Friday, February 18, 2011

Fracture Lines

This is from an interesting article, titled "Shibboleths." It begins with the fact that a majority of potential Republican voters believe Barack Obama is not a US citizen:

...birtherism is a shibboleth, that is, an affirmation that marks the speaker as a member of their community or tribe. (The original shibboleth was a password chosen by the Gileadites because their Ephraimite enemies could not say “Sh”.) Asserting a belief that would be too absurd to countenance for anyone outside a given tribal/ideological group makes for a good political shibboleth.

It’s clear, as Dave Weigel points out, that beliefs of this kind are a marker for partisanship, as witness the high correlation between stated birtherist beliefs and approval of Palin. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the statement isn’t actually believed. ...

... we can distinguish numerous different belief states that go along with birtherist answers to opinion poll questions. There are lots of nuances, but most are combinations of the following

  • A conspiracy-theoretic view of the world in which liberal elites (a term encompassing Democrats, unions, schoolteachers, scientists, academics and many others) are plotting to undermine the American way of life and replace it with some unspecified, but awful alternative. In this case, answers to these questions reflect actual beliefs
  • Partisanship as suggested by Weigel in which Republicans choose to give the most negative answer possible about Obama as an affirmation of tribal identity.
  • Doublethink in which people are aware that in some mundane sense Obama was born in Hawaii, but also believe that Republican ideology is true and implies the birtherist answer
  • Conformism, in which people know the truth but give the culturally preferred answer, or choose some evasive form of words, as with John Boehner recently.

Does all this hurt or help the Republicans? In short-run electoral terms, I think it helps. A base of loyal supporters who, for one or other of the reasons mentioned above, are immune to factual evidence has to help win elections. (emphasis mine, as it's the whole Rovian point.) There are, however, two big costs

  • First, people have noticed that Republicans have a problem with reality. That perception, which undermines the rationale for all sorts of thinking about policy, will take a while to sink in, but it will also be hard to erase once it is generally accepted. In the long run, this has to turn off a fair number of Republican-leaning independents and any remaining Republicans with a capacity for embarrassment.
  • Double-think is very difficult, and people will start to act on the basis of their beliefs. If those beliefs are ludicrously false, trouble is likely to follow.

It's among the most puzzling phenomena with which I wrestle daily: the fact that acceptance or rejection of undeniable facts should fall so sharply along party lines. Deniers of anthropogenic climate change, rejectors of evolution, believers in Obama's foreign birth -- they're all Republicans. I get that hating Obama is politics as usual; but birtherism simply has no explanation in reality as understood by those living in, well, reality.

I've said it before: I think it's no accident that there is a strong religious undercurrent that flows through the separation between Ds and Rs. Which is not to say that Ds aren't religious: many are; maybe even most (I'm sure there are polls out there). But, from what I observe, there are very few biblical literalists on that side of the breech. Few who would force their beliefs on others, and substitute them for public education. The sort of religious certainty that demands rejection of the observable resides, it seems, essentially exclusively on the other side.

So it comes back to neurophysiology, as it always seems to: our brains simply work differently. Unfortunately, there's no vive la difference there, no "it takes all kinds," no tangoing by twos. When the gears of a major political party are turned by those who actively and proudly reject reality, it does few of us any good. Oh, John Boehner sheds happy tears, Michele Bachmann thinks her shit don't smell. But for those of us whose eyes are open and able to look from side to side, there's trouble coming, as the above author said; and it's heading here fast and hard.

I've expressed the unlikely hope that at some time before it's too late, people will realize that teabaggers have long since passed through the departure gate from reality. It's why I continue to write. The article posits that it could happen, too. It's a question of how many critical thinkers there are out there, unheard from; and how willing they are to employ their brains, when so many have already chosen not to and seem happy as clams at high tide. When the tide is out.


  1. I'm placing my hopes with the younger generation. When I spend time with my nieces, nephews, their friends, and the adult kids of my friends, I become more optimistic. They're smart, funny, educated, aware, and have nothing but contempt for Palin/Bachmann/Boehner/Beck and pals. When this group engages, as they did for Obama, the world is a brighter place. They were out in force for Jon Stewart's rally, aren't found at Tea Parties. We just need to encourage their engagement.

  2. I'd certainly agree with Kathleen... if only my daughter would have voted last November. As well, despite my harassing you Sid about giving Palin the time day, I sense a general tiring of the non-reality based right wing tactics. Folks are getting tired of it, the morbid curiosity is wearing thin, and Palin, RWS, et all, are also pushing the limits on their increasingly dicey and fringe rhetoric, i.e., Palin is a Fad, and as she fades, she gets even more whacky trying to hang on to the idiocy that made her rich and famous. I think everyday folks are getting tired of the blatant falsehoods... I suspect folks are tiring of getting taken for the idiots they are... that would include me to a certain extent. Even Franky boy has toned his crap down (to a certain extent), as if he's tiring of being a stooge. I think the fad is wearing thin and folks are getting ready for the next wave of political crap we readily eat up... I keep asking myself why the media is already fiercely promoting the 2012 dog and pony show? It's going to be a long and frustrating year. I think the 30 billion spent on lobbying congress last year, and the coming billion dollar campaigns, have disenfranchised the public in the political process- only the majority of us don't know it, or don't care... except for Wisconsin right now, which is merely a breath of fresh air to a drowning man.

  3. Let's hope both of you are right. There are some signs of RWS™ fatigue, I suppose; on the other hand, there are some pretty reactionary bills being put forth both in Congress and in statehouses across the country. And the screamers still seem to get all the attention; yet it's only on the internet that they get called out...

    2012 should be interesting. Amusing if the teabaggers take the whole country and then, a month later, the Mayan calendar believers turn out to be right. It'd save a lot in moving expenses.

  4. Bla Bla Bla,
    we're just a clotted left main away from a Joe Biden presidency, which I'd sort of like to see actually.
    In the same way I like to watch old 3 Stooges episodes/Stockcar Crashes/Cheap East European Porn.
    And as long as the President(Peace be upon Him)keeps Terror-ists in Gitmo instead of Terror-an, keeps my marginal tax rate where its at, and signs fewer gun control measures than any President since JFK, I might even vote for him, even if he was born in Somalia.


  5. "the *fact* that a *majority* of potential Republican voters believe Barack Obama is not a US citizen"

    Really? Fact? Majority?

    That is so passé.

    No on one cares.

    We do care about the economy, jobs,national security, health care,pensions,cap and trade (which will break the budgets of the struggling pay check to paycheck middle class),using our natural resources and becoming independent from the middle east,OPEC,trade, the Mexican border - strain on our economy and frighteningly that our own Americans aren't safe because of the Mexican drug cartels,terrorism from cells withing our country and coming in through other borders, and so on.

    I rarely hear anyone complaining about his birth certificate on the airwaves. I've heard show hosts say to forget about it. Every now and then I will hear a caller on talk radio mention it ...but hardly a majority.

    Our president is here to stay.

    Birth certificate - schmirth certificate. Don't care. Immediately dismissed.

    I only responded to this because I was surprised at your use of the words fact and majority ...because I never hear it come up in my real life conversations when discussing politics. Only way back when it first came out - but when I heard they had it, I was actually relieved because it would not have been good for our country to go down that road.

  6. Look it up, Seaspray. It's based on a recent poll. Fact, in other words. And please note the term "potential voters." It has meaning.

    Facts and meaning. And yet you reject them because you don't like it. Hate to say it, ma'am, but it's typical teabaggersism.

    I could provide the link, but the exercise of looking something up that's discordant with your preferred beliefs would be good for you. Assuming you'd be willing to take such a leap.

    Oh, screw it. It's here. In fact, it was pretty much everywhere except the propaganda agency known as Fox "news."

    I won't address the disconnect between what you say you're for and the legislation proposed by Rs, which goes in exactly the opposite direction. Nor will I, because you won't believe it any more that you believed my statement of fact here, that the bs you've swallowed on, for but one example, cap and trade (like other things they're now against, a R-supported idea before, you know, the black guy...) is equally false. No point in wasting my finger-taps.

  7. P.S: your beliefs based on your personal conversations notwithstanding, you might note that the percentage of birther-voters is actually up from a year ago.

    Insulation: yours, and theirs. It's why we're so screwed.


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