In the title of his 2004 book, Thomas Frank asked, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” That’s just one version of a more general question liberals ask themselves all the time: “What’s the matter with conservatives? Why do they so frequently vote against their own self-interest?”
The answers liberals offer to themselves are – much too often – superficial, complacent, condescending, arrogant, dismissive, glib….
- They’re too dumb to recognize where their self-interest lies.
- They’re too shortsighted to recognize the sequence of consequences that will follow from a given decision.
- They’re too obsessed by racism (or jingoism or xenophobia or fear or anti-semitism or religious bigotry or …) to perceive the inevitable chain of events they’re setting in motion.
- They’re just bad, hateful, violent people.
As my granddaughter used to say, if you point one finger at someone else, then you’re pointing three fingers back at yourself. I’ve been just as guilty of this as anyone else, but something I read in a ThinkProgress interview with George Lakoff has led me to rethink my position. Nothing I hadn’t read or heard before, but this time it stuck.
Interviewer: You write, “remember that voters vote their identity and their values, which need not coincide with their self-interest.”…
Lakoff: [C]onservatives believe deeply that they are morally right, that they and other conservatives are operating from the right moral principles. They don’t believe that they are immoral, and they don’t believe that right and wrong don’t matter. As moral beings, they want to be treated with respect. And in personal relationships, respect is appropriate.
Liberals take it for granted that one should be willing to sacrifice personal interest for the sake of the common good and of what’s morally and ethically right. So why should we be shocked if conservative voters feel the same way?
There’s a stage of human development Jean Piaget called “egocentricism.” (For lay people the term is unfortunate, in my opinion, because it carries negative moral connotations. I think I read once – though I can’t document it – that Piaget later regretted having chosen that particular term.) Piaget identified egocentrism with adolescence, the time when young people are developing a sense of personal identity; the time when they’re trying to understand what’s unique about themselves, and what they share in common with others. Subsequent researchers have extended the range and considered ways the phenomenon persists throughout one’s life.
Basically, in this technical sense, egocentrism is the subconscious assumption that others see the world the same way you do:
- If I do A, then it’s because of reason B; therefore if others do A, they too must be doing it for reason B.
- I consider C morally right and D morally wrong; therefore others too must consider C morally right and D morally wrong.
- If I do D, then it’s because I’m a bad person; therefore if others do D, it’s because they’re bad persons.
Stated thus starkly, these propositions are obviously ridiculous. The bad news is that, to varying degrees at varying times, we really do tend subconsciously to see the world that way. The good news is that because we’re aware of them, we can fight consciously to resist such counter-productive tendencies.
Think about that next time matters of politics come up in conversations with conservative friends or relatives. You’re not going to change the way they see the world. However, you can look for courses of action you both can support, for equally respectable albeit totally different reasons. And you can defend your positions in ways that they will make sense to them.
“Totally torpedo tubular bell(e)s, man!”
What follows is totally unscientific, but it might encourage healthful introspection. Or not.
Do you perceive anything at all that’s salacious or naughty in the following cartoon?
- If you answered “No,” congratulations! You’re a healthy-minded, decent, and probably boring person. Quit now before you get corrupted.
- If you answered “Yes,” congratulations! You’re a dirty-minded, decent, imaginative, and potentially interesting person. First wash out your mind with “99 44/100% Pure Ivory Snow” soap, and then continue to the next item.
Did the last sentence above make you think of the late Marilyn Chambers?
- If you answered “No,” congratulations! There’s still hope for you, but quit now before you get corrupted!
- If you answered “Yes,” congratulations! You’re a dirty-minded, decent, imaginative, and potentially very interesting person with knowledge of sorta obscure features of popular culture. Either that or you’ve spent way too much time watching porn films. This time you’d better wash out your mind with a cocktail of serious disinfectants!
What? You’re frustrated by the way that ended? OK…
Marilyn Chambers was a young model and aspiring film actress. One of her modeling assignments involved her posing as a pure and innocent young mother. (She wasn’t a mother, and was holding someone else’s baby. In other words, the photo was a visual lie, and P&G knew it!) That photo was used by Procter and Gamble on boxes of Ivory Snow soap that were distributed and placed on store shelves all over the United States.
Chambers’s first movie appearance was a non-speaking role in The Owl and the Pussycat, a Hollywood film that starred Barbra Streisand. No problem. But her second film was Behind the Green Door, produced by the famous Mitchell Brothers (famous or infamous, depending on your point of view). I haven’t seen it, but according to Wikipedia (caveat emptor!) the action included … well, a whole lot of totally nude sex, including the first ever hardcore intercourse between a black man and a white woman.
OK. So much for Ivory Snow 99 44/100% Pure! Procter and Gamble removed every soap box from the shelves. However – again according to Wikipedia – that soap box made a cameo appearance in almost every other porn film that Marilyn Chambers made.
- Now really! How can anyone say with a straight face that Harry Reid is to blame for Mitch McConnell’s record-breaking string of filibusters? or deny that Boehner refused to allow a lot of stuff the Senate passed even to have an up or down vote? like the immigration problem President Obama will address tonight?
- Just before the election the approval rating of Congress stood at just 14%. In other words, the entire Congress is out of step with the American people in general. And they don’t care. They care that they’re in step with Wall Street and Multinational businesses like those represented by the U.S. C. of C. (From a recent study titled Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University.)
- OK. On this one I totally agree with Rob Engstrom, who signed this letter. This really is symbolic of everything the U.S./Multinational Chamber of Commerce fought to change. Of course the change they fought for was almost totally destructive. The next two years are going to be extremely dangerous.
- This is a typo, I think. Surely he meant to say that “we made our dark money and voter suppression heard.”
- Show me the Senate leadership, regardless of party, which wasn’t “pro-growth”!
- How often do you think he’s ever said the word “environmentalist” without adding “extremist/s”? For people like this concern for the environmental is in and of itself “extremist.”
- He’s right that a majority of Americans support construction of the pipeline right now. But does 50-60% constitute a “vast” majority? Decide for yourself. He doesn’t add that the reason they support it is that people like him have lied their asses off. (a) The pipeline would add only 30-50 permanent jobs, not the ridiculous numbers they cite. (b) The oil will not affect U.S. dependence on Middle East oil. It’ll be shipped all over the world, not used here. (c) The especially “dirty” oil will go elsewhere, but its climate destroying pollution will hurt us just as much as it will everyone else. (d) The pipe will be out of sight, out of mind until it leaks and destroys the aquifer major parts of our country depend on for drinking water and crops
- Talk about symbolism! Can you believe how clueless this is? Look at the image! The nice bright pipes that people see are to the right and left. The dark, polluting, destructive filth they can’t see spills out of those pipes onto the earth, flowing past the dead weeds, and engulfing us. Glub, club!
On Press the Meat:
Howard Dean appeared on Meet the Press this past weekend with a rather good analysis on the midterm election.
“Jim Clyburn was the most right person in that lead up,” Howard Dean said. “It was message. Sure it was an off year. We can make all these excuses. But the fact is we have never—and even through the days of the fifty state strategy, taking over the House and the Senate and the presidency in four years when I was running the DNC—I could never get the Washington Democrats to stay on message. The Republican message was we are not Obama, no substance whatsoever. We are not Obama. What was the Democrats’ message? Oh well we are not either. You cannot win if you are afraid. It felt like it. Where the hell is the Democratic Party. You have to stand for something if you want to win.“
- Complete this sentence, “Democrats stand for ___, ___, …”
- Since 2008, “Democrats have acted on what they stand for to accomplish ___, ___, …”
- In 2014, “The following Democrats ran on what Democrats stand for and what they have accomplished: ___, ___, …”
- In 2014, “The following Democrats ran instead on ___, ___, …”
Think local and state, not just national!
Red, blue, purple states can be distinguished in various ways, so don’t get hung up on which is which. It’s the principle that matters:
° “The American people” refers to those who agree with me.
° “The American people” refers to all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or ideology.