Monday, October 14, 2013

Somewhere In A Word Cloud

The entire bloggosphere is trying to make sense of what we are seeing unfold, and what we are hearing as the excuse for it.  First the government must be shut down before Obamacare destroys it, then Obamacare can merely be delayed and fixed, then the fix itself is to be something that the Republicans themselves champion (inequality), then we are on to simply holding the debt ceiling hostage until Obama himself is forced to "cut government spending back to 2001 levels" or raise the funds himself and then be impeached.  The thing which strikes most normal people is that all of these goals can't be met simultaneously--some conflict with each other. Destroying or delaying Obamacare raises the deficit and creates more inequality in access to health insurance.  Refusing to raise the debt ceiling and pay our bills on time does not, in fact, increase world confidence in our ability to pay our bills. Etc...etc...etc...

I'm not surprised, however, at the general illogic and mushy thinking. I encountered it before during the run up to the invasion of Iraq. My sister-in-law, a lifelong Republican and daughter of that double threat an ex military man who worked in the insurance business, bought every single weaving, incoherent, dodge of the Bush government hook, line, and sinker.  The more illogical, the more obviously made up, the more spurious, the more manipulative the better.  Talking to her about it was a real life lesson to me. I explained to her what bombing a major city, filled with innocent civilians, would look like and she told me, with hands clasped across her bosom in the age old gesture of empathy and sincerity, that she believed that Bush's motives were "humanitarian"--that his goal was to free the Iraqi people from the control of a tyrant.  Especially the women.

They don't see the contradictions in their arguments because they just don't think that way about history, or society, or motivations--we were having this discussion the other day at Alicublog and I wanted to lift out part of it here:

LookWhosInTheFreezer  Bethany Spencer 

They love contradictions. Obama is: a femme weakling/most powerful ChicagoThugDictator ever, teleprompter-reliant moron/evil genius, antibusiness hippy/Wall Street fellator, lazy vacation-lover who also works 24/7 to destroy Democracy etc.

  • Avatar

    reallyaimai  LookWhosInTheFreezer 

    I don't think they love the contradictions. I think they are just very, very, very, confused about agency and causality and, you know, stuff. They don't connect--and yes, Howard's End is one of my favorite books--neither the past to the present (like what they said yesterday) nor the act to its results (like what is the harm of shutting down the government and refusing to pay our bills?) or their actions to the actions of their future enemies (what do you mean this is a tactic that will be used against us later?) nor person to person (thanks to god's grace I can never be in the position of that other person.) There's nothing connecting their two visions of Obama because they don't require there to be a connection. They areunaware of the contradiction.
    I was trying to describe this to someone IRL the other day and the best I could come up with is that they don't think linearly or causally at all but rather with a kind of word cloud of possibilities that are always moving around, getting bigger and smaller, and potentiating each other by proximity. So its more true that Obama is an evil person because he has done something strong and something that appears weak at the same time. Two events that happen close together must be related by an overarching theory not of mind but of nature/will (good or evil) while events that happen far apart can be isolated and seen as separate--even if the same person is doing them or if the causes and connecting institutions are obvious.


  1. Well. There is a cultural explanation (tribal affiliation) but it doesn't necessarily account for the cognitive peculiarities. So I don't see how we avoid a *developmental* explanation. There is a spectrum of maturation between "infant" and "responsible adult." An infants reality is characterized by overpowering desires and an absence of abstract thought, which ideally supports the ability to delay ones gratification. An infant doesn't make a distinction between his/her desires and the external world. That is, the entire world is completely subordinate to an infants desires.

    What matters is what I want, not what you want. Thinking about what you want is too complicated, it overheats my brain and so trying to come up with solutions that work for most or all of us is something I am not willing to do. I am a Republican.

  2. I think mattski oversimplifies. I know lots of conservatives who are kind, generous and loving. But - the conservative word view is based on ignorance, prejudice, denial and magical thinking. Thus, the infantile world view is replaced as the conservative matures with a more expansive world view that does not easily accommodate facts, evidence, logic, or reason.

    Throw in a firm belief in social stratification, tribalism, and a devotion to strong priors and you have a conservative.

    And - mind you - these are the GOOD ones. The sociopaths and lizard people are all of this and so much more.


  3. Everyone is capable of being confused, or of preferring to believe multiple and contradictory things at the same time. However there has been quite a bit of research on the topic of motivated thinking and authoritarian thinking and I think its been pretty well demonstrated that there are certain kinds of people--authoritarian people--who tend to be more able to accept confused and contradictory things so long as proximate accepted authorities tell them to do so. This holds true for leftist authoritarians as well as rightist, of course. Its a quality of the authoritarian mindset which defers responsibility for thought and for the consequences for action onto other people/tradition/received wisdom.