The terms “Conservative” and “Liberal” are much abused, and, I fear, nearly obsolete, but this thread makes use of them anyway due to a lack of good replacements. I utilize them in hope that you will understand my meaning.
Conservatism and Liberalism basically see human nature quite differently:
Conservatives see people as possessing an ultimate inner essence, some inborn quality, be it your soul, nature, or DNA. This you can mold, but cannot fundamentally change. To put it in Christian terms (since most American Conservatives are Christian), through Free Will you can make good, moral, decisions, but you cannot change the fact that you are Fallen; only through an external Salvation-through-Christ can that be changed.
In more mundane terms, through Free Will, or Virtuous Living, you can make the most of your inner essence. For example, even someone who was born dull–an unchangeable state–may be honest, hard working, and follow the advise of smarter people. A person with a tendency toward addiction may work hard to fight that addiction, avoid drugs entirely, and still live virtuously.
In this view, your nature is like clay. You can’t trade it in for wood or steel or sand, but what you do with that clay, whether you turn it into a plate or a vase or sculpture, (or a splat on the ground) is up to you.
By contrast, Liberalism (in its theoretical form) rejects the notion of an “inner self.” You have no inner essence. There is no “you;” only a set of interactions between your body and the rest of society. The identities people use to describe themselves, man or woman, gay or straight, black or white, Christian or not, are all “social constructs” created via your interactions with the rest of society.
Like the Bohr model of the atom, your “inner essence” only exists when observed by others.
For example: suppose a person of 100% sub-Saharan ancestry had a rare skin condition that made him look white. In his daily life, as he went about his business, he would be treated like a “white” person. Suppose, in addition, he had not been raised by a black family (adopted as an infant by a non-black family) and no one ever told him he was genetically black. Would he have any consciousness of himself as a “black” person?
Or note, for example, the liberal reluctance to attribute to people even traits like “smart” or “dumb” (“Oh, those kids just went to really good schools where they had really good teachers, that’s why they did well on that test, and besides, I don’t really believe in IQ.”)
Dig a bit, and you can find people who believe things like “women do worse in sports and weightlifting than men because society has conditioned them to” and “women are shorter than men because society has consistently underfed them for centuries.”
In Liberalism, your self is not like clay, but a point of environmental intersection where all of the things that have ever happened to you or you have perceived happen to meet.
Conservatism contains a kind of optimistic belief that no matter how bad things are, “you” can, by dint of will, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and overcome hardships. You can exist separate from the bad things that happened and can create a good life.
Conservatism therefore tends to approach life’s difficulties as a matter of “right living.” How to lead a good life? By doing it right. Clean your room. Be polite. Honor your mother and your father. Don’t covet.
Conservatism’s approach to dealing with problems is to “get over them.” Pretend they don’t exist. In its optimistic form, it believes that this is possible and that you can overcome your problems. (In its less optimistic form, it comes across as an excuse for abandoning people to insurmountable problems.)
Liberalism contains a kind of pessimism that “you” do not exist separate from the bad events of your life, but rather are created by them. “Racism” is an essential part of what creates “black identity” and thus “black people.” While you can “redefine” and “reclaim” identities, you cannot simply “get over” a core part of your own identity. To do so would render yourself blank.
Since Liberalism defines suffering as a core part of who people are, doesn’t tell them to reject it.
Liberalism tends to approach life’s difficulties as a result of the confluence of societal forces that have all impinged upon a single body to produce that difficulty. For example, a rock does not fall off a cliff and hit a passing car simply because the rock contained some internal desire to launch itself off a cliff, but because a confluence of forces (mostly gravity) compelled it downward. Likewise, when people misbehave, it is because of external circumstances that have created that behavior, like historical racism, sexism, malnutrition, bad schools, etc.
The solution is not to encourage “right behavior” (which is impossible) but to change thought patterns so that oppressive thought categories like “black” or “gay” will stop existing.
In other words, if whites can be convinced to stop thinking that race exists, then they will stop being racist against black people, and black people in the future can exist with identities that don’t include racial suffering.
In a slightly less abstract vein, when we ask “Why did psychology heartily endorse so many experiments that have failed to replicate?” many of those experiments conformed to the liberal, environmentalist view of human identity and behavior.
To give a bit of background: Pre-WWII, psychology was quite taken with Freudian notions that people have unconscious or subconscious thoughts and desires. Freudian ideas are hard to quantify and even harder to falsify, and thus test in any kind of rigorous, scientific way (though there are anthropological studies that have attempted this.) Post-war, mainstream psychology went in a different direction–skinnerian behavioralism–but behavioralism is boring because it treats people like black boxes and just looks at outcomes.
Also post-war, psychologists wanted to figure out why people would do things like stuff other humans into ovens and then claim later, “I was just following orders.” Hence the famous Milgram and Stanford Prison Experiments:
The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. They measured the willingness of study participants, men from a diverse range of occupations with varying levels of education, to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. Participants were led to believe that they were assisting an unrelated experiment, in which they had to administer electric shocks to a “learner.” These fake electric shocks gradually increased to levels that would have been fatal had they been real.
As far as I know, the Milgram experiments have replicated relatively well, and so will not be further discussed. The much ballyhooed Stanford Prison experiment, however, has turned out to be much more questionable.
The Stanford Prison Experiment became popular because it purportedly demonstrated that people’s behavior could be radically altered by even minor environmental expectations–in this case, being paid to pretend to be a prison guard for a few days turned people into raging psychopaths who tortured and abused their fellow students (“prisoners”) into mental breakdowns.
In reality, as has now come out, the “guards” were instructed to act violent and mean, and the prisoners were happily playing along, because after all, it was a fake prison:
Some of the experiment’s findings have been called into question, and the experiment has been criticized for unethical and unscientific practices. Critics have noted that Zimbardo instructed the “guards” to exert psychological control over the “prisoners”, and that some of the participants behaved in a way that would help the study, so that, as one “guard” later put it, “the researchers would have something to work with.” The experiment has also been criticized for its small and unrepresentative sample population. Variants of the experiment have been performed by other researchers, but none of these attempts have replicated the results of the SPE.
Both people and their circumstances are complicated.
Sometimes people DO react to environmental stimuli, and sometimes people DO overcome tremendous odds. Sometimes people who were abused abuse others, and sometimes they don’t.
People are complicated.
Tablet Magazine recently ran an article about Richard Spencer’s slightly less recent interview on Israel’s Channel 2: Richard Spencer Says He Just Wants ‘White Zionism.’ Here’s Why That’s Malicious Nonsense.
Spencer I regard as somewhat like the Boogeyman: journalists like to pull him out when they want to scare someone. He doesn’t represent the Alt-Right inasmuch as the Alt-Right is mostly a vague collection of people/groups on the internet who don’t fall into mainstream conservatism, rather than a coherent entity with a single leader.
I am not personally well-acquainted with Spencer’s work–if I’ve read any of it, I’ve forgotten it–but he is famous enough that I am familiar with the gist of it.
According to Tablet:
…alt-right luminary Richard Spencer declared himself to be a “white Zionist.” Just as Jews want a state of their own, the Charlottesville far-right organizer argued, he merely seeks a state for white people.
“…you could say that I am a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that’s for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”
So far, so good: this sounds a lot like things Spencer has said elsewhere, eg, Wikipedia says:
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spencer has advocated for a white homeland for a “dispossessed white race” and called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to halt the “deconstruction” of European culture. To this end he has supported what he has called “the creation of a White Ethno-State on the North American continent”, an “ideal” that he has regarded as a “reconstitution of the Roman Empire.”
The white nationalist wants a white nation. Sounds tautological. But this is where Tablet gets interesting:
It’s an analogy with superficial plausibility. It’s also a malicious lie, and a deliberate one. …
Essentially, the alt-right maliciously appropriates the deeply held values of liberals and minorities in order to attack them. This is not because the alt-right shares those values, but because it wants to troll those who do.
This is quite the claim! It’s one thing to claim that someone has appropriated a cultural item, such as a white person performing a style of music invented by black people or an Asian person wearing a Mexican hat. “Cultural appropriation” is a logical mess in practice, but at least it rests on the somewhat coherent idea of “this is my culture, we do and make these things, therefore these things belong to us.”
What does it mean to appropriate someone’s values? “You can’t be an environmentalist, only people whose ancestors were environmentalists are allowed to care about the environment?” “I’m sorry, but since Freedom of Speech was not originally enshrined in your country’s laws, you’re not allowed to want it.”
But if we read the paragraph again, it becomes clear that Tablet doesn’t really want to accuse Spencer of appropriating liberal values, (which it thinks he does not hold) but instead the logical arguments used to support liberal positions.
And for what purpose? Here Tablet’s answer is simple: to troll them:
This disingenuous dynamic of using liberal values to troll liberals has been documented elsewhere by journalists who have followed the alt-right. … As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his 1946 treatise Anti-Semite and Jew:
Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. … they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.
Spencer’s doing it for the shits and giggles, folks.
To be fair, the alt-right is full of trolls and jokers, and many of them are anti-Semitic. Spencer himself is probably anti-Semitic, or at least anti-people-who-write-for-Tablet, but anti-Semitic trolling of the frogs-and-gas-chamber-memes-variety doesn’t appear to be his primary concern. He seems to be primarily concerned with promoting white nationalism. (It’s almost as though “alt-right” were a vague, poorly-defined term that includes a lot of people who might not even believe in the same stuff besides a general dislike of both the mainstream left and right.)
If Spencer is just trolling you, then what is his real intention? In this case, we have nothing–nothing but sound and fury, blustering for no reason. What’s the point? Does Spencer have secret reasons for promoting white nationalism other than white nationalism?
In my many years of trying to figure out why people believe and advocate for the politics they do, I have observed two things:
- People often ignore each others’ arguments, respond to arguments their opponents didn’t make, assume their opponents are lying, or lie themselves about their opponents’ arguments
- People I disagree with make more sense if I assume they are generally trying to be truthful
For example, in a debate about abortion, one side might argue, “We think women should have the right to control their own bodies,” and the other side might argue, “murdering babies is immoral,” and then side A responds, “You hate women and want to force them to be breeding cows,” and side B shoots back, “You hate babies and want to murder them.”
But it actually makes more sense to assume the anti-abortion side is opposed to baby-murder than that they’re interested in using women like cattle, and it makes more sense to assume the pro-abortion side is more interested in controlling whether or not they are pregnant than in maliciously murdering people.
Interestingly, conservatives tend to understand liberals’ motivations and reasons for their political beliefs better than liberals understand conservatives’. As Haidt reports in The Righteous Mind, (quoted on The Independent Whig):
In a study I did with Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other. We asked more than two thousand American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing people’s expectations about “typical” partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and the right.)’ …
The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with questions such as “One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal” or ”Justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality), and you listen to the Reagan [i.e., conservative] narrative, what else could you think? Reagan seems completely unconcerned about the welfare of drug addicts, poor people, and gay people. He’s more interested in fighting wars and telling people how to run their sex lives.
I find this holds among people I know in real life: the conservatives tend to understand what liberals believe, while the liberals tend to despair that they live in a country full of evil psychopaths who voted for Trump.
There has been a lot of debate (and public marching) lately about Free Speech, especially whether people like Richard Spencer should have free speech. It seems that some people see even their political opponents as basically honest and well-meaning, their political opinions therefore something a good person might believe if they had different life experiences or were just working with different information.
By contrast, some people see other people as fundamentally dishonest and malicious, their “opinions” as just justifications or deflective cover for being a bad person. (Would you debate the ethics of murder with a serial killer?)
If you fall into the first camp, then the principle of Free Speech makes sense, because knowledge and experiences can be conveyed. But if you fall into the second camp, then there are positions that you think are not honestly argued nor susceptible to logic or debate–in which case, there’s no point to extending “free speech” to such ideas.
Will this shift lead to a less diverse Eidolon? Our writers always have been, and will continue to be, a diverse group. Our writer pool has excellent diversity of race, age, gender, professional status, and sexuality. … we’ve been accused of not being “ideologically diverse.” This charge is a common one, but I think it is misguided, in addition to being morally bankrupt. Making ideological diversity a primary objective is fundamentally incompatible with fighting against racism, sexism, and other forms of structural oppression, and we choose to prioritize the latter.
In other words: liberals don’t think conservatives deserve free speech because they assume conservatives are basically lying to cover up their real agenda of hurting various minorities.
But why are liberals more susceptible to misunderstanding their opponents than liberals? Let’s return to Tablet, which makes two interesting arguments. First:
Thus, [the alt-right] wrenches causes like affirmative action, black pride, and Zionism from their historical and moral context—as defenses of minorities against long-standing majority oppression—and inverts them to serve white supremacist aims against minorities.
Well, I don’t think Spencer mentioned affirmative action in this article, but the rest is sensible.
In general, American conservatives tend to believe that moral principles should be applied universally–to quote Kant’s categorical imperative:
Tablet is in effect saying that nationalism is not meant to be a universal political value, but particular to specific groups in specific contexts. The universalizable principle is not nationalism, but, “Nationalism for minority groups in order to protect them from majority groups.”
By this logic, American whites shouldn’t be nationalist vis American non-whites, but South African whites would be perfectly justified in nationalism against South Africa’s black majority. This rule does not tell us, however, whether a group that expects to become a minority in the future is justified in pre-emptively trying to prevent this or look out for their future interests.
(Incidentally, US infants are already majority non-white, and the entire US will be majority non-white around 2050. NPR also estimates that about 20% of the 2060 US population will be foreigners. By contrast, the nation was 84% white back in 1965, before passage of LBJ’s immigration act.)
“Nationalism for everyone” is at least a clear principle that doesn’t get hung up on such nuances as “Are we a minority yet?” or “Are we sufficiently oppressed?” Unfortunately, it leads to other questions, like “Should Basques have their own country?” or “What about Northern Ireland?”
But to return to Spencer and Tablet, it appears that Spencer is working under the assumption that “nationalism is good” is a universal principle applicable to all peoples, while Tablet is working on the assumption that “nationalism is a defense for minority populations against oppression.”
Tablet unnecessarily muddles the waters by adding:
In this manner, the return of Jews to their indigenous homeland is recast by white nationalists, who are not indigenous to America, to justify kicking Jews and other minorities out of the country.
Whoa whoa whoa. “Indigeneity” is a whole different argument. If anyone gets to be called “indigenous” in Israel, it’s the Palestinians. Genetically speaking, claiming indigeneity based on having lived somewhere 2,000 years ago is nonsense–during the 1,900 years of diaspora, pretty much all Jewish groups intermarried with their neighbors and are now about 50% “non Jew” by DNA (most of that on their mothers’ side, as men are nigh universally more likely than women to travel long distances and then take local wives.) Ashkenazim–the majority of Jews–are about 50% Italian, having taken wives from among the Romans after their expulsion from Judea following the destruction of the Second Temple.
For that matter, I would like to point out that the majority of Jews are genetically “white” and that Jewish culture has been part of European culture for almost 2,000 years. (I don’t know how to politely express just how dumb I think two different groups of whites arguing about “white nationalism” is.) Jews have been living in parts of Germany for almost as long as the ethnic Germans, having been officially invited in during the Ostsiedlung. If Jews are indigenous to anywhere, they have a much better argument for Germany and Poland than Israel.
Luckily for me, I think “indigeneity” is a stupid argument and that countries should exist because there exists some entity with the military power to secure the area. By my logic, Israel gets to exist because it does exist: Israel is the only entity with the military strength to control the area, and denying this would just destabilize the area and lead to more deaths.
Likewise, Americans (whites included) have a right to their country because they are already here and controlling it.
Tablet’s justification for why it thinks Spencer (and the alt-right generally) is lying about being interested in white nationalism, or perhaps that white nationalism is comparable to Zionism, is that alt-righters tend not to like Israel or Jews:
That the alt-right does not genuinely support Israel or Zionism—that “they delight in acting in bad faith” on the topic—is readily apparent from how its members talk about Israel when they are not engaged in trolling.
(Here the article quotes several people from Twitter saying negative things about Zionism or Israel, none of whom, I note, are Spencer.)
But I don’t think Spencer (or any other alt-right spokesman) ever claimed to care about Israel. Just because someone believes in the generalized concept of “nationalism” does not mean they care personally about the national ambitions of all peoples. In fact, I wager a Serbian nationalist and a Kosovar nationalist take pretty dim views of each other. Kurdish nationalists have difficulties with Iraqi nationalists; Northern Irish Catholic nationalists don’t get along with Northern Irish Protestant nationalists. An American nationalist may not care one way or another about nationalist ambitions in Guatemala or Indonesia. And white nationalists are under no obligation to care about Jewish nationalism, nor Jews to care about white nationalism.
Here, I think, is the crux of the matter: the point of Zionism is to benefit Jews; the point of white nationalism is to benefit whites. If white nationalism results in Jews getting hurt, then that’s a pretty big practical difference (from the Jewish POV) between the two ideologies. And this, of course, is why Tablet would prefer that you not use Zionism as a justification for an ideology that is–at the very least–filled with people who are anti-Zionist.
“Nationalism for everyone” is a clear principle, but “nationalism for me but not for you,” benefits me much more. This is true for everyone. The only reason whites probably don’t generally think this way is that we’ve been the majority for so long.
But what’s best for the whole of society? It’s easy to say, “Hey, let’s do what’s best for the whole of society” when your group already is most of society. What about minority groups in that same society? Should they–as in the Prisoner’s Dilemma–cooperate with others for the greater good? Or should they look out preferentially for their own good? And what happens in a multi-ethnic society where no group has a clear majority? Can you convince people to cooperate for the greater good, or does the inevitable presence of some people who prefer to cooperate only with co-ethnics and defect on strangers inevitably drive everyone apart?
To be honest, I’m not feeling very optimistic.
Somewhere out there is a little boy who saw this on TV and thought his father had actually been beheaded.
Did Sasha and Malia ever turn on the TV and see their father decapitated? Did Chelsea? Bush II was roundly hated by the left, but even his daughters never witnessed such a horrifying display.
And this message hasn’t gone out to just Trump and his son, but to everyone who voted for Trump–all of his fans, the people who cheered at his rallies or bought his hats–that the Left hates them and wants them to die.
No “side” is perfect. In a nation of 320 million people, you will find bad people on both sides. But the bulk of the political violence in the past year, the running down of people in the street, beating them with crowbars or smashing their cars, has been committed by leftists against Trump supporters.
Meanwhile they scream about “authoritarians” and how Trump is, somehow, going to cause the deaths of thousands of POCs.
And what has Trump actually done so far? Saved a few jobs; deported some people who were living here illegally; withdrawn from a treaty that, let’s face it, most of us knew nothing about two months ago? The wall has not gone up (technically, there already IS a wall on much of the border, where there isn’t a river.) He hasn’t even tried to stop immigration from all Muslim countries (only the 6 countries Obama previously banned immigration from.) He took sides in Syria against the Russians, bombed Assad, and sold millions of dollars in weapons to the Saudis.
I can see why the right might be kind of pissed about all of this, but what does the left have to kvetch about?
The outrage has never been about what Trump actually does or actually says.
It never is.
It’s about the idea of “America First.” The idea of “Make America Great Again.”
Trump’s America might be multicultural. It might embrace gays and straights, blacks and whites, Atheists and Muslims. It might be the best thing for Americans of all stripes.
But to the left, “America” is a white nation. America’s greatness was white greatness, and whiteness must be destroyed. This is the only way to wash away our original sin, racism.
I shall leave you with a quote from Harvard Magazine: Abolish the White Race:
John and I decided that it was time to launch a journal to document that civil war. The result was Race Traitor, whose first issue appeared in the fall of 1992 with the slogan “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity” on its cover. …
The goal of abolishing the white race is on its face so desirable that some may find it hard to believe that it could incur any opposition other than from committed white supremacists. Of course we expected bewilderment from people who still think of race as biology. …
Our standard response is to draw an analogy with anti-royalism: to oppose monarchy does not mean killing the king; it means getting rid of crowns, thrones, royal titles, etc. …
Every group within white America has at one time or another advanced its particular and narrowly defined interests at the expense of black people as a race. That applies to labor unionists, ethnic groups, college students, schoolteachers, taxpayers, and white women. Race Traitor will not abandon its focus on whiteness, no matter how vehement the pleas and how virtuously oppressed those doing the pleading. The editors meant it when they replied to a reader, “Make no mistake about it: we intend to keep bashing the dead white males, and the live ones, and the females too, until the social construct known as ‘the white race’ is destroyed—not ‘deconstructed’ but destroyed.”
Of course, what starts as revolution does, in fact, end with dead monarchs, as Louis XVI and poor little Alexei know all too well. But perhaps Noel Ignatiev is ignorant of Russian and French history–that would require knowing something about the history of white-on-white political violence, and for the people who benefit from that violence, it mysteriously doesn’t exist.
Liberals find repellant the idea of insult*, not because they refuse to be crass or impolite–they are perfectly skilled at being both–but because to say that something is bad and outline the traits that comprise its badness is to say that one thing is better or worse than another thing and that there are certain traits which are, inherently, better or worse than others. Such judgmentalism does not jive with the quest for full equality–equality of spirit, body, and soul.
*except against personal enemies
There’s one strain of thought which holds that liberals (and perhaps conservatives) are a specific ideology that has been transmitted over the centuries, and another that liberality and conservativeness are just personalities that people happen to have.
A related quote:
I tend toward the personality hypothesis, and that society needs both liberal and conservative personalities for optimal functioning (one side is good at generating novel ideas, and the other side is good at preserving things that shouldn’t be changed,) but this is dependent on both sides recognizing this and letting each other be. (Ideally, this is where something like federalism comes in.)
Looking back at American history, there’s one big group of whites that harnessed the power of the Federal government to oppress another big group of whites, in what was likely the largest of all internal American events other than the conquering of the country itself.
600,000 white people died in the process of one group of whites imposing its values on another group of whites. I happen to agree with the victors that slavery is a great moral evil, but I note that most other western countries managed to end slavery without slaughtering their own people in the process.
Now let me stop and declare outright: I am not a Civil War historian, and I know there are thousands, perhaps millions of people more knowledgeable on the subject than I am. I do know, however, that Southern secession was motivated by fear that the North would outlaw slavery and use the power of the Federal government to enforce it.
According to Wikipedia:
The war produced at least 1,030,000 casualties (3 percent of the population), including about 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease, and 50,000 civilians. Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker believes the number of soldier deaths was approximately 750,000, 20 percent higher than traditionally estimated, and possibly as high as 850,000. The war accounted for more American deaths than in all other U.S. wars combined.
Based on 1860 census figures, 8 percent of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6 percent in the North and 18 percent in the South. About 56,000 soldiers died in prison camps during the War. An estimated 60,000 men lost limbs in the war.
You might think that all of this was at least for the good for the slaves, but according to historian Jim Downs of Connecticut College, thousands of the freed slaves died of hunger, disease, and exposure in the aftermath of the war:
as Downs shows in his book, Sick From Freedom, the reality of emancipation during the chaos of war and its bloody aftermath often fell brutally short of that positive image. Instead, freed slaves were often neglected by union soldiers or faced rampant disease, including horrific outbreaks of smallpox and cholera. Many of them simply starved to death.
After combing through obscure records, newspapers and journals Downs believes that about a quarter of the four million freed slaves either died or suffered from illness between 1862 and 1870. He writes in the book that it can be considered “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century” and yet it is one that has been little investigated by contemporary historians. …
Downs reconstructed the experiences of one freed slave, Joseph Miller, who had come with his wife and four children to a makeshift freed slave refugee camp within the union stronghold of Camp Nelson in Kentucky. In return for food and shelter for his family Miller joined the army. Yet union soldiers in 1864 still cleared the ex-slaves out of Camp Nelson, effectively abandoning them to scavenge in a war-ravaged and disease-ridden landscape. One of Miller’s young sons quickly sickened and died. Three weeks later, his wife and another son died. Ten days after that, his daughter perished too. Finally, his last surviving child also fell terminally ill. By early 1865 Miller himself was dead. …
Things were so bad that one military official in Tennessee in 1865 wrote that former slaves were: “dying by scores – that sometimes 30 per day die and are carried out by wagonloads without coffins, and thrown promiscuously, like brutes, into a trench”.
So bad were the health problems suffered by freed slaves, and so high the death rates, that some observers of the time even wondered if they would all die out.
The echoes of this moral imposition are still with us. There are those who refer to the government as “we” and “us,” as in “We ought to do something about poverty” or “we should make healthcare a basic right” and then there are those who refer to the government as something alien and outside, as in “the government killed 85 people in Waco.” (By the way, it looks like the Branch Davidians set their own compound on fire.) or “the government is raising taxes on the middle class.”
Surely one of the most grievously forgotten authors of the 20th century is Freda Utley. In the immortal words of Rutger Hauer, Utley “saw things… you people wouldn’t believe” – she moved to Moscow as a Communist true believer in the 1930s, lost her husband to the Gulag, and never remarried. Her honesty and fearlessness did not make her popular, especially when she spoke out against American abuses in the occupation of Germany, or against Maoism 40 years before it was fashionable. …
Perhaps Utley’s most acute realization in Odyssey, though on a trivial subject, is when she notices that her friend Bertrand Russell always uses the word “we” to refer to the government. She points out that this little linguistic tic is an unmistakable mark of any ruling class.
Apparently this “nostrism” (if I can risk another obscure quasicoinage) was more unusual in the ’50s than it is now. Because, although I have tried repeatedly to break myself of the habit, I use exactly the same pronoun. It’s an unmistakable sign of my Brahmin upbringing. I can’t imagine counting the number of times I’ve heard someone say “we should…” when what they really mean is “the government should…” Language is repetition, and though my considered view is that it’s just as bizarre to define “we” as the US Federal Government, especially for someone who isn’t actually an employee of said entity, as it would be to use the first person plural for Safeway, Comcast or OfficeMax, habits die hard.
Today, Russell-style nostrism is peculiar, I believe, to the Brahmin caste. Certainly Helots, Dalits, and Vaisyas all think of the government as very much “they.” If Optimates go with “we,” it’s probably because they’re so used to having to pass as Brahmins. I find it rather hard to imagine a cardiologist or a hedge-fund hotshot genuinely thinking of Uncle Sam as “we.”
Given that this is Moldbug, this is actually a short quote.
More culturally, there are those who generally think the government is on their side and can be used to solve social problems, (or at least they did before Trump was elected,) and those who think the government is basically against them and creates social problems, and which side you’re on probably has a lot to do with whether or not the government marched in and burned down your great-great-great-grandparents’ farm in 1864. Today the South remains poorer than the North, which they blame on the long-term effects of the war and punitive reconstruction policies. (Which is about as true as the story about Japan being poor today because the US military bombed its cities to smithereens.) Nevertheless, much American politics can be simplified as a continuing conflict between poor southerners and rich northerners.
The group that currently talks a lot about “institutional racism,” “white privilege,” and the importance of using the government to correct social ills through programs like Welfare and Affirmative Action happens also to be on the side that did the marching back in 1864 (even if they are actually just the children of immigrants who only recently moved to the area.)
Let’s take a quick look at poverty in America:
(Obviously poverty is relative and few of us are living in what passes for poverty in the third world, but let’s stay on topic.) So here is the census data (pdf) on poverty rates by race:
Obviously blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans have the highest poverty rates, while whites and Asians have the lowest.
But remember that there are a lot more whites than anyone else in America. When you multiply poverty rates by actual numbers, you get 17.8 million whites in poverty compared to 10 million blacks. (source.)
And as you might have noticed, we still live in a democracy, where numbers matter.
Summary: The side that thinks it imperative that we listen to their ideas for how government should end the poverty of black communities doesn’t understand why the white communities whose ancestors were invaded and killed by that same government, who are actually the biggest community of poor people in the US, disagree with them on the matter.
This might just be coincidence. I’m certain there are other factors involved (including genetics.) But it might also be an important thing to keep in mind when trying to convince others of the importance of using the government to enforce social change.
This is a theory about a general trend.
Liberals tend to be very good at learning specific, detailed bits of information, but bad at big-picture ideas. Conservatives tend to be good at big-picture ideas, but bad at specific details. In other words, liberals are the guys who can’t see the forest for the trees, while conservatives have a habit of referring to all trees as “oaks.”
Or all sodas as Cokes:
Waitress: What would y’all like to drink?
Lady: Oh, I’ll have a Coke.
Waitress: All right, what kind of Coke?
Lady: Diet Pepsi.
When conservatives speak of general trends among people, liberals are prone to protesting that “Not all X are like that.” For liberals, the fact that one guy might be an exception to a general trend is important enough to mention in any discussion. Liberals who want to un-gender pregnancy discussion, because “men can get pregnant, too,” are a perfect example of this. (See my previous post about TERFS.)
This post was inspired by a friend’s complaint that “Trump keeps saying untrue things,” to which I responded that the Hillary also says lots of untrue things. It seems to me that there is a distinct pattern in the kinds of untruths each camp engages in.
If you ask the average conservative to define the races of man, he’d probably tell you: black, white, and Asian. Give him a crayon and a map of the world, and he’d probably produce something like this:
Ask the average liberal to define the races of man, and he’ll tell you that race is a social construct and that there’s more genetic variation within races than between them.
Both of these statements are basically correct, (but see here) but in different ways. The Conservative misses the within-racial variety (and may draw the racial borders incorrectly, eg, assuming that north Africans or Australians are Black.) And the Liberal misses that race is actually a real thing, and that the issue of genetic between vs. within also holds true for different species (see: species is a social construct,) and yet we still recognize that “dog” is a useful word for describing a real category of things we encounter in the real world.
Conservatives are prone to saying things like, “Blacks commit more crime than whites,” and liberals are prone to responding that the majority of black people aren’t criminals.
NBC perhaps went too far down this path when they claimed that Trump had lied for saying Clinton “acid washed” her email server, when in fact she had used an app called BleachBit. Sure, bleach is a weak base, not an acid, but I don’t think Trump was actually trying to discuss chemistry in this case.
When the newsmedia claimed that the Syrian refugees pouring into Germany would be “good for the German economy,” this was obviously false. Yes, some Syrians are exceptionally bright, hardworking, motivated people who will do their best to benefit their new home. But most refugees are traumatized and don’t speak the local language. Few people would argue that the Syrian educational system turns out grads with test scores equal to the German system. It’s one thing to take refugees for pure humanitarian reasons, because you care about them as people. It’s another thing to pretend that refugees are going to make the average German richer. They won’t.
When Trump says there is so much wrong with black communities, so much poverty and violence, he is, broadly speaking, correct. When Hillary says there is so much good in black communities, like black businesses and churches, she is, narrowly speaking, also correct.
Of course, as Conway et al caution [warning PDF]:
Prior research suggests that liberals are more complex than conservatives. However, it may be that liberals are not more complex in general, but rather only more complex on certain topic domains (while conservatives
are more complex in other domains). Four studies (comprised of over 2,500 participants) evaluated this idea. … By making only small adjustments to a popularly used dogmatism scale, results show that liberals can be significantly more dogmatic if a liberal domain is made salient. Studies 2–4 involve the domain specificity of integrative complexity. A large number of open-ended responses from college students (Studies 2 and 3) and candidates in the 2004 Presidential election (Study 4) across an array of topic domains reveals little or no main effect of political ideology on integrative complexity, but rather topic domain by ideology interactions. Liberals are higher in complexity on some topics, but conservatives are higher on others.
So I was thinking about taste (flavor) and disgust (emotion.)
As I mentioned about a month ago, 25% of people are “supertasters,” that is, better at tasting than the other 75% of people. Supertasters experience flavors more intensely than ordinary tasters, resulting in a preference for “bland” food (food with too much flavor is “overwhelming” to them.) They also have a more difficult time getting used to new foods.
One of my work acquaintances of many years –we’ll call her Echo–is obese, constantly on a diet, and constantly eats sweets. She knows she should eat vegetables and tries to do so, but finds them bitter and unpleasant, and so the general outcome is as you expect: she doesn’t eat them.
Since I find most vegetables quite tasty, I find this attitude very strange–but I am willing to admit that I may be the one with unusual attitudes toward food.
Echo is also quite conservative.
This got me thinking about vegetarians vs. people who think vegetarians are crazy. Why (aside from novelty of the idea) should vegetarians be liberals? Why aren’t vegetarians just people who happen to really like vegetables?
What if there were something in preference for vegetables themselves that correlated with political ideology?
Certainly we can theorize that “supertaster” => “vegetables taste bitter” => “dislike of vegetables” => “thinks vegetarians are crazy.” (Some supertasters might think meat tastes bad, but anecdotal evidence doesn’t support this; see also Wikipedia, where supertasting is clearly associated with responses to plants:
Any evolutionary advantage to supertasting is unclear. In some environments, heightened taste response, particularly to bitterness, would represent an important advantage in avoiding potentially toxic plant alkaloids. In other environments, increased response to bitterness may have limited the range of palatable foods. …
Although individual food preference for supertasters cannot be typified, documented examples for either lessened preference or consumption include:
- Certain alcoholic beverages (gins, tequilas, and hoppy beers)
- Brassica oleracea cultivars (become very sulfurous, especially if overcooked)
- Grapefruit juice
- Green tea
- Soy products
- Carbonated water
- Anise and licorice
- Lower-sodium foods)
Mushrooms? Echo was just complaining about mushrooms.
Let’s talk about disgust. Disgust is an important reaction to things that might infect or poison you, triggering reactions from scrunching up your face to vomiting (ie, expelling the poison.) We process disgust in our amygdalas, and some people appear to have bigger or smaller amygdalas than others, with the result that the folks with more amygdalas feel more disgust.
Humans also route a variety of social situations through their amygdalas, resulting in the feeling of “disgust” in response to things that are not rotten food, like other people’s sexual behaviors, criminals, or particularly unattractive people. People with larger amygdalas also tend to find more human behaviors disgusting, and this disgust correlates with social conservatism.
To what extent are “taste” and “disgust” independent of each other? I don’t know; perhaps they are intimately linked into a single feedback system, where disgust and taste sensitivity cause each other, or perhaps they are relatively independent, so that a few unlucky people are both super-sensitive to taste and easily disgusted.
People who find other people’s behavior disgusting and off-putting may also be people who find flavors overwhelming, prefer bland or sweet foods over bitter ones, think vegetables are icky, vegetarians are crazy, and struggle to stay on diets.
What’s that, you say, I’ve just constructed a just-so story?
Well, this is the part where I go looking for evidence. It turns out that obesity and political orientation do correlate:
Michael Shin and William McCarthy, researchers from UCLA, have found an association between counties with higher levels of support for the 2012 Republican presidential candidate and higher levels of obesity in those counties.
Looks like the Mormons and Southern blacks are outliers.
(I don’t really like maps like this for displaying data; I would much prefer a simple graph showing orientation on one axis and obesity on the other, with each county as a datapoint.)
(Unsurprisingly, the first 49 hits I got when searching for correlations between political orientation and obesity were almost all about what other people think of fat people, not what fat people think. This is probably because researchers tend to be skinny people who want to fight “fat phobia” but aren’t actually interested in the opinions of fat people.)
Disgust also correlates with political belief, but we already knew that.
A not entirely scientific survey also indicates that liberals seem to like vegetables better than conservatives:
- Liberals are 28 percent more likely than conservatives to eat fresh fruit daily, and 17 percent more likely to eat toast or a bagel in the morning, while conservatives are 20 percent more likely to skip breakfast.
- Ten percent of liberals surveyed indicated they are vegetarians, compared with 3 percent of conservatives.
- Liberals are 28 percent more likely than conservatives to enjoy beer, with 60 percent of liberals indicating they like beer.
(See above where Wikipedia noted that supertasters dislike beer.) I will also note that coffee, which supertasters tend to dislike because it is too bitter, is very popular in the ultra-liberal cities of Portland and Seattle, whereas heavily sweetened iced tea is practically the official beverage of the South.
The only remaining question is if supertasters are conservative. That may take some research.
Update: I have not found, to my disappointment, a simple study that just looks at correlation between ideology and supertasting (or nontasting.) However, I have found a couple of useful items.
In Verbal priming and taste sensitivity make moral transgressions gross, Herz writes:
Standard tests of disgust sensitivity, a questionnaire developed for this research assessing different types of moral transgressions (nonvisceral, implied-visceral, visceral) with the terms “angry” and “grossed-out,” and a taste sensitivity test of 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) were administered to 102 participants. [PROP is commonly used to test for “supertasters.”] Results confirmed past findings that the more sensitive to PROP a participant was the more disgusted they were by visceral, but not moral, disgust elicitors. Importantly, the findings newly revealed that taste sensitivity had no bearing on evaluations of moral transgressions, regardless of their visceral nature, when “angry” was the emotion primed. However, when “grossed-out” was primed for evaluating moral violations, the more intense PROP tasted to a participant the more “grossed-out” they were by all transgressions. Women were generally more disgust sensitive and morally condemning than men, … The present findings support the proposition that moral and visceral disgust do not share a common oral origin, but show that linguistic priming can transform a moral transgression into a viscerally repulsive event and that susceptibility to this priming varies as a function of an individual’s sensitivity to the origins of visceral disgust—bitter taste. [bold mine.]
In other words, supertasters are more easily disgusted, and with verbal priming will transfer that disgust to moral transgressions. (And easily disgusted people tend to be conservatives.)
The Effect of Calorie Information on Consumers’ Food Choice: Sources of Observed Gender Heterogeneity, by Heiman and Lowengart, states:
While previous studies found that inherited taste-blindness to bitter compounds such
as PROP may be a risk factor for obesity, this literature has been hotly disputed
(Keller et al. 2010).
(Always remember, of course, that a great many social-science studies ultimately do not replicate.)
I’ll let you know if I find anything else.
“But wait,” I hear you saying, “Isn’t this the beginning?”
Mainstream American conservatives (perhaps all conservatives) are essentially reactive. Not reactionary, mind. That word has a different meaning in this context. Just reactive.
Liberals come up with new ideas, and conservatives react by opposing them. Liberals are high-class, in-party; their ideas make it into university curricula and influence the nation’s movers and shakers. By the time conservatives (who do not usually run in liberal circles, nor read much from university presses,) notice a liberal idea, it has already become quite widespread. And nothing makes an idea seem old and passe quite like having it suddenly associated with the out-party, the politically low-class and uncool folks who vote Republican.
BTW, if you are the “homophobic uncle” or “racist grandma” at family functions, try to turn this into a secret power: make ideas sound bad just by talking about them. Global warming? Caused by immigrant-driven population growth! Rising wealth inequality? Clearly capitalists would rather hire illegal immigrants than pay blacks a living wage–build the wall! You support Hillary Clinton because she voted for the Iraq war! Etc.
Report back to me if it works. I’m curious.
But back on subject: the upshot of this is that by the time the Republicans notice something and start making a big deal out of it, it is already too late. The trends are already in place and moving inexorably against them.
Back in the ’80s, we witnessed the rise of the “Christian right;” throughout the 90s, “conservative” and “Republican” were synonymous with “Evangelical Christianity.” They ran on platforms that included banning abortion, reinstating prayer in school, replacing the theory of evolution with Biblical creationism in school textbooks, and general opposition to “Godless liberals.”
They have failed pretty spectacularly. While they have made some piecemeal hacks at abortion, it is still basically legal through out the country. Creationism and “Intelligent Design” have both been struck down as unconstitutional due to being blatantly religious. And you probably know the story on prayer in school even better than I do.
(This is a little disappointing coming out of a party that could count among its recent accomplishments normalizing relations with China, nuclear reduction treaties with the Soviets, and overseeing the peaceful collapse of the entire USSR.)
Conservatives of the ’80s and ’90s could tell that the country was becoming increasingly secular, and reacted accordingly by trying to force it back to religiosity. Unfortunately for them, increasingly religious => fewer and fewer people who are even interested in their religious agenda. Despite the fact that abortion is still legal and school prayer is still illegal, even conservatives have moved on to other priorities.
During Bush II, Republicans launched a big push to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The measure failed; gay marriage is now not only legal, but constitutionally protected.
No one bothered with passing an anti-gay marriage amendment back in the ’50s, when Republicans could have actually gotten the numbers necessary to do it. Since the vast majority of people thought homosexuality was immoral, there was no push to legalize gay marriage, and so no one would have bothered with passing amendments against it. Once enough people were in favor of gay marriage to put it on the national agenda, the trends were clear: soon the majority of people would favor gay marriage, and an amendment did not pass.
It was the last, desperate thrashing of a cornered beast.
Today, people have noticed–finally–that America’s demographics are changing.
Of course, the time to do something about this was before the demographics changed. In 1900, the US was about 88% white, 12% black, and <1% Hispanic. Today, whites are 64%, blacks are still 12%, and Hispanics are 16% of the population. (Asians and others comprise an additional 8%.)
According to the census bureau, in 2012, American infants were 50% white and 50% non-white–about 25% of American children are now Hispanic.
The time to care about changing US demographics was 1965, when LBJ and Ted Kennedy’s Immigration and Naturalization Act quadrupled the number of (legal) immigrants per year from 250,000 to 1 million. 1975 and 1985 would also have been good years to start caring.
In 1950, there were 500,000 Hispanics in the US. Today, there are 5o.5 million. Even if you built a wall between the US and Mexico yesterday and deported 11 million illegal immigrants, that would still leave 39 million newcomers and their children whom you cannot get rid of.
By 2050, the US will be less than half white, and American children will be only 40% white.
Interestingly, the last time a Democrat won a majority of white votes was 1964–LBJ. Republicans have been the “white” party–though they may not have realized it–since 1968.
But this does not mean that whites vote overwhelmingly for the Republicans. Even blacks occasionally vote for Republicans–about 5% of them voted for Bush II. As whites near 50%, even 10% voting for the Democrats will consign Republicans to the losers, while an identifiably “white” party will have difficulty attracting non-white voters.
No matter how much effort the Republicans put into attracting white voters (and likely they will put a great deal of effort into it over the next few elections,) the numbers are moving against them.
You can’t maintain a majority with a shrinking % of the population. (Though, of course, we are talking about a process that will take decades.)
But we live in a two-party system, and the system will re-assert itself with a new set of balanced coalitions that can win, perhaps a system that pits Hispanics and Asians against whites and blacks, or some other random thing. (I am not guessing.) But that won’t happen until the Republicans are weak enough that Democrats can safely split.
A lot of people are talking about the Trump candidacy “realigning” or “reshaping” the American political landscape and things like that. Like why would traditionally blue-state voters in places like NY vote for a guy who’s also carrying traditionally red-states like Kentucky? Is the whole Albion’s seed-style ethno/political makeup of the nation breaking down after nearly 400 years?
Look, when it comes to politics, conservatives are basically just reactive. There are some smart conservatives, of course–I’d wager they do well in fields like economics, finance, sports broadcasting, and military strategy–but conservatives overall do not dominate the production of new social ideas. It’s the liberals, somewhat by nature, who keep coming up with ideas like, “What if we let women have abortions?” “What if we all took LSD?” “What if we didn’t eat animals?” or “What if we let gay people get married?”
So the conservatives devote themselves to opposing whatever the hell cockamamie scheme the liberals have come up with this time.
During the Cold War, I’m pretty sure the conservative opposed the liberals on the grounds that the liberals were commie peaceniks who weren’t doing enough to ensure that we would win the nuclear war against the USSR.
By the ’80s, conservatives were visibly concerned about shifting national attitudes toward religion, especially as it impacted things like abortion, divorce, the teaching of evolution in schools, whether local governments could make religious displays, etc. “Talk radio” became an important bastion in the “Religious Right,” which by the mid-90s had won a sweeping victory in Congress.
When people talk about how no president has ever been so hated as Obama, I wonder if they remember just how much the right hated Clinton.
And what did they hate him for?
Because he represented degenerate, godless atheism. (Never mind that Bill Clinton is probably actually Christian; that doesn’t really matter.)
Reagan and Bush I may have been religious conservatives, but religious conservatism was not a big part of their campaigns. By contrast, Bob Dole, Bush II, and mildly, Mitt Romney, all ran on the religious right platform, with strong planks based on ideas like “ban abortion” and “make sure gay marriage stays illegal.” Bush II even managed to establish an “Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.”
Meanwhile, though, liberals were changing. The big liberal push of the past 8 years has not been atheism; atheism has largely won already and atheists have wandered off to fight other battles, taking to the streets to protest racism. Thus the campus protests, the Black Lives Matter campaigns, the increasing push for open borders. Today, Germany; tomorrow, the US. Today’s liberals are, first and foremost, anti-racists.
The Republican establishment–folks like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson–fell so flat with voters precisely because most of them were still harping on religious issues like abortion and war with the Russians that were a concern with Reagan’s and Bob Dole’s voters, not today’s.
Today’s conservatives do not exactly want to come out and declare themselves racist bigots–in fact, the vast majority of them don’t see themselves as racists, and many are quite vehemently opposed to racism. This makes people reluctant to say anything negative about blacks, which gets instantly called out as racist. But you can still say things about immigrants, especially illegal immigrants. There’s just enough plausible deniability (both for others and yourself) to claim that you are not opposed to Mexicans, per se, you are just opposed to people breaking the law and think that if the law exists, then it ought to be enforced or else it is unfair to the people who did obey it. And for that matter, many of them really aren’t opposed to Mexicans; they are just broke and unable to find work and have enough brains in their heads to figure out what a massive flood of low-wage workers does to their chances of finding a well-paying job.
Of course, in the backs of people’s minds, it is not just about immigrants; it is also about BLM protestors, the November terrorist attacks in Paris, and the conviction that if elected, Hillary Clinton will follow in Angela Merkel’s footsteps and invite a million Muslims to the US.
This is why they say, “I don’t hate blacks; I don’t hate Mexicans. I just hate liberals.”