotaging Health Care Reform by Adam Hanft

Much has been written about the narcissism and self-involvement of the boomers, and the way in which the undisciplined indulgences of the sixties — sex, drugs, rock and roll — became sublimated into a parallel consumer world of undisciplined, indulgent consumption.

If you’re going to reward yourself with everything NOW, and scorn the future (just take a look at the dismal stats about boomer savings) — then you’re going to have an equally selfish view of health care. Which means a reluctance to share it; a very anti-Woodstockian value

Indeed, the boomers consume health care in the same guzzling fashion that they bought homes and cars and electronics and designer everything. And they’re worried that their God-given right to consume often and endlessly is being threatened by the Obama plan.

Can we blame them for this expectation of everything? From the time they were born, and their Spock-trained parents catered to their every whim, boomers were spoiled and privileged. Society existed to dandle them and indulge their fantasies.

They also grew up as children (and adults) during the largest expansion of employer-based health care in history. Corporations may have been boring (and sometimes evil), but they were generous. Boomers’ white-collar and blue-collar parents had great benefits. They never had to deal with scarcity, with limits, with tough resource decisions. They always had plenty of toys, plenty of jobs, plenty of choices. So when opponents of reform use trigger words like “rationing”, boomers get all twitchy and shrill.

Then there’s the “Unplug Granny” distortion. The reason it’s so contagious is that it strikes at the essence of boomer anxiety, the inevitable march to mortality. They want to go on forever. They see themselves as adolescents, they dress like adolescents,they listen to oldies music that suspends them in adolescent amber. […] Talk to physicians in any area with a high concentration of those on Medicare and you’ll hear the same refrain: every little ache and pain is an occasion (even a social occasion) for a trip to doctor, since Medicare pays anyway. That’s the boomer ontology.

Fear-mongering and Scapegoats

I don’t have much to say other than to share a simple observation about human nature.  In the online comments section of my local newspaper, many people seem angry, even righteously angry.  Quite a few people are aggressive to the point of trying to start arguments.  People bicker and act dismissively, and civil behavior apparently is the exception to the rule.  The majority of posters comment already posturing for a fight and everyone is constantly trying to draw the lines of who is on what side.

All of the negativity depresses me and I feel myself drawn into it.  It’s not a matter of whether I can hold my own.  I’m a better debater than many of the people commenting, but I’d rather just discuss than argue.  Why is that so difficult?

My sense is that there is a lot of fear.  That is basically what I get from all of the bickering.  Look past all of the intellectual rationalizations, ideological justifications, social game-playing, and psychological personas… look past all of that and what lies beneath is a bunch of people afraid of the world.  And it’s not just here.  People walk around with this fear all day long and it usually remains hidden behind a social facade.

It’s understandable.  There is much to be afraid of.  The world is a scary place.  I’m full of fears myself.  The problem is that the fears seem misplaced or rather projected.  People begin with their fears and then look for something to explain why they feel so afraid. look for something to blame, to scapegoat.

I realize this is completely normal human behavior.  People have been doing it for at least as long as civilization has existed and probably longer.  But it’s still sad.

It just seems like humans always need an enemy, a bad guy.  It really doesn’t even matter who gets tagged ‘it’… except to the person who gets to be the scapegoat.  The even more weird part is that it’s also a part of human nature to embrace the role of scapegoat.  When someone is seen as an outsider, they start acting that way.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s a play and there is a role for everyone.  We fall into our scripts and the show begins.

 – – –

In case anyone is interested, my thoughts are loosely inspired by the ideas of Arnold Mindell. I’d recommend Mindell’s books, but you can find some info about his ideas on the web (Amy and Arny Mindell website). He analyzes relationships and social roles, and he specializes in conflict resolution both on the small and large scale.

His basic theory is that there are basic roles that have to be fulfilled in any social situation or else the social dynamic gets stuck. The problem is that oftentimes there are certain roles that nobody wants to play. This either leads to collective frustration as this aspect has no outlet.

If no one willingly accepts a particular role, then sometimes it’s forced onto someone. Or people sometimes find themselves acting in a way that seems out of character and it could be because they’re unconsciously playing some role in that situation.