The biggest problem with the denizens of Bullshit Mountain, is they act like their shit don't stink. If they have success, "they built it". If they failed, the government ruined it for them. If they get a break, they deserve it. If you get a break, it's a "handout" and an "entitlement". It's a baffling, willfully blind, cognitive dissonance ... - Jon Stewart
My previous two posts (one and two), based on Chris Mooney’s illuminating “The Republican Brain,” summarizes the science and circumstances behind Bullshit Mountain and why these days it is impossible to reason with a Republican. Today, I woke up to validation from a surprise source - JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame. In a recent interview with the Guardian, she said:
We all know that pleasurable rush that comes from condemning, and in the short term it's quite a satisfying thing to do, isn't it?
Rowling is about to publish her first novel for grown-ups, “The Casual Vacancy,” that, according to the Guardian, “satirizes the ignorance of elites who assume to know what's best for everyone else.” Says Rowling, who has experienced poverty and not forgotten about it:
How many of us are able to expand our minds beyond our own personal experience? So many people, certainly people who sit around the cabinet table, say, 'Well, it worked for me' or, 'This is how my father managed it' – these trite catchphrases – and the idea that other people might have had such a different life experience that their choices and beliefs and behaviors would be completely different from your own seems to escape a lot of otherwise intelligent people. The poor are discussed as this homogeneous mash, like porridge. The idea that they might be individuals, and be where they are for very different, diverse reasons, again seems to escape some people.
So, can one recover from Republicanism? Yes, but it’s not easy. An eye-opening article by Jeremiah Goulkin in The Nation makes it clear that nothing less than a willingness to confront your comforting illusions is involved. According to Goulkin:
The more I learned about reality, the more I started to care about people as people, and my values shifted. Had I always known what I know today, it would have been clear that there hasn’t been a place for me in the Republican Party since the Free Soil days of Abe Lincoln.
He goes on to say:
The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in. Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal. For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets. Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people. ...
My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way. ...
Last but not least:
Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful. I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned. I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).
As discussed in my two previous pieces, shifting one’s thinking is far more difficult for conservatives than liberals. To quickly review: Our brains were not built to dispassionately sift through facts and come to reasoned conclusions. Rather, we think with our emotions. This applies to all of us, but there is a fatal twist with conservatives, namely they score low on “openness to experience,” which translates to extreme discomfort with change and uncertainty and ambiguity.
Conservatives, then, are far more inclined than liberals to remain locked into unsustainable positions, in complete defiance of the facts. Yes, there are extreme liberals, too, but there are far fewer of them and they tend to get relegated to the margins. The very opposite has happened in the Republican party, where the extremists have taken over.
As Mooney explains, conservatives are afflicted by “conscientiousness,” a very desirable personality trait but fatal in the context of misplaced loyalty, particularly to a tribe or in-group at the expense of the greater good. This is why moderate conservatives would rather remain silent than speak out, even in full knowledge of the consequences of their acquiescence.
We can’t leave this without something about Fox News. Mooney devotes a lot of attention to this in his book, but fails to mention that conservatives are far more inclined than liberals to pick their news - just compare the ratings of Fox News to MSNBC. Where is Walter Cronkite when we need him?
Back to Bullshit Mountain, to Republicans: No need to explain yourselves. I've already done that for you.