Hearts and minds
February 3, 2017 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Calling a truce in the political wars. According to the experts who study political leanings, liberals and conservatives do not just see things differently. They are different—in their personalities and even their unconscious reactions to the world around them. ...“These are not superficial differences. They are psychologically deep,” says psychologist John Jost of New York University, a co-author of the bedroom study. “My hunch is that the capacity to organize the political world into left or right may be a part of human nature.”
- Evidence showing that the Big Five personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to new experiences, extraversion and emotional stability) are correlated with political orientation. Specifically, liberals tend to score higher on experiential openness while conservatives tend to be strongly conscientious. Other evidence links politeness with conservatism and empathy with liberalism. Hibbings says these findings might indicate that liberals and conservatives "construct and occupy different individual and social environments."

- NYU professor Jon Haidt found that conservatives emphasize moral purity, authority and in/out-group status while making moral judgements, whereas liberals consider equality and harm avoidance. Hibbings' team also pointed to studies which have found conservatives to own more cleaning supplies and prefer different cuisine and art. Conservatives, he argues, tend not to enjoy the unfamiliar.

- Conservatives have stronger implicit attachment to traditional values and are more likely to see the world in strongly defined categories.

- Highly experimental but initially promising research linked complex neurological behavior to political ideologies. One paper even found evidence that neural structures may differ between young liberals and conservatives.

- A dramatic 2008 paper by Douglas R. Oxley that found contemporary American political conservatives react much more quickly and defensively to threatening stimuli. Those stimuli included "a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it."
(Mic: Multiple studies finding that non-political authoritarian parenting styles seem to be significantly linked with political conservatism.)
So, how do we bridge the gulf? A recent study has found that an effective way to persuade people in politics is to reframe arguments to appeal to the moral values of those holding opposing positions.

Study here: From Gulf to Bridge: When Do Moral Arguments Facilitate Political Influence?

For example:
In one study, we presented liberals and conservatives with one of two messages in support of same-sex marriage. One message emphasized the need for equal rights for same-sex couples. This is the sort of fairness-based message that liberals typically advance for same-sex marriage. It is framed in terms of a value — equality — that research has shown resonates more strongly among liberals than conservatives. The other message was designed to appeal to values of patriotism and group loyalty, which have been shown to resonate more with conservatives. (It argued that “same-sex couples are proud and patriotic Americans” who “contribute to the American economy and society.”)

Liberals showed the same support for same-sex marriage regardless of which message they encountered. But conservatives supported same-sex marriage significantly more if they read the patriotism message rather than the fairness one.

In a parallel experiment, we targeted liberals for persuasion. We presented a group of liberals and conservatives with one of two messages in support of increased military spending. One message argued that we should “take pride in our military,” which “unifies us both at home and abroad.” The other argued that military spending is necessary because, through the military, the poor and disadvantaged “can achieve equal standing,” by ensuring they have “a reliable salary and a future apart from the challenges of poverty and inequality.”

For conservatives, it didn’t matter which message they read; their support for military spending was the same. However, liberals expressed significantly greater support for increasing military spending if they read the fairness message rather than the patriotism one.
(NYT: The Key to Political Persuasion)
Vox: Most people are bad at arguing. These 2 techniques will make you better.
In his study, when he framed an argument against Trump in terms of loyalty (a conservative moral foundation), conservative participants reported they were less likely to support him.

“For instance, the loyalty message argued that Trump ‘has repeatedly behaved disloyally towards our country to serve his own interests’ and that ‘during the Vietnam War, he dodged the draft to follow his father into the development business,’” Feinberg and his co-author write in a preprint of their study.
More ideas on how to construct an argument using moral reframing (super helpful chart included):
The stereotypical conservative values are small government, low taxes, free markets, strong military and traditional families. It is important to understand that these oversimplified conservative values are extremely popular, and too often progressives have no effective response.

Here’s how progressives can answer. When you’re talking about an issue where government has no proper role—like free speech, privacy, reproductive health or religion—declare your commitment to freedom or use a similar value from the chart below. When you discuss an issue where government should act as a referee between competing interests—like court proceedings, wages, benefits, subsidies, taxes or education—explain that your position is based on opportunity or a value from that column. When you argue about an issue where government should act as a protector—like crime, retirement, health care, zoning or the environment—stand for security or a similar value.
(Progressive Majority Action: How to Persuade. A little more depth on these framing techniques is provided here: How to Talk About Our Progressive Values)
If you are trying to persuade someone, some additional important points to remember are:
1. keep emotions out of the exchange
2. discuss, don't attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum)
3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately
4. show respect
5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and
6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.
(Scientific American: How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail)
More:
ProCon: 20 peer-reviewed studies show liberals and conservatives physiologically different
Atlantic: The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion
Alternet: How Conservative Brains Are Wired Differently and What This Means for Our Politics
TED Talk by the author of the "From Bridge to Gulf" study.
Vox: Why Democrats and Republicans don’t understand each other

Also, a takeaway for Democrats?
In addition, because people often view the world as they would like it to be -- the tendency toward “motivated reasoning” -- conservatives are more likely to perceive commonality in their ranks, where liberals view greater diversity in theirs. These perceptions don’t simply reflect reality, they exceed it.

...But why should these misperceptions of others’ views matter? It turns out that perceiving consensus in one's political ranks can fuel organizing.

...Feeling confident that one’s group can achieve its goals is important in part because it can propel individuals to engage in behaviors that benefit the group. Consistent with this, participants in the study who felt their party was likely to be successful in the 2012 election were also more likely to say that they intended to vote themselves.

...the liberal tendency to diverge from the views of other liberals may risk undermining solidarity and place a greater burden on politicians to find common ground among individuals who are often psychologically disinclined to do so.

...The same psychological drive that leads people to favor changing the status quo also makes them reluctant to join large political coalitions. For conservatives hoping for success in November, the takeaway involves following that gut instinct to cohere with like-minded others. But for liberals it means something very different: thinking strategically about when it is time to dissent and, though it may feel wrong, when it is time to conform.
(WaPo: The critical difference between Republicans and Democrats that explains the presidential campaign)
BONUS: Linguist George Lakoff with more on framing in general:
There are other things that need to be said that progressives don’t say because they don’t really understand how framing works. Framing is not obvious. People read “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” they got some of the ideas, but when they tried to apply it, it turned out it’s not so easy to apply. You need some training to do it, and you need some ideas.

For example. Trump said we’re going to get rid of regulation, when there’s a new regulation we’re going to get rid of two for every new one that comes in. But what are regulations? Why do people have them? They’re there for protection of the public in every place. Why do you have environmental regulations? To protect against pollution and global warming and so on. Things that are harmful. Why do you have an SEC regulation? To protect investors, and protect people who have mortgages. Why do you have food and drug regulations? To protect against poisons. This is important. You’re protecting against corporate malfeasance. Corporate harm to the public. When they say, “We’re getting rid of these regulations, no one reports in the media, “They have gotten rid of protections, and they’re going to get rid of more protections!”
posted by triggerfinger (129 comments total) 207 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is an incredible FPP! Thank you for posting it!
posted by corb at 10:11 AM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


This is the first thing I've come across here that's genuinely made me feel less alone over the past three months.
posted by mph at 10:28 AM on February 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


Apropos of this FPP, the Atlantic's latest issue has published an article Why Fake News Targeted Trump Supporters: Multiple studies suggest social conservatives are more attuned to threats—even when they are not real.

Or, in academic terms, Political Orientation Predicts Credulity Regarding Putative Hazards (pdf): "Because both threat sensitivity and dangerous-world beliefs differ between conservatives and liberals, we predicted that conservatism would positively correlate with negatively-biased credulity. Two online studies of Americans support this prediction, potentially illuminating the impact of politicians’ alarmist claims on different portions of the electorate."
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:29 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


This kind of research has been repeatedly debunked in the past. What makes this try any more real or important?

The idea partisanship is identity is the idea that's dividing us, not a helpful framing. There's too much evidence of brain elasticity and individualization of brain function for this sort of brain topology as Destiny thinking to help clarify anything IMO.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:30 AM on February 3, 2017 [21 favorites]


Viewed from at least one philosophical perspective, the key to all this seems to be that "conservatism" is essentially morally relativistic, with group membership and shared values coming first, while "liberalism" is fundamentally morally realist, believing in certain universal values like equity and freedom. The interesting thing, of course, is that one of the realist ethical constraints upon liberalism is tolerance for moral relativism, even where it comes into conflict with precepts held to be morally real. This tolerance of relativism creates the superficial impression that liberalism is itself relativistic.
posted by howfar at 10:31 AM on February 3, 2017 [20 favorites]


The basic question that calls this line of thinking into doubt is this: does what you think and believe consciously and unconsciously influence the superficial structure of your brain and thought processes, or does the structure of the brain rigidly structure thought and belief? The clinical evidence is for a complicated give and take, at those different levels of organization, not a simple one-way influence. That can seem counterintuitive from a purely reductionist view, but from a complex systems analysis viewpoint, downward causality is a real possibility, so conscious thought could potentially shape how the brain organizes itself, too. There's a feedback loop both ways going on there, by most currently prevailing accounts in Philosophy of Mind, I think, unless that's changed since I studied it.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:46 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


I may be falling into a state of dispair over the whole facts-not-mattering-anymore thing. It just seems like an obscene and alien worldview.
posted by Artw at 10:49 AM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


In one study, we presented liberals and conservatives with one of two messages in support of same-sex marriage. One message emphasized the need for equal rights for same-sex couples. This is the sort of fairness-based message that liberals typically advance for same-sex marriage. It is framed in terms of a value — equality — that research has shown resonates more strongly among liberals than conservatives. The other message was designed to appeal to values of patriotism and group loyalty, which have been shown to resonate more with conservatives.

They fail to mention how exhausting it is that one side must explain why they must care for other people and persuade them to do so when they don't fucking want to.

-Why should we grant rights to these people?
-Because it's... a good thing to do? The right and human thing to do?
-Naaaah.

Just having that conversation over and over again.

Like....seriously? Ugh. Just typing that makes me want to lay down on the floor under my desk and just pull my coat over my head and cry from how tired it makes me. I need a nap. For a couple years.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 11:00 AM on February 3, 2017 [53 favorites]


I can definitely say that motivations don't necessarily map onto values. First, the issues dividing the left and the right are different in different nations, and in countries that have more than two parties, putting them in a line from left to right is rather artificial.

Second, I know that it's just outright wrong to assume that traditionalist thought is equivalent to 'conservative' positions, especially today. Because of strong family traditions, I still feel connected to my ancestors that immigrated to the US from Scandinavia 3 o 4 generations ago. So I still think of my family as an immigrant family and so anyone who is anti-immigrant is anti me to the point where I am skeptical for the need of any immigration laws whatsoever.

I currently support the liberal agenda because I spent years in school and in Boy Scouts pledging to the flag and to liberty and justice for all and meaning it. It wasn't under duress or only because I was expected to. I did try, just once, in high school sitting down and not saying the pledge of allegiance. The guy in the seat next to me briefly asked what I was doing and urged me to get up as he was standing. But I wasn't stopped, nobody hassled me about it. As far as I could tell everyone respected my freedom to not speak as much as my freedom to speak.

I was allowed to not say the pledge of allegiance, and because of that I knew that me saying it has real truth. Which is why I am absolutely furious at anyone who would think it's OK to force students to make the pledge of allegiance. Don't they care that coercion denies it any meaning? Don't they believe in freedom?

I mean I could rant on and on, but the bottom line is that people structure their values in different ways, and its good to make arguments to people based on their values, but reductionism and assuming one value system leads to a certain politics or another is a mistake.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:17 AM on February 3, 2017 [27 favorites]


What makes this try any more real or important?

It may be reactionary on my part, but I tend to interpret articles like this as attempts by center-right, Clinton-allied elements to say, basically, "Hey, it's brain chemistry, so it's hopeless! Don't do anything crazy like, you know, create a left populist movement that actually addresses the concerns of working class people, OK?"
posted by ryanshepard at 11:19 AM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


This reads like a list of emotional labor strategies you're supposed to employ to keep your abuser from abusing you.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:32 AM on February 3, 2017 [59 favorites]


The tendency of American psychologists to reify the American political system into a natural order is embarrassing.
posted by srboisvert at 11:55 AM on February 3, 2017 [51 favorites]


I currently support the liberal agenda because I spent years in school and in Boy Scouts pledging to the flag and to liberty and justice for all and meaning it.

I'm pretty sure that a lot of the anger behind my beliefs comes from growing up being taught strong values about equality, freedom, fairness, honesty, and justice, only to discover how few of the people who taught me those values- teachers, ministers, family, and more- believed a fucking word of it. Was I just too fucking dim to realize it was all a scam? Or incapable of the mental acrobatics required to adopt beliefs which spit on those values without noticing they did so?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:19 PM on February 3, 2017 [52 favorites]


Of all the things here, I'm most confused by this:

"Hibbings' team also pointed to studies which have found conservatives to own more cleaning supplies"
posted by XtinaS at 12:42 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


The tendency of American psychologists to reify the American political system into a natural order is embarrassing.

I think it's actually the reverse of that, especially if you read Jonathan Haidt. More like "People's strong preferences on moral axes often influence the political parties they choose to associate themselves with and how they discuss politics. Thus, if you are having severe difficulty getting your point across in political discussion, it might be best to try things from a different moral framework!"

Zalzidrax, for example, is right fucking on as to how the same moral framework can produce different outcomes depending on the person's metathinking about those moral frameworks.
posted by corb at 12:50 PM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


“suggesting that conservatives are more attuned than liberals to assessing potential threats.”
On that note, I’ve got zero time but yeah, I think since I’ve been on MeFi for a while, it’s important post a word here. Please do me a favor and read this.

Somewhere along the line, probably starting around 1908 in the U.S. (loooong details there, so I’m skipping) liberalism started getting divorced from the military and eventually it became this sort of reviling schtick (all service members are dumb /uneducated /poor /dupes /victims /crazy /babykillers etc etc). Similarly, liberals cut from the labor movement in favor of the educated professional class that made up the top 10% of wealth in the U.S. (logical since they were the ones handing them checks) vs. the GOP servicing the 1% (or more precisely the .1%).
This shift meant not only did the professional class (lawyers, doctors, engineers, technical professions - basically folks with Masters or Doctorates) shift the Dems but changed the ideology of the word “liberal.” So – very roughly, and in the interest of time onecan read Thomas Frank’s work on this – there’s this meritocracy idea that perpetuates inequity and is quite disdainful of working class folks and organized labor in general (which is only a few decades new to the Dems and “liberals”) and we’ve seen plenty of this in the run up to Trump’s election (not going to argue implications or details here but c’mon, we all know Trump supporters were presumed to be racist, deluded poor, uneducated, etc. and, significantly, basically held in the same regard as military servicemembers) – as well as ignoring the professional class of the military.

What does this have to do with the FPP?

“Feeling confident that one’s group can achieve its goals is important in part because it can propel individuals to engage in behaviors that benefit the group”

Haidt’s thesis is only partly wrong, but wrong in a significantly broken way. Whether people come to terms with each other over moral principles the antagonism is only going to increase.

Taking aside the fact that superior ideology must compete openly with the population (respect each other, yeah, ok, but clearly "let's reason together democratically" is a superior ideology to "shut up and do what you're told" in any clash of ideas (here discussed by Col. Robt. Jones (and here)) and the whole "how" behind Haidt's thesis - let me address the fact that there IS a conflict.

Conservatives (or rather what currently passes, “conservatives”, for this is as fluid a term as “liberal”) have lionized the military (and IMHO exploited the hell out of it as part of the Kansas City shuffle thing they have going on) – because, if nothing else, they’ve learned the Maoist thing – all political power comes from the barrel of a gun.
If you haven’t seen it, the Trump flag on the Navy convoy
is extraordinarily significant.
(Personally, I broke my monitor. First overhand right I’ve thrown in anger since I was a kid)

If y’all have read it, some good debates about Aikido (IMHO ask the Tokyo Riot cops about it’s tactical efficacy) but the philosophy and psychology of conflict and conflict resolution is certainly a component of an engagement be it personal or small group or large scale warfare.
A lot of you are probably familiar with the Nash equilibrium as applied to interpersonal games and social interaction (if not, maybe you’ve seen A Beautiful Mind http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0268978/ )
So there’s this thing “governing dynamics” in the film
(I’m no expert on this) people make choices based on their beliefs about what the other will do.
Currently, (and I am an expert on this) we’re headed for a conflict because we’re in an equilibrium considering our ideologies.
Consider Dominionism (discussed on mefi before) as one of the tools to control the military, at least enough of the military to convince others that the tools of control exist. Yeah, sounds stupid. But people tend to overestimate the apparatus of control and their own relative position (No? We elected the son of a bitch didn’t we?)

So – Haidt’s position is that if we respect each other’s moral positions as moral, but differently oriented, we can alleviate some of the acrimony.
Naunihal Singh, in “Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups” (sitting in my bookshelf next to Luttwack, Galula, Nagl, and Mao ‘cos I’m one of those ignorant military louts) explores a different facet (had to hunt for this quote):

“The argument Singh makes in his book is simple and compelling: Coup attempts are best understood as coordination games, or “situations in which each individual has an incentive to do what others are doing, and therefore each individual’s choices are based on his or her beliefs about the likely actions of others.” Instead of thinking about coups as battles (e.g., the side with the greatest military power will win) or coups as elections (e.g., the side with the most public support will win), Singh pushes us to think of coup success as being driven by coup-makers’ ability to get others to believe that their coup attempt will be successful.
How do coup-makers convince others their coup attempt will be successful? They convince military actors that the success of the coup has the support of almost everybody in the military and that any possible resistance is minor. One way coup makers have done this is by seizing the main radio broadcast facility.”


Instructive because these things have already happened in parts of Africa (coup and counter-coup)
In fact, thinking of Luttwak’s Coup d'Etat, a Practical Handbook – the moral, or in the case of the topic of the FPP, psychological – realities are often radically misaligned with political actions.
And this is a nice little quote from a review from the 60’s that applies here:

“These are the armed forces which can make it, the politicians and bureaucracy whose readiness to accept it makes it possible, and the political forces, official or unofficial, which can check or checkmate it. For the success of a coup depends essentially on the passivity of the existing state apparatus and the people. If either or both resist it may still win, but not as a coup. The Franco regime failed as a military putsch, but won after a civil war. Mr. Luttwak has some very interesting things to say about each of these three.
He is probably at his best on the professional soldiers, members of that curious esoteric world which has so little contact with the civilian world, and works in such different ways. The non-professional soldier, the conscript or temporary officer, or in most cases the policeman, however heavily armed, tends to react much more like the civilians to whom he will return or among whom he operates. Separated from the rest of society by a life consisting (in peacetime) of fancydress, instruction and practice, games and boredom, organized on the assumption that their members at all levels are generally rather stupid and always expendable, held together by the increasingly anomalous values of bravery, honor, contempt for and suspicion of civilians, professional armies tend almost by definition to ideological eccentricity.”

I think I quoted Miller before, but worth quoting again in light of the George Lakoff Salon piece: “Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not yet understood.” - Henry Miller

What’s been going on – and is manifesting now – is indeed a coup. What’s necessary is not just the tools of debate and understanding but a revolution. Quite literally.
Eventually those of us opposed will have to either revolt and use force – and we would be at a loss without allies in law enforcement and the military – or use the inference of force, that is, as Singh outlines, convincing others that the revolution (or counter-coup) will be successful.
I mean, it will be. The question is just one of how much blood and pain is to occur.
I would contend that more lives can be saved by recognizing that, while the six techniques outlined in “How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail” are certainly valuable, they will fail unless one removes the luxury of having incorrect information backed by force.
Fanatics will go so far as to destroy themselves if they can take some of the (perceived or real) enemy with them.
Removing that ability, forcing them to contest reality without resort to violence, is what is necessary. Understanding is valuable. Incredibly so. Understand though that the initiation of violence has already begun when your opponent begins to force their world view on you. Even an Aikidoka recognizes an attack must be met with confidence (which is designed to convince one’s opponent that one is capable of meeting a direct attack).
In fact the “hearts and minds” quote comes from Westmoreland, SOF, and general military wisdom (which is where Pres. Johnson got it) and the bible (misquoting – like the “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the baddest motherfucker in the valley”) saying if you grab them by the balls, you will win their hearts and minds. But is also good counterinsurgent policy (without the cynical bit).

That is - good governance is an end in and of itself and obviates divisions without the need for destructive conflict. In this case, addressing the FPP, I'd add, without the need for an inherent brain based dichotomy.

Dominance games are after all not a left/right division thing, but a primate thing (read “The Logic of Animal Conflict” and/or “Games Primates Play” f’rinstance) – Hawk and Dove strategies.

It's not the left/right thing that leads to conflict. We don't have to fear that. That's just argument really, no matter how mad we get at each other. I've had some serious arguments here with people. Anyone hurt? Any blood spilled? Worst result has been, what, maybe a time out?
So we can have radical differences of opinion, given we're in a symmetrical contest. The American political system currently is in a situation where the rules themselves are being contested in order to imbalance (or further imbalance, really) the political landscape. Which means not just achieving dominance, but maintaining a state of asymmetry (dominance without responsibility - and if you haven't seen that as a pattern yet you're blind)

Asymmetry will inevitably lead to conflict. Regardless of parity in goals or mutual respect.
I’d argue the asymmetry needs to be addressed first. Because preparing for the right task in the wrong way increases the risk of conflict.

Any clash of wills leads to a trial of strength (again – whether it’s perception of, or direct, force). Winning hearts and minds is almost always an underresourced activity directed toward ameliorating local conditions/problems (I know this from experience). The trial of strength, or in this case the test of will, has to be won so that success can support measures to peaceful resolution before more drastic measures have to be used.

The precursors are already there. As so many people are reading 1984 – the objective of power is power – certainly would fit the pattern of what’s being pursued now. (Certainly not everyone is on board with it, but the rhetoric of “winning” is there as is the perception of being on the “winning” side, regardless of the ethos).

(From the Stanford study): “Our natural tendency is to make political arguments in terms of our own morality,” Feinberg said. “But the most effective arguments are based on the values of whomever you are trying to persuade.”

QED.

Ignore the blonde.

(sorry if this is a bit unclear, read some of the links, pressed for time)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2017 [29 favorites]


A recent study has found that an effective way to persuade people in politics is to reframe arguments to appeal to the moral values of those holding opposing positions.

They needed a study to arrive at this conclusion? It's not exactly rocket science. I'm writing here in english because if I did so in portuguese quase ninguém entendia um caralho do que estava aqui a escrever. Same principle. If it's not words, it's social constructs and ways of thinking. We all have out own "vocabularies" which might not be exactly compatible with each other, even if we everyone is receptive to being in the same side of something.

If you are trying to persuade someone, some additional important points to remember are:
Missing one thing that is to be more far more confident in the point you're making than the person being convinced. That's the basics on bullshitting people, and I'm sure it can be applied to everything else. You can be wrong, you can even know to be wrong, but believing the lie helps offset a lot of it.

And this is not new, like some byproduct of post-facts. It's been like that since some tribe in the cradle of civilization traded a cart with a bad axle to another. Confidence sells.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:03 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


it's not liberal vs conservative, it's liberal vs fascist

there is NOTHING conservative about these people
posted by pyramid termite at 1:08 PM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


Sooo Smedleyman, I kinda think what you're trying to say is that conservatives respect power, and shows of force?

Sooo... more mass demonstrations? I mean, you're talking about domination, grabbing folks by the balls, and making people think you have the capability for victory, I think mass demonstrations like the Women's March, and the demonstrations against the Muslim ban show popular support for liberal ideas.
posted by fnerg at 1:10 PM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


Lately the axis I have found to be most polarizing is not right/left but rather pro-government/anti-government.

On the right you have (ostensibly) small-government republicans (except when it comes to defense spending), libertarians, and your average right wing citizen who doesn’t really understand what the government is doing for him but harbors a general dislike of those liberals in Washington.

On the left you have anarchists and the kinds of leftists who are not officially anti-government but cannot name elected politicians they actually support (some will make an exception for Bernie Sanders) and are completely dismissive of the protections, services and incremental progressive gains governments make. This is the “Fuck Trump, Fuck Clinton” rally crowd who are simply not thinking about the millions of lives that are currently dependent on government spending in TANF, housing, healthcare and union protections that Republicans reliably cut and Democrats reliably try to protect. Because they are against the entire government we have, and have ever had, they are effectively against government, though, again, not always theoretically.

Both kinds of anti-government sentiment can be broadly characterized as populism — a sense of the world as “us” against “the elites” — and its adherents prioritize politicians who speak for them, even at the expense of realistically being able to legislate in their interests.

I think it’s not surprising to see a rise in this kind of populism on the heels of our first black president, the first woman to be a major-party nominee, and — for the first time in a long time — the coming of age of a generation of America’s intelligentsia (socially middle class, college educated) whose economic realities do not match their expectations.
posted by mrmurbles at 1:24 PM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


(I can never tell what Smedleyman is saying...)
posted by XtinaS at 1:31 PM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]



What’s been going on – and is manifesting now – is indeed a coup


I'm sorry, I know trump is awful and I'm not demeaning the terror of his presidency, but I feel statements like this really minimise what happens in actual coups. It seems very ahistorical and a little ignorant. Trump was elected with the same rules Obama was. The rules suck, but that's not a coup.
posted by smoke at 1:36 PM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Haidt comes up a lot in the interfaith dialogue I'm part of. I have found Haidt's stuff to be for lack of a better word "kinda dumb" and crooked timber's beefs are more eloquent than mine -- see moral polarization

the hot quote:

"...we should try hard to understand both the mechanisms behind polarization and how – someday – we might get to a better place. I think Haidt’s foundations stuff has something to it, as moral psychology. That stuff has obviously bearings on partisanship, as a normal state of the human moral mind. But it has not much mechanical bearing on political differences between liberals and conservatives. There isn’t some piety gap, and the partisan warfare isn’t asymmetrical. As a result, the stuff Haidt (and others) say at Heterodox Academy mostly makes no sense whatsoever."

i think about this stuff a lot because i am pious and also crude and individualistic in a particular way that maps more closely to 'conservative' values in the individual sense but ended up on the weird hard left b/c of feelings about what a state is good for

in conclusion, morality is a land of constrasts
posted by beefetish at 1:38 PM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


mrmurbles: A lot of that uber skeptical lefty crowd you mention above supported Obama twice.

I don't think they're actually anti government so much as they think the culture and society of the dominant political class in the US is itself corrupted and that corruption at the more basic social level comes out in practice as laissez faire acceptance of political corruption due to its being normalized within their social milieu. This thinking can definitely go too far, but I think that's a more accurate way to characterize that political faction.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:39 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


it's not liberal vs conservative, it's liberal vs fascist
there is NOTHING conservative about these people


Setting aside whether or not that is true about elected Republicans, there is little way forward if you write off every single Trump voter as a fascist. It's also, factually incorrect. There are lots of people who voted for Trump for reasons other than fascism (prolife voters, people who hated Hillary, sexist voters, etc). Democrats won very very few rural counties and rural states. All those people are not fascists. Understanding how it might be possible to convince them, even if you decide it doesn't always make sense to invest in that strategy, is worthwhile.

(Again, not saying that Trump himself, and members of his cabinet are not fascists.)
posted by mercredi at 1:41 PM on February 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


Ugh this hits so many weird buttons for me. If I try to put myself in a Trump voter headspace, will it mess me up? Am I just enabling hate? Or do I need to do it to make the hate lessen? Is it really possible? Is it really possible *for me*? Am I once again being told to do emotional labor to fix assholes who should already know that they're assholes?

I'm still so angry ya'll.
posted by emjaybee at 2:05 PM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


I don't think they're actually anti government so much as they think the culture and society of the dominant political class in the US is itself corrupted and that corruption at the more basic social level comes out in practice as laissez faire acceptance of political corruption due to its being normalized within their social milieu. This thinking can definitely go too far, but I think that's a more accurate way to characterize that political faction.

Let me speak from within that faction and say that it is, a la "liberalism", a diverse faction, ranging from sincere "fuck Trump, fuck Clinton, I wouldn't vote if my own dear mother were receiving disability, anyone who isn't a hypocrite avoids all avoidable interaction with the state" to whatever the fabian socialist version of anarchism would be. ("Anarchism achieved gradually through the creation of parallel institutions" perhaps). Noam Chomsky is an anarchist gradualist, for instance, and said very firmly that we should all not be idiots and vote for Clinton. Some anarchists really dislike Chomsky because he says this type of thing, but seriously, assuming we don't all die in a nuclear holocaust, I plan to argue those people down by pointing to Trump every time for the rest of my life.
posted by Frowner at 2:21 PM on February 3, 2017 [15 favorites]


Fwiw, I wish we could stop doing that thing where we criticize a study of for finding a result that accords with some people's prior beliefs. Science is under attack. We could use less of "duh this is obvious I knew this when I was 10 why did they need to study this" and more "I've always suspected this, it's cool they found evidence for it. Good job!"
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:21 PM on February 3, 2017 [16 favorites]


To be fair, that's what I started out asking. It's not clear to me how this results claims hold up to the same critiques that debunked the previous ones.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:31 PM on February 3, 2017


Fwiw, I wish we could stop doing that thing where we criticize a study of for finding a result that accords with some people's prior beliefs. Science is under attack. We could use less of "duh this is obvious I knew this when I was 10 why did they need to study this" and more "I've always suspected this, it's cool they found evidence for it. Good job!"
It is good to be skeptical of studies that perfectly reinforce your preexisting beliefs.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:34 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


Okay, I know stuff like this can be bullshit, but right now, it explains SO MUCH about how my mom and I keep having the EXACT SAME arguments about Islam, and how I am continually baffled at her inability to see how ANY religion can be used to justify violent acts and singling one out is ridiculous, and she keeps on bringing up specific atrocities and seems horrified that they don't have an affect on me.

So when we were discussing this last night, I specifically brought up the GOOD PEACEFUL MUSLIM AMERICANS who have worked SO HARD for their communities. Maybe it helped? I don't know. But somehow we got onto abortion and everything went even more to shit.
posted by redsparkler at 2:37 PM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


Chomsky is also interesting in relation not to anarchist groups, but also to social democrats such as Steven Pinker. I've been finding videos and articles of Pinker explaining why he disagrees politically with Chomsky, but what stands out about those is that Pinker essentially says "I disagree because Chomsky's view of human nature is different/wronger than mine". And that's precisely the kind of subtle construction that the research in this article is saying that people do; the idea that political differences is so deeply ingrained and reflexive that the very thoughts and language that a person uses to articulate such differences are not even free of that.
posted by polymodus at 2:37 PM on February 3, 2017


Is there someplace where we can discuss Kellyanne Conway's BOWLING GREEN MASSACRE "MISTAKE"?

Is it already being talked about somewhere?

I ask because I think it is clear the folks behind everything we are going through right now know the psychology of each group is so radically different, and knowledge of this difference is the main weapon being used against all of us.

I'm concerned this Conway "mistake" is a trial balloon to see if the public that supports Trump cares if they wholesale make up terrorist events, and if it will be billed in the future as some sort of "Mandela Effect" or lying media thing, or whatever.

Shit is truly turning inside out. I feel so badly for us all. Understanding the studies highlighted in this post is probably more informative for everyone than this latest incident I'm pointing to... still. If you know where this Conway thing is being discussed in an intelligent manner here or elsewhere, please let me know!
posted by jbenben at 2:39 PM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, I know trump is awful and I'm not demeaning the terror of his presidency, but I feel statements like this really minimise what happens in actual coups. It seems very ahistorical and a little ignorant. Trump was elected with the same rules Obama was. The rules suck, but that's not a coup.

Take a step back and look. Governing is currently being done by executive fiat and not by legislative deliberation. The rulings of the judiciary involving the rights of immigrants are being ignored. The party in power is reducing the number polling places in districts who do not support them and passing laws to deliberately disenfranchise the working poor who do not vote for them. The current government controls the House, the Senate, and the presidency despite not having had the majority of popular support for some time. Of these, at the very least the House should represent popular support the most, but oddly enough, it is the most stacked in favor of the ruling party.

Tell me, regardless of how we got here, does this look like a democracy that represents its people?


And I know your conception of a coup involves tanks and police and violence, but... the current president was attacking the legitimacy of the election when he looked like he would lose. Yet he still had the overwhelming support of militarized police forces and a majority of the military. I had someone say to me that if Hillary won, he was seriously considering joining up with a friend who was organizing to fight the result. He was gleeful about the thought of killing a thousand of "the enemy." And it wasn't to threaten me, he merely hadn't considered that someone might consider this position in any way wrong or unreasonable. I knew more than one person who did not have Hillary signs or bumper stickers out of fear of retaliation.

Now, I don't know what would have happened had Hillary been elected, but, and this plays to one of Smedleyman's points, it would have gotten real ugly if the rabid Trump supporters weren't 100% certain they'd get shut down by force and hard.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:42 PM on February 3, 2017 [11 favorites]


This is great stuff, thanks.
posted by salvia at 3:02 PM on February 3, 2017


I don't know how people can have these US politics discussions without talking about race, class, and gender.

The kind of work that people do all day and the kinship role people play in the home has serious influence over what people think is politically possible, and politically necessary.

It's absurd to me that people are discussing anarchism without referring to class (or caste). Get back to reading, ye working intelligensia of metafilter!
posted by eustatic at 3:12 PM on February 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


I don't know how to put this without being offensive so please bear with me apologies in advance. Reading this comment thread makes me feel very sad, what I see is the left arguing about nothing while Rome burns. What ever the validity of the science or the prescriptions none of it sounds too far off from basic selling. AND SELLING WORKS. It is why people end up with swamp land in Florida and why life insurance companies bought CDO's. Our ideas are not so self evident that we do not need to sell them.
posted by Pembquist at 4:30 PM on February 3, 2017 [32 favorites]


eustatic and Pembquist I would like to favorite your comments 10000x. Thank you!
posted by pjsky at 4:32 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


"I think it's actually the reverse of that, especially if you read Jonathan Haidt."

If you read Haidt, you start to recognize that he takes ambiguous cases and uses framing to make sure that they fit his thesis. There's some good stuff there, but Haidt's gone up his own ass and come out Jim Cunningham, where he wants everything on the spectrum between "fear and love."
posted by klangklangston at 4:51 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


What ever the validity of the science or the prescriptions none of it sounds too far off from basic selling. AND SELLING WORKS

The current administration didn't create the market for racist, patriarchal nationalism or white supremacy. And no matter how good your sales techniques, you can't sell widgets at scale to people who want wingnuts. You're presupposing that these supporters are blank slates, empty vessels to be filled with whatever whim the skilled salesman sees fit. That's not how sales works.

People are angry at a loss of entitlement. That it was never right that they had it is besides the point. They think they have had something taken from them, and they want that feeling addressed.

If you think there's a way of dealing with anger that is the result of loss that doesn't involve blaming someone AND that scales to mass market, I'd like to hear it.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:07 PM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


The whole point of selling is selling widgets to people who want wingnuts. They just don't understand that they really wanted widgets all along.

And when it comes to anger who said anything about not blaming someone, there is plenty of blame to go around, Trump et al are just good at directing the blame at people who aren't particularly blameworthy.

Lastly what does right have to do with it? Do you think politics is about right? Because I sure don't, I think it is about power. Perhaps power directed at doing right but certainly not necessarily. God is not on our side or anybody else's side.
posted by Pembquist at 5:52 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


For everything this article gets right as psychology it fails as politics.

It's not about persuasion. On almost every single policy question the median voter prefers the more liberal option. But unlike liberals, conservatives understand that winning in politics means creating the conditions in which victory is possible.

Leftists will win power once they actually start standing up for what they believe, and ruthlessly fighting every single political battle. They will need to get fired up and start contesting state legislatures and governorships and judgeships. They will need to start actually standing up for what they believe without this damned triangulation and normalize their political views.They will need to build real political organizations that actually connect to people in their real lives.
posted by mikek at 6:48 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


> I'm pretty sure that a lot of the anger behind my beliefs comes from growing up being taught strong values about equality, freedom, fairness, honesty, and justice, only to discover how few of the people who taught me those values- teachers, ministers, family, and more- believed a fucking word of it. Was I just too fucking dim to realize it was all a scam?

Drawing attention back to this.

The thing is, as a liberal and as a scientist and a queer chick and a lefty, it's been a little interesting and slightly startling to me to watch as, now that I'm too gut-wrenchingly angry to be afraid or to have energy for looking after conservative people's feelings, my rhetoric amps up and deepens and strengthens....

...and dips seamlessly right into exactly the kinds of tactics and rhetorical techniques I watch the right playing on. Because I believe those things right down in the marrow of my being; because this is not a game anymore and because I am so, so, afraid. But it's interesting to me that, in being so afraid and so angry and so done with the bullshit of the right wing, my immediate response is to draw on exactly the values and techniques that we normally associate with the right wing much more than the left: invoking nationalistic pride, for example. Naming my Muslim and Latinx and immigrant compatriots to be good loyal honest hardworking neighbors, and using that to state that we should get behind them. Making a big stink about legislating morality. Snarling that those fat-cat state-government outsiders, bloated on their corrupt oil money, cannot be allowed to tell my city what it can and cannot do in its own back yard.

I mean it, every word. Those tactics and techniques are playing because I sincerely believe them--and in part, my anger about the hypocrisy of the right--but I'm also automatically dipping to pull them up because they are all things that place these arguments outside the realm of the abstract. These are tactics that take abstract policy ideas and humanize them: those not-us bastards want to hurt my in-group friends, and the hell they will while I stand here!

They're tactics that draw heavy moral lines in the sand, sure, but they're also lines that carefully leave room to sidle around them into my camp if people listen to what I'm saying. And more to the point, my tactics are taking all those strong beliefs and emotions I'm grappling with and translating them into the most pathos-heavy case for democracy that I can rely on. I'm tugging emotional strings just as hard as I can with my rhetoric, and I'm really relying on intellectual arguments only insofar as I must to a) check my own positions for obvious holes and gaps in my defense and b) to make sure I maintain moral high ground and reliance on truth. You'll notice though that nowhere in my most recent political postings am I discussing anything unemotional or even purely factual--everything is very emotional, because I am scared and desperate.

So while I'm very interested in the psych that holds that conservatives and liberals think very differently, I'm a touch skeptical when it comes to understanding how those ideas affect rhetoric. I think the idea that conservatives are more often afraid and liberals are less afraid, in general, might explain a shit ton of the variance in tactics all on its own. In which case, the best thing that we can do might be to make a stronger case, to be more angry and more scared and more emphatic--because that emotional underpinning says to our monkey brains that this shit is important and the people we are talking to should be paying attention. And real fear beats imaginary fear, when it comes to arguing and making a case, every damn time. It's hard to inflame fear in the monster under the bed when lions are visibly roaming in the streets, and every couple of weeks someone you know vanishes. Real threats have a way of... drawing attention to themselves.
posted by sciatrix at 7:50 PM on February 3, 2017 [18 favorites]


Here’s how progressives can answer

While I understand this at a pragmatic level, I think it's sort of crappy to shift your philosophical ground like this article asks you to do, in order to develop effective tactics. Using different rationales of government as the foundation of a policy argument when it's convenient to do so is a kind of game-playing that has a certain stink about it. There's a reason I believe what I believe, and it damn well is grounded in fundamental feelings and ideas about the human condition, suffering, collective action, and various abstract ideals that I believe lead to human thriving. I don't just change out the basis for those views on what's expedient.

I guess if you accept that you just can never share that sort of philosophical ground, that's the situation you're left with, and the grownups have to just hypocritically use the tactics of manipulation to get what's right to happen. That's unpleasant, though.
posted by Miko at 8:28 PM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


fwiw...
A Tale of Two Moralities, Part One: Regional Inequality and Moral Polarization[*]
Why Is Our Moral Culture Polarizing?

One place to start is to ask why it is that people, as individuals, gravitate to certain moral and political viewpoints. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations” theory—which shows that conservatives and liberals have different moral sensibilities, sensitive to different moral considerations—is perhaps the best-known account. But there are others.

In a 2012 piece for the Economist, I surveyed some of the research in personality psychology that indicates a correlation between political ideology and a couple of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality—conscientiousness and openness to experience, in particular—and then connected that to evidence that people have self-segregated geographically by personality and ideology. It’s an interesting post and you should read it.

The upshot is that liberals (low conscientiousness, high openness to experience) and conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) have distinctive personalities, and that there’s reason to believe we’ve been sorting ourselves into communities of psychologically/ideologically similar people.
The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You're a Trump Supporter - "Trump's electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it's very possible that Trump's fan base will continue to grow."[*]

The centralizing-decentralizing axis
Here's a theory: one of the most important, yet under-rated, divisions in politics is that between centralizers and decentralizers. This isn't quite the same as the authoritarian-libertarian axis used by Political Compass, or Haidt's liberty-oppression axis. For one thing, the axis I have in mind is often an instrumental one – it's about how our values are best achieved – rather than one of values themselves...

[T]he division should be regarded as being about how to achieve social change: can it be done merely through conventional parliamentary means in which a 'strong leader' and good messages break through to voters? Or does it also (or instead?) require a broader social movement to counteract the massive ideological and media obstacles the party faces? My sympathies are with the latter. But that's not my point. Instead, the point is that there is mutual incomprehension here, in part because of a failure to see what the issue is... And here, even the so-called neutral media are in fact horribly biased here.
Centralization versus Pluralism: "driven by a fundamental contradiction between the logic of economics and the logic of politics."[*]

also btw...
-America the Stuck
-Red State, Blue City
-Bugs Bunny, Bobby Hill, and George Costanza Explain Politics
posted by kliuless at 8:48 PM on February 3, 2017 [8 favorites]




Miko, I share the concern. This is like using Cialdini principles to get someone to change their minds. However is it possible to mitigate the unpleasantness by being more transparent in dialog?
posted by storybored at 8:54 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Here's the other thing. Why is our moral culture polarizing? In part, because we've lost a lot of the mechanisms that, for better or for worse, trained us in the idea of an American civil polity that rose above partisanship. There was a time where Americans could point to things like equality under the law, the due process of justice, and the Bill of Rights, and find some common ground there that would not easily yield. The right has been insanely successful in eroding even these basic tenets of American consensus reality, to the point where insisting that they matter has become, in essence, equivalent to a liberal agenda. That's a serious realignment of values, and not one easily papered over with pop-psych magic tricks.
posted by Miko at 9:33 PM on February 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


Guess what -- if you somehow transform yourself into a white male in a nice suit and midwest accent and then politely request that someone not murder LBGT folks because page xx of the Bible can be interpreted to forbid it, you might be more persuasive than if you approach them looking like your actual weirdo self and make the argument for tolerance based on the actual reasons we should tolerate each other. Great, thanks.
posted by chortly at 9:46 PM on February 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


The problem is some of the current issues aren't, like, differences of opinion. They're not "Oh, I think the federal government should handle this" versus "Well, really that's something to be handled on the local level."

It's "Does this race/gender/sexual orientation have a right to exist and, if not, should we just lean on them to oppress them or should we put them in concentration camps?"

I really do get the liberal impulse to hear both sides and build bridges and come to an understanding and all that jazz but the fascist side of conservatism is an apocalyptic ideology where the only possible outcome is a mountain of corpses. There's no reasonable compromise/meeting halfway with people who want to oppress or outright kill entire groups of people.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:10 PM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


This kind of research has been repeatedly debunked in the past.

Do you have a couple links, saulgoodman?
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:12 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


There's no reasonable compromise/meeting halfway with people who want to oppress or outright kill entire groups of people.

Right. And the American civil sensibility used to be that middle ground that was "meeting halfway" - that's exactly what MLK bet on and leveraged in favor of his Civil Rights victories - the residual WWII unifying rhetoric of justice, access, opportunity for all, the promise of fulfilling the American foundational rhetoric. MLK had this sense that decent people raised with American civic values would be unable to stomach the violent oppression of nonviolent resistors. And, at that time, he was right. And that was essential to his selection of nonviolent opposition as a productive strategy.

But that time's over. People aren't trained that way any more. It's no longer a part of our educational system, our civic rhetoric, our shared rituals. You can't count on appealing to shared values; we don't share values any more. We don't even pretend to. There are people who are openly ready to chuck the Bill of Rights under the bus. When we reach that point of unabashed and pugnacious support of totalitarianism actually removing our basic rights in the name of safety, we've lost any basis for appeal to shared values we might once have had; and that's why we're thrown back onto prehistoric, limbic-level appeals to gut estimations of safety vs. risk, in vs. out, me vs. them.
posted by Miko at 10:16 PM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


I guess if you accept that you just can never share that sort of philosophical ground, that's the situation you're left with, and the grownups have to just hypocritically use the tactics of manipulation to get what's right to happen. That's unpleasant, though.


I don't really see how it's manipulative to tailor an argument to the perspective of an audience, unless you're making a fundamentally dishonest argument (which is a different issue).
posted by atoxyl at 10:30 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


unless you're making a fundamentally dishonest argument (which is a different issue).

I think it's dishonest to appeal to a logical foundation you don't believe in yourself.
posted by Miko at 10:40 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


Using different rationales of government as the foundation of a policy argument when it's convenient to do so is a kind of game-playing that has a certain stink about it.

Thing is, everyone already uses specific rationales of morality, government, and community when they make policy arguments. It is not any more manipulative to make arguments that appeal to different core ethics than it is to make ones that appeal to your own core ethics.

When you are trying to get a bank loan, you don't argue, "I have always wanted a house in a sunny neighborhood near the beach; this one would make me very happy." You argue, "I make X much per year and my job is very stable." The first may be absolutely true - but there is no reason for the banker to care about that. (You may mention it anyway, but it's not likely to be a compelling argument. "Buyer loves this house" is not a reason to loan money to them.)

When you are trying to persuade people who disagree with you on matters of policy, use arguments they find compelling. This is not the same as "lie to them." Find the points that support your argument that are important to them, which may not be the ones you care about.

... Trying to find examples, I have just realized that the most successful argument I've ever made for abortion rights in a discussion with a conservative, may have worked in large part because I discussed body horror. Huh.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:42 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


I don't think it's dishonest to say, "I support X for certain reasons, but here's why you should support X, given what you believe in and where you're coming from." Just as the native Portuguese speaker switches to English in this English-speaking forum in order to be understood and persuasive, because Portuguese will just fly over most people's heads here, it would behoove a Muslim or atheist in the Bible Belt to be able to speak the language of Christianity to Christians when arguing for this or that public policy. As long as you aren't actively misrepresenting who you are or how you justify your positions, then it's not dishonest - it's just effective communication and outreach.

I mean, it would be nice if everyone could just learn to speak and think in Portuguese like us, but in the meantime, we need to persuade the anglophones not to destroy society. Which means speaking to them in their own language.
posted by skoosh at 11:53 PM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


ErisLordFreedom: the most successful argument I've ever made for abortion rights in a discussion with a conservative, may have worked in large part because I discussed body horror.

...Could you provide a few details of your argument and their reaction, please?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:37 AM on February 4, 2017


...Could you provide a few details of your argument and their reaction, please?

Happy to - it'll have to wait until sometime tomorrow, though; it's 1 am where I am. I can probably dig up the link to the discussion; it was in a locked forum, so I can't share it, but I can pull out my quotes and give the gist of the reaction.

It was a discussion with a conservative Mormon, who knew I was a Pagan. (The forum itself was about ebooks; we were in the "politics & religion" section that most of the forum shunned.) End result was him saying, basically, "huh; never thought of it that way; I'll have to reconsider some things."

I'll scrounge up more details when I've had some sleep. I know I brought up the feeling that many pregnant woman have had, where she looks down at her belly and thinks OMG THERE IS A PERSON INSIDE ME WTF IS GOING ON HERE, and how viscerally terrifying that is, even if it's an entirely wanted and loved pregnancy. (Both of mine were, and I still had a few of those moments.)

There were also some bits about "pregnancy is not 'magic'; it's a physiological process that rips the woman's body through hell," but I don't remember the details - I'll look for them.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:08 AM on February 4, 2017


"By any means necessary."
One side believes that, one side is still trying to convince them it's impolite.
posted by fullerine at 1:48 AM on February 4, 2017


Moderation, as a control rod, has failed and the system needs to get back to stable. I would also suggest that moderation is not defined by compromise, because compromise assumes a prior opposition and relationship. If one refuses to define themselves in relation to someone else's ideology, they are not undecided, but have decided something else, which is not neutral. Reactive extremism on both sides is a process that suddenly fills in the gaps with ideas in defiance or opposition to a perceived enemy. Political grandmasters can exploit any conflict or disagreement, and that is likely what has happened worldwide. A moment will be coming soon about how the left should react to a populist right-wing tantrum. Anyone preaching the golden rule and sound common sense will have better odds over someone pretending to be the friend of the embittered. They left the high ground completely undefended as they abandoned civility, embraced hate as a policy, and redefined religion as abortion protest.
posted by Brian B. at 3:49 AM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't have a great selection of cites handy, or any for this particular work, but the general criticisms tend to apply across all the studies into this topic, but here's one I Googled up that cites others.

I have a critique of my own of the interpretation of the results: of course people who are currently thinking differently about things will appear to be thinking differently about things when you look into their thoughts. Why is that news? Musicians brains work differently than non musicians brains, too. Nobody thinks that's because they were born that way, or that their way of thinking made them become musicians. There's no way to close the epistemological loop: it's not possible to conclude anything from these studies because it's tautological that people who think differently can be shown to think differently. We can tell that without needing to feel the bumps on people's heads or interpret brain scans. We knew that already, I hope.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:41 AM on February 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't personally find the claimed insights into the nature of the differences (fear, disgust, etc.) All that valuable either because there are always exceptions, people motivated by fear and disgust who don't identify as conservative or Republican in the least. The difference in outcomes must be due to something else in those cases, rather than these claimed innate neurological tendencies, even if you don't buy my central critique. The data for these studies doesn't claim an absolute correlation between thinking/feeling style and has never found one. Some easily disgusted people are leftist liberals anyway. If we're not claiming brain differences can explain that, what do studies like this accomplish?
posted by saulgoodman at 5:56 AM on February 4, 2017


I don't think it's dishonest to say, "I support X for certain reasons, but here's why you should support X, given what you believe in and where you're coming from."

OK, you've all convinced me that this can be done in a way that is open and not hypocritical. I do wonder whether, as saulgoodman says, it's news, though. I woke up remembering that this is a tactic abortion-rights supporters have used for a long time: "if you believe life is sacred, then you should be in favor of supporting mothers/welfare/healthcare/ending the death penalty/ending wars, etc." Interestingly, though, that doesn't turn out to actually work on most people who oppose abortion rights, because their conscious or stated motivation for that opposition is different from their unconscious or unstated one, and they tend to be unaware of, or refuse to acknowledge, the gap.

Anyone preaching the golden rule and sound common sense will have better odds over someone pretending to be the friend of the embittered.

I tend to agree that an appeal to moderation is a promising direction. The women's marches, healthcare and immigration-ban protests have brought out millions if people not because they are in themselves radical causes, they're not, but because people of typically moderate temperament have become engaged. However, that's also not that new - the moderation/common-sense message was the rationale for the Jon Stewart/Steven Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear:
Its stated purpose was to provide a venue for attendees to be heard above what Stewart described as the more vocal and extreme 15–20% of Americans who "control the conversation" of American politics,[4] the argument being that these extremes demonize each other and engage in counterproductive actions, with a return to sanity intended to promote reasoned discussion.
That was six years ago. Is it going to catch on? Sadly, I think it might take the clear common enemy of the global rightward populist shift to wake up the moderate sensibility and get it into the streets to reassert shared values.
posted by Miko at 5:57 AM on February 4, 2017 [5 favorites]


the Big Five personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to new experiences, extraversion and emotional stability) are correlated with political orientation. Specifically, liberals tend to score higher on experiential openness while conservatives tend to be strongly conscientious.

Eh. I'm over-conscientious, a people-pleaser, averse to new experiences, introverted, and emotionally labile. I also grew up with an authoritarian parent. In spite of all that, I am very strongly liberal.

Granted, I'm a single data point, but I have a lot of reservations about attempts to correlate a set of alleged brain characteristics with political views. Even if the correlation turns out to be valid, how do we know which direction the influence went? Brains are fairly plastic; what if observed brain differences are the result of political views, rather than the cause?

Faction 1: The chicken came first!
Faction 2: Infidel! The egg came first!
posted by Weftage at 6:33 AM on February 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


scientists in most fields (that don't have a tradition of being political like sociology or anthropology) tend to be liberal Democrats, many of them pretty smug and not too politically thoughtful (sure, they're well-educated, but every scientist nowadays is an extreme specialist). there is a danger of studies that "prove" that conservatives are intrinsically closed-minded, foolish, incapable of learning, etc.

it's not hard to imagine that there could be somewhat of a publication bias towards research that flatters scientists and reassures them that they are the smart and good people.

a lot of this research is fascinating and useful but it's important to keep in mind that it may not be the whole picture. if it makes you feel superior, definitely don't trust it.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:02 AM on February 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's no longer a part of our educational system, our civic rhetoric, our shared rituals. You can't count on appealing to shared values; we don't share values any more. We don't even pretend to.

I've been thinking a lot about this, and I think that in many ways, our society becoming as fragmented as it has has really helped to create this situation. I think about this particularly when I think about my military service, which succeeds very well at bringing people from disparate 'tribes' and very different political beliefs into thinking of themselves as one tribe which all moves together.

You see, when you're in the military, there's holiday celebrations you go to, and even if you don't believe in the particular holiday you're celebrating much, there's a lot of free fun, so you go anyway. You go to the Fourth of July, and secular-Easter, and just a whole host of things. And while you're there, everyone salutes the same flag, hears the same music stir, and feels just a little bit more love for their fellow man. Everyone's there. It can still be diverse, as long as we're all coming together on the big things. The last Fourth of July I attended on base had dozens of awesome ethnic food stands, and a sea of faces that all looked different. It hurts my heart when I go because it swells so much - because to me, that's America.

We don't have shared rituals, as a nation, anymore. A lot of people look down their nose at the idea of shared rituals. The parades, the civic celebrations, the idea that everyone should be together and at least share some things, rather than be balkanized.

I don't think people understand how much those things were the inoculations that protected American civil society. They thought they were trivial and we could do without them - but we can't. Without any common cultural frame of reference, it's hard to expand your definition of the in-group to include everyone.
posted by corb at 8:20 AM on February 4, 2017 [17 favorites]


I've read my way through some but nowhere near all the FPP links (thanks triggerfinger, for a very thorough post!), so maybe they eventually get there - but I'm seeing a distinct lack of institutional and historical factors in this analysis.

Imagine I came out with a book about Christianity, for example. And that I opened by pointing out that there are Protestants and Catholics, and isn't it interesting that there are these two groups who dislike each other so within the same religion? I wonder what deep neurological factors make some people spontaneously grow up to be Protestants, and others grow up to be Catholics? I could even come up with some superficially interesting hypotheses (Catholics follow a single official head of the church, maybe they have an "authoritarian" brain, while Protestants are constantly splitting off from each other to form new denominations, they must be mentally diverse, unable to organize socially, etc.).

Of course, the reality is that a lot of Christians end up in the denomination they do because they were raised within a set of institutions, which they then go on to continue to inhabit (going from a devout family up through a parochial school system to a college associated with one or another faith, going to church or even just living in a section of town which is predominantly inhabited by people of that faith, and today (when the parochial school system and the religious neighborhood are fading) going to summer camps associated with your group, interacting on messageboards built around common interests, etc.). It's not always decisive - you can leave - but even if individuals leave those institutions, which are vectors of power and resources, and which have a deep interest in outreach - put out considerable effort to gain new recruits and to maintain their base.

We live in a society in which the liberal-conservative (or Left-Right, which isn't in my view quite the same thing) divide has a long historical basis, within which institutions (think tanks, media outlets, political parties, factions within political parties, networks of rich donors and grassroots NGOs, the new SuperPACs, a whole gaggling host of talking heads and "intellectuals") have grown up with a vested interest in maintaining and deepening this way of viewing the world. And these institutions also have allies (churches, labor unions (membership and leadership, the two not always being aligned), corporate institutions, universities and research institutions) which might not be fully in alignment with the values of one or the other side but end up espousing and becoming networked with one anyway (the Catholic Church, which is strongly associated with political conservatism despite strong social service and anti-war convictions, is one of my favorite examples).

So people in America grow up within an environment in which this divide seems quite natural. I mean, I can remember hearing "conservative" and "liberal" in middle school and having a vague grasp of what that meant, even though I'd never taken a class on "government" at school and I'm certain no one had ever sat me down and explained it to me. And it is precisely because it feels natural that we now try to read it back as natural: this is how human beings are.

But if you actually start looking critically at it, cracks start to appear almost immediately. I already mentioned the Catholic Church as a massive institution, containing a huge number of adherents whose espoused beliefs cut deeply across that "natural" divide. "Unions", as we've seen during this last election, often find their leadership and membership aligning very differently. I know from experience, coming from a politically divided family, that most of the individuals within it associated strongly with one or other political "side" even though they don't agree with all of its tenets (the conservatives, being Seventh-Day Adventist, don't like this mixing of Church and State that the Right seems so cozy with, or the profligate use of the military, the liberals, being Seventh-Day Adventist, aren't fond of how easygoing liberals are about sex ed, contraception, the "collapse of the family", etc.). But they still vote liberal or conservative because those solid blocks are both heavily ingrained in how we all see the world and strongly vested in the institutions that make up that world: there is no Catholic Party, or Seventh-Day Adventist Party (not advocating this, obviously), that aligns perfectly with their views.

So what do you do in that instance? You either try to change one of the blocs to more purely reflect your views (which can be done but takes time - for what we think of today as "conservatives", changing the Republican Party took decades of hard work and repeated failure), or you disengage, which a great many people do, or you just hold your nose and vote for whoever, in the personal scale of your conscience, is Less Wrong. And shifts on that scale, in my view, tend to explain "swing voters" much better than the idea that those people just don't have real convictions or change them repeatedly over the course of their lives. At any given moment, one issue or another is going to loom larger. I have fiercely anti-abortion Catholic friends who voted against Trump because they were just more horrified by how he advocates treating women, not because they stopped considering abortion to be murder.

But whichever side wins any given political battle, at the polls or outside it, the idea that this is the real, important divide in society is reinforced.

At the same time, on each side of the divide, opinions do evolve. Conservatives today are not what conservatives were in the time of Robert Taft, and liberals are not what they were in the time of FDR (or LBJ), and neither conservatives nor liberals in today's America would be recognizable to those alive at the time when these terms were coined in the 1800s (when liberals were free-market zealots and conservatives were terrified of "enthusiastic" evangelical religion, among other things). I think its important to recognize this because a lot of the thinkers linked here seem to be taking a snapshot of political America circa 1980-2016 and projecting that static image forward and backward. The fact is that while the picture I've painted is of status quo that acts to reinforce itself, change is very possible - it just takes massive effort and time (barring unforseen transformative events, like the Great Depression or the Civil War). And it takes a great deal of talking to ordinary people because the actual institutions, and those who lead them, generally aren't going to listen. Reagan wasn't nominated and elected because the leaders of the Eisenhower-to-Ford-era Republican Party changed their minds between 1976 and 1980.

There's a lot in these articles to suggest how to change those minds, and that's interesting stuff, but I think that the broader model of inherent, pre-existing, free-standing psychological/neurological differences between the sides is...well, a lot less useful. The same "hardness of heart" can be just as easily explained by the realities of living in a society this model of partisanship saturates everything from the ground up.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:48 AM on February 4, 2017 [9 favorites]


“Our natural tendency is to make political arguments in terms of our own morality,” Feinberg said. “But the most effective arguments are based on the values of whomever you are trying to persuade.”

If Bill Clinton and other Democrats who have done well with the white working class (including Barack Obama) have taught us anything, its that the "values" of many of those voters are based significantly on white paranoia and white resentment (not to mention male resentment) and that to do well with them you have to coddle those emotions.

Any useful "moral foundations" theory has to grapple with this fact. Haidt doesn't say that conservatives care only about sanctity, authority, etc. He admits that both liberals and conservatives are motivated primarily by care/harm and fairness/cheating. They're the top two for everyone.

The biggest difference is not which of the four other "foundations" also matter. Its which groups of people get to count when you're thinking about the first two foundations. Its about who you give a shit about being harmed and cheated, about who gets to complain about fairness and care.

Hillary's rhetorical challenge was not about framing her ideas in terms of patriotism, sanctity, etc. It was that she was a white progressive running in a post-Trayvon Martin, post-Ferguson world, where she *had* to pick the right side or else lose her base. And in doing so (which was the right thing to do) she almost necessarily activated the white fear/resentment latent in many Americans.
posted by AceRock at 11:53 AM on February 4, 2017 [10 favorites]


and that to do well with them you have to coddle those emotions.

You don't have to achieve a sweeping victory among that demographic though, you just have to do a few percent better than Hillary Clinton did.
posted by atoxyl at 6:03 PM on February 4, 2017


Interesting material, thanks. I've been thinking a lot about these axis points and where they are and what is causing the rage which drives Trump voters. These are useful for helping me shape my own thinking.

Right now I'm thinking about civic symbols and small town life. Corb says something up above which is maybe smarter than what I'm thinking-- the civic vehicles in which towns can participate have fallen by the wayside and the anxieties these provoke are greater for some than for others. The small towns are unhealthy to begin with, most of the kids who perform well move away. Meth addiction is sweeping the country. Factories are gone and farming is no longer a realistic option. And after suffering all these indignities, outsiders come along and impact their ability to have a Christmas play or to say the pledge of allegiance or hunting or to go to a football game or to have a civic military parade. If you're in a city, then these symbols aren't as meaningful-- you have an ocean of choices-- but without civic touchpoints in a small town, you're often completely isolated.

So if you're someone who's fine with new experiences, then it's easy, you leave. There's a cost for sure (I remember throwing up the first time I saw New York City because I was so frightened of the tall buildings) but it's a cost you are willing to pay and which doesn't cause you psychic pain. But if you're someone who is afraid of new experiences, and you receive your reward from following tradition, then many of these small towns are terrifying right now. The water's rising and there's no future, but you don't see how you can leave and separate yourself from your family and roots. It just isn't in you to leave unless you are forced to do so. And you want to be happy where you are.

So then racism enters the frame-- out groups who are perceived as benefiting from the decay of the countryside. In my family it was always the Jews who were associated with the city. The Jews were the bankers and the merchants and were making choices which meant all the money would flow to the city. My grandfather was quite explicit on this and *still* blamed Jewish bankers for the Great Depression. And then too there was this rage that all these others who were either traditionally lower class than they were (PoC) were somehow flourishing in this city environment. So. Much. Anger. And this extended to people not wanting to fill traditional roles (women) and religion as the center of the community being questioned. It's a toxic mix, and I think it has been coming for a very long time.

So how do you have a conversation? Equal rights for other religions or people with different skin color won't move them, since they feel their own religion and identity has been disrespected. Feminism-- same. (My cousins talk a lot lately about boys being passed over for good schools since girls take all the places which should "go to someone who will use their degree".) You can talk about the economy, but they are not interested in the general economic good as much as they are fundamentally reshaping how the money flows in our world today. They don't think they would *need* universal health insurance if they had good jobs and a healthy community. They feel like something has been stolen from them and they don't want the symptoms addressed. They want their way of life returned. They want to stay where they are and still be okay without government handouts. And on some level they think that if they could just get Big Government out of their lives and get rid of the "international bankers" then they could fix it themselves if we only let them do it without interference. I'm guessing a lot of the trolling and rage is because we're trying to stop them when they think they see a solution in sight.

So how do we balance this? Trump is a liar, and none of his changes will give him what they want. But how can we communicate this in a way which addresses their fears and their unwillingness to leave where they are?

Note, I'm not defending any of the people in my thinking here-- I've just been flummoxed for the first time in my life with my total inability to talk through this wall to my family and old friends. Some have been angry, but others have simply dismissed conversation on the topic: "You just don't understand. You left too long ago."
posted by frumiousb at 8:25 PM on February 4, 2017 [13 favorites]


I spent my late 20s through early 30s in SF during the George W years, flummoxed by the alternative reality my conservative friends and colleagues seemed to live in, resulting in endless arguments talking past one another. It wasn't until reading linguist George Lakoff's "Moral Politics" that I started to realize how liberal/conservative "framing" worked. Lakoff's thesis is that the liberal/conversative dichotomy is closely tied to our innate mental models of *parenting*: maternalistic (nurturing) versus paternalistic (tough love). We all share these competing internal models, and the art of framing a political argument is about using language that appeals to one model over the other. Political consultants like Frank Lutz are masters of shaping messages like this, e.g. saying "school choice" instead of "privatization". These ideas are highly compelling and comforting (to me at least) because they provide a general "theory" that explains so many empirical observations. For example, it's not surprising at all that my conservative friends post such disdain of protesters on social medial; disrespect of authority violates the paternalistic moral values of obedience/"I'm the parent". In the conservative parenting model, the world is a tough place, composed of either winners or losers, and it's only by being obedient that children learn (the hard way, if necessary) how to survive. You can reframe the protest issue by reminding your conservative friends what a patriotic thing it is for hard-working Americans the exercise their constitutional rights to free speech. (The constitution's usually a pretty good stand-in for a stern father-figure :)
posted by Vitamaster at 11:39 PM on February 4, 2017 [3 favorites]


Framing your ideas to fit the values of the other can be called "empathy," if we're metaframing to sell framing to liberals, or can be called "the art of the deal" if we're metaframing to sell it to the right.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:56 AM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


and then there are the problems of empathy.
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


You can reframe the protest issue by reminding your conservative friends what a patriotic thing it is for hard-working Americans the exercise their constitutional rights to free speech. (The constitution's usually a pretty good stand-in for a stern father-figure :)

Tell that to all of the people on my Facebook feed who were pro-Cliven Bundy, pro-Tea Party and anti-Occupy, anti-Black Lives Matter. The main "framing" that matters is *who* is protesting and do they deserve their "constitutional rights" as much as straight white men.
posted by AceRock at 11:36 AM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


And after suffering all these indignities, outsiders come along and impact their ability to have a Christmas play or to say the pledge of allegiance or hunting or to go to a football game or to have a civic military parade. If you're in a city, then these symbols aren't as meaningful-- you have an ocean of choices-- but without civic touchpoints in a small town, you're often completely isolated.

That's a really insightful angle that I hadn't particularly thought of, but I think is completely right. Because the challenges are in fact based on things that can be real problems - if you aren't Christian, the Christmas play that everyone participates in can feel exclusionary. But at the same time, if you remove the Christmas play, what do you have to replace it with? What play do you have that can happen at the same time every year, that most people know the story of and can feel a part of? It's not necessarily so much that people are so attached to that touchstone being a religious one, so much as that without that touchstone, they don't have one at all.
posted by corb at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


The "problems of empathy" guy confuses empathy with vicarious selfishness. You need to both feel the emapthy and simultaneously understand that it has a context. But to say you're "against empathy" is better marketing. I can empathize with his need to market but I can also see it's a bogus framing.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:49 AM on February 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


for hard-working Americans

Just reinforces the notion that merit and human value are associated with wage work. What about nonworking Americans? retirees, stay-at-home parents, independently wealthy, people w/disabilities that prevent them working? They have rights to. Hate to reify this kind of thinking. A good example of how shifting rationale for the convenience of convincing someone can violate my own moral ground.

It's not necessarily so much that people are so attached to that touchstone being a religious one, so much as that without that touchstone, they don't have one at all.

I would believe that more except that when this does happen, as in communities I am part of, there's nothing but grumbling about changing the school kids' "Christmas concert" to the "Holiday Concert" or "Winter Concert," or the town tree to a "Holiday Tree." I do agree with a lot of what you are saying, but if people continue to insist that it is their language and symbols that dictate the shared ritual, we get nowhere.
posted by Miko at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


it's a bogus framing.

I actually heard him first on To the Best of Our Knowledge, in greater depth. Perhaps that interview will give a better representation of his point of view.
posted by Miko at 11:54 AM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


if people continue to insist that it is their language and symbols that dictate the shared ritual

Yeah, it's a really, really difficult thing, which is why I think leaning hard in the direction of the American secular religion is the way to go. Because a lot of what's happening with these things is that they are kind of...hmm, I'm having difficulty coming up with the appropriate words, so bear with me, but it's really hard to create a ritual that evokes emotion. You need to do the same thing in the same way for years, if you're starting from scratch, evoking the same feelings every time. These things are in many ways shortcutting the hard work.

Like - just to take a stupid (real) example, I'm trying to switch the holiday tradition in my house to a smoked turkey with stuffing-in-the-bird. For that to become the comfort food and the Traditional Holiday Food, it needs to happen for years in a row, the bird needs to taste roughly the same and everyone needs to like it and have happy associations for years. We've done it for two years, so it's staaarting to get there, but it needs some more years to be The Thing. It's a lot of work.

But this holiday has a lot of cultural associations with 'goose', that I didn't dictate - that's how it was done by people for years, some books that reference that holiday mention 'goose', they see it in movies, etc. So even though I've only cooked a goose once some years ago, the year I cooked 'goose', it already immediately had the benefit of bringing the associations that it's already tied to, and people thought 'What a great holiday dinner!' and felt happier just because goose is here and goose already tied to these things that made them happy.

And if you're in a town that already has problems with people pulling away, you don't have the time to take three years during which some people don't come, and make sure you put on a bang-up performance for years running and everyone has a good time and tells everyone else it was pretty great. You need to pull on some existing tradition that comes pre-loaded with positive associations, that you know you can draw people with.

We are coming to understand that that tradition can't be religious - which is a shame in some ways, because religion is really old and has a lot of stuff pre-loaded, which means you can kind of half ass it and still get the civic engagement. But if it makes people outsiders, (and we see that it does), then that's a problem we need to fix. But when we're reaching for other tools, we need to reach for tools that already exist, not that we're still forming. I think that's why people bitch about the 'Holiday Concert' rather than the 'Christmas Concert' - I mean some people just hate change, but also, there's no deep cultural priming around 'holiday concerts' in the same way. There could be, but it would take years to assemble.

Celebrating America I think is the way ultimately to go - two hundred years of priming - but that also has some problems, right now, because for the last twenty or thirty years, you've had negative priming for 'yay America' associations, and that's a hard bar to clear. I don't know how to get people over it. I think it has to be gotten over, but I just don't know how to make that happen. Recent electoral stuff has made it even harder. Because how do you celebrate the flag that waves over Trump? It's a really hard one. I don't have the answer, I just know we need one.
posted by corb at 12:08 PM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


religion is really old and has a lot of stuff pre-loaded

This is interesting to think about. One of the things I deal with in my work is religion, folklore, tradition. And the surprising thing about Christmas, especially in the US, is how invented and how recent a tradition it is, and how loosely connected to actual religious dogma in any faith. It's not all that old. You have only to go back to my great-grandparents' childhood, and the holiday was nowhere near as embedded as it is today either religiously, civically, or commercially. There were no "town trees" (precious few trees at all until the 1890s), no caroling concerts, no public decorations, no town hall Santas. All of that is a product of the early 20th century.

The pledge of allegiance is similar, coming from the 1890s. Not something the Founders did, and they likely would have hated it. Patriotic pageants go back not much earlier than 1850.

Thanksgiving, which I generally love because it's a pretty inclusive holiday, is an intentional creation of the Civil War era. And of course it's not inclusive to a lot of Native American activists who observe it as a day of mourning - even though it's totally unconnected, historically, to the colonial era or any colonial observance.

So on the one hand, this all argues that traditions can be introduced and expanded. At the same time, it shows that the things we consider to be these deeply held traditions are also fairly arbitrary, recent, and culture-bound. Most of what we may have grown up with as the standard traditions of American civic life - the 4th of July parade or fireworks display, the Christmas concert or parade or town tree lighting - really proliferated in the post-WWII period. Especially because so many communities underwent a wholesale reorientation of their population composition during the war period, and so many postwar communities were just plain totally new, it was a period of attempting to build or rebuild feelings of civic connection, and these community-based rituals were presented increasingly, at the same time sort of carrying their own suggestion that these were things that had always gone on. But there are really very very few town events or observances, even in older settlements like New England, that predate the Civil War.

Perhaps this is one reason why things like Superbowl Sunday become a bigger deal. It's something that's sort of a calendar observance or tradition, but relatively free from the trappings of who's included and excluded.
posted by Miko at 1:24 PM on February 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


miko says it right!! a lot of these things we think of as set in stone are malleable which is great

i am disinclined to civic rituals but double down on the hobbyist group / religion level / friendship level rituals and the nice thing about all that stuff is as long as you get a group of people doing shit or eating the same thing or singing or working together, people really want to cohere

so there's that
posted by beefetish at 2:21 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am gradually bringing a group of friends on board with the Christmas tradition of the massive D&D blowout. In five years time I am eagerly looking forward to the giant screaming match because someone wants to try Pathfinder that year 'just for a change' and no fuck you Al why are you trying to ruin christmas.
posted by um at 3:14 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Most of what we may have grown up with as the standard traditions of American civic life - the 4th of July parade or fireworks display, the Christmas concert or parade or town tree lighting - really proliferated in the post-WWII period. Especially because so many communities underwent a wholesale reorientation of their population composition during the war period, and so many postwar communities were just plain totally new, it was a period of attempting to build or rebuild feelings of civic connection, and these community-based rituals were presented increasingly, at the same time sort of carrying their own suggestion that these were things that had always gone on.

That's true, but those towns are where a lot of the trump voters begin. They struggled through the Great Depression and emerged into the post war prosperity after WWII. My family were Irish immigrants, but it was like that boom time washed all of their immigrant identities into this prosperity of being American. If you accept that the decline began in the 1970s and continued through the 80s, then you have this generation of older voters who remember how things were and look at how they are now. They don't know why, so they've drawn their own conclusions which are often rooted in the death of tradition and the death of American pride.

No matter how old a tradition really is, you can't tell people who grew up with it that it's really ahistorical. Look at Zwarte Piet in NL-- you can conclusively prove that the current form really became popular in the 1930s, but it literally doesn't matter who love Piet. Or consider the Guadeloupe raccoon-- they've discovered it to be invasive, not endemic. But the government has decided to still keep it protected and it is beloved as "their" raccoon. We won't get anywhere if we say "these celebrations are ahistorical, so it shouldn't be a problem to replace them with something more inclusive". And they don't understand why you keep saying their celebration isn't inclusive because in their mind naturally all are welcome.

Traditions are malleable, but that doesn't make them easy to change. (I kind of like what they do here in Hong Kong. Christmas is celebrated, and so is Chinese New Year. The Christians worship at Christmas and spend family time, while the non-Christians use it as a party to exchange gifts with friends. The reverse happens at CNY.)
posted by frumiousb at 3:42 PM on February 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Pride, in June, is also becoming what feels a lot like a holiday and a tradition in some communities.
posted by Miko at 8:49 PM on February 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


I do think the holiday observances are an important kind of community glue. And that we've been lacking in developing more inclusive ones. But also we maybe don't need to fret that we don't have perfect ones. My activism over the past 10 years has focused a lot around food issues - local food, food deserts, hunger, etc. - and it has been really a continuing source of inspiration to find how easy it is, and how valuable and how connecting, it is just to have potlucks and sit down with people you don't know yet. Just rituals that are that simple, any place of coming together over anything with people you don't know already, can be a point where you begin to form social bonds. The harder part is how those point to or reinforce shared values.

In general I think liberals could stand to talk about values a lot more. I think some right-wingers think we just don't have them. And we could stand to live them more consistently, too, and not only when it's time to respond to crisis. I'm very, very aware that the majority of classic civic-volunteer roles - Scout leaders, Rotary, firefighters, First Aid, fair committee, whatever - GOP voters really tend to be overrepresented in these things. It can seem like we don't care enough to keep things going sometimes, only to complain when things don't go the way we like. That's not to say a lot of people don't work hard all the time. What's more important to me (and has been helpful in this recent fight) is to talk about why I do what I do - because I believe all people are created equal, because I believe in freedom of expression, because I believe in strong communities, because I believe in truth and honesty. Putting values front and center may help us connect with people who, even at a vestigial level, recognize them as important. There are people out there these days, though, who have never been taught that they're important. They got the message of town Christmas tree (or whatever) but not the message of freedom of religion/speech/expression that underlies it.
posted by Miko at 8:57 PM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


Whether or not you agree with the deep brain research aspects of this FPP, I think it's pretty hard to deny that liberals need to become better at persuading people. I mean, this stuff should really be common sense. A lot of it just boils down to "trying to walk a mile in the other person's shoes."

Arguments that work on you will not work on someone else. Conversely, arguments that work on someone else will not work on you. So why not make the argument that will convince the other person? Unfortunately, a number of people on the left think this amounts to "selling out" or "not being true to yourself", which to me seems fairly juvenile. Nobody's asking anyone to compromise their core beliefs or goals. It's more about reading the room and making the argument that will work best in a given situation.
posted by panama joe at 9:04 PM on February 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think it's pretty hard to deny that liberals need to become better at persuading people

Sure, from a strategic point of view. But why always frame it this way? Why not "non-liberals need to become better informed?" or "less exclusionary?" Those things are true too.
posted by Miko at 9:18 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Because we have control over how we comport ourselves, but we don't have control over how thoughtful or well-informed the other side is. It makes sense to use what you have instead of lamenting over what you don't have.

Prior to 11/9, many of us thought that our ideas would win the day because of their very rightness. That all we had to do was wait for enough old people to die, and we'd eventually get our way. That we didn't have to find a way to sell our ideas or knit them into a cohesive narrative, because their rightness should be self-evident, and if it's not self-evident to you, you're one of the old fogies who needs to die, and once you die, we'll win.

And shit just ain't like that. Bad ideas are not like armies or obstacles to overcome. They're more like viruses. If you don't have a healthy immune system, the viruses come back. And if you don't work hard to give people a convincing good narrative, there will be someone on the other side working really hard to give people a convincing shitty narrative. There's always going to be a Trump or a Bannon whispering viruses into peoples' ears. And this will be true no matter how much progress we make. Say this current era ends (because all eras do). We have another New Deal. Another Great Society. Good ideas are on the rise again. Well, there will still be Trumps and Bannons out there just waiting for us to let our guard down. Bad ideas are like herpes. They never truly go away.
posted by panama joe at 9:38 PM on February 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


Also, I'm really tired of seeing people equate argument reframing with the kind of actual selling out that gutted the Democratic party. There is a world of difference between reframing an argument to suit an audience and signing the Violent Crime And Law Enforcement Act or NAFTA or the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. One is an effective argumentation tactic; the other represents a betrayal of core beliefs in the form of concrete legislation passed. It is disingenuous to argue that the two are one and the same.
posted by panama joe at 9:53 PM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]


I guess I just see the reframing thing as sort of a variety of code switching, which is one reason why I don't so much have a problem with it.
posted by panama joe at 10:14 PM on February 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


One of the problems I have with it is that it's just change on the surface. If you are successful in reframing an issue, and your reframing allows people to continue being racist while now supporting your issue, you haven't really put the virus into remission at all. In fact, this is one of the things we're hearing from people in the current era - that making it shameful to say racist things did not make having racist thoughts or secretly reading racist material go away. People to some degree complied with a public norm. But their hearts and minds did not change. That, not the swaying of eras, is what makes progress so unstable. Using rhetoric to achieve temporary legal victories is not the same thing as having a theory of real change rooted in the conviction that some ideas are more productive of human thriving than others. Now, I'm the first to take a temporary legal victory that makes things better for people. But the reason we shouldn't be surprised at the resurgence of things like white nationalism is that we won a war of rhetoric and argument over the last 40 years, but we didn't actually change the minds of at least a third of people. We did not shift their orientation to supporting a different vision of the polity, even if we succeeded in, for instance, having Obama's policies lead the day for a while. So the gains of progressivism were extremely fragile.

I also think there are very long-term trends that are real and have meaning in addition to shorter-term oscillation. I would always rather be an American in 2017 than in 1850, for instance. So while I agree that the battle is constant and that eras come and go and the pendulum sways back and forth, it's not just that simple; there are some fundamental changes of moral orientation that have been made and have enjoyed deeper permanence, because they do function at the level of internal commitment.
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


For another angle on political psychology, I have to recommend Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). A large part of the unbridgeable gulf between left and right is not that people are freshly applying different but coherent world views to each situation, but that everyone has a tendency to disregard or minimize information dissonant with their view of themselves as a good person.
posted by mubba at 12:19 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


but I'm seeing a distinct lack of institutional and historical factors in this analysis.

I would definitely be interested in seeing more on this, if anyone finds anything.

So, something that I have found that works pretty well, when I'm talking to the other side, is to talk about general values and stay far, far away from politicized terms. I can nearly always find common ground when I say things like "An insurance system that can deny people based on preexisting conditions isn't really a system at all" or "I think it's fair that kids should be able to be covered by their parents insurance long enough to go through secondary education and/or get established in the working world", rather than saying "I support Obamacare". And I'm sure we've all seen the studies that show that when things are presented using these general principles, untainted by politicized words, a majority of people are in favor of more liberal ideas.

But this is where I hit a wall. Because while I can get Republicans to agree with me in principle, when I try to tell them that the things they just agreed with are things that the Democratic Party - NOT the Republicans - currently extol, my fragile gains slip away. I can literally show them the actual party platforms so they can see for themselves, and they dismiss it. If it's true that conservatives rate strongly in the in-group/loyalty aspect, then this makes sense, but does it really make sense that a sense of loyalty would prevail over someone's actual belief system, despite all evidence to the contrary that the group you're maintaining loyalty to no longer really represents you? It would seem to be so, as every conservative I've spoken to (who has been open to having a dialogue) has about a thousand reasons for the incongruity - the system has checks and balances that will stop Trump; he doesn't really mean what he's saying; he's not representative of real Republicans; the GOP is the party of Lincoln, etc. Obviously I don't believe any of these things, but while I can find common ground on so many things, it seems near impossible to get people to give up the actual party allegiance. This is even when I try to frame things like "If you love the Republican party for being the party of Lincoln or small government, then you should fight to defend it from becoming the party of neo-nazis" (or whatever). Even when I try to make it easy for them by holding up the Evan McMullins or Justin Amashes of the world to try to make it acceptable for them to break ranks. They just won't make the leap. And while there are clearly a lot of conservatives who are straight up racists (who I don't really even bother with trying to talk to), I genuinely believe that the people I do talk to are not racists or motivated by racism. I can't come up with any explanation that's better than the group loyalty factor (which is crazy to me, considering how so many of the progressives I know will jump ship to another candidate/party at the drop of a hat).

People to some degree complied with a public norm. But their hearts and minds did not change.

I agree with you that their hearts and minds may not have changed. But I think it not being acceptable to say these things outright makes a big difference in society. Children benefit from growing up in a culture that says that it's not okay to say certain words because they're racist and racism is bad. I think the problem is that the right is just better at framing than we are, and it's also easier for them. "Pro-life" is an example of this. It's an easy, pat term that sounds really nice - who could be against life? On our side, we have "pro-choice", which is much more nebulous and conceptual. On the one hand we have LIFE next to a photo of a cute baby, on the other hand we have CHOICE next to a picture of....??? It's abstract in a way that doesn't appeal to people's base instincts like "pro-life" might. It's easier to sell ideas when they're simple and seem intuitive, but most things have more nuance, and progressives, I think, are trying to sell that nuance, which will always be an uphill battle. I mean, I'm stumped. I really wish I knew of a better way, but I just can't come up with anything.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:28 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


But I think it not being acceptable to say these things outright makes a big difference in society.

I sort of agree with you, but then I don't, because if they are just stuffing it down only to bring it out when people start calling attention to systemic bias or noticing that black people just keep getting mowed down by the police and so on and so forth, then has it really made a big difference in society? Has it? Maybe it has, but I'm honestly no longer sure. Racism went underground, but it did not disappear, and maybe it actually got cleverer.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on February 6, 2017


The other thing: I was thinking about this as I listened to the Betsy De Vos news this morning. As important as town rituals are, what's probably the single most bonding (or not) institution in the American civic structure is public school. It's where people learn American history, patriotic songs, national heroes, shared ritual. The more we fragment and dismantle it, the less we have in common. This gutting of our education system is probably the biggest culprit: the destruction of civics education; the lack of a real common national curriculum so that we can guarantee that any American student has at least been exposed to the same information and skills; the politicization of textbooks.
posted by Miko at 5:39 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Perhaps that interview will give a better representation of his point of view.

The main thing that bugs me about the guy is he either deliberately or ignorantly glosses over a lot of nuances about how empathy works and appeals to sloppy thinking/pop cultural ideas about psychology. It's not narcissistic in the least to need to find a way to identify with someone else in order to relate to them. That's how empathy works, and maybe it's not a pure enough motivation for altruism to some moral purists, but we've never had another one. He also ignores that there are different forms of empathy and that even basic compassion and fellow feeling have always been about identification. Just caring about yourself and relating to people normally, by expanding your self identity enough to feel you have enough in common with another to care about them, too, is as far from being narcissistic as it's humanly possible to go, but this guy has too much of a contrarian streak to resist mischaracterizing self-critical reflection as equivalent to any other form of self-absorption. But it's exactly that--engaging in fair-minded, self-critical reflection and expanding one's sense of identity to include others--that narcissists can't do.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:00 AM on February 7, 2017


As important as town rituals are, what's probably the single most bonding (or not) institution in the American civic structure is public school. It's where people learn American history, patriotic songs, national heroes, shared ritual. The more we fragment and dismantle it, the less we have in common. This gutting of our education system is probably the biggest culprit: the destruction of civics education; the lack of a real common national curriculum so that we can guarantee that any American student has at least been exposed to the same information and skills; the politicization of textbooks.

So I think I both agree and disagree with you - I agree with you on a major cause, but I disagree a bit on the culprit, which may, admittedly, be my perspective - but I'd like to agree with you, if that makes any sense, because if it's what you think, it seems much more fixable.

From my perspective, American public school has been moving, as an institution, away from a reinforcer of the American civic structure, primarily due to the politicization of liberals. I'm not saying this necessarily is the case, just that this is how it's appeared to me, and if you see it differently, I'd honestly love to hear about how.

So again, from my perspective (mostly what my own kid has brought home), schoolchildren have moved away from "America, what a great country! You should be proud of it! Here are some patriotic songs and American Heroes that you can learn about and feel good about!" and moved more towards, "America, The Country That Kind Of Sucks! Here are some villains, and a multitude of ways in which you can learn it has sucked previously!" Which - I'm not going to say that angle isn't also true, because it totally is, but it seems like it's way less designed to produce a "Yay, America! I want to be a part of and do good things for this country!"

Because I would love an American Civics education. One of my Big Nerd Hobbies is reading school textbooks from the 1800s and early 1900s, and I love, love, love the bits about civics in there, where kids learn their civic responsibilities in the early grades. But it's always been my impression that that's not a bipartisan love or desire, and that the Dems will oppose it so it's just a nonstarter.
posted by corb at 11:21 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


it's always been my impression that that's not a bipartisan love or desire

This is the polar, polar opposite of my impression. By a wide margin the most patriotic and most earnestly civics-focused people I know are public school educated people on the left, and they're the ones who fight for real civics curricula in schools.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:36 AM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


One of my Big Nerd Hobbies is reading school textbooks from the 1800s and early 1900s, and I love, love, love the bits about civics in there, where kids learn their civic responsibilities in the early grades.

Bear in mind that only some subgroup of the male half of Americans were allowed to have civic responsibilities back then. The public schools were never teaching "America, what a great country! You should be proud of it! Here are some patriotic songs and American Heroes that you can learn about and feel good about!"; they were teaching "America, what a great country for straight white men! If you are a straight white man, you should be proud of it, and the rest of you should be too despite not being equal in most ways! Here are some patriotic songs and Straight White Male American Heroes that you can learn about and feel good about, plus that guy who invented the peanut and I guess Amelia Earhart because she's dead!"

Yeah, I know, I'm part of the "America kinda sucks!" problem. But just like I'd rather my doctor tells me about the cancer, I'd rather my kids learn that shit used to be worse, it's better now, and that is a result of constant effort, and it's not going to keep better unless we keep up that effort.
posted by Etrigan at 11:42 AM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


By a wide margin the most patriotic and most earnestly civics-focused people I know are public school educated people on the left, and they're the ones who fight for real civics curricula in schools.

So this is kind of exciting! But also I'm almost afraid to get my hopes up. What would 'real civics curricula' mean to you? Where are places that the civics-loving Right and the civics-loving Left could agree? What could we put in place that wouldn't automatically come with 50% of the population hating it?
posted by corb at 11:43 AM on February 7, 2017


I don't even know where to start. Checks and balances, separation of church and state, hobbes and locke, enlightenment political philosophy, a nation of laws not men; individual honor and duty to the constitution; that we're supposed to be a free country with equal opportunities for all; that where we've failed to be that, we should try to squarely recognize facts and do better; bill of rights, free press as a check on government abuses, legal system aiming to product just outcomes based on fair application of laws to rich and poor alike; anti-corruption laws, trustbusting, treating individual citizens, not corporate entities, as the proper subjects of "we the people"; universal suffrage, the government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed; universal schooling as a down payment on our belief in a free and equal electorate; doing things for the common good or the long term even if they require individual sacrifice or short term limits on profit; anti-authoritarianism, etc?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:57 AM on February 7, 2017 [7 favorites]


The Federalist Papers and private journals and letters of historical actors should be in there from the start, not only after teaching national myths.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:42 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


Would you left-leaning civics-folk still support a civics education that included some, not all, of that? Just off the things both list, for example: checks and balances, Hobbes and Locke, enlightenment political philosophy, nation of laws, individual honor and duty to the constitution, bill of rights, free press on a check on government abuses, consent of the governed, and definitely the Federalist Papers? I'm trying to think of things listed that wouldn't seem controversial on the Right - and I know there's a broader conversation to be had about whether those things should be controversial or not, but I'd just like to get as much as I/we can in before it becomes existential fights for someone.
posted by corb at 12:46 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think the problem is the actual right in the US at this time (whatever it might have been 30 years ago) has become at its core an anti-intellectual party. That's where I think the lack of common ground is coming from. I don't mean you personally corb, and I appreciate that you want to find common ground. But my current sense is the right is tripling-down on opposition to critical thinking and other enlightenment values, and subordinating all principles to ideological conformity to the agenda handed from talking heads. It's intrinsically hostile to individuals thinking for themselves about civic duty and facts.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:54 PM on February 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


(This is my honest feeling, and it's one of total dismay, because my family background has some principled conservative people in it, and my education had principled conservative teachers, and these days I just don't recognize the Republican party at all.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:01 PM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


No, I totally get that - like I wish it didn't exist, but it absolutely fucking does. That's why I (with regret) left off things like 'separation of church and state', things which should be important parts of civics education, but I know would be a political hot potato for no damn good reason at all. I am like a time travelling Republican at this point to some extent, with a tiny crew of people who agree with me and are all maybe also time travellers.

I think what I'm hoping is that if there was enough patriotic hoopla around civics education, that even if they didn't care about it personally, the anti-intellectuals might not look too deeply, and might be like 'yeah! 'murica!' and if we tread very, very gently, then we could have nonpartisan civics education in the schools and the kids would be all right.

This might be a futile hope, I just...this is alien to me too, really. I mean I know immigrant families really tend to double down on YES THIS COUNTRY, but it's just..kind of shocking and bizarre every time I come up for air and I don't really know how to deal with it other than to try to use veteran status and work twice as hard.
posted by corb at 1:27 PM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


It's worth noting that the big thing in the War on (non-Christians at) Christmas this year was the school that canceled the Christmas play ...

... because mandatory testing and standards did not allow enough time for students to prepare for it. But, since the War on (non-Christians at) Christmas is a symbolic propaganda campaign, a Jewish family was harassed anyway.

corb: Would you left-leaning civics-folk still support a civics education that included some, not all, of that?

Of course. But first, that needs to be supported with both budgets and teacher time. And the second is that much of the public school curriculum and volunteer organizations (such as the Boy Scouts of America) promoted in this area pivot around culture-war shibboleths. But by all means, if that curriculum supports my very American constitutional right to not commit blasphemy in the service of nationalism, you'll have my full support.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:01 PM on February 7, 2017


corb, I think it's interesting which items you dropped as apparently not being palatable to right-leaning people. Just to list them:
  • separation of church and state
  • that we're supposed to be a free country with equal opportunities for all
  • that where we've failed to be that, we should try to squarely recognize facts and do better
  • legal system aiming to product just outcomes based on fair application of laws to rich and poor alike
  • anti-corruption laws
  • trustbusting
  • treating individual citizens, not corporate entities, as the proper subjects of "we the people"
  • universal suffrage
  • universal schooling as a down payment on our belief in a free and equal electorate
  • doing things for the common good or the long term even if they require individual sacrifice or short term limits on profit
  • anti-authoritarianism
posted by Lexica at 3:39 PM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


But it's always been my impression that that's not a bipartisan love or desire, and that the Dems will oppose it so it's just a nonstarter.

It's a depressing sign of our Orwellian world that this is even a question.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:57 PM on February 7, 2017


American public school has been moving, as an institution, away from a reinforcer of the American civic structure, primarily due to the politicization of liberals... if you see it differently, I'd honestly love to hear about how.
I definitely see it differently. But what puzzles me is why you think that you can't both sing patriotic songs and study the actual facts of history? Why you can't both learn about the impressive ideals and in our canon of founding and guiding documents and the inspiring deeds of heroes and leaders, and at the same time realize that we continue to fall short of their vision -- and still draw enough inspiration to keep using those documents and to keep up the fight? I mean, I did, I do, and I fell in love with history and you'll rarely meet a more patriotic individual; most of my family and close friends (many veterans, many Army brats, many journalists, many teachers, many ages, many colors) feel very much the same way). I feel very bound to others, especially in struggles for full civil rights under the Constitution, precisely because of our shared national identity and our love for those ideals and the traditions that keep them fresh in our minds. I don't see this as a dichotomy. This is my country.

If anything, a falsely shiny narrative is so patently untrustworthy that that sort of thing really undermines my feelings of true patriotism and common cause. Don't ask me to believe what's fake. We're not stupid and we're not children. Let's be honest and look at reality together, and square it with the vision we say we believe in, and if we really believe in that, let's keep moving reality closer to that ideal.

it's always been my impression that that's not a bipartisan love

I would like you to really ask yourself where that impression comes from and how you developed it. It is false. But I am really interested in how you built that understanding.

Would you left-leaning civics-folk still support a civics education that included some, not all, of that?... I'm trying to think of things listed that wouldn't seem controversial on the Right

What on that list would be "controversial on the Right?" I had a hard time finding in that list of basic civics education anything that really could be truly controversial.

I'm also not as concerned with what's controversial as what's accurate - what's an evidence-based, practical understanding of our political origins and the mechanisms of government?

I brought up civics because I care a lot about it, it's one of my issues - and because I think it does have huge potential to be embraced by a large swath of moderate Americans as something much needed. I think there are at least a few people who, despite their leanings one way or another, still respect the basic structures of our government and believe people should know about those, and that it's our duty as citizens. I'm pretty willing to bet on that. So I'm not so concerned with whether it would send the wingnuts on the right into a tailspin, but whether reasonable people can agree that these ideas need to be revived.

Another way to think about this: it's not that we can't have this kind of civics education because it's "liberal" and extreme right-wingers don't want us to have these ideas. It's the other way around. Extreme right-wingers who didn't want us to have these ideas made sure we don't have this kind of civics education - and the product of that decision is people who now see these ideas that they no longer hear aired in an educational environment as fact- and evidence-based elements of our Republic and its history as somehow "liberal" and un-American - when, if anything, they are THE American ideas. The notion that civics is "liberal" is a product, not a predecessor, of right-wing strategy to gut voter education. I don't know how many ways to say it: If you think of civics as "liberal," the call is coming from inside the house.

For efforts along this path, see orgs
Citizen University
Saguaro Seminars on Civic Engagement - earlier 21c warning bell
Civics Education Initiative
Center for Civic Education
Dreyfuss Civics Initiative

And some articles
Is Trump's Victory the Jump-Start Civics Education Needed? - pretty good history in this one.
Renewing Civic Education
Citizenship 101
Lack of Civics Education has Shaped the Election
posted by Miko at 8:39 PM on February 7, 2017 [8 favorites]


>So again, from my perspective (mostly what my own kid has brought home), schoolchildren have moved away from "America, what a great country! You should be proud of it! Here are some patriotic songs and American Heroes that you can learn about and feel good about!" and moved more towards, "America, The Country That Kind Of Sucks! Here are some villains, and a multitude of ways in which you can learn it has sucked previously!" Which - I'm not going to say that angle isn't also true, because it totally is, but it seems like it's way less designed to produce a "Yay, America! I want to be a part of and do good things for this country!"

I guess if you're teaching kindergarten having "America, what a great country!" as the only message might be a reasonable position. As kids get older it becomes less and less reasonable. Learning that people can do both good and bad things, that a nation can intend to strive for freedom and equality while still doing bad things – I don't have kids, but I think by about age 10 I was well able to deal with that kind of complexity.

>That's why I (with regret) left off things like 'separation of church and state', things which should be important parts of civics education, but I know would be a political hot potato for no damn good reason at all.

To people who don't follow the dominant religion, it's a very damn good reason. Separation of church and state matters.

>Another way to think about this: it's not that we can't have this kind of civics education because it's "liberal" and extreme right-wingers don't want us to have these ideas.

Especially when it's Texas (a red state in its government, despite the blue-leaning Texans) that has its thumb on the scale when it comes to approving school textbooks.
posted by Lexica at 9:11 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


To people who don't follow the dominant religion, it's a very damn good reason. Separation of church and state matters.

It should matter first and foremost to conservatives, if they believe what they say about the nation's founding ideals. Given their experience under British rule, they distinctly did not want to be coerced into observing a state religion. There's a reason that is in the First amendment.
posted by Miko at 5:14 AM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Also, I think if a person is a reasonable conservative, it would make sense to stand up for these basic civics ideas, instead of worrying how to tailor them to the ignorant base. I suspect there are many more people who think like corb than we imagine, but they get drowned out. It would be a good thing to see conservatives reclaim their sense of ownership in the foundations of government, which is definitely something we can all join together on.
posted by Miko at 7:20 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


There's a reason that is in the First amendment.

Is the reason that they forgot about it in the years of drafting the actual Constitution, which is chock full of such rules and limitations already, to the point that we can divine that freedom from state-sponsored religion is less important than the prospect of states granting titles of nobility?

Sorry, I just hate this idea that the ordering of the Bill of Rights actually means anything.
posted by Etrigan at 7:27 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Every one of the state Bills of Rights that informed the Bill of Rights listed freedom/rights of conscience and/or freedom of religion. All but two included freedom of petition and the press. The right to bear arms wasn't mentioned in three of those state bills. I think that though the process came together messily, there remains a reason why the expressive freedoms come first. They underlie the others and were among the most common concerns of the states.
posted by Miko at 1:11 PM on February 8, 2017


I think that though the process came together messily, there remains a reason why the expressive freedoms come first. They underlie the others and were among the most common concerns of the states.

My understanding was that the Bill of Rights was ordered to match where the particular rights being enumerated would have fit into the Constitution had they been written into it directly, because Madison originally wrote the amendments (or rather, wrote a bunch of proposed amendments that were whittled down and built upon in committee) as direct changes to the text of the Constitution. That approach was rejected, in order to leave the Constitution 'unchanged' and tack the amendments onto the end. But even after it was rejected, the text and organization of Madison's proposals still form the core of the revision, so that the ordering largely remained. Freedom of speech is up front because its a legislative issue -- "Congress shall make no law" -- and would have fit in Article II, Section 9, along with everything else Congress can't do.

Insofar as the Bill of Rights was concerned, expressive freedoms are up front because they're, Constitutionally, a restriction on the power of Congress; and, secondarily, because Congressional issues are the first part of the Constitutional that the Bill of Rights modified. And insofar as the ordering mattered, Madison didn't intend to put them first anyway: he wanted to bury them in the middle of Article II, Section 9 (as noted); and beyond that he wanted an amendment about Congressional apportionment to be the 'First' amendment.

That said, you could reasonably point to the decision to keep the amendments separate from the body of the Constitution's text -- and the decision to create the Bill of Rights itself, rather than accept the argument that the rights is offered were already implicit in the Constitution; and the decision to accept some but not all of Madison's proposed amendments -- as an admission that the drafters and contemporary American society did prioritize press freedoms and perhaps that informed, as well, the choice to list the Legislative branch first in the Constitution itself as a broader expression of priorities underpinning the entire endeavor (I would argue that last part, certainly). But with regards to the actual ordering, it's most likely incorrect to think that the Bill of Rights was intended to be listed in order of importance, either by the drafters of the amendments or by the public at the time.
posted by cjelli at 2:09 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Also, I think if a person is a reasonable conservative, it would make sense to stand up for these basic civics ideas, instead of worrying how to tailor them to the ignorant base.

If there is anything I have learned, dispiritedly, in this last year, it is that it no longer matters to me what would make sense in an ideal world. I need to tailor my organizing to the world in which I actually live, or I will have very high ideals that never succeed. Right now, we have almost no civics education, thus I see any civics education as a step up. In an ideal world, maybe I would strive for more. But we don't live in that world. We live in a world where believing that ideals would be enough and we could make choices in a vacuum got us the Trump upset.

I had a hard time finding in that list of basic civics education anything that really could be truly controversial.


Did you really? I was thinking not just about what things are, but what the connotations and interpretations are.

For example, from the list Lexica assembled of what I'd left off, it's not that those ideals are all necessarily controversial, but that the very words that express those ideals, and what they mean, are bifurcated. We aren't a united nation anymore, so any way you move, you'll be teaching one side or another, and there aren't easy answers for this stuff.

What, precisely, does "equal opportunities for all" mean? Or "just outcomes"? Or "fair application of laws"? Does "separation of church and state" simply mean no official religions? How far down does it go? What about "universal suffrage"? Leaving aside how short its actual history is, how far does and should it go?

That's leaving aside stuff like "treating individual citizens, not corporate entities, as the proper subjects of "we the people", or "anti-authoritarianism", which are far from settled civic questions.
posted by corb at 2:29 PM on February 8, 2017


. I need to tailor my organizing to the world in which I actually live

It might be a strategy worth questioning. The people who don't know enough to know they don't know aren't necessarily your target audience for this discussion. They likely don't know enough to really even be truly conservative. What I'm arguing is that there are a lot of people who think like you or can be convinced to, and are probably more worth your time and action than people who are both ignorant and oppositional, as well as definitively extreme in their orientation to the basic Englightenment ideas that underlie these civics basics.

the very words that express those ideals, and what they mean, are bifurcated.

No, they're really not. This is what I meant by 'the call is coming from inside the house.' These ideas are basic and shared. If they have been politicized, it was not done by the left. That's what I meant by "the call is coming from inside the house." If you've accepted this language and these ideas as "liberal," you've already swallowed a line of reasoning. You didn't have to, and you can choke it back up.

Did you really?
Yes.

What, precisely, does "equal opportunities for all" mean? Or "just outcomes"? Or "fair application of laws"? Does "separation of church and state" simply mean no official religions? How far down does it go? What about "universal suffrage"? Leaving aside how short its actual history is, how far does and should it go?

Aren't these really, really great questions to explore in a civics discussion or civics class? Is just asking these questions "liberal?"
posted by Miko at 4:01 PM on February 8, 2017


"But that time's over. People aren't trained that way any more. It's no longer a part of our educational system, our civic rhetoric, our shared rituals. "

And it's worth mentioning that this was on purpose, as part of a right-wing program, and that it's also something that's baked into liberalism as an exploit. There's no way to be consistently liberal without giving the freedom to destroy liberal institutions.

"I tend to agree that an appeal to moderation is a promising direction. The women's marches, healthcare and immigration-ban protests have brought out millions if people not because they are in themselves radical causes, they're not, but because people of typically moderate temperament have become engaged. However, that's also not that new - the moderation/common-sense message was the rationale for the Jon Stewart/Steven Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear:
Its stated purpose was to provide a venue for attendees to be heard above what Stewart described as the more vocal and extreme 15–20% of Americans who "control the conversation" of American politics,[4] the argument being that these extremes demonize each other and engage in counterproductive actions, with a return to sanity intended to promote reasoned discussion.
That was six years ago. Is it going to catch on? Sadly, I think it might take the clear common enemy of the global rightward populist shift to wake up the moderate sensibility and get it into the streets to reassert shared values.
"

It's not really, or not an overwhelmingly effective one. Rhetorically, people favor a self image of themselves as moderates, because for any position, you likely know of positions both more extreme and more compromised than the one you're taking. But while appeals to moderation help sell compromised policies (and all policies are compromised), they don't motivate people to participate.

The analogy I would use is the "Buy American" or eco-conscious consumerism — the moral consumerism model. People say, broadly, that they support buying American-made goods, or goods that have a lower environmental impact. We like to think of ourselves as patriotic, community-minded, and earth conscious. But people don't actually tend to buy enough Made in America stuff for it to be profitable — they'd rather have cheap t-shirts from Walmart than expensive t-shirts from South Carolina. And the value that people respond to with many eco-conscious purchases is the social signaling attached — Fiji water supports a despotic regime and fucks the environment, but uses green-washed advertising and sells like hotcakes.

Moderation is the same thing, especially when mapped to political participation — most concretely in voter behavior. People say that they support the moderate that gets things done, but people will vote for a politician who is further away from them on multiple issue axes (e.g. labor, trade, immigration, environment, etc.) but closer to the voter's extreme preferences on a single issue (e.g. abortion). If voters were truly swayed by moderate approaches, they'd prefer politicians that better represented their policy preferences. Instead, most voters are only "moderate" because they have a bunch of conflicting extreme positions, and are motivated by the politicians that best match their extremity on any particular issue.

The other problem with the moderation framing is that it plays into the "both sides do it" false equivalency narrative, where we have one "side" that has installed actual white supremacist Dominionists into national security positions, and the other "side" is modest, mainstream, incremental compromise. But the "alt right" is a much bigger influence on the Republican policies than Revcom is on the Democrats. The "moderate" position would be somewhere between President Pepe and Clinton, which is still destabilizing and dangerous.

The other thing is that appeals to moderation are conflated with temperamental issues — the way Pence has won elections is to act like a moderate while enacting radical policies. Because he looks like a regular Joe and isn't a fiery Glenn Beck, he's able to reframe his policies as being more acceptable in the Overton window than he would otherwise. I mean, surely he can't actually want women to have to have funerals for their aborted fetuses? With that face? But then, yeah, he does. Or at least recognizes that placating the extreme anti-abortion wing of the GOP is a path to getting elected.

"I spent my late 20s through early 30s in SF during the George W years, flummoxed by the alternative reality my conservative friends and colleagues seemed to live in, resulting in endless arguments talking past one another. It wasn't until reading linguist George Lakoff's "Moral Politics" that I started to realize how liberal/conservative "framing" worked. "

Yeah, that's something else worth mentioning: Haidt's argument of moral foundations pretty significantly conflicts with Lakoff's framing arguments. From Haidt, you should repeat the framing and rhetoric of your opponent to persuade them about the idea; for Lakoff, you should avoid repeating their rhetoric, because that strengthens their attachment to that frame, and instead appeal to shifting their framing on an issue. I think both are oversold, but there are a lot of folks that believe both simultaneously.

"Yeah, it's a really, really difficult thing, which is why I think leaning hard in the direction of the American secular religion is the way to go."

Rousseau's Social Contract, Book 4, Chapter 8: Civil Religion
[Regarding a personally religious Christian nation, with no official creed]… I go further: such a society, with all its perfection, wouldn’t be the strongest or the most durable; its very perfection would deprive it of its bond of union; the flaw that would destroy it would lie in its perfection.


The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and exactly worded, with no explanation or commentary. Its positive dogmas are:
  • the existence of a mighty, intelligent and beneficent Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence,
  • the life to come,
  • the happiness of the just,
  • the punishment of the wicked,
  • the sanctity of the social contract and the laws.
And just one dogma of exclusion, namely the exclusion of intolerance, which is a feature of the cults we have rejected.
I'm a huge fan of civic religion, though I don't think Rousseau's necessarily got the details right. I believe very much in celebrating secular holidays like New Years and July 4th, Labor Day and Memorial Day. I do think that engaging people in a ritual of civic engagement would help us overcome a lot of the problems we have with the dwindling of the church as sole social and community center, especially in small towns, and I think it would help rebuild American character. In that sense, I'm pretty nationalistic, though I'm a heterodox nationalist — I think bunting and Trump's MAGA are anathema. I do think that some of the vulnerability that America has had to Trumpist insurgent nihilism has come from the diminishment of civic engagement, basically a lapse in our political immune system that has let a virus in.

"This is interesting to think about. One of the things I deal with in my work is religion, folklore, tradition. And the surprising thing about Christmas, especially in the US, is how invented and how recent a tradition it is, and how loosely connected to actual religious dogma in any faith. It's not all that old. You have only to go back to my great-grandparents' childhood, and the holiday was nowhere near as embedded as it is today either religiously, civically, or commercially. There were no "town trees" (precious few trees at all until the 1890s), no caroling concerts, no public decorations, no town hall Santas. All of that is a product of the early 20th century. "

Aww, c'mon, every Christmas I get to do my facetious "Keep the Yule in Yuletide!" campaign. You know, where you gather around the Yule log or tree, drink, and offer a living sacrifice. It's the best time of year to remind people that the etymological root of "bless" is "smear with blood!"

And caroling is part of the long tradition of wassailing — you know, breaking into people's houses, demanding booze, and smashing up the place while singing a vulgar tune! Figgy pudding!

I think you're just jealous because the Puritans banned that sort of thing. No Christmas gifts in Boston, for sure.

"My family were Irish immigrants, but it was like that boom time washed all of their immigrant identities into this prosperity of being American."

I don't have it handy, but there's a great line that can be paraphrased as the only way to build a nation is through forgetfulness. The author was specifically talking about the emergence of French national identity, and how it was necessary to overcome centuries of ethnic and religious massacres in order to move forward as "French" instead of e.g. "Burgundian."

"In general I think liberals could stand to talk about values a lot more."

I think that's definitely true, and a place where Clinton's campaign fell pretty obviously short. Instead of doing a better job of airing commercials celebrating her values, she spent more on reinforcing Trump's negative values, without recognizing that Trump's negative values resonate with a lot of people. I get annoyed at a lot of the second-guessing of Clinton, because in large part she did what would have been a very effective campaign against anyone else, and still managed to win a majority of the public over, but lost because of a bunch of rare historical events and because she put too much faith in the decency of the American people. But to the extent that it was her responsibility to recognize and outmaneuver President Pepe, she wasn't up to the task.

"Whether or not you agree with the deep brain research aspects of this FPP, I think it's pretty hard to deny that liberals need to become better at persuading people. I mean, this stuff should really be common sense. A lot of it just boils down to "trying to walk a mile in the other person's shoes." "

It really doesn't, though. What it comes down to is persuading someone to walk a mile in your shoes. If you have to walk a mile in theirs, fine, but people are persuaded to support progressive causes by seeing themselves as dealing with problems that they don't generally face. You don't persuade someone who's against gay marriage by just listening to all their reasoning or thinking about why you might also oppose gay marriage if you saw it from their point of view — you get them to support it by thinking about themselves as dealing with not being able to marry the person they love. The mile in their shoes is a tactic to achieve that, not the method of persuasion.

Also, I'm really tired of seeing people equate argument reframing with the kind of actual selling out that gutted the Democratic party. There is a world of difference between reframing an argument to suit an audience and signing the Violent Crime And Law Enforcement Act or NAFTA or the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. One is an effective argumentation tactic; the other represents a betrayal of core beliefs in the form of concrete legislation passed. It is disingenuous to argue that the two are one and the same."

Well, since NAFTA wasn't that bad, the VCLEA was a mixed bag that included both increases in federal crimes as well as the Violence Against Women Act and the Assault Weapons Ban, which are both pretty broadly popular, and the PRWOA was the third welfare-reform bill written by Republicans to come to Clinton (as he had vetoed the previous two), I'd say that describing them as "betrayal[s] of core beliefs" is an exaggeration. They weren't good laws, overall, though NAFTA's arguably been a net economic benefit, but the idea that they can't be recognized as decent but deeply flawed, and instead are deep betrayals, goes back to my point about the problem with appeals to moderation, which all three of those laws definitely were. The Dems were trying to "triangulate" by getting ahead of Republicans, explicitly to appeal to moderates and independents. (I do wonder if Hillary Clinton missed opportunities to respond to complaints about the VCLEA by emphasizing her support for the VAWA — getting that through was a huge accomplishment).
posted by klangklangston at 4:06 PM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


"One of the problems I have with it is that it's just change on the surface. If you are successful in reframing an issue, and your reframing allows people to continue being racist while now supporting your issue, you haven't really put the virus into remission at all. In fact, this is one of the things we're hearing from people in the current era - that making it shameful to say racist things did not make having racist thoughts or secretly reading racist material go away. People to some degree complied with a public norm. But their hearts and minds did not change. That, not the swaying of eras, is what makes progress so unstable. Using rhetoric to achieve temporary legal victories is not the same thing as having a theory of real change rooted in the conviction that some ideas are more productive of human thriving than others. Now, I'm the first to take a temporary legal victory that makes things better for people. But the reason we shouldn't be surprised at the resurgence of things like white nationalism is that we won a war of rhetoric and argument over the last 40 years, but we didn't actually change the minds of at least a third of people. We did not shift their orientation to supporting a different vision of the polity, even if we succeeded in, for instance, having Obama's policies lead the day for a while. So the gains of progressivism were extremely fragile."

For the argument that discouraging public racism doesn't end private racism, I'd argue that the rebukes against racist speech don't necessarily do all that much to deal with discrimination or prejudice for the people rebuked, but the decrease in racist attitudes from younger people is in part due to that strategy. Without hearing those thoughts publicly echoed, it removes a norm, and I do think it's part of why you see a much higher level of support for diversity among young people (and also why popular media is an order of magnitude better on so many social justice issues than it was even 20 years ago). It's not the cure, but it's part of the solution. And I'd even wager that most of Trump's supporters are less racist than many of the Dems that supported LBJ back in '64. So yeah, hearts and minds have changed.

For the argument that switching arguments to appeal to different values is analogous, I don't think it is. I mean, to even be good at arguing you have to be able to recognize your interlocutor's arguments against you and respond to them. In an argument, both sides have at least a notional constraint of consistency, so pointing out how their premises a, b and c would lead to your conclusion x is valuable, even if you don't agree with their premises.

And the other thing that I think you're overlooking here is that getting people to change their whole worldview to, say, not be racist, is really hard. Pretty much impossible for any one given conversation. You don't have to get Crazy Grandpa to give up all his prejudices against Muslims all at once, you just need to get him to recognize that banning immigrants for their religion is inconsistent with his values. You can work on the rest later.

"But this is where I hit a wall. Because while I can get Republicans to agree with me in principle, when I try to tell them that the things they just agreed with are things that the Democratic Party - NOT the Republicans - currently extol, my fragile gains slip away. I can literally show them the actual party platforms so they can see for themselves, and they dismiss it. If it's true that conservatives rate strongly in the in-group/loyalty aspect, then this makes sense, but does it really make sense that a sense of loyalty would prevail over someone's actual belief system, despite all evidence to the contrary that the group you're maintaining loyalty to no longer really represents you? It would seem to be so, as every conservative I've spoken to (who has been open to having a dialogue) has about a thousand reasons for the incongruity - the system has checks and balances that will stop Trump; he doesn't really mean what he's saying; he's not representative of real Republicans; the GOP is the party of Lincoln, etc. Obviously I don't believe any of these things, but while I can find common ground on so many things, it seems near impossible to get people to give up the actual party allegiance. This is even when I try to frame things like "If you love the Republican party for being the party of Lincoln or small government, then you should fight to defend it from becoming the party of neo-nazis" (or whatever). Even when I try to make it easy for them by holding up the Evan McMullins or Justin Amashes of the world to try to make it acceptable for them to break ranks. They just won't make the leap. And while there are clearly a lot of conservatives who are straight up racists (who I don't really even bother with trying to talk to), I genuinely believe that the people I do talk to are not racists or motivated by racism. I can't come up with any explanation that's better than the group loyalty factor (which is crazy to me, considering how so many of the progressives I know will jump ship to another candidate/party at the drop of a hat)."

There are a couple of ways to approach this. First, you could use a Problem-Solution-Action model, where identifying with the GOP isn't the problem, it's this specific thing. Like, hey, they agree with you that it's important that people don't lose their coverage for pre-existing conditions? Well, if the Trumpers are going to repeal Obamacare, you should call your rep and tell them that there's at least this part that you like and is important. That way, they're not going against their in-group loyalty, they're working with their group to make something better. The long game with that is that if they contact their reps and their reps vote against what they asked for, that rep is betraying them. As that happens more and more, they will feel less and less like the GOP represents them. If they were going to vote Republican, shifting them to Libertarian counts as a vote they won't get. They don't have to become Democrats, they just have to stop supporting Republicans. (You can even point out split-ticket voting, so they can still be a Republican who just happens to vote for Democrats. They'll leave on their own later.)

The other thing that helps, I think I can encapsulate in an anecdote provisionally titled "The Year Cousin Darren Got Woke." My wife's got a cousin in Michigan who's about our age (mid-30s) ; his parents are both Republicans. They believe a lot of bullshit dogma about things like people on welfare being lazy, environmentalists wanting to destroy jobs, etc. A lot of weird racist stuff too, like hating affirmative action, but mostly under the surface because they're "nice" people. This year, Darren, who started out a Trump supporter, by the end of the year was bending my ear about how did you know that people on welfare would probably prefer to have jobs? and did you know that police often abuse minorities? Like, shit that when we've brought it up in years past, he's totally dismissed because he knows we're godless commie liberals who hate guns and Jesus. What happened was that 1) he asked friends about it; and 2) thought about how he'd feel if he were in those kinds of situations. I mean, that's it. Trump gave him a push — Darren's got a daughter now, and couldn't vote for Trump after the pussy-grabbing tape. I — and I assume you — know that the idea that he couldn't vote for Trump because he's got a daughter is still a kinda sexist argument. But, and this is one of those things where I think sometimes we progressives can shoot ourselves in the feet, I will happily take that sexist argument for changing an action to a more progressive one. The sexist reasoning is an opportunity for future education, but right now, going from reluctant GOP loyalist to third-party voter is the win. I will celebrate the win. But what really got him there was getting the message from a credible source (his Latino coworker who has undocumented family, and family on welfare) — the message wasn't to persuade him, so he didn't dismiss it. It wasn't an argument where he was thinking about how to respond. And what he said was when he looked into how much people actually get on welfare, he realized there was no way he could support his family on that. The second step was him thinking about himself in that situation. It all led to an ahistorical argument-free Christmas dinner, and now he even thinks that saying "All Lives Matter" might be kinda racist.

If you want to convince people to support conservative/GOP/right-wing authoritarian projects, you scare them and hearken back to an idealized past. It's really easy, overall. That's why almost all of the GOP arguments are thought-killing fantods. Muslims are terrorists; minorities want to rob and kill you; LGBT people are sexual predators, etc. etc. The liberal/progressive persuasion side is harder, because it means getting people to relax, to overcome that fear, then think through some pretty complicated, alien and ambiguous stuff. And it gets harder the bigger the issue is — like, most of the pernicious discrimination in America is structural, not individual, where racists set up the system to benefit themselves, and dismantling that means thinking really abstractly about a lot of issues. That's not easy even for most progressives. Especially since then you've got to also motivate them, which means either getting them angry (which discourages nuance and complexity) or making them feel valued for the action they're performing (often costly). But it is possible, it has been done, it will be done, and it must be done.
posted by klangklangston at 4:59 PM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


But while appeals to moderation help sell compromised policies (and all policies are compromised), they don't motivate people to participate.

Fair enough; I think what I am really talking about is people of moderate temperament - people who don't feel like or self-identify as "activists."
posted by Miko at 8:37 PM on February 8, 2017


"From my perspective, American public school has been moving, as an institution, away from a reinforcer of the American civic structure, primarily due to the politicization of liberals. I'm not saying this necessarily is the case, just that this is how it's appeared to me, and if you see it differently, I'd honestly love to hear about how. "

LOL, nope.

Brief, totally incomplete history: Public education in America started as a liberal/progressive project back in the mid-1800s. JS Mill was a big proponent. It was based on the Prussian model of instilling civic virtue and the education required to make autonomous decisions. It went along with the idea of Republican Motherhood, in which women had a special role in the state by safeguarding and transmitting civic virtue (hence big involvement of women as public school teachers). In the late 19th through early 20th century, most books for youth were still written on the edification model, where (basically) virtuous bullshit was taught to instill virtue (e.g. Washington and his cherry tree). At the time, parochial schools were discouraged, mostly because of anti-Papist prejudice. Public schools were bureaucratized to depoliticize them (i.e. remove them from ward boss patronage schemes) and professionalize teaching. Dewey explicitly led a progressive education movement based on the two goals of civic virtue and personal achievement of potential. In the early 1900s, high school was introduced with the two goals of instilling civic virtue and educating a flexible American workforce. Over time, the idea of civic engagement has been deprecated to emphasize workforce availability, but most states still have a compulsory civics class.

The biggest problem is that there isn't an agreement about what a good citizen is, and for more than 40 years now, public schools have been a target for the right wing for a variety of reasons. First, they're a secular institution. Many parents, especially those with evidence-incompatible beliefs (e.g. young earthers), prefer that their children not learn anything that would conflict with that. That's a big part of the religious right's problem with public schools, and why they seek to undermine curricula and promote charter schools and homeschooling. Second, in part because of their professionalization and bureaucratization, public schools are one of the last bastions of effective organized labor. Big business/anti-labor right wingers want to undermine that, while keeping the emphasis on workforce preparedness. Third, to circle back, there's a difference of opinion on what civic virtues are important to instill. Like, is it important to venerate the Founding Fathers or to question authority? Is it more important to be democratic — which means telling the truth about how the country was founded — or nationalistic by promoting a single myth? Is it more important to have kids read "classics" or embrace diversity? Finally, there's the underlying tension in that universal, compulsory public education is a progressive project from the beginning, but a good portion of this country doesn't see it as such and doesn't ostensibly support progressive goals, which is complicated by the fact that progressivism itself has progressed, meaning that we now know a lot more about what works to achieve these goals than we did when we started out.

So, similar to conservative complaints about science, it's not that liberals have been politicizing public schools as an institution, it's that public schools have been a massive progressive, liberal success while becoming a traditional institution. That's awkward for conservatives because they don't like the conclusions that implies, the same way that they don't like that science says the world isn't what they thought it was. (It's also complicated by the fact that there are plenty of progressive/liberal complaints about schools that dovetail, like responding to the bureaucratization of schools with anti-conformist values, which both conflict with conservatives' love of authority and earlier Modernist progressive/left beliefs about how institutions should function.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on February 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


Sorry for totally Etherial Bligh-ing this thread, but it's got a lot of things I'm interested in all intersecting.

"So this is kind of exciting! But also I'm almost afraid to get my hopes up. What would 'real civics curricula' mean to you? Where are places that the civics-loving Right and the civics-loving Left could agree? What could we put in place that wouldn't automatically come with 50% of the population hating it?"

First off, you've got to distinguish between grade levels. Like, what's important or valuable for a fourth grader to learn isn't the same as a 10th grader. That said, for simplicity/brevity sake ("Too late!"), for a high school civics class, I'd want them to come out being capable of utilizing two general realms of civic knowledge: The general civic history of America — how we got to where we are, what the government functions are, why they are what they are — and the principles of civic engagement — how to influence the community both formally and informally, but with an emphasis on changing governmental policies.

I tend to be more outcome focused than process focused, so I think there are a bunch of different ways of getting to that point. For me, we had a required high school civics class that was largely focused on the election at the time ('96), but we also had required American history, and I took a couple of electives that have really helped in thinking about civic engagement throughout my life. One was "Creative Problem Solving," which shows you that I went to a hippy school despite it being public, and is the sort of class that conservatives love to bash. Every week, the class learned a new mode of problem solving and used it to essentially govern the class, while each student had to come up with a problem in their life and attempt to use the method on it (we also had a semester-long project to raise money for an activity and then do it). Like, one week was parliamentary procedure, and so we had to wrestle with quorum and motions, but ultimately used it to take a class lunch at a diner across the street from our school. We also did the OFPISA method, meditation, dream interpretation, SWOP, and a handful of others. The other class that was really valuable was one called Earthworks, where the class (of like 40 students, bigger than usual) was broken into small groups and each group had to come up with a project they wanted to work on, then present to the whole class. The class would take a vote on a handful of the projects to pursue, then you were back to your small groups to work on different parts of making them happen. In that class, my group formed the first student PAC in the state, and used it to lobby for school board members we believed supported our interests (largely to stave off the school's funding being cut). Those were real lessons on how civic engagement works in the real world.

"That's leaving aside stuff like "treating individual citizens, not corporate entities, as the proper subjects of "we the people", or "anti-authoritarianism", which are far from settled civic questions."

I hate to get all "Love it or leave it!", but if "anti-authoritarianism" isn't a settled American value for some people, they're doing America wrong. That's part of our founding myth, that the authority of King George was illegitimate, and so we needed a revolution to throw it off and govern ourselves.

Again, you're back to the problem that the United States of America is an explicitly liberal, progressive experiment that grew out of the Enlightenment. It's liberal because it's framed in terms of rights and freedoms; it's progressive because the founding documents were explicitly intended to be updated (e.g. Bill of Rights) with the goal of making a "more perfect union." And that's what's supposed to make us "exceptional," i.e. an exception to the traditional forms of government, and a revolutionary democracy that would be stable and sustainable without reverting to despots. Granted, a lot of the argument for that exceptionalism came from the idea that we had more Jesus in us than anybody else (City on a Hill), but due to the baked-in Enlightenment skepticism and rationalism, we were to be a secular state where our private religiosity sustained our virtue, rather than having it enshrined in the documents of government. You know, to be an exception to the wars of religion that wracked Europe for hundreds of years. (It gets up my nose to no end how right-wingers have co-opted "American exceptionalism" to just mean "better than everybody else." It's literally stupefying.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:44 AM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


the idea that we had more Jesus in us than anybody else (City on a Hill)

It's a good place for a reminder that when Winthrop invoked the "city on a hill" he did it not to valorize an ideal but to issue a warning: a warning that the experiment in self-government would be closely watched and, if it failed, harshly condemned. He meant that a city on a hill is visible to everyone, so its failures can't be hidden. Fuller context:
...for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the way of God and all professors for God’s sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going
Brrrr.
posted by Miko at 3:08 PM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oh man, I'm going to dig into this, but also offer a standing offer for beers-for-four-hours if you're ever at a meetup near me! I love serious, thoughtful text walls!

Many parents, especially those with evidence-incompatible beliefs (e.g. young earthers), prefer that their children not learn anything that would conflict with that. That's a big part of the religious right's problem with public schools, and why they seek to undermine curricula and promote charter schools and homeschooling.

So I'm not, reeeeeeallly, Religious Right. I mean, I hang out in some of those same circles, but it's not why I became a conservative and sometimes I raise my eyebrow pretty high at those people. But I still really don't think that the big problem with regards to curriculum is about evidence-incompatible beliefs. I think that may have been a problem twenty years ago, but right now, it's mostly social/cultural/political fights that are driving them out. They feel that their kids are being taught morals - back to that whole 'what makes a good citizen' - that are not just different but actively objectionable. How are kids taught about sex? What about alternative sexualities/sexual interests? Gender? How are kids taught about social conflicts? Do teens do drugs, drink, talk back to parents, fight authority, in the books that are in the classrooms? Are they encouraged to respect their elders, or encouraged to challenge them? This last, in particular, is something I do empathize with and see real problems with.

So for example: smoking is generally unhealthy. It's unhealthy for kids, and it's unhealthy for adults. I think most people, if approached neutrally, would agree. Even twenty years ago, they would agree, and there was definitely anti-smoking stuff in the schools. But it never used to be designed for the parents. You never used to have kids coming home and saying, "My teacher taught me in school that smoking is going to kill my parents if they keep smoking, and that I should ask them about how much they smoke." I don't oppose my kid being taught in school that smoking is bad - I definitely agree, and would rather my kid didn't smoke. I even accept that secondhand smoke is bad for kids. But when my kid came home several years ago and said that, the direction of kids being encouraged to pressure their parents deeply bothered me. It made me feel like, whether intentional or not, it was undermining the authority of the home, to encourage a place where kids felt it was okay to call out their parents.

Second, in part because of their professionalization and bureaucratization, public schools are one of the last bastions of effective organized labor. Big business/anti-labor right wingers want to undermine that, while keeping the emphasis on workforce preparedness.

Yeah, this is a real problem, and one of the things - so when I talk about politicization problems, I'm not always talking about Just Because You're Liberals. Some of these problems are problems that could and do apply equally well to Republicans in their own fields.

So for example: public school teachers are, in fact, the beneficiaries of organized labor. They also happen to be more liberal than the average bear, as it were. I don't know, and don't care for the purposes of this conversation, to speculate as to which came first, or why. But it means that when public school unions and groups of public school teachers are getting involved with things, they often donate to liberal candidates and advocate for liberal causes - national controversies - that seem to be, to conservative eyes, only tangentially involved with school. So you have these large unions, and they're not just negotiating about salaries with emloyers, they're also influencing legislation. I think that's been one of the biggest influences in changing the image of the American schoolteacher from 'noble motherhood' to 'dangerous radical'. Because other people see these legislative fights, if they happen to map on D/R lines, that's how they're going to interpret things.

Third, to circle back, there's a difference of opinion on what civic virtues are important to instill. Like, is it important to venerate the Founding Fathers or to question authority? Is it more important to be democratic — which means telling the truth about how the country was founded — or nationalistic by promoting a single myth? Is it more important to have kids read "classics" or embrace diversity?

Boy howdy, this is a real problem, and it's kind of what I was getting at originally with my question to Miko. Are there civic virtues that everyone agrees are important to instill? Is it even possible to produce a bipartisan array of civic virtues such that kids can learn that many people think different things are important? Would that be possible in practice? Are there things we agree on? Because if we can't even agree on civic virtues, what holds us together?

Finally, there's the underlying tension in that universal, compulsory public education is a progressive project from the beginning, but a good portion of this country doesn't see it as such and doesn't ostensibly support progressive goals,

I think that assumes a continuinity that is not necessarily there. What do 19th century progressives have to do with modern progressives? As people and politics change, I think that 19th century progressives appear more like modern conservatives. Those progressives who created universal, compulsory education would not recognize their intellectual descendants - so why should only those people currently identifying as progressive be able to claim the mantle? Because, as you say, public school has passed into the status not of a progressive project, but of a conservative institution, everyone has ownership of this, not just one party.
posted by corb at 10:27 AM on February 10, 2017


You never used to have kids coming home and saying, "My teacher taught me in school that smoking is going to kill my parents if they keep smoking, and that I should ask them about how much they smoke."

That's untrue. I am old - as in, I finished grammar school in 1982 - and I was one of those kids. That doesn't represent a change. In fact, if you go back further, moral instruction aimed at the whole family may have had less to do with smoking, but it had a lot to do with things like Americanization; nutrition - both what and how to eat, often linked back to Americanization; respectability; physical fitness expectations; gender and family expectations; and so on - where the child was meant to act as a vector on the entire family. I am most knowledgeable about how this happened for nutrition/food/Americanization, but it is easy to demonstrate how it happened in many other areas, as well. If you think the idea of influencing parental behavior and social development through schooling with a government-defined agenda is new, you are making up a past that did not exist. A lot of conservatives seem to do that. It's not a great habit.

They also happen to be more liberal than the average bear, as it were.

They're not more liberal than the average bear. They're more liberal than some professions, less liberal than others. Verdant Labs recently did a study on this. In general, people with higher education levels are more liberal, and people with more knowledge and training in the social sciences are more liberal. They found, for instance, that "preschool teachers are twice as likely as high school teachers to be Republican, and economics professors are seven times as likely as English professors to be Republican." Preschool teachers have much less training than high school teachers. They are less likely to have encountered complex intellectual and informational challenges in their education. This is not an accident or something that gives them an undeserved degree of influence. It is related to their educational levels. Also, I'd say that when you identify certain issues as "unrelated to school," I'd ask: what are those? It's hard for me to even think of issues that don't have some important relationship to public school. It is an essential piece of society's infrastructure and interdependent with quite a lot of it.

Are there civic virtues that everyone agrees are important to instill? Is it even possible to produce a bipartisan array of civic virtues such that kids can learn that many people think different things are important? Would that be possible in practice? Are there things we agree on? Because if we can't even agree on civic virtues, what holds us together?

What do 19th century progressives have to do with modern progressives?

Their agenda is pretty much continuous with modern progressives. I wonder where you get the idea that it's not, or that they'd seem like conservatives? Mainly, if there is any legitimacy to that idea, I'd say it's in promoting an affluent, middle-class, white-dominated, gender-defined model of the nuclear family as "normal," and desirable for everyone to get as close to as possible, which progressives today would challenge. But 19th century progressives did in fact support lots and lots of causes like prison reform, schooling for all, health promotion and disease prevention, saving money, honest and fair work agreements, cultural enrichment, diversity, interdisciplinary learning, peace, religious tolerance, treatment for mental illness (misguided though it often was); support for physical disabilities, etc., etc.

Are there civic virtues that everyone agrees are important to instill? Is it even possible to produce a bipartisan array of civic virtues such that kids can learn that many people think different things are important?

I'm not sure how we got onto virtues. I think there facts about the design of the Republic that we can teach non-contrversially. I think there are values that those facts point toward: rule of law rather than men, for instance. So yes, it should not be difficult to point to a basic set of civic facts and very very widely, if not universally shared values. I think pretending that that would be hard is somewhat mystifying the question.

Would that be possible in practice? Are there things we agree on? Because if we can't even agree on civic virtues, what holds us together?

What I suggested above is that the idea that these ideas are important holds us together - even if we disagree on how they are interpreted or put into practice. You seem to have the notion that civics teaching would be about "instilling virtues." It's not. IT's about things like saying "one of the significant concepts discussed quite a bit by our founders, and debated ever since, is the notion of freedom of religion and how it is expressed in our civic and private institutions. How far does this freedom extend? Where are its limits, if any?" Simply having the discussion is a level of education that does not happen (usually) in public schools any more. It's possible for people to grow up knowing nothing about the fact that freedom of religious expression was a founding value and in the Bill of Rights. Most Americans cannot name the five major freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment off the the top of their head. Try it on your friends. Can they? That they exist is non-controversial. It's not "conservative" or "liberal" to know what these guarantees are. People don't. They should, but don't. So we really can't have a productive debate on the topic, because people have wildly differing and often fuzzy and even mistaken ideas about what the heck the subject matter even is. That, not some issue of shadowy conspiracy of ideological orientation among educators, who are for the most part principled people and professionals who are not seeking to program their charges, is the most significant difficulty in managing our polity today.
posted by Miko at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2017




My copy of The All New Don't Think of an Elephant arrived Friday & I've been reading it over the weekend. He delves into a combination of linguistics, neural functioning and how progressives and conservatives see morals: nurturing (empathy, responsibility for self and others, and commitment to do your best for yourself, family, community, and world) for the former, strict father (the world is dangerous and competitive and you must train your kids to act in best self interest) for the latter.

The re-framing/framing approach seems pretty damn valid, to me. And the key point of framing is to frame it on progressive values with OUR language. Using their language empowers their frames. Hence the title: telling someone not to think of an elephant makes them do just that.

He also recognizes that many of us are not 100% nurturing or strict father; those he terms biconceptuals. Which explains the conflicted feelings many have expressed here.

A lot to soak on.

I came to comment here on the book because of one point he makes about the preamble to the constitution. It has to do with a period that didn't originally appear in it after the word Happiness. This is the work of Danielle Allen, who wrote, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration in Defense of Equality

He makes a better case than I'm making here, but by removing the period after Happiness, it makes the case that the role of government is to guarantee equality in all unalienable rights, not JUST life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So if it reads like this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal;
that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights;
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;
that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;
that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Lakoff states:
The passage ending with life liberty and the pursuit of happiness is about freedom, but what follows is about equality, with the central role of the government to secure it.
...
Conservatives' view of freedom does not include either equality or the role of government in securing it.


It has been helpful and clarifying to me to read this book. Maybe it will also help some of you guys.
posted by yoga at 3:34 PM on February 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Another concept in his Elephant book Lakoff talks about is choice of words, and how they play into people's frames.

So Frank Luntz persuaded conservatives to stop calling it Global Warming because it sounded too scary, and suggested human agency for the issue. Instead, he got them to call it Climate Change, which evokes a pleasant imagery, like palm trees & beaches, & makes it sound like natural occurrence without human cause.

By mere repetition these phrases become part of our own expressions and strengthen THEIR frames. They are putting this distorted language in our mouths & heads. Don't believe it?

Here's this morning's gem: 'Selective Hypocrisy'. Shithead McCrory is a medium for this distorted phrasing. It's not distorted Hypocrisy. It's what it really is: pushback against discrimminatory legislation called HB2.

I don't know that I would've recognized that as conservative linguistic manipulation had I not read Lakoff.

The first step is recognition.
posted by yoga at 5:38 AM on February 13, 2017


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