Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Republican Reality Gap

Ann Coulter once said that liberals "take a perverse joy in lying", that liberals actively enjoy telling untruths. She was, of course, wrong about liberals (as she would have difficulty even understanding a thought process so different to her own) but I am increasingly of the opinion that her remarks were correct if applied to conservatives (projection, in other words). How else can one explain the warped version of reality which so many conservatives carry around in their heads? I'm not talking about subjects which reasonable people can disagree on, like the existence and disposition of god(s) or the merits of direct democracy. Those are issues without clear answer which reasonable people can have a discussion about. I'm talking about believing and not just believing but vehemently defending beliefs which are provably, factually wrong. Believing something which is untrue would be understandable if it were done out of ignorance but such people, when exposed to the facts, will vehemently attack or dismiss them and often the messenger as well. In an individual, this would be considered mental illness (and in the case of some, such as Glenn Beck, that would be an accurate description) but the mental health community is understandably reluctant to label whole swathes of the public as crazy. If someone believes they are being followed by a man-eating hedgehog, you can just give them a heavy stick and a chair to stand on and let them get on with it but when a whole section of the public is holding beliefs which are no less crazy, those beliefs somehow become an accepted part of the public dialogue. For example:

- Fascism is a left-wing ideaology
I think it was Goldberg who started this one. Since the end of WWII, fascism has been identified as a right-wing (right-fringe, really) ideaology. There has never been any significant doubt about that. It's only fairly recently that some conservatives have decided that everything unpleasent is teh fault of the left and so, fascism must be a left-wing ideaology. Partly, this is based on the mistaken belief that state control of everything was the aim of communism, rather than the result of communism being unworkable in the real world. It's the same mentality which claims that because I dislike legal abortion, child molestation and homosexuality, all those things must be caused by the teaching of evolution, which I also dislike. One can find the same mindset in those who tout that the Weather Underground proves that the left is more likely to be violent while forgetting, for example, Timothy McVeigh. It's rewriting history, stealing history really, for use as partisan political points. And while we're on the subject:

- Obama is a socialist/communist
This one is based on a misreading of history so obvious that it must have been deliberate. To claim that Obama, a wimpish moderate in any sane world, is socialist in any way is not just wrong but outright insane and yet, it persists. And it persists because most people don't actually know what "socialism" means. They don't understand that when socialism says "communal ownership of the means of production and distribution", it means ALL the means, not just an interest or equity in a few firms which would otherwise have collapsed. But the right-wing media machine doesn't like that reality and so, they endlessly promote the lie that any communal ownership of anything is automatically socialist. Part of me wonders if this societal case of the fallacy of the excluded middle is the result of decades of Cold War rhetoric or simply the decades of propoganda on behalf of capitalism or if there is even a difference between the two.

- Republicans have been better for minorities
There are two strands to this one. The first is based on a very selective misreading of history. There certainly was a time when Republicans were the better party for minorities, that's inarguable. The Democrats, pressured by a group of conservative Southern members known as "Dixiecrats" were rotten for minorities for some time. But this reading of history ignores everything that's happened since integration, when the Dixiecrats almost universally defected to the Republican party. Since then, the Democrats have (overall and in general) been better at minority rights. And minorities know it. There was a time when black people almost universally voted Republican, seeing it as the party of Lincoln. These days, better than 90% of black people vote Democrat. Which brings us onto the second strand of this argument. This strand holds that minorities typically vote for Democrats because Democrats give them more "government hand-outs". Now, firstly, let's remember that it was Bill Clinton who ended welfare as an entitlement program (for which, I don't think he's been criticised enough) but secondly, notice the inherent bias and racism in the allegation. It assumes that A) government can never do anything good and B) that black people will vote for Democrats because they're all lazy work-shys who depend on "government hand-outs". Sometimes, for those less overt with their racism, some vague theory about a "culture of dependence" will be added.

Those are just three examples of what could be dozens. Indeed, so devoted are conservatives to their alternate universe view of reality that I could write a book on the subject (and may yet do so). To be a conservative, it seems, is to be a conspiracist; to believe that there exists some secret cabal of leftie elites constantly rewriting the world in their favour (at which, the leftie responds "have you seen us? We can't even keep a radio station running"). This is what psychologists call "projection", the seeing of one's own faults in others and it is agravated by the conservative trend toward "purity" i.e. calling oneself a Republican means accepting all these points wholesale or we'll call you a RINO and make you a non-person in the party. A whole faction of the populace believes that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and President Obama are left-fringe radicals (and "left-wing radical" now means anything to the left of Bush who really was a radical) and if you call these people crazy, which would seem the obvious reasponse, they start screaming about Stalin labelling people insane and protesting their patriotism (every kook, crank and domestic terrorist in American history has proclaimed their patriotism). You cannot reason with these people because they have left reason entirely behind. Rather, their allegiance to this talking point version of reality is closer to that of a religion or cult, their accusations of liberals worshipping Obama as a messiah just more of their endless projection (and nowehere is this more true than of Glenn Beck's acolytes who swarm liberal publications whenever an article is unflattering of Dear Leader). The conservative model is well established by this point: Lie about something until you convince a small portion of the populace, force publications to label well-established facts as controversial and then shout "teach the controversy!" and rely on social pressure to do the rest.

So, how can they be beaten? I'm honestly unsure. Education would be an obvious point but children spend far more time learning the talking point reality at home than they do learning the reality-based version at school and the textbooks of those schools are now largely drawn to Texas standards and already corrupted anyway. Conservative control of the media is now so pervasive and so entrenched that we should expect no help from that quarter either. I wish I had an answer but every future I envision ends up with the USA accepting a version of reality entirely at odds with the one the rest of the world accepts.

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