Sunday, August 28, 2011


There is usually a sort of dweeby charm to boosterism, when it is minor. Most people getting into their cars don't realise how much of what surrounds them has its origins in the inventions or improvements by the sons of Poland. Poles figured prominently in... Or similarly, geographic areas are fond of listing the famous citizens from within their boundaries, whether they were born, worked, or retired there. The theatrical designer Robert Edmund Jones, for example, came from Milton, NH - an amazing thing if you know Milton, NH. Even Wikipedia runs lists of such notable sons and daughters of the area discussed.

We do it with personal characteristics, nearly always overstating the case. Missouri is the Show Me state, and it's inhabitants are a skeptical, practical people... In America, we do this regularly with our lands of origin, particularly at ethnic festivals or in the introductions to personal histories of families, churches, towns. The hardy Scots who originally settled the area... "National Lampoon" did a sendup of this in the 70's with its White Studies issue. (Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was a white man?) Martin Mull did it a decade later as well.

Our women were always prettier, our tinkerers more clever, our craftsmen more sought-after among our people.

There is, as I noted, a certain innocence to this. We smile benignly even when it is about other states, other groups. But when it gets too bold we begin to grow annoyed, particularly if the speaker does not seem to have an awareness of the potential for insult to others, or worse, no insight into the social dangers that can result. Texans are notorious for plugging their state and lauding their own virtues, and while it is mostly good-natured humor the rest of us grow just a wee bit nervous where all this is going. Californians were the same a generation ago - many still are - a bit too certain they were better than the rest of us. Various cities verge beyond mere self-celebration to a sort of chauvinism that is off-putting: Boston, New York, San Francisco, Portland, and Washington DC most of all.

Insisting on the superiority of a composite region is a little suspect. Those who declare the superiority in wisdom or virtue of Midwesterners are unusual, but it does happen, particularly on the political stump when candidates are trying to position themselves as exemplars of the noble hard-working farmers of yore. New Englanders are a bit worse, and Southerners offend in this way quite often. The Charlie Daniels Band gets cheers when it proclaims the "The South's Gonna Do It Again." Do what? Secede? Grow Cotton? This is troubling.

We cut you more slack if you actually are on the downtrodden or disregarded side of things. I don't know that's wise of us, but as a culture, we do that, and it seems to work tolerably well, within limits. But it can get away from people.

We also get nervous when one's religious group is brought in. Methodists have always been deeply concerned with... or "Catholics approach the education of their young with more realism..." We don't want to contradict you on this, lady, but it's a little overstated, and even when it's mostly true we don't like to encourage any of us to think that way in America. The lines can be tricky.

It can go bad so quickly, and usually does.

I don't know how representative these links are. My uncle sends me these things, and I tend to use him as a proxy for intelligent but completely noninsightful liberals, rather completely indoctrinated by the news sources and facile stereotypes he became comfortable with years ago. He is likely to write things like
It does seem that the purpose of education, formal or informal should be to question and examine belief systems. And that is the foundation of liberalism. The cornerstone of the Age of Enlightenment.
He is quite convinced that it is the liberals that are the open-minded questioners, because that's what the word means to him. I don't know how typical he is. I read similar sentiments in comments sections, and nonliberals will sometimes link to such things when they are examples of particular unreason. Perhaps they aren't really so common. OTOH, respectable publications, seemingly educated and reasonable people have an audience when they publish this stuff. So it's not entirely a fringe phenomenon. Anyway, from Psychology Today. The other is on multiple sites, I picked one.

You can find this kind of boosterism among nonliberals as well, but it seems to come off the fringes and comments sections more. To repeat: I see plenty from the right that expresses this type of sentiment - more hardworking, more independent, what-have-you. But posters and essay-writers usually stop quite short of that. There are qualifiers, acknowledgements that not all the virtue is on one side. It may be insincere and a mere politeness, but what then do we say about those who will not even be polite? Who do not have the simple thoughts of "Gee, what's this sound like if I reverse it? If I put it in the mouth of a Jew or a Virginian? Is this fair? Is this insulting?"

So do these people want like, T-shirts and hats to show their Liberal Pride, or something? Or is that just not cool, so they just do bumperstickers instead?

Here's the kicker: this is the same group that is so appalled about any expression of American Exceptionalism, which they see as a mindless jingoism, dangerous to the world. Recall, for example, Obama's backpedaling that his belief in American Exceptionalism was equivalent to Greek or Polish exceptionalism. I don't think you could find many liberals who would say that about liberal exceptionalism, being essentially the same thing as conservative.

It's almost as if their real loyalty...

Nah. Couldn't be.


Gringo said...

Here's the kicker: this is the same group that is so appalled about any expression of American Exceptionalism, which they see as a mindless jingoism, dangerous to the world. Recall, for example, Obama's backpedaling that his belief in American Exceptionalism was equivalent to Greek or Polish exceptionalism. I don't think you could find many liberals who would say that about liberal exceptionalism, being essentially the same thing as conservative.

Libs spend a lot of effort to show that their group is better than to the other group.As you point out, that can also be rephrased to say that libs consider themselves to be exceptional. There is a recent bumpersticker that Adlai himself could have printed out: "I think, therefore I am a a Democrat."

One of the more amusing recent examples of lib claims to superiority was Jonathan Chait's foray into "epistimic closure," which claimed that libs were more open-minded than wingnuts, that libs consulted more divergent sources of information than wingnuts.

Libs shouted "epistemic closure" long and loud. Mr. Chait was an exceptionally objective judge to decide this, right?

Back in 2003. Mr. Chait wrote an article for TNR titled "The Case for Bush Hatred."

Exceptionally objective.

By definition: anyone who decides libs are superior is objective.

Texan99 said...

We recently received an email from an acquaintance of decades back, broadcast to a dozen or two friends from that era, with the appalling news that the 18-year-old son of a member of that old group had just died of an overdose. For some reason, the author of the email found it necessary to add the suggestion that everyone should certain get in touch with the grieving parents to show support, but under no circumstances should we couch our sympathy in right-wing moralistic or condemning tones. I forget now exactly how he worded it, but the final comment was to the effect that there was only one appropriate Christian response, and it was not the one he was urging us to avoid.

It was completely outside all possibility that receiving the email would think of burdening our grieving friend with a message like "it's God's judgment on drug addicts," if that's what he was worried about. I asked him as gently as I could whether this was perhaps not a good time to inject politics into the group's communications. He agreed, but added something strange about how he was sure I wasn't "that kind" of conservative, but I should see the strange email he gets all the time from right-wing acquaintances.

Several days later he forwarded me some garden-variety conservative emails, nothing too fire-breathing, but tactless if directed to a known liberal. I said, c'mon, would he really enjoy my sending him examples of the kind of thing I routinely encounter on sites like FireDogLake? I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make him understand what I'm trying to warn him off of. He is firmly convinced that right-wingers drool hate while liberals are the souls of warmth and inclusiveness.

Sam L. said...

"...but one may reasonably define liberalism (as opposed to conservatism) in the contemporary United States as the genuine concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute larger proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others." That is not "exactly" the reason we dislike liberals so much, but it does come close. They want to contribute larger proportions of private resources by taking our private resources from us to redistribute.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I didn't get into what was wrong with the articles themselves, but it should be noted that liberals are in fact less generous with their own money, more "generous" with other people's. And the use of the "genuine" is a bit of patting on the back.

Carl said...

Good point--I never connected liberal boosterism of liberalism (which I hear all the time) with liberal horror of American Exceptionalism. I will steal the thought for my next "water cooler" debate.