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The Tea Party: Karma, American-style
November 23, 2010 7:08 PM   Subscribe

The Tea Party: Karma, American-style

Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of "The Happiness Hypothesis", writes in the Wall Street Journal that the fundamental motivation of America's Tea Party movement is a belief in the law of karma:

The notion of karma comes with lots of new-age baggage, but it is an old and very conservative idea. It is the Sanskrit word for "deed" or "action," and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it's just a law of the universe, like gravity.

Karma is not an exclusively Hindu idea. It combines the universal human desire that moral accounts should be balanced with a belief that, somehow or other, they will be balanced. In 1932, the great developmental psychologist Jean Piaget found that by the age of 6, children begin to believe that bad things that happen to them are punishments for bad things they have done.

To understand the anger of the tea-party movement, just imagine how you would feel if you learned that government physicists were building a particle accelerator that might, as a side effect of its experiments, nullify the law of gravity. Everything around us would float away, and the Earth itself would break apart. Now, instead of that scenario, suppose you learned that politicians were devising policies that might, as a side effect of their enactment, nullify the law of karma. Bad deeds would no longer lead to bad outcomes, and the fragile moral order of our nation would break apart. For tea partiers, this scenario is not science fiction. It is the last 80 years of American history.
posted by jhandey (96 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering.

how can one argue about that.
Is this because of taxes? don't pay them....?
posted by clavdivs at 7:14 PM on November 23, 2010


Ah, so basically the Tea Party belief system is largely derived from confirmation bias.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:16 PM on November 23, 2010 [26 favorites]


Listen, for example, to Rick Santelli's "rant heard 'round the world" on CNBC last year and its most famous lines: "The government is promoting bad behavior," and "How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors' mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills?" It's a rant about karma, not liberty.


Out of context, I can sort of see the argument for a karma-based philosophy in this.

However, this is what Santelli recently did on a July 2010 appearance on CNBC:

Liesman tried one more time to question how “we are going to cut taxes and deficit spending at the same time.” Santelli yelled, “Go back to Russia where you understand the state and the citizen” and walked off the set.

link:
http://thinkprogress.org/2010/06/29/santelli-spending/

If Santelli were motivated by karma, it's hard to see it in this ideological idiocy that sounds straight outta 1950
posted by angrycat at 7:20 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I thought it was just plain old resentment and spite.
posted by notyou at 7:22 PM on November 23, 2010 [18 favorites]


Emerson called it the "Law of Compensation" and wrote that “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” And, “The whole of what we know is a system of compensations. Every defect in one manner is made up in another. Every suffering is rewarded; every sacrifice is made up; every debt is paid.” If there is anything true in life, it is true that nature is dedicated above all else to leveling gradients and balancing extremes. Here's a brief overview of the Law of Compensation -- and the impossibility of escaping it -- by a guy named Chuck Gallozzi.
posted by Faze at 7:23 PM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Flagged as "single WSJ link with no content or context".
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:23 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


notyou: it is. This smacks of a spin/whitewash article.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:24 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't want to "understand the anger of the tea-party movement."
Stupidity remains insidious.
posted by emhutchinson at 7:27 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


"We've all got to be in the boat. We've all got to row as one. And if you are not going to row, get the hell out of the way or stop getting in mine." It's the perfect fusion of karmic thinking and conservative binding".
posted by clavdivs at 7:31 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is why it's so very difficult to have a conversation with those who believe in this type of "karma." Every response, every counterargument is met with "But I EARNED it! No one EVER helped me."

I've had a number of discussions with those inclined towards the Tea Party and their politics and it doesn't matter what qualifications you put on individual success, they remain convinced that they pulled themselves up from abject poverty and succeeded completely on their own. And they firmly believe that because they have done everything by themselves that anyone else can do the same. Any help they may have gotten is something that people could have if they only worked harder. Parents that encourage you...anyone can have it if the parents make up their mind to do so. Education...you just have to apply yourself even if the school sucks. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome...whatever, it's just an excuse.

There's nothing you can say to people who believe they've earned everything they have. Sadly, they never learned the other part of karma which is that we are all connected and have to work together. No man is an island.
posted by teleri025 at 7:33 PM on November 23, 2010 [32 favorites]


That's a strange sense of karma as meritocracy, where they can be silent about immigrant workers' rights, police killing unarmed citizens, or, say, elected officials starting wars on false pretenses.

Unless, you mean, karma, as in the transmigration of souls and the idea of a caste system, where you get to "Take your country back" because you were lucky enough to be born the correct color/heritage rather than any particular work, effort or virtue you've shown in this life. In which case, the outrage isn't about the breakdown of merit, as much as having the undesirables living in your neighborhoods, going to your schools, being your boss, etc.

Because really, only someone who has totally bought into the idea there must be masters and slaves, a caste system, can write shit like, "Obama's Plan: White Slavery". I guess freedom is a zero sum game, huh?
posted by yeloson at 7:33 PM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's the wheel of a mobility scooter rolling across a human face -- forever.
posted by gimonca at 7:34 PM on November 23, 2010 [47 favorites]


The karma idea just flat out doesn't work. Inescapability is an irreducible, fundamental aspect of the idea of karma; karma that could be subverted wouldn't be karma.

Doesn't he just mean that Tea Partiers rely on a sense of justice, but a sense of justice that differs from 60's Great Society justice?

Pretty weak article from a smart guy like that.
posted by facetious at 7:37 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yet here, too, liberals have long been uncomfortable with karma, because even when you create equal opportunity, differences in talent and effort result in unequal outcomes. These inequalities must then be reduced by progressive taxation, affirmative action and other heavy-handed government intervention.

This is where I started shaking my head. "Even when you create equal opportunity..." Please define where and how we have done this. When I compare the (all white, affluent) public high school I attended to the schools downtown (almost all black/hispanic, utterly broken) I don't think that you could say those students had the same, equal opportunity that I did. It's not simply "differences in talent and effort" that result in these unequal outcomes. It's the long tail of racism and segregation in America.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:39 PM on November 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


It is the Sanskrit word for "deed" or "action," and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering.

Tell it to Matthew Shepard, tell it to the men women and children murdered in Auschwitz. Karma may make sense if you're talking about reincarnation but it breaks down in a hurry if you leave out that whole "other lives" part.

Jean Piaget found that by the age of 6, children begin to believe that bad things that happen to them are punishments for bad things they have done.

Looking at the world like a 6 year old may be part of the problem.
posted by nola at 7:39 PM on November 23, 2010 [26 favorites]



even violent crime was partially shielded from punishment (by liberal reforms that aimed to protect defendants and limit the powers of the police).

And who is it that shields big business from the police? From regulation?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:42 PM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's status anxiety. The only karma they want is for liberals, immigrants, and non-whites to fail, so that "real" Americans will regain the rightful place they had before the Sixties.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:45 PM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


That article was one of the most insightful pieces I've ever read from a publication in Murdoch's talons.

Why do Americans (in general) base their political worldview upon an emotional gut political reaction? There is a demand for karma in the political sphere, it's undeniable. It is the basis of things as disparate as American war policy to the death penalty. Why is policy based on forethought not merely rejected, but treated with abject contempt by the American public?
posted by banal evil at 7:47 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course Tea Partiers fail to apply their ideals in contexts they're not familiar with. Everyone does that sometimes, it's a common human failing.

It seems like this article is trying to talk about what the ideals are, which is a different thing than how consistently they're implemented.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:47 PM on November 23, 2010


I found the article interesting. It goes some way to explain something I don't understand.
posted by ob at 7:52 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bad deeds would no longer lead to bad outcomes, and the fragile moral order of our nation would break apart.

Heh. Whole lot of unexamined assumptions there, most of which lead back to the whole Tea Partiers being a pack of racists thing. If that whole privlege/invisble backpack thing wasn't primarily a rhetorical device used for freaking out about SF movie casting decisions I'd be tempted to employ it here.

Still, possibly a grain of truth to it being how they think.

To be honest, I think the truth of it is that American politics are led by people who easily get excited about things without really knowing what they are. Looking back on it, the 2008 election was basically America electing a poster and a slogan, and the 2010 elections were the other side electing their slogans and posters in response.
posted by Artw at 7:54 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is policy based on forethought not merely rejected, but treated with abject contempt by the American public?

Because one consequence of forethought is realizing you may not get everything you want, and in America, you are supposed to get everything you want, always. To sacrifice some of what you want for more of what you need is anathema.

posted by spicynuts at 7:57 PM on November 23, 2010


The tea party: An alliance of social conservatives and economic libertarians, united in opposition against economic and social liberalism. In other words, Republicans.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:58 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


'The Founder of the State. Whoever founded
A state that was free, in the dead of winter, from mice?
What a beautiful tableau tinted and towering,
The arm of bronze outstretched against all evil!'

-Wallace Stevens
posted by clavdivs at 8:05 PM on November 23, 2010


Sorry, why are we calling that "karma" when there's a perfectly acceptable "just world fallacy" out there in the world?

It is common in fiction for the bad guys to lose and the good guys to win.

It’s how you would like to see the world- just and fair.

In psychology, the tendency to believe this is how the real world actually works is called the Just-World Fallacy.

More specifically, this is the tendency to react to horrible misfortune, like homelessness or drug addiction, by believing the people stuck in horrible situations must have done something to deserve it.

posted by Jilder at 8:10 PM on November 23, 2010 [25 favorites]


People would need to be paid bribes before they'd consider getting a blood transfusion from a convicted child molester? And that's a moral issue? Uhh... that's not how blood works. Or morals.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:11 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


If karma works, Tea Party's days sure are numbered.
posted by vidur at 8:11 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you view all human relationships as a form of domination, justice and freedom (and all other value abstractions on relationships) become zero-sum games. So you aren't "free" unless you are taking your freedom from someone else.

I suspect that what is going on in this article is Haidt is just respinning his research to make it palatable to the new political big dogs. Because if you read carefully, he's not really done any research into the Tea Party, just extrapolated more general findings and applied it to them.

This isn't karma. This is Calvinist predetermination. Why are those people suffering? Because God hated them before they were born and so should we. Why are we privileged? Because God loved us before we were born. Our oppression of others is divinely ordained and therefore not only right, but just. Now watch this drive.
posted by warbaby at 8:13 PM on November 23, 2010 [58 favorites]


Not a big fan of the word karma as it is used in the English-speaking world. Think the writer should have used fairness instead. More in tune with what Tea Partiers might say about themselves.

/slight derail -->

I prefer the non-theistic concept of karma in certain forms of Buddhist philosophy, that is unconnected with fairness or justice - words closer to what the writer wants to say. There, karma is more closely related to fate, destiny or doom, in that it is an inescapable force of universal balance, and unrelated to human concepts of right and wrong. Karma are actions within a system that not only dictates that who is now good shall be bad, but also that who is now tall shall be short, that what is now a grain of dust shall be a shining jewel, that what is now future shall be past, and that what is now you shall be a star. Karma are the actions that lead to change within the great circle.
posted by jet_manifesto at 8:26 PM on November 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


People would need to be paid bribes before they'd consider getting a blood transfusion from a convicted child molester? And that's a moral issue? Uhh... that's not how blood works. Or morals.

No, but it's unfortunately how a lot of peoples' brains work.
posted by Jimbob at 8:27 PM on November 23, 2010


warbaby, brilliant observation.
posted by nola at 8:32 PM on November 23, 2010


We thought we were going to get a million dollars! It's not fair!

Not fair? Who's the fucking nihilist libertarian fiscal conservative Tea Partier here! What are you, a bunch of fucking crybabies?
posted by Existential Dread at 8:33 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If karma really worked the way people want it to work, we'd all - every single one of us - be totally fucked by the end of the hour.
Yet here, too, liberals have long been uncomfortable with karma, because even when you create equal opportunity, differences in talent and effort result in unequal outcomes. These inequalities must then be reduced by progressive taxation, affirmative action and other heavy-handed government intervention.
And that, right there, encapsulates pretty much why any sort of debate involving the terms 'liberal' or 'left' in America is doomed to failure - it conflates equality of opportunity (the first sentence) with equality of outcome (the second sentence). Wingnuts on both sides believe the the first naturally means the second; for the ones on the left, it's an aim, for the ones on the right, it's a fear.

(There are also similar dogmas where the positions are reversed…)
posted by Pinback at 8:37 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Badmouth your own nation while calling into a radio show in another nation."

Replace 'radio show' with 'CTV' and make that other nation 'Canada', and I already did that. For free, even!

I visited Vancouver, BC on a random weekend because I had that Friday off, and I felt like a trip. However, it was also during the very start of the current Iraq war, and unbeknownst to me, Vancouver was holding a massive anti-war/anti-USA/anti-Bush rally and march. Which I literally stumbled into, as it was right downtown at the Art Museum. I joined right in, also thinking this war was immoral, and as soon as I talked to somebody, my accent game me away as one of Those Dirty Americans. But, they were nice to me once people realized that I was on their side, my presence attracted the press, and I was pressed to explain why I thought my own President was a doodyhead re:Iraq to the Canadian news. No idea if it was ever broadcast, or if it was either local or national news.

Perhaps I can get that payment retroactively...
posted by spinifex23 at 8:39 PM on November 23, 2010


A Wall Street journalist takes a new age version of an ancient Vedic concept and misapplies it to group dynamics masquerading as politics. Half of the article is clogged with strange pseudo-psychological statistics, masquerading the unadulterated weirdness of the premise. I blame this clusterfuck of an article on a mixture of drugs, desperation, and a deadline.
posted by kozad at 8:40 PM on November 23, 2010 [14 favorites]


Arrest this man!
posted by Rangeboy at 8:51 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right, and we can't provide healthcare, because sick people are to blame for their illnesses. Influenza means you're under the influence of the devil! And don't get me started on mental illness...
posted by Eideteker at 8:54 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


i'd like to thank the tea party for giving me fresh reasons to drink myself stupid.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:10 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nobody is getting what they deserve. The angry people on the right are correct: they are being short-changed, they are being bamboozled, they are being treated unfairly. But the culprits that they identify (Muslims, illegal immigrants, feminists, the Chinese whoever) are in the same boat.

They are so certain that someone is making out like a bandit and they are being cheated of their humanity. But everyone is. Even the super-rich, who most certainly are not getting what they deserve, are gaining riches at the expense of dignity, grace, empathy, and any connection with other human beings. They grow more and more isolated and insecure and the gap widens. They are disappointing in their grasping cluelessness.

This world is on fire. In the aggregate, the world of humans has pretty much always been pretty terrible and unfair. The halcyon days of yesteryear in the "founding of this great nation" never existed. These same complaints have always been made. But now all of the institutions are falling apart, the world over, and there is no one in a position of strength. Just scrabbling and pettiness.

It's a system. It's a structure that is falling apart. A corrupt structure that was never really any good for anybody in the long run, but at least there used to be stability somewhere in their world, and a dream that someone could be on top. Now all they see is a multitude of bubbles bursting and they don't know who to blame.

No one has ever gotten what they deserved but there were always a million little explanations to justify it and our social institutions (education, church, family, financial system, etc.) would reliably maintain the fallacy. They are no longer up to the task and the mask is slipping.
posted by Danila at 9:18 PM on November 23, 2010 [17 favorites]


I think the Tea Party is confusing the government with their parents and themselves with 5 year old children. But maybe that's over-simplifying.
posted by fshgrl at 9:26 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jean Piaget found that by the age of 6, children begin to believe that bad things that happen to them are punishments for bad things they have done.

Ahhh.... Sunday school.
posted by klanawa at 9:36 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Emerson called it the "Law of Compensation" and wrote that “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”

Emerson also wrote,
As far as I notice what passes in philanthropic meetings and holy hurrahs there is very little depth of interest. The speakers warm each other's skin and lubricate each other's tongue, and the words flow and the superlatives thicken and the lips quiver and the eyes moisten, and an observer new to such scenes would say, Here was true fire; the assembly were all ready to be martyred, and the effect of such a spirit on the community would be irresistible; but they separate and go to the shop, or a dance, to bed, and a hour afterwards they care so little for the matter that on slightest temptation each one would disclaim the meeting.
I'm not quite sure that Emerson would necessarily be a kindred spirit with these people.
posted by blucevalo at 9:40 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The base problem with the comprehension of economic theory for 95% of the populace is: they simply cannot separate it from their beliefs in good & evil, and what should be.

It should be true that giving money to poor people makes them less poor.

It should be true that requiring poor people to take care of themselves teaches them to do so.

And so on.

But wanting these niceties to be true doesn't make them true. And that is a serious problem: making economic theories based on what we want to be true ("right" or "left", "conservative" or "liberal"), not on what demonstrably works (which is difficult enough to figure out on its own, without hopes & wishes getting in the way).
posted by IAmBroom at 9:43 PM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


"Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it's just a law of the universe, like gravity."

The problem arises, says I, from the inability of most people to apprehend the concept of "eventually." They want it NOW!
posted by carping demon at 10:04 PM on November 23, 2010


In Soviet Russia, Instant Karma gets YOU!
posted by KingEdRa at 11:03 PM on November 23, 2010


"Eventually" we all die and with us our petty demons and jealous meanness. Cheap and cruel all the way down.
posted by nola at 11:07 PM on November 23, 2010


It's odd to see the writer presenting these arguments. I'm not sure they make much sense, though I read one of his books and it was quite good.

To note an earlier point also, yes, some people think they earned it all on their own, no one helped them. Bullshit. Look back through the lives of successful people and you'll see hard work and sacrifice, yes, but also opportunities and helping hands that are not given equally to all.
posted by 4midori at 11:34 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


In Soviet Russia, Instant Karma gets YOU!

This is a historical misnomer Andropov likely would concur. {if}

nola has a hobbes dante mets the teafolk with a poetic directness Beirce would hide his pron from. (well phrased)

"War is God's way of teaching Americans geography."

Shiva and tax madness or is that not proper.
posted by clavdivs at 12:00 AM on November 24, 2010


Teabaggers = Republicans.

The fact that the MSM continues this farcical notion that old white Republicans who can't stand that we elected a black man president is something "new" is quite frustrating.
posted by bardic at 12:19 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a whole lot of HURFDURF DONTNEEDTOTHINKABOUTTEEPARTY TEEBAGERSSUK AMIRITE???? going on here.

The reason I posted this article is because the Americanized version of karma (which, for the record, is pretty much interchangeable with Calvinist predestination - just subtract God and bingo, same result) is the best way that I can describe what I've seen anecdotally from the Tea Partiers in my own family, as well as countless statements in the media. It's really easy, and it may make us feel really good, to call teabaggers some names and get righteously indignant. But the idea of "You should get what you deserve" has much greater explanatory power than "they're all racist dumbfucks!!!"

How else do you get the "get your government hands off my medicare" attitude? The teabaggers deserve government help. They're the backbone of America. Those immigrants and liberals and whoever don't because they're parasites who didn't earn it like me and mine did. This is why attempts to look at the Tea Party as some movement of principles fail just as much as looking at the Tea Party as a grab bag of incoherent prejudices. The Tea Party's worldview is a very coherent one.
posted by jhandey at 2:35 AM on November 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Anything published in the Wall Street Journal will at best be a whitewash of the Right. The Journal is solidly and stolidly on the side of the conservatives. Linking to them is the same thing as linking to Fox News in terms of journalistic integrity.

That said the actual content of the article is utter hogwash. Liberals are uncomfortable with karma!? Which is why liberals are the ones making it harder and harder to hold big business accountable for straight up criminal malfeasance. This man's version of karma is not like anything any actual adherent of any faith that worries about karmic debt would be willing to recognize.

The tea party isn't about redressing some imagined slight, it's about seizing and holding the power that was lost when Obama was elected and the country (briefly) turned away from the greed and outright fraud that has been the norm since at least the 80's. Every attempt to explain the tea party that doesn't recognize the fact that it's largely white, largely older, and largely recruiting from the same base the Republicans have always used is either a deliberate lie or someone missing the point so tragically that it's almost impossible to take anything they say about politics seriously from that point on.
posted by Peztopiary at 3:39 AM on November 24, 2010


teleri025 : And they firmly believe that because they have done everything by themselves that anyone else can do the same.

With one important qualification - given similar opportunities.

I don't think you'll find many who believe that your typical South African e-waste scavenger has a reasonable chance of waking up as the next Bill Gates with enough hard work. But when you compare a typical middle class American to a typical American living in poverty, it gets a whole lot harder to say they have a drastically different level of opportunities. Personally, I put myself through state university, moved to a place where I had no family connections to give me the mythical/liberal "unfair edge", and have done pretty well for myself (with a few rough patches that I weathered largely through planning for their possibility during better times).

Did I have it somewhat easier than a kid from the ghetto in a 3rd-gen welfare family? Yep, I did. But could such a kid follow exactly the same path I took after highschool and end up in the same place today? Absolutely, and thus my disagreement with your premise.


Sadly, they never learned the other part of karma which is that we are all connected and have to work together. No man is an island.

In the sense that our forefathers, following exactly the ethic you hold in such disdain, made our culture one where we do have drastically more opportunity for success than that South Aftican e-waste scavenger - Agreed. In the sense that my success depends on the government throwing MY money at people who can't bother to improve themselves? Sorry, but no. Not my problem (except at the point of the Government Sword forcing me to pay to support a third of the country).
posted by pla at 3:44 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I prefer a Wildean interpretation of Tea Party philosophy:

"The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means."

-- Oscar Wilde, "The Importance of Being Earnest", Act 2
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:50 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a big believer in karma, actually. And I agree that this is really something the whole Tea Party mentality is based around. However, karma isn't something that's up to man to try to comtrol, and I reckon the whole thing of karmic destiny isn't something that man is really the one to decide . . . it's sort of like the saying, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Where the Tea Party really fucks up is that they have the hubris to think that they can determine how karma is applied - to whom and for what reasons. And it could be that that's a big no-no in a karmic universe.

This is why it's so very difficult to have a conversation with those who believe in this type of "karma." Every response, every counterargument is met with "But I EARNED it! No one EVER helped me."

Completely. Frequently, people who believe this sort of thing may simply be making inaccurate, ego-based assesssments about their lives, vis-a-vis "karma." And I'm not too sure that the ego of deciding that you've "earned" privilege isn't the bigger karmic crime, so to speak. Karma doesn't work according to your schedule or by your understanding of the universe.

I don't think it's accident that in many religions the first sin of mankind is the sin of pride. It's ironic that of all groups of people, the Tea Party folks, who tend to claim some sort of religious directive in many of their actions, seem to have forgotten this.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:59 AM on November 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Not my problem (except at the point of the Government Sword forcing me to pay to support a third of the country).

And making public universities like the one you attended possible, no?
posted by naoko at 4:01 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


naoko : And making public universities like the one you attended possible, no?

Yes, and we have nice roads, and clean drinking water, and reasonably safety in public places, and fire protection... And education.

Believe it or not, I even support a basic social safety net - Yes, bad things happen to good people. Don't mistake me for a TeaPartier; though I do consider some of their positions admirable, I find them overall pretty damned scary. I just don't buy into the liberal ideology that somehow society has kept down those who had (and still have!) the same opportunities I did - And failed to act on them.
posted by pla at 4:26 AM on November 24, 2010


In addition to the great criticisms above, Buddhism, at least as it was taught to me, treats even "good" karma as part of the problem, because if your life is too comfortable you're unable to confront the realities of suffering that lead to the eightfold path.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:31 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the sense that my success depends on the government throwing MY money at people who can't bother to improve themselves? Sorry, but no. Not my problem

I have only a hazy American idea of karma, but even pursuant to that wouldn't the karmic result for this attitude be that the negative action of refusing to help people would result in some similar badness happening to the speaker of the such a statement?

I mean, if so, this wouldn't really be a happy thing if one were say, ninety and in great physical distress.
posted by angrycat at 4:38 AM on November 24, 2010


LORD POLONIUS:
My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

HAMLET:
God's bodykins, man, much better: use every man
after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?
Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less
they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
Take them in.


I'm not very convinced by Haidt's article. He seems to start from the assumption that there's an ideological basis to the Tea Party movement, and that he just has to work out what it is.

But not all movements have an ideological basis. Some movements are loose alliances of disparate groups. Some just try to advance the interests of a particular section of society. Some are formed around the charisma of leaders.

If the Tea Party had an ideological basis, I'd expect to see some kind of text defining these ideas and accepted by almost all: a manifesto, a book, some precepts nailed to a door, even a concrete slogan like "no taxation without representation".

But I don't really see such a thing. "Taking back our country" doesn't really express any ideas.

And the groups involved seem to be diverse and somewhat contradictory. They want to balance the budget and reduce taxes; minimize the government and lavishly fund medicare. The atheism of Ayn Rand doesn't fit with the Christian Conservatism.

I would say they're not really an ideological movement, but a loose alliance representing the perceived interests of rural white Americans.

Also, hasn't anyone mentioned Poujadism yet?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:41 AM on November 24, 2010


I don't want to "understand the anger of the tea-party movement."
Stupidity remains insidious.


As does willful ignorance.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:10 AM on November 24, 2010


I found this bit in the article rather striking:
[A caller to Beck's show] continues by telling Mr. Beck how, when his daughter's friends sleep over at his house, he asks them to help with chores. When their parents object, he tells them: "Well, they wanted a meal. See, we've all got to row our boat. We've all got to be in the boat. We've all got to row as one. And if you are not going to row, get the hell out of the way or stop getting in mine."
Yes, because the ages-old imperative to be courteous and generous to guests is trumped by the opportunity to impose some quasi-Randian "lesson" on teenage girls.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:18 AM on November 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


If they believe in a law of karma for real, why are they afraid that this rule of the universe could be undermined by government? Could government repeal the law of gravity? If government crucified the lord, would that make him not the lord? These people need more faith in god.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:21 AM on November 24, 2010


warbaby: This isn't karma. This is Calvinist predetermination. Why are those people suffering? Because God hated them before they were born and so should we. Why are we privileged? Because God loved us before we were born. Our oppression of others is divinely ordained and therefore not only right, but just. Now watch this drive.

I'd agree that this is quite likely the thinking (possibly subconsciously) of many in the Tea Party. Which is ironic, really, given that it shows they haven't actually read certain parts of the Bible.
posted by ZsigE at 5:26 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The central message of Buddhism is NOT 'Every Man For Himself.'"
-A Fish Called Wanda
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:31 AM on November 24, 2010 [13 favorites]


A Wall Street journalist takes a new age version of an ancient Vedic concept and misapplies it to group dynamics masquerading as politics.

Since this has come up a few times in the comments, let's address it. Who is Jon Haidt? Merely a Wall Street journalist? Some conservative crank? No. Jon Haidt is a respected psychology professor at UVa whose theories about moral cognition are extremely interesting to both psychologists and philosophers. Calling Jon Haidt pseudo-psychological is not so very unlike calling Martha Nussbaum pseudo-philosophical.

The minor mistake here is to assume that because someone is describing an idea, they are ipso facto endorsing that idea. An important part of Haidt's work has been to argue for discrete clusters of emotive, pre-cognitive reaction types that ground the majority of our moral reasoning. If this is right, he argues, then a good first step to resolving moral disagreements is to actually figure out the psychology of a person or group's moral judgments so that you actually understand what's going on, rather than simply calling them fuckheads for disagreeing with what you take to be obvious. While in some sense that "supports conservatism", really it just supports the idea that we shouldn't treat people who don't think like us as subhuman. That used to be a liberal position, but it's increasingly clear to me that it no longer is.

The more egregious mistake is to dismiss him as "a Wall Street journalist". Doing so either ignores or dismisses his actual credentials, and represents an impulse, anything but salutary, that is shared by the Tea Party: using labels that apply to a person as a proxy for the ideas discussed by that person. To steal a line, when people argue this way I sometimes forget to pee because there's no cut to commercial. While it's easy to do, the end result is that you are dismissing an actual human being and not merely the image that offended you. This is an instance of the lack of empathy - the incapacity to actually connect with another human being, to see things from another point of view - that undergirds American narcissistic political discourse.

tl;dr version: Google 'Jon Haidt' and it's pretty apparent that he's not just any idiot.
posted by mister-o at 5:37 AM on November 24, 2010 [20 favorites]


As for the attacks on the article on the theological issue of karma, I agree, the word is imprecise. To simplify, the argument is that tebaggers believe good things should happen to those who do good and bad things should happen to those who do bad. The teabaggers manifest this thought politically by arguing that government should be conducted according to this principle any more nuanced considerations of policy be damned.

Of course, good and bad are entirely subjective concepts, and that brings me to the next point, it's how teabaggers define good and bad. Supporting universal healthcare is bad because it may give those who may not work as hard as the teabaggers the same benefits as the tebaggers themselves receive. The overall benefits which would occur due to universal healthcare, such as a lower allocation of the economy's resources toward healthcare while increased efficiency of the healthcare system, are ignored because it is emotionally enraging for the teabagger to be obliged to give money to someone who may not deserve it.

I know teabag-ism is an act of astroturfing by the GOP, but the emotions that they tap into are felt by a significant portion of the population. These base emotions keep the layperson supporting the death penalty (as one must do bad to those who've done bad) and believing in further tax cuts (as teabaggers pay taxes and need more of a reward from the government for their virtue)

I knew from the onset that the teabaggers reject reason with gusto, and replace it with visceral emotional reaction. This article crystallized the system of emotional reaction they base their politics upon.

And as for the Calvinism argument, didn't Calvin believe that those who were foreordained to go to heaven could sin in perpetuity and reach paradise? I don't see how this applies to the reward and punishment of acts of free will.
posted by banal evil at 5:54 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The whole article boils down to the last paragraph:

"The rank-and-file tea partiers think that liberals turned America upside down in the 1960s and 1970s, and they want to reverse many of those changes. They are patriotic and religious, and they want to see those values woven into their children's education. Above all, they want to live in a country in which hard work and personal responsibility pay off and laziness, cheating and irresponsibility bring people to ruin. Give them liberty, sure, but more than that: Give them karma."

In other words, they want to undo the civil rights movement and have bible study in public schools. That's the big insight? Republicans have been pushing for this stuff ever since, well, the 1960s and 70s. The Tea Party is just a GOTV project for the Republicans, and it worked really well.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:21 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


What Jilder said. Most American right-wing politics seem to come down to the just world fallacy.
posted by callmejay at 6:38 AM on November 24, 2010


Haven't read the article yet, but 80 YEARS? Who the fuck's memory is that long? What INDIVIDUAL lives long enough to want to settle an eighty year-old vendetta? A vendetta against CHANGE, nonetheless.

Shouldn't those people be worrying about where the condition of their diapers? Sucking on their dentures? Trying to get the nurse's attention?

Someone?
posted by vhsiv at 6:50 AM on November 24, 2010


Well, sure if you want to simplify karma like that, go right ahead. But Hindus and Buddhists also believe in the doctrine of re-incarnation that says it can take you lifetimes to work out your karma and improve. Also, the goal there isn't material wellbeing, but enlightenment.

But hey, if you want to keep co-opting "karma" to mean whatever the fuck you want it to mean, go right ahead.

/ Buddhist who consistently facepalms when hearing karma simplified in this manner because really Rest of World, it's not quite THAT simple. I mean it is, but also not. Be chill and everything but improve your karma to do good for the rest of the world, not to like GET SHIT because that's NOT THE FUCKING POINT.

/ done now, really.

/ Ok, not actually. Because the way to *improve* your karma is through COMPASSION which none of the Tea Party seems all that big on, being that they're all hepped up to deny rights to their fellow human travelers and all.

/ Seriously. Cut it the fuck out.

/ Also: Karma IS working out in your life all the time. You ARE getting what you deserve, based on the actions and choices you have made throughout this and previous lifetimes. If you ascribe to the idea of karma, this is what you're signing up for. That you ARE living out the sum of your actions. Not that you get to decide that your actions NOW are the only ones that matter. Your circumstances ARE a result of your karma. If you don't like that, work on improving your karma by being compassionate and working to relieve suffering in your own and other's lives, but you don't get to be all "BLAAAAHHHHH, I want a bigger house, I DESERVE one!" because you already HAVE the house you CURRENTLY deserve. Work towards deserving more from your life and recognize that in terms of motherfucking KARMA this does not mean material wealth.

/ I guess I have strong feelings.
posted by sonika at 6:55 AM on November 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Poll: Tea Party Activists Not Your Average Americans, Could Complicate 2012 For GOP.
posted by ericb at 7:08 AM on November 24, 2010


After reading the above comments and re-reading the article, I thing the point where Hiadt goes astray is his assumption that the Tea Party is monolithic. So his research shows differences in moral values between libertarians and conservatives (not surprising, but nice to see it delineated clearly.) How that applies to the Tea Party - or specifically Dick Armey's faction - is where the monolithic error occurs.

This very good series of analytic articles on the origins of the Tea Party spells out in detail how Ron Paul's faction is very different from the Republican astroturf faction associated with Armey.

That link is probably worth a fpp of its own, but I'm rushing out the door.

I don't know where I ran across it, but the notion of zero-sum transactions and domination being the basis of social interaction for libertarians has a great deal of explanatory value. For the life of me, I can't remember where I read about it. It was based on sociological research, not just bloviating.

At any rate, the teenage sleepover example makes perfect sense in terms of the dominating father setting his daughter's guests tasks as the "price" of their social transaction in "his" house.
posted by warbaby at 7:45 AM on November 24, 2010


I just don't buy into the liberal ideology that somehow society has kept down those who had (and still have!) the same opportunities I did - And failed to act on them.

How do you know they had the same opportunities you did? Did they have the same family support? Did they have the same support from friends? Did they have to face the same racial or gender biases? Did they go to school with a belly full of Mom's breakfast? (or did their poor grades just mean they're not as smart as you?) Did they sleep as soundly as you in a house free from abuse? Did they spend their copious free time bettering themselves like you did...or did they have to work so much for basic needs that they didn't have any time?

It seems to me that you had the same opportunities I did to become a caring, compassionate, functional human being with a real understanding and empathy of other people's realities and circumstances, but you failed to act on them.
posted by rocket88 at 7:49 AM on November 24, 2010 [12 favorites]


If you touch a hot stove with your bare hand, you get burned. That's karma. There is no moral or spiritual component. It's not a punishment. It's cause and effect.

The Protestant work ethic (karma's Christian cousin)

what? no no no.
posted by desjardins at 7:55 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


rocket88, I would also add "Did they have learning disabilities or psychiatric disorders that may have prevented them from academic success?"
posted by desjardins at 7:56 AM on November 24, 2010


I blame this clusterfuck of an article on a mixture of drugs, desperation, and a deadline.

Heh. Good thing I read the comments before I formulated my response. You beat me to it! This article is pretty darn bad. The use of "karma" is really misguided (and I'm still trying to figure out the possible rationale for using that term ...)

I am no expert, but I thought karmic consequences (and I know there are various types of karma, so maybe I'm wrong) generally occured outside of the material sphere.

...

Far more enlightening (to me) as an examination of Tea Partyism/conservative populism is Corey Robin's "Conservatism and Counterrevolution" (PDF; Google HTML cache?) from this summer's Raritan. (A condensed version, "The Party of Loss," is in the December issue of Harper's.)

The gist is that conservativism, though styled as moderate and stable, has always been reactionary. Its biggest battles have been the ugliest--French/Russian revolutions, slavery, civil rights, feminism, the New Deal--because conservatives were fighting for something they perceive to have unfairly lost.

Choice quotes:

People on the Left often fail to realize this, but conservatism really does speak to and for people who have lost something. It maybe a landed estate or the privileges of white skin, the unquestioned authority of a husband or the untrammeled rights of a factory owner. The loss may be as material as a portion of one's income or as ethereal as a sense of standing. It may be of something that was never legitimately owned in the first place; it may, when compared with what the conservative retains, be small. Even so, it's a loss, and nothing is ever so cherished as that which we no longer possess.

...

But to appreciate fully the inventiveness of right-wing populism, we have to turn to the master class of the Old South. The slaveholder created a quintessentially American form of democratic feudalism, turning the white majority into a lordly class, sharing in the privileges and prerogatives of governing the slave class. Though the members of this ruling class knew that they were not equal to each other, they were compensated by the illusion of superiority--and the reality of rule--over the black population beneath them.


This part is the scariest and/or most depressing:

Unlike the reformer or the revolutionary, moreover, who faces the nearly impossible task of empowering the powerless--that is, of turning people from what they are into what they are not--the conservative merely asks his followers to do more of what they always have done (albeit better). As a result, his counterrevolution will not require the same disruption that the revolution has visited upon the country. "Four or five persons, perhaps," writes Maistre, "will give France a king."

4-5 persons : SCOTUS :: King : President

♫ As the blazing fire reduces wood to ashes, similarly, the fire of Self-knowledge reduces all Karma to ashes ♪
posted by mrgrimm at 8:19 AM on November 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Could it be that both Left and Right believe in karma, but the Right tends to think of America as being functionally composed of its 310,776,871 individual human citizens, while the Left tends to see America at a higher level of abstraction--that is, in terms of its composite subcultures and ethnic identities?

The Right, for instance, rejects the idea of reparations for slavery out of hand as unfair, because on an individual level, there is no crime to repay. No living American ever owned a slave, nor were they enslaved. The fact that society has been left unbalanced by the cultural threads that transcend individual generations, is not relevant to the Right's world view. The world is not an even playing field, to them. As it's always been, it's up to each individual to make the most of the hand he/she is dealt with as much dignity and ingenuity as he/she can muster.

The Left, on the other hand, can't simply disregard those historical inequities. To the Left, unless the playing field is truly equal, the entire competition is based on a lie. To them, karma ('justice' is probably a better word) is not achievable unless everyone enters the game with exactly the same odds of success. That isn't possible as long as certain cultural entities haven't been punished for their past actions against other cultural entities. More importantly, the advantages they currently enjoy that have come at the expense of other cultural entities need to be stripped and redistributed.

The author's implication that the Tea Partiers care about justice (karma) more strongly than liberals and libertarians is unfair; everyone (except sociopaths) cares about justice. They just have different ideas about how it should be applied.

All that being said...I like this article very much. This is exactly the sort of calm, non-emotional discourse that we must employ if the red/blue divide is ever going to be mended.
posted by silentpundit at 8:56 AM on November 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


My take away from all this is that I don't believe in Karma, but I try to live my life as if it were real. The Tea Party claims believes in some kind of Karma and yet lives and acts in such a way that they are completely indifferent to, or fail to understand it.

Right then.
posted by quin at 9:17 AM on November 24, 2010


I think the animating principle of teapartyism is ressentiment.

To quote a pithy summation: "Ressentiment is a reassignment of the pain that accompanies a sense of one's own inferiority/failure onto an external scapegoat. The ego creates the illusion of an enemy, a cause that can be "blamed" for one's own inferiority/failure. Thus, one was thwarted not by a failure in oneself, but rather by an external "evil." "
posted by lathrop at 10:22 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


rocket88 : How do you know they had the same opportunities you did?

What part of getting a crappy minimum-wage job and putting yourself through a state university requires coming from a stable family; requires having a belly full of "Mom's breakfast"; requires white skin; requires a penis?

I don't particularly buy into the whole "karma" thing (though I do think TFA comes pretty close to correct), but those things simply don't matter. Can they make it a bit easier or harder? Sure. But anyone (at least in the US) can do exactly what I did to get to my current situation.


or did they have to work so much for basic needs that they didn't have any time?

Sorry, but I just don't buy that excuse. We live in a country where we have such cheap calorie-dense food that we have an epidemic of obesity amongst the poor. The rest amounts to upgrades from sleeping in your 15 year old car and using the 50-cent showers at the local truckstop.


It seems to me that you had the same opportunities I did to become a caring, compassionate, functional human being with a real understanding and empathy of other people's realities and circumstances, but you failed to act on them.

You mistake a firm belief in personal responsibility for "lack of empathy" - Exactly one person on this blue-green ball of mud has the power to make my life better or worse. How I "feel" about that has no bearing on the situation.


desjardins : I would also add "Did they have learning disabilities or psychiatric disorders that may have prevented them from academic success?"

Yep, clever. Someone always brings up those with real problems as though they have some relevance to the norm.


quin : The Tea Party claims believes in some kind of Karma and yet lives and acts in such a way that they are completely indifferent to, or fail to understand it.

I think you, and everyone in this thread trying to apply the dogmatic details of Buddhism to this, have kinda taken TFA waaaaay too literally. You've conflated a semi-pragmatic belief in cause and effect, with a "golden rule" style philosophy.

I don't have what I have because my 8YO self fed that stray kitten for a few weeks; I have what I have because I decided (roughly) what I wanted, planned out how to get there, and followed that plan. Really, simple as that.
posted by pla at 10:33 AM on November 24, 2010


Congratulations on picking yourself up by your bootstraps, pla. I mean that sincerely. One of the great things about this country is that, as you said, people can decide (roughly) what they want, plan how to get there, and follow that plan. However, I'm have to take issue with one thing you write:

What part of getting a crappy minimum-wage job and putting yourself through a state university requires coming from a stable family

I'm going to venture a guess that you came from a pretty stable family. To my great fortune, I did too. But the cavalier way you mention family stability leads me to believe that you're underestimating the importance that has in determining a child's future outcomes. When I was in college, I realized that the one common thread among the vast majority of my peers, regardless of racial or socioeconomic background, was that they'd had stable home lives growing up. This is not to say that everyone who succeeds in life necessarily came from a stable home; there are some folks who, by grit and determination, are able to overcome that handicap, and good on them for doing so. But not having a stable home life is a handicap, and a pretty big one at that. And it's a hell of a lot harder to have a stable home life when you live in a shitty part of town and you're broke and when your parents aren't citizens and English is a second language, etc.
posted by joedan at 10:58 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure the use of the word "karma" has added a great deal to my understanding here.

Explanations so far have spanned a rather narrow range, from racism (they're all white!) to greed (they just don't want to pay taxes!) to gullibility (Glenn Beck has hypnotized them!). Such explanations allow liberals to disregard the moral claims of tea partiers. But the passion of the tea-party movement is, in fact, a moral passion.

This seems to be true. But then something like that is most always true when groups are mad at each other, they pretty much always impute the worst motives to each other, and fail to understand what the core values of the other side really are.

On one level it's ironic that the kind of people that would naturally have socio-economic and cultural explanations of how, for example, corner drug dealers got to be the way they are, think Tea Partiers are somehow not the product of various social and cultural forces that shaped them and should somehow have turned out to be better people than they are, have different values than they have, or understand the world differently than they do.

But in the end it's not all that ironic, because we're all human and prone to the same patterns of thinking and feeling.

The Cultural Cognition Project has some interesting ideas on this, for example:

In debates over climate change, gun control, the HPV vaccine, and myriad other risks, Americans respond to scientific data in much the same way sports fans react to disputed calls on the playing field--cheering or booing based on how the evidence affects their "team." A paper published in Nature links this dynamic to cultural cognition and addresses what can be done to counteract it.

posted by philipy at 11:00 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Exactly one person on this blue-green ball of mud has the power to make my life better or worse.

Really, there are NO other external factors? Let's ignore other people for the moment. What if your house burned down? Flooded? Wiped away in a tornado? You get cancer? Your car slides on ice and you hit a tree, paralyzing you?

Sure, these are extreme examples, but there are lots of lesser events that happen every day that affect your well-being. For example, the plumbing in our basement failed last night and ruined some of our stuff. My insurance deductible is $500. I do not have $500 because of some recent events which were also out of my control.

The above examples are all things that are not your fault, yet make your life worse. Yes, you can overcome them, but they create obstacles that other people may not have. There is no way to account for every single variable in another person's life, because you cannot know all of them.
posted by desjardins at 11:01 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


That is likely why such a strong component of conservative thought is the emphasis on savings, caution, and planning for the future.
posted by silentpundit at 11:41 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


This article muddies far more than it clarifies. I hate false equivalences between the left and the right, but we both want a world in which the just are rewarded and the unjust are punished. What counts as justice differs between the two sides, and in general liberals prefer milder rewards/punishments, but notions of justice are important for both.

"Karma" simply confuses things: on the one hand, Tea Party members clearly believe that not everything is Calvinistic fate: after all, they take political action to try to remake the government in a way that promotes their conception of justice. On the other hand, "karma" does capture the magical thinking underlying their belief that what mainly distinguishes the rich and successful from the poor and destitute is hard work. But as Jilder points out above, this is simply the just world fallacy and all the problems it entails (such as being inconsistent with political activism, unless you believe that only the government can interfere with the Calvinistic allocation of deserved success). Believing that you deserve your success and the poor deserve their suffering is the most standard right-wing belief around -- it's almost definitional. There's a lot of interesting stuff to be said about how certain people come to this belief, and retain it in the face of overwhelming evidence; but "karma" starts the discussion off on a very poor foot.
posted by chortly at 12:08 PM on November 24, 2010


That is likely why such a strong component of conservative thought is the emphasis on savings, caution, and planning for the future.

I have no problem with that - I should have been more cautious and not put my belongings directly on the basement floor, for example. The fact remains that I am out $500 because shit happened (literally). My neighbor's basement did not flood, so he is in theory $500 richer. Even if we were in equal situations yesterday, today he is richer than me, and not because of his hard work.
posted by desjardins at 12:40 PM on November 24, 2010


It hadn't occured to me that silentpundit might be being anything other than massively sarcastic there.
posted by Artw at 12:46 PM on November 24, 2010


I was playing conservative's advocate.
posted by silentpundit at 1:05 PM on November 24, 2010


We live in a country where we have such cheap calorie-dense food that we have an epidemic of obesity amongst the poor.

This is primarily due to the limited choices available to someone who is very poor. It's cheaper to buy fast food than it is to buy healthy food, mostly because of subsidies. The obesity epidemic is not an indication of abundance but one of poor nutrition, which is encouraged through subsidy programs that prioritizes corn above all other crops.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:18 AM on November 25, 2010


You mistake a firm belief in personal responsibility for "lack of empathy" - Exactly one person on this blue-green ball of mud has the power to make my life better or worse.

Sounds to me more like a massive sense of entitlement.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:21 AM on November 25, 2010


krinklyfig : This is primarily due to the limited choices available to someone who is very poor. It's cheaper to buy fast food than it is to buy healthy food, mostly because of subsidies.

Way to miss the point: Energy-dense foods will keep you from starving to death.


krinklyfig : Sounds to me more like a massive sense of entitlement.

Only if you mean "entitled" to eventually die. Everything else, I expect only if I work for it.

Funny thing about that word, though - We usually use it in a literally correct sense, but mean it as its opposite. "Entitled to his parent's house", "Entitled to food stamps", "Entitled to a bridge-to-nowhere". The recipients in those cases very much have a de jure "right" to the listed benefits, yet we would use that world only to highlight the belief that they haven't earned those benefits.

So let me ask you - In what way do you believe I haven't "earned" my house and car (the only actual entitlements I have), which I acquired using income made by contributing my time and skills to the production of goods and services and the growth of the US economy; income from which a sizable chunk went, as required by law, to maintain those previously mentioned roads, schools, police, etc?


If you would understand your conservative enemy (at least, in the sense of TFA - Their whacked-out religious damage falls into an entirely different discussion), you would do better to listen to me than try to convince me I lack empathy. And on the flip side of that... Well, I consider MeFi very educational (no sarcasm intended), and not for its factual content, if you get my meaning.
posted by pla at 6:04 AM on November 25, 2010


"Sure, these are extreme examples, but there are lots of lesser events that happen every day that affect your well-being. For example, the plumbing in our basement failed last night and ruined some of our stuff. My insurance deductible is $500. I do not have $500 because of some recent events which were also out of my control."

Are you accepting donations?*

*this is motivated from goodwill, not snark.
posted by jaduncan at 7:12 AM on November 25, 2010


Energy-dense foods will keep you from starving to death.

Respectfully, I think you missed his point as well. There's a big gap between starving to death and being healthy, and not being healthy has (I think) fairly obvious implications for pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.
posted by valrus at 8:22 AM on November 25, 2010


Way to miss the point: Energy-dense foods will keep you from starving to death.

But will not keep you healthy, which is usually a prerequisite to work. Plus, putting people either in the living (winning) category or dead (lost) one doesn't tell us a lot about a modern society.

Just because events can be overcome doesn't mean that they are meaningless. There are people that have the have received the Medal of Honor for extraordinary feats of courage that saved lives at times, times they went "above and beyond the call of duty". Just because they did so means that all the people that died or didn't save people were cowards or week. There are people that have taken themselves from abject poverty to being very wealthy. That does not mean that all the poor people who haven't are lazy and shiftless. There are people that forge their body into a perfect specimen of health. That does not mean every chubby person out there has a weak moral character.

IF we want to talk about what is deserved (and that's a pretty big "if"), we have to acknowledge that there is a reasonable standard of behavior on what an average person would do. We don't take outliers as our model, so even if extraordinary people do better, we don't assume that everyone would. We congratulate people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, be we know that not everyone can be expected to do so.

But it doesn't matter for two reasons:

1) Those people didn't just do it in a vacuum. Everything from family situation, health, friends, criminal records, connections, neighborhood, religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, language skills, income, and luck has an effect on it. So though it might be a choice, it's a compromised choice that shouldn't always be read as an indictment (or honoring) of the individual. These things matter. Even if this person might have had every opportunity to do good and wound up in an alley hooked on heroin, we shouldn't assume that. Only a society that lacks a deep sense of humility posits themselves as sole determiners of internal morality and believes that everything can be withheld from "guilty" society members.

2) We should not base our public policy towards groups on individual morality. We give people healthcare because even the rich don't want them to die in the streets. We educate children because even the rich don't want to be robbed at gun point by someone at the end of their rope. We fire protect everyone because even the rich don't want their houses to burn down because some poor person couldn't pay their fire protection fee. Sure, we do it also because we want to live in a compassionate society, but ultimately we do a lot of these things because it's good public policy. Just as individuals might make decisions that they live with, we as a society have to make decisions that we live with.

So, anyway, let's not talk about whether someone deserves food or shelter or education or work or family; it's flawed in both determination and scope.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:33 AM on November 25, 2010


Maybe the core difference in outlook is this...

On one side people think: Looking out for others is a moral obligation.

On the other, people think: Looking out for yourself is a moral obligation.

So from one perspective, if someone is indifferent to helping others, that's appalling, that person is bad or stupid, and they would deserve to have bad things happen to them.

From the other, if someone is failing to adequately look after themselves, that's appalling, that person is bad or stupid, and they deserve the bad things that happen to them.

The thing that is hard for me to get, and also therefore very interesting, is that some people think it's not only a good idea to care for yourself well, but that it is morally deficient to fail to do so.

From my perspective it's kinda hard to imagine that anyone doesn't take as good care of themselves as they can, that doing so is just natural behavior for any living creature, that there is nothing particularly admirable in that per se, and that if people are doing a poor job of it, that's going to be because for whatever reason that's the best they can do.

Btw, the two perspectives are also partly the way that "Karma, American style" as the article designates it would differ from "Karma, Eastern style". The American style would seem to be: "I eat well, because I worked hard for my money". The Eastern would say: "I eat well because I have treated others well, and have been blessed in return with talents, opportunities and good fortune".

Given the date, there's also another question to be raised... If you have *earned* everything that you have, then what could you possibly have to give thanks for?

And if you do have anything to be genuine thankful for in your life, aren't those exactly the things that a person could not "earn" by their own efforts?
posted by philipy at 12:40 PM on November 25, 2010


My big objection to the "bootstraps" theory of American social stratification is that we live in a country where a child died in the 21st century for want of a $100 tooth extraction. Not only did he die, but emergency treatment of the fatal complications of a toothache dragged his family deeper into medical debt than they could ever pay off.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:35 PM on November 25, 2010


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