Posted tagged ‘Conservatives’

CPAC, Rendered

March 16, 2013

One of the joys of middle-aged fatherhood is the gift of the absurd — which is to say whatever entertains Kidz Theze Dayz — offered up by one’s sprout.

My son’s a gamer — Starcraft, TF 2 and WoW much of the time, but with an enduring love of Minecraft as well.  He’s an avid consumer of E-sports stuff on the various Youtube channels as well. If you’ve missed names like the Yogcast Yogscast, Day 9, the Cynical Brit (aka Total Biscuit, and known in this household as Whole Crumpet) and so on, you’re (perhaps blissfully) unaware of a huge segment of pop-culture.

I’m not sure I minded my long ignorance of the subculture of ‘casters and pro-gaming as entertainment, but once made aware, I have to admit it’s amazing — if only for the way that the gamer community constructed the entire infrastructure of a sports-entertainment industrial complex substantially (though not entirely) from the grass roots up.

1909_Stag_at_Sharkey's

There are significant sociologial and cultural insights to be gained from understanding that process and its results– or smart colleagues of mine think so:  we talk a lot about the political reach (or not) of the digitization of experience and the rise of social networks, and here’s a whole universe in which this is taking place that one can study absent the confounding variable of political passions.

But forget the high-falutin stuff — given his gaming and Youtube passions, my son regularly expands my horizons by showing me stuff I simply would never think to discover on my own.  And because I’m no sober scholar of modern tech/youth culture, I have my own interpretative lens that colors what he finds.  So, as a non-gamer DFH would-be yobbo anti-pundit, I’ll just thank my son for showing me the 36 seconds that captures the pure essence of CPAC:

 

So, as you read about CPAC neo-confederates wondering how Frederick Douglass had the presumption to forgive his former master, who, in their view, had merely provided food and shelter, think this vid.

Image:  George Bellows, Stag at Sharkey’s, 1909.

Republican Brains and Liberal Facts — A Conversation

June 13, 2012

I’ve just finished reading Chris Mooney’s latest, The Republican Brain, and I commend it to you all.  It’s Chris’s best, IMHO, intellectually (though not narratively) a sequel to his earlier best seller, The Republican War on Science. Or, perhaps more accurately, the new work is a response to that earlier one, an attempt to figure out why Republicans have become so (and increasingly) divorced from reality, why as a political movement, the G.O.P. has committed itself to so much that is, simply, objectively, wrong.

Chris and I will be talking about this later today as part of my monthly gig as a host for Virtually Speaking Science.  You can listen here at 5 EDT or later (after about midnight) to a podcast that will also be available through iTunes.  You can also join the live virtual studio audience in Second Life — throwing questions at us from either venue.

We’ll start with Chris’s argument: that a broad body of research from a variety of fields — psychology, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and more — produces a reliable, reproducible nature and nurture account of systematic differences between conservative and liberal brains and minds.  In this account, conservatives act out of the quadrant of motives and neural systems that characterize “Closed” or resistant-to-new-experience personalities…and this renders them less able to respond to facts and/or argument that challenge essential beliefs. Liberals, or those who fall into the”Open” pattern do the opposite.

That’s the most simple minded cartoon of an inquiry into a lot of research that supports Mooney’s essential point:  there are fundamental attributes of how our minds work that shape whether or not we can accept or work very hard to ignore things like the reality of human-caused climate change, or the fact that tax cuts do not increase national revenue.

I find the book really persuasive on that score — but I do have a few points I’m planning to push Chris on.  One’s a historian’s thought — not so much a criticism, as a note that the vigor of reactionary denial of reality always ramps up at times of great change.  I’m thinking of a marvelous, if less-read-than-it-should-be book The Vertigo Years, Philipp Blom’s essayistic narrative of Europe’s schizophrenia from 1900-1914 — that tension between the legacy of Victorian assurance and the reality of massive cultural and social dislocative change.

As I noted in yesterday’s post, we’re smack in the middle of just such a period right now.  The Way It Used To Be is simply unavailable to whole swatches of society who are now terrified by what’s going on with technology, social life, culture, the hierarchy of privilege.  That terror invokes exactly the kind of neurological and cognitive response Chris is talking about — and I’d like to go more into the implications of history, of the contingencies of time and place, especially as they bear on his suggested solutions to the problem of a Republic in which close to half of the political class (and their supporters) are delusional.

The second point I plan to push him on is a bit of “both sides”-ery he permits himself.  He argues that the benefits accrue both from the virtues associated with the conservative mind — he mentions loyalty, decisiveness, perserverance, among others — and those tied to liberalism:  flexibility, openness to new information, invention.  My problem with this is that it is not a symmetrical opposition.  Decisiveness, for example, is an attribute that can accrue to either shoot-from-the-hip types or reflective ones; rejection of valid information or the disdain for expertise is not.  I can guess at what Chris might say, but I’m not sure…so I plan to ask.

That said, the most important part of the conversation, I expect, will be on what to do about the very real problem that the Republican Party now resembles nothing so much as King Canute’s court.  Chris has long argued for better framing of liberal and pro-science arguments, and in this book he points at the need to couch fact in great stories.  He doesn’t go deeply into this — most of the book is laying out the case for the reality of material differences of mind and brain between the ends of the political spectrum — but I think he’s right, and I want to go deeper into what that might mean.

In any event, check out the book, and come listen in (or the other way round).

Image:  Egon Schiele,Agony (The Death Struggle), 1912

Why Andrew Sullivan Continues to Piss Me Off…little things edition

April 5, 2010

Andrew Sullivan, as I and many have noted, is a true pain in the ass.  He’s sometimes brilliant,  more or less always deeply committed, capable of howling error and, in the one great strength that any opinionated journalist needs, completely unfazed by that fact.

But he’s also beset by the one true sin of someone who would both know and interpret the world (which is a fancy way of saying a journalist of and with opinions):  he is selectively incurious.

That is there are certain assumptions that just don’t get their spring and fall airing out — and they manifest themselves as seemingly permanent thumbs on the scale.

I’m onto this because, while procrastinating yet again in submitting expense reports for the four-trips-in-three weeks stint just past, I sauntered over to his blog just now to find in a post about Mark Thiessen’s serial lies, this:

Media Matters is a group I remain somewhat skeptical of, but the data they have assembled on “Courting Disaster” is truly impressive.

This annoys because of its magisterial dismissal of his source, Media Matters.  There is the matter of tone — I bridle at his “We are not amused” affect.  There is the awakening of the grammar nazi in me:  the clause is better written (IMHO, of course) “Media Matters is a group about which I remain somewhat skeptical…”

But most of all there is the assumption not in evidence, the argument not made.  Sullivan distrusts Media Matters, despite their seemingly admirable work in this instance, because?….

We must infer, and I do: I’m going to guess that Sullivan’s residual distaste comes, for all that Sullivan has moved a lot from his naive Bush-and-war worshipping days as a callow blogger, Media Matters has consistently documented sins by many of Sullivan’s friends, former or otherwise.

It galled then, I’d imagine, and it galls now.*  But this is weak sauce, to steal TNC’s epithet: if you are going to undercut your authority you need to explain why (a) they merit general distrust and (b) how the work you praise is different.  Sullivan doesn’t, ruling instead ex cathedra, which, as we have all recently been reminded, is a perilous place from which to opine.

And there there’s this, in a post on the presumed greater conservatism of Hilary Clinton (compared to Obama):

I think Bruce needs a qualifier: “ideological conservatives.”

This is another one of those asides that turn up fairly often on his blog, in which Sullivan again tries to defend his general claim that he is an arbiter of authenticity.  I wrote recently about his Christians vs. Christianists trope — and his chiding of Bruce Bartlett is more of the same.  There are real conservatives — those whom Sullivan recognizes as fellow heirs of a lineage that includes the inevitable Burke and the locally omnipresent Oakeshott…and then there are all those who have followed false prophets, and become merely “ideological” conservatives.

Sullivan is, of course, absolutely entitled to construct his own typology.  I have an unsolicited suggestion for him, in fact:

I agree with him that those using the term “Conservative” in contemporary American politics are not — in either the political-historical sense of the term, its philosophical sense, nor in any reasonable reading of its plain meaning.  Rather, they are, to dredge up a term from British politics, Radicals.  If he’d start using that to describe the Palins and the Kristols of the world and all the rest, with an account of the Anglo-American roots of the word as used in politics, that would be great.

But for now, some attention must be paid to the way the word is actually understood in current usage.  Movement conservatives, self-identified American conservatives, the folks who love torture and hate health care reform assert, as conservatives have often done, that there specific stands are derived from a more global commitment to some established base of eternal truths articulated most clearly in some idealized past — and there is not reasonable understanding of conservatism as a political trope that doesn’t recognize such claims as a broadly shared element in the definition of of what it means to be conservative.

That Sullivan deeply dislikes the form in which this commitment takes in our politics today, and that he sees it as mostly or entirely a fiction (i.e. — there is no reading of history that yields the “truths” that Palin says she sees as foundational, a view with which I entirely agree), doesn’t mean that he gets to decide who stays in the conservative club and who gets booted out.

Again, I’d trace this back to Sullivan’s still incomplete grasp of the contradictions within his worldview and experience — conflicts which he has been more open than most about expressing.  He’s someone who thinks deductively, from axioms he believes or accepts to be true.  He is sensitive enough to experience to recognize at least some of the times when those axioms turn out to be falsified by daily reality — hence, among much else, his passionate battle against the perpetuation of the American torture state.  But old habits of mind don’t simply undo themselves…and here, in two casual asides, you see how they dull thought.

Which, I suppose, if I’m honest, would be most useful as a warning to self.  There is no such thing as herd immunity in the thinking-and-writing biz.

*There may even be a hint here, to my perhaps oversensitive ears, of a kind of class disdain:  Media Matters may be just a bit too grubby to be taken seriously. (I could be detecting phantoms here. There’s nothing like being a member of an Anglo-Jewish upper-ish family to give one perhaps a too-finely-tuned sensor for English class distinctions, as a recent conversation with a friend who happened to be an old-Harrovian (sic?) classmate of a cousin of mine reminded me.  With just two Jews at Harrow at that time, the tension within an identity of same-and-other was constant.)

Image:  Titian, “Portrait of Cardina Pietro Bembo” before 1547. Bembo is a favorite of mine for many reasons, not least that he had an affair with Lucrezia Borgia before he being made a cardinal.

More on Right Wing Science-Phobia: Up from comments edition

August 28, 2008

A post or two below I tried to tear a strip or two off a new, conservative Slate wannabe site called Culture 11.

In that post, I asserted that the new webzine’s launch with zero science content illustrated a broader problem of current American conservatism refusal to confront the significance of science’s methods and results in any account of the ideas that matter in modern thought, not to mention daily life.  I also suggested that this was so because facts inconveniently muddle what I see as the fantasy life that passes for intellection on at least the web-cages of the right.

To his credit, one of the site’s editors, Conor Friedersdorf, responded with a polite comment, suggesting that as feature editor he would willingly entertain and commission suggestions for “worthwhile” (his loaded word) science stories.

I answered with a long comment saying, in essence, he couldn’t ask for others to do his job for him, but commenter JRE later said it better, which is why I’m excavating his comment for your reading pleasure here:

If Conor Friedersdorf is serious about being serious — that is, if he really wants to examine the triple point where culture, politics and science come together, there are some superb examples out there he might consider as templates.
For example, in his book The Republican War on Science Chris Mooney has argued (persuasively, in my view) that the conservative movement has become actively hostile to, and destructive of, the scientific enterprise. Crooked Timber got an entire seminar out of it.

Now, I’d expect that Mr. Friedersdorf might have a different take from Chris Mooney, and maybe he could scare up some smart conservatives who believe that they are, too in favor of real science — and, in the process, let us how what they think about developmental biology, climatology, and a host of other topics. Because, to be frank, every time I hear another conservative claim that mainstream science is politicized from root to branch, and it’s the right wing that’s carrying the torch of dispassionate inquiry, I think that I don’t know of a time when one party has been so identified with vain, ignorant, dishonest windbaggery.

But this is Conor Friedersdorf’s chance to prove me wrong. How about it, Mr. Friedersdorf?

Image:  Carl Spitzweg, “The Alchemist” c. 1860.  The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Move Along Folks: Conservative rags edition

August 28, 2008

There is nothing to see here….

That is:  I did something I do for the kind of sick thrill you get passing a wreck on the highway — checking out Megan McCardle’s self parody of a blog over at The Atlantic Monthly’s site. (the lack of link is deliberate; I don’t like to link to things I don’t recommend.  If you are curious, there is this thing called Google that can probably get you where you want to go.)

There I find she recommends, in near ecstatic terms a new site called Culture 11,* (huh?) promoted as a conservative version of Slate, which launched yesterday. ( McCardle’s praise –“Full disclosure:  I’m fairly close to its editorial staff.  Fuller disclosure:  it’s still pretty awesome.” — gives you a bit of a sense of why I am loathe to send the unwary over to wallow in such prose.)

So, in the John Cole school of reading this stuff so you don’t have to, I actually went over to check out this new haven of thought and letters.  There, I searched every last article they have up so far, all twenty seven as of the time of writing this.  There were some notable howlers — see Conor Friedersdorf’s Electric Kool-Aid Conservatism for a hilarious account of, among other things, the dilemma of a conservative on a blind date confronted by a woman who may or may not accept “basic conservative and libertarian truths.”

(Again: fair warning.  Leave aside the argument such as it is.  You have to be willing to stomach sentences like “As a dating dilemma, this is easily solved.  Ask her questions!”  There.  Proceed at your own risk.  Tom Wolfe, conservative though he surely is, knows style and its absence.  He would equally surely wince at the asserted claim of kinship.)

And so on…but really, the point of this post is not simply that someone, somewhere is saying something stupid on the internet.  Rather, it is to point out one reason why conservative claims of intellectual authority have worn so thin.

They ignore science.  There is no science at Culture 11 at all.  Not as a category; not squeezed into headings like “Education” or “Ideas.”  The one article under the heading “Technology” provides an interesting brief against the privatization of city services, but basically includes no actual explanation of the technological problem under review — how to design and build a city-provided wifi network.

Other than that, nothing.  And it’s not that there is a dearth of science and public life stories of interest within the context of conservative politics, after all.  Just today, the Republican National Convention platform committee published their document, which calls for a complete ban on embryonic stem cell research.  That might be worth a comment, no?

How about the argument between the parties about the appropriate resource and technological response to the problem of the US energy mix and supply?

What about some hard thinking about the numbers behind and the moral values inherent in the McCain campaign’s health policy advisor’s statement that the emergency room counts as insurance for the uninsured?

I am not suggesting that I expect anyone from that side of aisle to write stuff I agree with.  I’m not even expecting them to make good cases for the points of view I’m guessing they’ll adopt.  But these are in fact big, obvious issues that matter not just to a scientific community, but to the public at large in the midst of deciding who should be our next president.

And yet, the entire site is designed, at least for now, to suggest that questions with a scientific or technical core don’t rise to the level of significance worthy of a conservative intelligentsia’s attention.  By contrast, Slate has a whole section devoted to health and science, two editors devoted to the care and feeding of that section and about a post a day, sometimes more, to keep the site populated.  I’m not saying I love all their stuff (though when they publish a former student, I do).  But they cover the story; they do so in an opinionated way, writing as public intellectuals. They take this stuff seriously.

I suppose I am picking on a brand new publication, the brain child of a plucky band of brothers (of both genders) rushing into the breach of the defenses of the liberal media.  But it still seems to me both striking and telling that a set of would-be leaders of right-wing public intellectualism would find nothing in science to engage.

I do not think that they achieve such lofty unconcern simply because doing science is hard, though it is, nor that writing well about science is hard, for all that I have scars to remind me that just how hard.

Rather, it is because, IMHO of course, in the broadest sense, it is much harder to spin science than it is, say, the consequences of impotent bellicosity over Georgia.

To put it another way, one near and dear to Boston Celtics fans:  I think the right dodges science when it can because it can’t handle the truth.

You may take all this as the official announcement, rather than the earlier leaks, that Inverse Square is back from vacation.

*This link provided because even though I think the site is basically worthless, it seems to me hard to write a post about a web-location without pointing to it.  A foolish consistency and all that…