Saturday, March 25, 2017


I always thought Barack Obama was bad enough just as he stood, with no need to invent worse things about him.  Nonetheless many of his opponents seemed unable to refrain from circulating things that were unlikely right out of the gate or refusing to accept reasonable explanations.

I said the same about Trump over a year ago: why make stuff up? why the need to make things worse than they are? It happens so often that it must be a human nature thing.

I grant that some of this must be tactical, if poorly so.  People aren't upset enough about this guy! What if he's a actually gay?  THEN they'll finally see and turn against him.  What if he's a traitor?  Finally, finally, people will see. Yet it is not only ineffective, it likely has an opposite effect.  Criticise someone unfairly and even some of his or her enemies will start taking pity.

Which is why I conclude that some other need is being met when opponents exaggerate and demonise. It must be that the goal is not to talk about the other party, or politician, or public representative, or voters.  It must be a way of talking about oneself.  I've made it clear over the years what I think that is, but I actually don't insist on my special interpretation.  It's pretty clear that something social rather than logical is up, however.


Donna B. said...

If I understand your 'special interpretation' correctly, it doesn't quite explain people like my sister. I love her, and I'll always try to protect her... but I have no idea what happened to my gun-toting LEO, flight instructor sister who suddenly (probably not suddenly, but seemed like it to me) became a progressive hyperventilating snowflake. Oh, actually I do have some ideas -- the first being her marriage to a Brit and moving to the UK. Survival, perhaps?

But I miss the whole of her. And I worry that she's scared of so many things now. I can't express that to her, because... well, she says I'm stupid, yet she permits (demands!) that I handle her US financial interests. To protect myself, I hire accountants and attorneys. (Truthfully, they protect us both.)

I don't think that her problems are necessarily political viewpoint -- it's much more than that. She's scared. She appears to believe Brexit is the end of the world. She fears having to move back to the States because us USians are so racist and mean (and that didn't start with Trump -- it started with Bush/Kerry).

There are columnists, spokespeople, celebrities... whatever... that have deliberately chosen to stoke the fears of people like my sister -- fragile people in many ways -- because they can make money doing so. These are the villains that constantly accuse capitalists of being villains.

As if things weren't bad enough with my sister, my youngest daughter now has a young sister-in-law who makes my sister appear completely sane in comparison. The worst of it is that my daughter has very young children who deal with this aunt of theirs. At least my children were grown before their aunt went off the rails.

So... what I'm getting at is that it isn't social or logical. There's a part of it that it just plain mental illness. AND I'm not saying the mental illness is all on progressive side. There are plenty of examples on the opposite side (I don't have a good name for that.)

Christopher B said...

I don't know that it's a social need so much as it's an indication of the depths to which the language of psychoanalysis and deconstruction have burrowed in our collective consciousness. It is also far easier to attack someone's motivation, especially if you can make it one only your side sees, than to marshall actual logic and facts, which might not be persuasive anyway if you believe some recent studies.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Donna B - I have known the phenomenon you are writing about, but tend to forget it. Perhaps there's something about it that uncomfortable for me!

Over at Volokh Conspiracy there is someone - Ilya Somin I think - who writes that it is quite rational to adopt our politics in order to blend in. Our vote and our influence are so small that we don't get anything back for our investment there, but we get a great deal back by being part of the tribe. Peer pressure is worse for adults than it is for children, because adults choose their peers to a greater extent.

Being a contrarian, or a more obsessive approach to being noisy about what we think is right, must also have some evolutionary significance, because that also occurs.

I have a family member whose intelligence I admire who persists in his public persona of not only only being liberal, but in being gratuitously insulting about conservatives. (Actually, there's more than one who fits that description.) I have had to remind myself at times "He's got nothing else. This is where his self-esteem comes from. And the cost to him of going against the grain would be far higher than it has been for me."

RichardJohnson said...

I have a family member whose intelligence I admire who persists in his public persona of not only only being liberal, but in being gratuitously insulting about conservatives.

Which reminds me: whatever happened to Copithorne? I don't know if he was a family member, but at one time he was quite dedicated in presenting the liberal point of view on this blog.

Regarding the need to blend in, I am reminded of the Dixie Chicks. In 2003, Lubbock native Natalie Maines said "We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” when the Dixie Chicks were performing in London. This was when anti-Iraq War and anti-Bush sentiment in the UK was at its height. At the time, Kinky Friedman remarked that Natalie Maines was trying to fit in with her audience. She found out that what fit in with her UK audience didn't exactly fit in with her US audience.

jaed said...

My two cents' worth is that I don't think it's talking about oneself. I think it's in the way of being emotional distancing. Conflict is somewhat less tearing if the person you're in conflict with is more distant.

Thus, if you're finding yourself in conflicted situations, such that it is making you vulnerable to emotional pain (either from the conflict itself or from name-calling, attacks, etc from interlocutors), one way of defending yourself is to put them at a greater distance so it hurts less. You can do this by disengaging, but you can also do it by making them worse than they are so as to gain emotional distance.

(As with a lot of things in emotional life, from clinical depression to falling in love with idiots, I'm convinced that this actually is a perfectly reasonable strategy that's sometimes misapplied or applied too fiercely or too inflexibly. You can see where getting some emotional distance from an upsetting conflict makes sense, and where generalizing can give you some distance, and you can also see where this can go far, far wrong.)

Texan99 said...

Jaed, I think you nailed it.