Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cart Or Horse?

I had opportunity today to witness again an example of one of my original (I think) observations. When conservatives or libertarians go paranoid, they tend to hole up and get defensive, arming themselves and daring whatever authorities they have run afoul of to come after them. They don't seem to go out after the people they are angry at.  It's the liberals who go paranoid who tend to go out after people.  Eco-warriors, antiglobalists, people vandalising (or even bombing) offices and headquarters, protestors that turn violent - these tend to come off the left.

Side note:  this tends to get obscured because when there is any ambiguity the press reports it as they see it, which is slanted.  Jared Loughner was liberal in his politics and never saw Sarah Palin's website (which did not have Gabrielle Giffords in the crosshairs anyway).  But Giffords was left, and therefore Loughner must be right.  Timothy McVeigh was clearly more attuned to extremist right-wing rhetoric, but his writings record a lot of liberal ideas about universal healthcare and anti-wealth culture as well. See also Columbine and other school shootings.  The targets are often against the right, but somehow those aspects get downplayed. See also Lee Harvey Oswald.

Back to the main topic: today's paranoid was more liberal - insofar as any structured belief system could be imposed on the confusion - and more aggressive in intent.  I never thought about how that develops.  Do people who are defensive in their paranoia gradually work their way over to the right, regardless of where they started politically? Or do conservative ideas call forth a defensive rather than offensive paranoia?

There are folks out there studying whether our politics are built into our genes.  I have only followed this at a distance, reading some of the summaries without digging down too far.  I have disliked the attempts to define liberal and conservative, as they seem to be shifting sands.  I keep reading the descriptions and thinking "I dunno.  Not untrue, perhaps, but not the way the conservatives I know would describe themselves.  This sounds more like what liberals who are trying really, really hard to be objective think describes conservatives."  It is somewhat different to ask people whether they themselves think they are liberal, moderate, conservative, or something else, then measure their shoe sizes or favorite flavors and see what jumps out of the data.

Update:  I forgot to include this study on brain-scans the first time.

But I think I have another divide, a negative measure.  If you look at what makes for a career-destroying write-off, among liberals it is holding, or at least expressing, an incorrect idea. If you have the right ideals, if your "heart is in the right place," then any number of personal failings are unimportant. Among conservatives the personal failings are the bigger career-destroyer.

So I wonder, which is the cart and which is the horse?  If one believes deeply that the ideals are the thing, and lying is only a little regrettable (just human nature) if it's in a good cause, do you just end up on the left, discarding some ideas to come into line with one's fellows?  Or, if one believes that being honest is near the top of the list, and any number of screwups and bad plans (just human nature) can be tolerated, does one slowly drift rightward?

I tack this next part on because it is related to the topic that we don't necessarily change our views for logical reasons. In fact, if you read most online comments sections from general sources, such as major news outlets and popular sites, nothing will strike you more powerfully than the impression that most people are not merely wrong, but likely unable to ever fix that.  Even the ones who agree with your positions are an embarrassment.  And they cannot be the dumbest people in the country, because they can at least operate a computer, type, spell, and string together sentences. The very worst can't meet that standard.  Also, the periodic surveys which reveal that college students cannot identify who won the Civil War, or pass other general-knowledge quizzes provide further evidence that a whole lot of people - most of the country, in fact - is not capable of much beyond some very elementary reasoning.  So in any discussion where the arguments get complicated, we have to conclude that most people are on the side they are on for somewhat bad reasons - even if they are right.

In 1994, gay marriage was not even on the radar, not only among conservatives and religious people, not only among mainstream Democrats, but even among most of the farther left in those days, the issue seldom came up, and nearly everyone rejected it. Even in Europe.  Now, it might be a correct idea - a discussion for another day - but there is no way that it isn't a new idea. And taking the paragraph before this one into consideration, there is no way that the country has changed its mind because they were logically persuaded of its rightness. We were advertised and socially pressured into it.  (One could as easily maintain that those who did not change kept their previous ideas for similarly illogical reasons.  That's not quite the same thing, but it's close enough to hold for the present argument.) We are now at a point that those who oppose the idea of gay marriage are described as unthinkably mean and bigoted, and it's just obvious to any thinking person - even though nearly everyone fit that description twenty years ago.

So I wonder about a third divide, one I have mentioned before, of adopting ideas because they are popular rather than because they are true. That comes down to how we define "popular," or what group we want to be popular with, perhaps.  And do we choose that group unconsciously for personality reasons, and then adopt their coloration?


james said...

When I attended Little Rock Central High School, I got involved with Project Tiger: a film-making retrospective of the 1957 integration story (making a movie was a lot more expensive back then). I was on the scriptwriting team, and went through a lot of old news stories and collections of pictures and "fliers"/cards.

I looked at the people protesting so bitterly, and didn't see anything uniquely evil--they looked just like the people I ran into all the time, except that the people I ran into wouldn't dream of writing the sorts of things seen only 15 years before.

But somehow the notion that folks today were somehow superior to their parents didn't quite seem to fit, and I started to realize then how powerful fashion was. If I'd taken the people I met and re-raised them in a little earlier era, they'd have been out there shouting too.

The really hard application of that lesson is one I'm still working on: how swayed am I by fashion? I'm old enough to have seen, as you, homosexual marriage change from a tasteless joke (Mel Brooks History of the World Part 1) to mandatory belief, and on such mutable things can see for myself whether or not fashions make sense. So on some subset of ideas I think I have thought through convictions of my own that aren't the product of fashions or the spirit of the age. Others I haven't had the time or inclination to think through from first principles. (Reading history with an eye to trying to empathize with the semi-alien viewpoints seems an excellent exercise; easily within the capabilities of most of us.)

I think it may have been Lewis who noted that the characteristics of an age are often invisible to its inhabitants; taking as example Churchill and Hitler and suggesting that future generations would notice that those two, who appear to us such opposites, were in perfect agreement about substantive matters.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I overspoke. We do some of us, some of the time, change our minds because we have been persuaded on good grounds.

I fear it may be much less for me than I fancy.

Texan99 said...

I can't remember a time when I objected to gay marriage. I must have gotten exposed to the idea that it was no one's business but the couple's at a very early age. Even in college in the 70s, I had gay friends, and I don't remember anyone in our circle objecting. All the law firms I've been involved with were scrupulous about extending benefits to same-sex couples. It was only later in life that I began developing ideas about how all these libertarian notions might not answer all questions. It was not until the 90s that I began to question the assumption that only voting for Democrats was likely to lead to fiscal sanity (which I equated with imposing enough taxes to balance the budget) and a reasonable attention to civil liberties for gays, minorities, women, or any other historically disadvantaged group.

One of the first cracks in the edifice was law firm recruiting. I believed that recruiting was prone to error in the direction of hiring people "just like us," so I thought it was important to shed those prejudices and look at more basic qualifications. I was horrified to discover that my firm's policy was affirmative action in the classic sense of making the numbers happen regardless of ability. I couldn't understand how anyone thought that would do any good for either the firm or the new recruit.

Exposure to federal regulators in my practice eroded my faith in them. Gradually I came to believe that private institutions, however flawed, tended to solve problems better than public ones, and that free market exchanges, however flawed, tended to produce better results than central planning. Once I started down that road, I got more and more conservative. By the time of Clinton's second term, I was voting reliably Republican.

I'm still most comfortable around people who can tolerate almost limitless variety in their neighbors' approach to solving life's problems, as long as they have a lot of honesty about data combined with two core beliefs: that they are responsible for their own actions and their consequences, and that they need very strong grounds indeed to interfere in their own neighbors' choices.

Anonymous said...

The primary divide is one of philosophical priority.

Do you want to change yourself and thus change the world for the better?

Or do you wish to change the world and thus change the world's opinion of you for the better, whether people like it or not?

Those are two fundamentally opposed views and methodologies. They aren't inherently evil or good. This isn't the ethical plane of philosophy but the metaphysics of it. Which is the thing that must be changed, the Self or the World?

If the World Refuses to be changed, how many people must be sacrificed and enslaved to cure global warming and original sin?

If the Self refuses to change, what does the World do then?

The Left's evil comes from thinking that a bunch of child molesting, evil bastos can change the world for the better. Thus they find it easier to enslave the world and force it into a mold, than changing themselves. For their greatest enemy is the Self.

If you cannot change yourself, you change the world, which includes slavery.

What people call a person setting controls on themselves isn't slavery or chains, but discipline and self control. Why is Self Control not the same as World Control then?

Because Changing the Self is not the same as Changing the World.

Fundamentally, the Left opposes various worldly factions on those principles alone. Total entropy.

Conservatives aren't necessarily always conserving the correct things. Fundamentally, it is about changing the self, even if that means using the World itself to force people to change, which isn't true change merely social pressure. Social pressure can mask itself as individual prowess for a long time, led and stood up by pure and virtuous individuals.

With yin and yang, yang comes from yin and yin comes from yang. Yet both have a little of the other constantly mixed in as they separate and integrate.

It all goes back to the fundamentals. Do you wish to change the world or do you wish to change yourself?