Teabaggers, tribalism, and expertise

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AlterNet's racism and conservatism piece is an excerpt from Avi Tuschman's book Our Political Nature; The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us. In it, Tuschman writes that "In relation to the political spectrum, tribalism breaks down into three components:"

(1) ethnocentricity, (2) religiosity, and (3) sexual (in)tolerance. High measures of ethnocentricity, religiosity, and sexual intolerance are commonly associated with one another. Individuals with this cluster of traits tend to have political views on the right. On the other end of the spectrum, attraction to out-groups (xenophilia), secularism, and higher sexual tolerance are well correlated with one another and with political views on the left. [...]

What is the logic between these three components of tribalism? The more ethnocentric, religious, and sexually intolerant people are, the more likely they are to reproduce with a mate from their own in-group. Moreover, conservatives are more likely to emphasize group values, such as prioritizing the reproduction and defense of their ethnic group, over other possible competing interests (e.g., personal pleasure, and education or career choices made at the expense of family).

On the other hand, more xenophilic, secular, and sexually tolerant people are more likely to see equal (or even greater) value in out-groups, and to reproduce with them. Thus, liberals place relatively greater importance on individualism and less on in-group values.

"In every country," he continues, "the right is more ethnocentric than the left:"

Conservatives have more positive feelings toward members of their in-group... [...] In America, the modern political era began when the Civil Rights Movement pushed the race issue squarely into the politics of the 1960s. During this decade, opposition to civil rights was a cornerstone of American conservatism.

[This has been true from Barry Goldwater to Rand Paul, one might add...]

Hard statistical studies repeatedly find that there is no better way to predict ethnocentrism than to measure political conservatism. Stanford University's Paul Sniderman is a world expert on the political psychology of race. He once asked 659 nonblack individuals how many negative stereotypes of black people they would accept. Self-placed political conservatism predicted the acceptance of the negative stereotypes more than three and a half times better than family income did.

Speaking of racism, ThinkProgress lauded the study "The Persistent Legacy of American Slavery" (PDF) on the persistence of racist attitudes in the South:

We show that contemporary differences in political attitudes across counties in the American South trace their origins back to the influence of slavery's prevalence more than 150 years ago. Whites who currently live in Southern counties that had high shares of slaves population in 1860 are less likely to identify as Democrat, more likely to oppose to affirmative action policies, and more likely to express racial resentment toward blacks. [...] The results suggest that political attitudes were at least in part determined by the local prevalence of slavery and the political and economic incentives that emancipation created for Southern whites. In turn, these attitudes have been passed down from one generation to the next.

"Our core hypothesis," the study noted, "is that the more conservative nature of the Black Belt is in part a direct consequence of the historical prevalence of slavery in this area."

Addicting Info's look at 10 preposterous conservative myths points out that "Conservatives are notorious for clinging to, and repeating, myths and falsehoods long after they have been debunked:"

Although an exhaustive list of myths that conservatives cling to would be longer than space permits here, below are ten things that many conservatives believe that "just ain't so."

  1. President Obama is spending the United States into the poor house.
  2. Obamacare changed federal policy on abortion and permits federal funding for abortions on demand.
  3. Social Security is going bankrupt.
  4. Ronald Reagan tried to cut spending and balance the budget, but Democrats in congress wouldn't let him.
  5. We were attacked on September 11, 2001, by people who "hate our freedoms."
  6. Bush did a better job of protecting our embassies than Obama is doing.
  7. Scientists still disagree on whether climate change is taking place and if human activities are responsible.
  8. The U.S. government gives away free 'Obamaphones' to undeserving welfare recipients
  9. Non-union power crews were turned away from New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
  10. America is a conservative country, and most Americans consider themselves to be conservatives.

Paul Krugman suggests that "the widening 'wonk gap'" between the parties is due to "the G.O.P.'s near-complete lack of expertise on anything substantive:"

Health care is the most prominent example, but the dumbing down extends across the spectrum, from budget issues to national security to poll analysis. Remember, Mitt Romney and much of his party went into Election Day expecting victory.

Although he mostly pillories "conservative 'experts,' who have been offering a steady stream of misinformation," he also notes that "Political conservatism and serious policy analysis can coexist, and there was a time when they did:"

But that was then. Modern conservatism has become a sort of cult, very much given to conspiracy theorizing when confronted with inconvenient facts. Liberal policies were supposed to cause hyperinflation, so low measured inflation must reflect statistical fraud; the threat of climate change implies the need for public action, so global warming must be a gigantic scientific hoax. Oh, and Mitt Romney would have won if only he had been a real conservative.

It's all kind of funny, in a way. Unfortunately, however, this runaway cult controls the House, which gives it immense destructive power -- the power, for example, to wreak havoc on the economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And it's disturbing to realize that this power rests in the hands of men who, thanks to the wonk gap, quite literally have no idea what they're doing.

Krugman's "stubborn mastery of facts" undermines the GOP:

If the data fails to support the G.O.P. platform and the liberalism of economists like Paul Krugman has been proven to encompass solid policy as well as human empathy (imagine!), why then have the failed ideas of the modern Republican Party been so difficult to banish from our discourse?

AlterNet's tale of Teabaggers versus libraries is another example of this anti-intellectualism. "In September 2012 the Library Board of Pulaski County, Kentucky raised property taxes $1 per year for a typical homeowner to maintain the existing level of services in its five libraries." What did the Teabaggers do? They petitioned to dissolve the library. As ignorant of history as they tend to be, they evidenced little respect for the "radical, uniquely American concept [of] a taxpayer-supported library:"

All town residents, regardless of income, had the right to freely share the community's stored knowledge. Their only obligation was to return the information on time and in good condition, allowing others to exercise that same right.

By 1910 all states had a public library network. Today 9,000 central buildings plus about 7,500 branches have made public libraries one of the most ubiquitous of all American institutions. Campbell County's 63,000 residents possess almost 30,000 library cards. Kenton County's library system's million annual visitors not only borrow books and DVDs; they use its computers and its meeting rooms and rely on librarians to help them do their homework or ferret out information about jobs and government services.

The Tea Party argues that a library tax increase of any size, no matter how trivial, is unwarranted because of economic hardship. A far more compelling argument is that times of economic distress demand a larger, not as smaller information commons.

"According to the FCC," the piece observes acidly, "cable companies raised their prices at twice the rate of inflation from 1995 to 2010, boosting the average household's bill by an astonishing $400 a year:"

The Tea Party circulated no petitions. Its members filed no lawsuits.

But if a library raises taxes by $1 a year the Tea Party's pitchforks appear, the Declaration of Independence is waved, the founding fathers invoked, an American-as-apple-pie institution forcefully attacked.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on September 9, 2013 2:50 PM.

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