Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bullshit Mountain Explained: Why You Can't Reason With Republicans - Part III

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?

Ah, dopamine.

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.


moodinreview said...

After reading one Facebook comment about how the economy doesn't function right if the a large percentage of society doesn't want to work,I tried to reason with a Republican. I said to this person possibly many people on welfare/
poor might appear "lazy"/unmotivated because they are depressed and that it's not normal for someone to not want to work. His response was that actually conservatives are quite compassionate toward the mentally ill and to give give his post a more sympathetic read.

After thinking about this some more it seems like many conservatives assume the worst about people while liberals tend to assume the best.

Stanley Holmes said...

Those are interesting posts, I agree with the bulk of the criticism although it seems a bit one-sided. I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Jonathan Haidt on the divide between democrats and republicans?

John McManamy said...

Hi, Moodinreview. You raised a lot of good points. Yes, you can be conservative and compassionate toward mental illness. It tends to happen when mental illness strikes a family member. I personally know a Republican who started an advocacy group. But the bottom line is that Republicans support an environment extremely hostile to treatment and recovery. To be compassionate toward people with mental illness and vote Republican is contradiction of the first order.

At the same time, we desperately need a conversation. I've got opinions about the disability trap that bring out the right wing conservative in me. I'm looking to get into this in future posts.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Stanley. Yes, the bulk of my criticism is definitely one-sided. I used to be more even-handed, but one day I woke up to the fact that there are nowhere as many liberal extremists out there as conservative extremists. Case in point, we have a devotee of Ayn Rand running as Republican VP. Now, imagine the Democrats choosing the mirror opposite as a VP - say a European-style socialist. It would never happen, not in a million years. Democrats wouldn't put up with it.

Another part of this is that baby boomers grew up. Radical hippies did not stay radical hippies. The same cannot be said for those who never inhaled. Instead of softening their positions, they grew more strident. The good news is this entire demographic is aging out of the picture.

Re Jon Haidt, yes definitely. Thanks for bringing him up. To readers: Haidt is the father of all the research into this area. Basically, the divide is real. His studies found that Republicans and Democrats have different ways of processing information and emotionally responding, which shapes their core values and world views. Others have built on him. We now have a new area of science - from a variety of disciplines - devoted to what makes us so different and so irrational and why we are so resistant to change. Expect to hear a lot more on this.

indigorhythms said...

61The Republican attitude that Stewart describes sounds a lot like the typical male attitude toward problems. If something goes wrong it's generally not their fault however women, on the other hand,are more likely to blame themselves and perhaps that is why women have a greater tendency to get depressed?

In the past there was some research that indicated conservatives were generally happier than liberals. Exploring that research might make for an interesting post.

Anonymous said...

Great point John about the radical hippies growing up & changing where the ones who did not inhale grew more staunch. I think it has a lot to do with people who had thin boundaries (inhalers) vs those with thick boundaries (non inhalers)Thick boundary people see things only their way. Thin boundary people are more open & have more empathy.
I want to thank you John for all the information you share on this site, other bloggs & your books I have read. You have helped me "know thyself" by leaving bread crumbs to follow. It helps to know someone else has been down this road & you are not alone. I have read most all of the books you have mentioned on your sights & all have helped me to stop & become aware of the Lies my brain chemistry can be capable of. It helps on the roller coaster ride to know you have a brake you can use if you need it. It is called self awareness. You helped me get thru a preety tough time in my life. I don't know you & yet I think I do. God Bless you & your great humor & I am just a watching it.

Joel Sax said...

I had a right winger/anti-vaxer go off on me in a support group. They don't seem to want to understand how bringing up politics in such a setting only breeds animosity and lack of good will.

I've also been in a battle with the people who support Murphy's Law. Murphy's Law tears into HIPAA privacy protections in the name of helping the mentally ill. It guts SAMHSA and creates a bureaucracy beholden to Congress which means it politicizes our needs. Does it do anything for community mental health? Nope. This is leading back to putting us into mental hospitals and I bet you gold that they want to privatize them.