Sunday, January 08, 2006

About Those Generalizations

Setting up a new computer gave me more time to read than post. In several comments sections of the right-of-center blogs I frequent, visiting liberals often complain about the overgeneralization and echo-chamber quality of our blogs. I composed a lengthy essay partly acknowledging the justice of the accusation, but trying to make some distinctions about which generalizations are logically justified and which are a simple descent into stereotype.

I threw away the essay, decided not to be so defensively, and resolved to treat the world more objectively. I don't like it when liberals overgeneralize about conservatives, especially since they usually get it wrong, so it stands to reason that I should endeavor to exercise due diligence in objectivity. To cleanse the palate, I avoided all political discussion and reading this weekend, resolving to enter my very liberal workplace Monday with fresh eyes and ears.

Conservatives know approximately what happened to me this weekend. At Barnes and Nobles, I stayed away from the current events and even history, religion, and humor sections, browsing through my other frequent spots: linguistics, reference, and travel. The annoying voice of the man approaching my section, talking too loudly to his female companion, froze me. These people are nearly always very liberal, seeming to want to announce to other patrons what the Correct Beliefs are. Please, please, don't be a liberal. Be annoying about something completely unpolitical. I'm trying to get away from this and calm my fevered imagination. As he walked by, two aisles over but easily loud enough to be heard, he was saying "Have you read Vidal's book about that? It is just fantastic..."

Okay, fine. Try again. On the way down to my inlaws' today, we listened to some lingustics tapes from one of those Great College Courses. While switching from one tape to another, we only heard one part of one sentence on the radio: "...heightening fears that conservative Benjamin Netanyahu could be the next Prime Minister..." I roll my eyes.

Down at the inlaws', I take a nap, watch a little football and then talk a little football. There is a magazine on the coffee table. Newsweek. I saw only the cover. The cover is by definition the attitude summary of printed material. It is probably all you will see at the dentist's office while you're looking for "Smithsonian" or "Sports Illustrated." If you have a subscription, the cover is the part you will see one hundred times that week.

This cover? A picture of a somewhat angry George W. Bush, with a shadowy, sinister Dick Cheney behind him. "How much POWER should they have?" Something, something, ..."the Imperial Presidency." Now you know that they didn't have an angry Bill Clinton with a shadowy Al Gore on the cover when they brought 900 FBI files of their political enemies to the White House. There were no unflattering photos of Bill and Hillary when she was holding secret meetings about the government taking over the entire health care system, with headlines wondering how much POWER they should have.

For people who move in the public world of ideas, this is the environment. The default liberal assumption permeates the culture. I do not deny that default conservative assumptions probably permeate other parts of the culture. But the denizens of the political blogosphere are disproportionately those who inhabit this culture of ideas. Liberals seem generally, sometimes even comically, unaware that this is the atmosphere they breathe. And because they do not see it and even deny it, I don't see how they can be compensating for it when they approach issues. They may mean well and earnestly try to consider other points ov view, and be aware of some blatant bias which they are able to mentally discard or correct for.

But if you are not aware that politics is being framed for you in a hundred subtle ways every day, and thus do not make conscious efforts to counteract this, then your belief in your own objectivity and evenhandedness is an illusion.


LiquidLifeHacker said...

I have seen you on Bob's site and I adore your little picture, so I wanted to come visit your blog...Instantly you got me laughing, as you are talking about this essay and then you throw it away! LOL

When you said that, "Liberals seem generally, sometimes even comically, unaware that this is the atmosphere they breathe" I had to totally agree, and it made me think about some of the comments made during the holidays with my own family and its soooo true...some are just oblivious as if they have blinders on. When you were describing your day in the book store, I thought, yeah there are some things that really are "tell all signs" before a person ever opens their mouths, for example, you can be in the home of a liberal and just glance over at their bookshelves sometimes and see what they are reading to get a glimpse into their mind. I know it doesn't mean they agree with all of it, but when you see Vidal or Chomsky or James Carville, you definately gotta cringe.

My question to you, since you do seem very wise, what advice do you have for younger people today, since we are getting so saturated with leftist garble not only in our communities but inside our universities?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Advice. Whoa. I have four sons, 18-26, who I gave advice to all along. I haven't noticed them asking for any more. Are you sure you know what you're asking?

Read widely, but have a center to return to. For me that has been CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and the Bible. I don't read the Bible the same way as anyone I know -- I read in great gulps, then nothing, then commentaries and reference, then nothing again -- I doubt that's the best way.

Beware what Everyone Knows. Every age has its own blind spots, and if something is believed unexamined by a majority of people, it is likely bound up tightly with the myths of the current age. In whatever field you choose, there will be an Old Wisdom and half-a-dozen New Wisdoms. Most of the new wisdoms will turn out to be false alarms. You will embrace and discard several before you find what is constant. There is no shame in that.

Related: The pendulum always swings back, but never to the same place. Maybe intellectual history is more like a spiral or helix than a pendulum.

Being a father can teach you what is most important to pass on.

That's plenty.

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Great advice and I will take it and thank you very much. I truly enjoy reading you and will do as you say and stay focused on being centered and keep reading my bible.
I can't get the experience of being a father, since I am female...but I get the parent reference thingy. Again thank you!

Steve Burri said...

Dear AVI Landers,
Which is the proper way to place toilet paper on the roller, to be rolled over the top or from the bottom?

LiquidLifeHacker said...

HA HA Steve, I solved that one a long time ago...I took the roller thingy out of the bathroom and now have a gorgeous basket which fits nicely into this built in niche into the wall and anyway, the basket is full of fluffy charmin rolls. (That way the toliet paper never gets dizzy!)

Anonymous said...

Any woman knows that the toilet paper is supposed to come over the top of the roll. AVI's wife

Anonymous said...

It is scary. I admit to being radicalized by encountering Michael Yon and finding out just how big a lie the MSM was.
What would our world be like WITHOUT 'them?' It was, you know.
I grew up without their control. Which will probably be a crime as soon as 'they' can manage it.

cakreiz said...

Very well said, AVI. It reminds me of a post I read at 'The Moderate Voice', openly pondering whether we can survive the next 2 years under GWB's rule. The question itself reveals an unexamined hysteria in some circles. It's staggering.

ELC said...

The question itself reveals an unexamined hysteria in some circles. It's staggering.

I'm reading Sandburg's one-volume Lincoln. It's amazing how many of the same smears - dictator, criminal, moron, buffoon, ape - were directed at Lincoln. And I'm not even talking about what he got called in the South. :-)