Monday, November 22, 2021

Condescension and Arrogance

These bother other people more than they bother me. They used to affect me so intensely that they shaped my opinions. (Quick! Guess my politics as a 20-year old from that!) We are social creatures and it isn't unusual. There are both Classical Greek and Confucian encouragements that we should worship the local gods and customs in order to live at peace and be part of a good society. I see the point. 

But I also felt pinned to the wall as a young Christian reading Screwtape for the first time and seeing right in the first paragraph 

He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

Because it WAS the sort of thing I did care about deeply, and saw at a glance how indefensible that was. Condescension worked on me. So I have been on something of a crusade about that ever since, knowing that it was a forest I had gotten lost in and could warn others away from. I now have some immunity.

I also spent my career as the least-credentialed person at every table, which increased my immunity to condescension and arrogance. Part of that may be largeness of character and resting in my status as a Child of God, but not all. Some of that has also been learning to adapt to how one establishes credibility for one's ideas. One learns to be both firm and disarming. It's an interesting enough story in its own way (to me, that's who) but it is not my story today. My two oldest sons learned it, and if someone is in that situation contact me and I will share what worked for me, at least. It's not so bad a life.  And one does develop that immunity. I know arrogant condescending jerks that I was quite good friends with - because they were right a lot of the time. I know winsome, humble, well-meaning people who actively listen, or whatever they call it now, who are wrong about lots of stuff. Sometimes they are...tiresome. I have worked on teams where others in my department have refused to work with that doctor, and worked with supervisors that social workers wouldn't. Only one could I myself not work with, and I hung on for eight years. Because most of that just doesn't matter.

It always comes up in politics, so perhaps it hasn't really come to a head in the last two years. The influence of news sources on what we believe is certainly something I have long been referencing, including in the Great War with the uncle I was named for, and discussions that preceded and largely formed the early years of this blog. Yet news sources are only the visible portion. I have also been concerned with the effects of artists, writers and others connected more subtly to influencing the culture.  I think they are more powerful in the long run and I have described - sometimes at tedious length - the social and emotional biases that masquerade as intellectual ones. The politics of the Arts & Humanities Tribe that I spring from was a primary focus of the site for a few years. The biases bother me. The reliance on cliches of tribe bothers me. 

It really bothers a lot of conservatives that the government and CDC have "squandered trust" the past two years. I kind of get that intellectually, because when you are leading you have a responsibility to make it worth it to people to follow. When you make decisions that affect people you do have heightened responsibility to get it right.  I have said that while the "experts" have indeed gotten things wrong about covid, their challengers and skeptics have been ten times worse. I admit those are not equivalent roles. The people calling the shots should be wrong less often - a lot less often.  But for me, I'm just looking for sources of information.I want to know who is reliable for making my own decisions. The CDC is still way better than the skeptics.  To not credit any of their information because you are angry at them for having been wrong sometimes, and having the nerve to be arrogant and imperious about it makes no sense to me.

Similarly, I have a friend who is currently ripped about Alex Berenson's dishonesty, and secondarily, Tucker Carlson for encouraging this. The specific is the claim that twice as many vaccinated adults as unvaccinated are dying in England now. When you dig down into the data, it turns out that "adults" turn out to be 10-59 year olds.  A lot of the youngest part of that is not allowed to be vaccinated. A lot of the older part of that group are those who know they have compromising conditions and get vaccinated. Because of the age differences, the numbers can't be compared. Okay, so maybe that takes a little skill with statistics to see, and maybe Berenson isn't as good as he should be, but...But wait, it gets worse.  The study itself says, right on the page, that the vaccinated and unvaccinated in that study can't be compared for that very reason. The vaccinated are much older and initially more compromised. So Berenson had to see it and decided not to mention that. To me, that's a permanent write-off.  Do that once in a public forum and I never trust anything you say again. I don't care if you are charming, or have the "courage" to "stand up to" the experts.  You lie.  You are done. It bothers my friend also that he makes lots of money at this, especially as the sales job for this side of the argument is how much Big Pharma and the Medical Establishment are making off you.* So some guy who wants you to get vaccinated is coming off as condescending and arrogant?  So what? Right, he shouldn't do that, but how does that influence your decision.

Eh, that doesn't bother me so much.  People making money for bad reasons is something I made my peace with years ago. I'm more upset about the reasoning. I hammer that point here. Yes, many people will be affected by the personalities of the speakers, but that should not be so among us. We don't have to. I am also not much convinced that any single person is much influencing anyone these days. Do we think that the landscape would be dramatically different now if Dr. Fauci had retired in 2019, or if Alex Berenson got hit by a bus in 2020? I don't. People do not believe things because they follow the mainstream media as much as the go to certain media because they already believe those things. There is much hand-wringing on the left about Fox News, but Fox did not create that audience.  It found that audience. Individuals likely have some effect, and audience/media reciprocal influence is likely real. But I think it flows more from the larger forces to the media than the other way around.

*That is a reliable career path to wealth, telling people that someone else is making so much money off them.  We lap that up.

1 comment:

David Foster said...

One cannot look at Covid data intelligently without stratifying the results by age. This paper explains the issue very well: