I have been struggling with organizing my thoughts into a concise fashion, so I will be more brief than I usually am with these to be uncommented on opuses.
I have been thinking recently of the asymmetry of the health care debate and how it highlights the innate advantages of extremism and those that exploit extremism. In a game of one-upmanship, there are advantages for those that go for broke, because societal rules, once they are allowed to be broken by the arbiters of those rules and mores- the public at some level, but media at the more important level- no longer operate in the corner of those that feel compelled to abide by some sort of supposedly group-agreed rules.
I think throughout history, societies have all felt like they were detecting inevitably downward motion because of this societal envelope pushing. It simply is the only way things will ever work. The question is what side are pushing and to what end? Do we end up with an authoritarian, reactionary state, or do we have a revolution of the social order?
Front and foremost in my mind are those that exploit or encourage the pushing. The themes here are narcissism, exploitation, and perhaps cynical manipulation. I think the worst part is that the cynical manipulation and some sort of true-believerism can exist side by side in some of these personalities in an illogical mix of ideas and motives.
Thinking about the reactionary side and the exploiters fanning flames, I noticed a parallel with George Sodini aerobics class killing spree. This man seemed almost an archetype for the mix of feelings and resentment, emotional entitlement, externalized blaming, etc. coming out in the health care debate, and that an entire industry exists around nurturing and catering to these feelings (the Pick Up Artist community). The people running these shows may very well have bought into their own bullsh*t, but at the same time, they likely know or can admit to themselves, they are running a scam, and the best way to build the scam is to ratchet up the message. This ratcheting, this emotional salesmanship, is where I see a kinship between the new American reactionary Nihlism and little-f fascism for mens’ penises.
My last point is that I both agree, and disagree with Bom Somerby when he discusses here the following:
“I don’t understand why the wingnuts are so angry,” Steve’s e-mailer said. Incomparably, we posted this reply:
REPLY TO STEVE’S E-MAIL: Maybe they’re mad about getting called wing-nuts. Tea-baggers can be like that, of course.
Translating: Citizens have believed the things they hear from Rush and Sean (and the like) for decades. Yet on our side, we still seem surprised by this fact! We have formulated no real attempt to push back against these public idiots—to warn those citizens that they’re being played by these big stupid hacks. Instead, we tend to call those citizens names. Then, we wonder why they won’t accept our own views about such matters!
“Conservatives will be better off if reform becomes law,” the e-mailer said—thus stating his own view of this highly complex matter. He then wondered why the “wing-nuts” refuse to accept his wisdom! In part, the answer is fairly obvious: By and large, people don’t take advice from other people who keep calling them names. But this has been the dominant “liberal” approach to this phenomenon for the past twenty years.
No, there are no “death panels” in that House bill. Yes, you have to be fairly gullible to believe such a thing. But we humans are very gullible—propaganda notwithstanding, we really aren’t very smart—and we tend to listen to other people who aren’t calling us names. We liberals have been fairly gullible too—for example, in all the bad-faith we’ve agreed to swallow from our own “leaders” during these decades. They have played us for fools, all through this period. Perhaps if we can bring ourselves to see that awkward point, we will develop a bit of compassion—dare we say empathy?— for rubes on the other side.
We might even grasp a key point: It’s one thing to go after Palin and Limbaugh. It’s different to name-call the millions of voters who get fooled by these famous old types.
Sorry. We human beings just aren’t very smart. Our own surprised side keeps proving this point. Is our side a bit like theirs?
Emphasis mine. Essentially Bob is discussing here a notion of framing. That is a dirty word in parts of the world, but in messaging it certainly is important. Bob, I don’t think intentionally, elides how fine a question this actually is. When one side sees no rules, or where dissonance isn’t really a detriment to what are emotional and ad hoc arguments, no matter how crazy, they are definitely attached to strong emotions. These emotions may be attached to what I view as clear narcissism, issues of self-esteem, and over-developed tribalism, but they are exactly the emotions that are ripe for exploitation. I know that of course you can’t win by calling someone a moron, because even if they aren’t very bright, their feelings will be hurt, and they’ve already been acutely inoculated with hypersensitive pride, because this emotion is the easiest to exploit. So how do you keep from hitting yourself in the face?
You can’t simply go after Palin under any circumstances because her most efficient method of exploitation is encouraging others to identify with her. Even attempting to claim she’s not one of whomever she nurtures as being one, this argument backfires in that it renders “being one of” a criteria for governance (we’ve see it so many times). You call her stupid, and the transitive property comes into play, as she further accentuates that she is really “we.” This transitive property is giant land mine threatening the architecture of Bob’s argument here. Only in calling the exploiters liars is there any chance out of this mess, because there will always be a line that they will cross and you won’t.
Bob is right to point out the insanity that has always been tolerated in regards to the Democratic party in recent decades, but what he gives short shrift to is the fact that just like the “wingnuts” have reached the boiling point of perceived and real insults, those on the Left have endured much more offensive treatment- for example, constant and unceasing lies. This exact debate is raging in the “New Atheist” community and the science blogging community concerning arguments of framing, the feelings of the “illogical” class as trumping those of the shrill and insulted “reason” class (see a huge pile of here). I think Bob is being more pragmatic about things than some aggrieved Liberals would like, but he needs to allow for the humanity of both sides not just one. I think he likely does do this, in that he points out many cases where Liberals fall down on the job. Deep down in my heart I think he’s probably right, but he needs to make the case better that part of being Liberal is that Liberals based on inherent Liberal principles are graded on a steeper curve, and that steeper curve is due to an asymmetry in the playing field- the differential accepted behavior of each side- and the intense personal investment in these issues that is the hallmark of the veins of behavior on one side more than the other. The bad guys want to convince you to go all-in with your self-esteem and personal identity at the earliest possible point in the debate. This cleaves you to their tribe and enforces your identity in the tribe. It is really tough to go against that.
Aside: If you read the last line of 500 Steve Benen posts in a row, I fear the slope of your esteem for him will be negative.