Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, June 16, 2014

Polarization Bowdlerization

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot:
I think the current punditocratic vogue of "polarization" narratives and theses conceal at least as much as they reveal.

The Democratic and Republican parties have gone through a Great Sort since the Southern Strategy (actually beginning with periodic betrayals by the "Solid South" during the Second New Deal), in which complex coalitions containing both liberals and conservatives instead came to map more directly onto the duopoly. Much of what now passes for "polarization" was already there but obscured from our vantage by the divergence of party-ID and ideological orientation. The prevalence of white supremacy and its simultaneous amelioration (and also, for the white racist stragglers, exacerbation) by the welcome and healthy demographic diversification, secularization, and planetization of the population is another force that is accounting for much that is being grotesquely oversimplified as "polarization" in these accounts.

The relentlessly cited Pew poll clearly shows more conservatives think liberals represent a threat to America than liberals think conservatives do (heck I'm a liberal -- well, you know, a vegetarian democratic socialist feminist anti-racist anti-militarist atheist queer aesthete -- who thinks current obstructionist macroeconomically-illiterate neo-confederate climate-denialist white-racist jebusfreak gun-nutty forced-pregnancy zealot conservatives represent an objective threat to America not to mention the planet), but to what extent does this formulation conceal the crucial differences between a confident and motivated young diverse emerging secular democratic majority as opposed to a desperate defensive minority of old white straight dudes freaking out as they are dying out about jezebels and queers and all the skeery brown people?

I think "polarization" is just the latest form the punditocracy's inane mythic "independent voter" "moderate middle" and "false equivalency" fetish thesis is taking. Majorities still support progressive policy prescriptions, after all, but can be actively mislead or misdirected from voting in ways that reflect these beliefs by unscrupulous reactionaries on the right who are reconciled to the Noble Lie simply in taking up the politics of a plutocratic minority in a representative system that must somehow enlist support of majorities against their actual interests.

The anti-science views of the GOP which attract so much attention are connected to these foundational, enabling, systematic deceptions in my view. (I still prefer my engineers conservative, my politics democratic, my artists revolutionary, by the way.) To speak of "polarization" is to appear to observe and analyze real phenomena but in a way that disdains the real substance of the actual views and practices and consequences that are presumably "polarized." There has always been a kind of "polarization" between ignorant people and people who know things, I guess. You can say that the assertions of a liar or a charlatan as against the assertions of an honest witness or sound scientist are "polarized" -- but to put the difference that way is to miss the difference that makes a difference. Which, I daresay is the point.


jimf said...

> There has always been a kind of "polarization" between ignorant
> people and people who know things, I guess. You can say that
> the assertions of a liar or a charlatan as against the assertions
> of an honest witness or sound scientist are "polarized" -- but to
> put the difference that way is to miss the difference that makes
> a difference.

It's certainly much more complicated than a simple dichotomy between
"ignorant" and "educated" [*]

You know, there's a collection of podcasts on a Web site
I sometimes visit:
hosted by an ex-Mormon couple, John and Zilpha Larsen (actually
they're now divorced, but they still do the podcasts
together, at least sometimes). The psychological trajectories
that people take when they manage to extricate themselves
from Mormonism (or Jehovah's Witnesses, or evangelical
Christianity, or whatever) are fascinating. And it's a
**hard** road. And these are anything but stupid people.

There's also another Web site I sometimes listen to,
not ex-Mormon per se, but allowing air time
to both ex-Mormons and people who still consider themselves
Mormon but have various doubts about or disagreements with
the church, hosted by a computer guy (ex-Microsoft employee;
and in fact Larsen is a software guy too) who went back to
school for a PhD in psychology -- John Dehlin's
Mormon Stories ( ). (Dehlin did
a TED talk not too long ago about how he became an ally
of the LGBT community -- .
And actually, Dehlin's been in the news quite recently because
the church authorities are probably finally going to excommunicate
him, putting him in an even more difficult position vis a vis
his wife and children, who are still practicing Mormons
( ).

These matrices of beliefs (which have a **strong** political
component -- it's virtually impossible to be a known Democrat and
also a Mormon in good standing, for example) are extraordinarily
self-reinforcing and resistent to information coming from outside
the protected circle. And the tangible, not "merely" psychological,
penalties of straying from the fold can include being ostracized
by one's family and friends, losing one's marriage and children,
and losing one's job.

"Science" really is a dirty word among many religious
conservatives (the doctrinally strict sects, like the Mormons).
Believers quite literally think of it
as a dangerous temptation (as potentially corrupting as
alcohol, or drugs, or extramarital sex) and a
snare of the devil. "What caused him to lose his faith?"
"Oh, he fell under the influence of Science."

[*] Although, speaking of education. I was listening to one of the
Mormon Expression podcasts that attempted, semi-humorously,
to have a "weird-off" between the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses --
having ex-members recount their experiences in various categories
and having a panel of judges vote for one faith or the other
as "weirder". When it comes to education -- Jehovah's Witnesses
are **not allowed** (by their church) to go to school past
public high school (i.e., they don't go to college). Many of
them become manual laborers. Mormons, too, are steered educationally --
Mormons are big on education, but only in "practical" fields --
business management, accounting, computer programming.
A lot of them become dentists. They are, apparently, actively
**discouraged** from going into the pure sciences.

Dale Carrico said...

It's certainly much more complicated than a simple dichotomy between "ignorant" and "educated"

Of course, I agree with you there, as the totality of the post made clear I hope. Definitely I agree also that people who are religious (as I am NOT personally, being a crusty atheist of long standing) are not stupid for being religious. For me, to say otherwise would be rather like saying people with good taste in art are stupid for caring about it.

This is not to deny that religious people and aesthetes aren't sometimes stupid, or that religious or aesthetic values can be misapplied outside their proper precincts to catastrophic result.

jimf said...

Daryl Johnson, former analyst for the Department of Homeland Security,
called attention to the threat of far-right extremist groups back
in 2009 and sparked a political firestorm in the process. He was
the principal author of a report called "Rightwing Extremism: Current
Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization
and Recruitment."

The report noted the election of the first African-American president,
combined with the recession-era economic anxieties, could fuel a rise
in far-right violence. It went on to say, "rightwing extremists will
attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost
their violent capabilities." Johnson drew his conclusion on his 15
years of experience studying domestic terrorist groups—particularly
white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

The report set off a maelstrom of discontent among conservatives.
The media watch group, Media Matters, produced a video featuring the
numerous TV personalities who slammed the report, including CNN’s Lou Dobbs,
conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, Fox News’ Sean Hannity,
Fox News national political commentator Andrea Tantaros and Fox News
contributor Michelle Malkin. This is a clip.

> UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: A new report from Homeland Security
> suggests the bad economy may drive people to right-wing extremist groups.
> PETE WILLIAMS: Right-wing extremist groups, neo-Nazis, skinheads,
> the National Alliance, racist groups, anti-Semitic groups.
> DAVID ASMAN: Gathering information on right-wing extremist
> activity in the United States. Does that mean they’re going to be
> spending—sending spies to these tea parties?
> JAMES DOBSON: There are no Timothy McVeighs out there right now.
> ANDREA TANTAROS: If they’re going to issue these reports for this
> made-up threat. . .
> RUSH LIMBAUGH: Portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives
> as posing a bigger threat to this country than al-Qaeda terrorists. . .
> BRIAN SULLIVAN: Naming veterans’ groups as possible extremist groups. . .

AMY GOODMAN: Under intense pressure from the talk show hosts and from
Republican lawmakers, the Department of Homeland Security ultimately
repudiated Daryl Johnson’s paper, and in June 2009 the Washington Post
reported the DHS cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism
unrelated to Islam and canceled numerous state and local law enforcement
briefings. The DHS reportedly also held up dissemination of nearly a
dozen reports on extremist groups.

. . .

"Leading up to this report ... we received numerous accolades from
law enforcement, intelligence officials, talking about the great
work we were doing in the fight against domestic terrorism," Johnson says.
"And then, in lieu [in the wake of] of the political backlash, the
department decided to not only stop all of our work, stop all of the training and
briefings that we were scheduled to give, but they also disbanded
the unit, reassigned us to other areas within the office, and then
made life increasingly difficult for us." Johnson, now the owner
of a private consultancy firm, has authored a new book,
"Right Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terrorist Threat Is
Being Ignored."

Noam Chomsky sez: "I have never seen anything like this in my
lifetime,” referring to the current state of politics in the US. . .
“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany” . . .

Dale Carrico said...

Again, if you ask me "right wing extremism" is a much better term for right wing extremism than "polarization."

jimf said...

From the department of "So what else is new?":
[C]ompared with other developed countries, America stands out
for the level and intensity of its religiosity. People are
generally more likely to say that religion is an important part
of their daily lives in relatively poor countries, but as Gallup
pointed out in a 2010 report: "“The United States is one of
the rich countries that bucks the trend. About two-thirds of
Americans — 65 percent — say religion is important in their
daily lives. . .

It’s not only that Americans are more religious — Christian,
in particular — but that for many, their beliefs in their
religious text — the Bible, in particular — are literal. . .

As my oldest son once told me, “I’d hate to live in a
world where a God **couldn’t** exist.”

That is his choice, as it is every individual’s choice, and I
respect it.

What worries me is that some Americans seem to live in a world where
facts can’t exist.

A couple of recent YouTube entertainments --

A documentary about the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton,
Tennessee. I was interested to learn that one reason
William Jennings Bryan -- who was a political populist
and champion of common folks against the interests
of big money -- was so opposed to Darwinism, is that he
equated the theory of evolution with **social** Darwinism
and the self-justification of the greedy rich (the sort of
folks who are likely to cite Ayn Rand these days).

"Monkey Trial" (PBS "The American Experience", 2002),
narrated by Linda Hunt (Christine Lesiak writer & director)

The other thing was a documentary about the 2004-2005
ACLU lawsuit against a school board in Dover, PA over
the required teaching of Intelligent Design in public
school science classes
( ).
This inspired a 2007 NOVA episode "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design
on Trial".

Both interesting films.

jimf said...

47: Richard – Welfare Child, Runaway Druggie, Amway Missionary, Apostate Divorce


I remember [my mom] taught us how to read really really
young. She would write words on a strip of paper and then
tape it on the wall. . . And then she'd go "where's 'chair'?"
and we'd point to it, and that's how she taught us to read.
And by the time we were -- she claims by the time we were
2 but I'm thinking it was more like 4 or 5 -- we were all
reading the basic stuff you'd start learning in first
or second grade, before we got to kindergarten even.
Just because she was so eager to teach, teaching us all
at home with a home school program called Anderson Open --
back in the 70s that was the popular curriculum to do
if you were doing home schooling. . .

I had one day of first grade, and I remember they were teaching
people colors -- they were teaching the color blue -- what
it was. And I was like, this is ridiculous, because we
already knew how to read. And then I went home and told
my mom. . . The next day my parents came into the classroom
to take me out. . . They said the school curriculum is
incompetent, or something is wrong, you're wasting time,
my son already knows this stuff, so we're taking him out. . .

It was inspired by their religious beliefs as well, because
back then there was always talk about the
return of Christ, coming, you know, to Jackson County
and calling the people in. My dad had a map on his wall
of the United States, where he had read the scriptures and
studied them so much he knew what the distance from the
New Jersusalem, where the city walls would be built, so he
drew a line around the amount of miles, I don't know, from --
I guess it's Independence, Missouri, from the city line out,
and drew a line around it where he said would be the wall,
once Christ comes back, which he thought would be really
soon, and we need to find property there to live.

> So he kind of fantasized about moving back to Jackson County
> before all the destruction takes place, that kind of thing?

Definitely. He was **totally** convinced that the government
was corrupt, that the school system was corrupt -- they were
starting to get into the teaching of evolution in schools,
and sciences and stuff that he though was of the Devil,
and -- just super anti-intellectual and anti-government
and they were just as far-right-wing as you can possibly go.
They were really into (Scalzand? Scowzen?) books, ?-Communist. . .

> . . .[Naked? Mutant?] Capitalist. . .

Yeah! They were trying to buy some land in the desert, out
in the middle of nowhere, where I guess some [Wornten? Morten?]
guy was gathering followers in the different [wards?] around
there 'cause they had him as some kind of prophet or something?
An inspired man that was seeing the Second Coming, that it
was coming soon, and everyone needed to get their food stores
built up and get land in this specific area where. . . and
building up this sort of side-cult? community. I just remember
I really didn't like this guy, but he somehow got my parents
into his little scam for a while, and they bought the land
from him out in the middle of the freaking desert, and they
got tiny little trailers -- they're not the kind of trailers
you're supposed to live in, they're like camping trailers. . .

Sound a little like transhumanism. ;->