Saturday, June 25, 2016

Demonization (Is there an exorcist in the House? The Senate?)

This is the first time I've included a link in a column. I'm violating policy because this is a very important link. The logic behind why I don't put limit the quantity of links in my columns can be found by clicking on the Read This First Please tab Just Who Is This Guy tab on my website, (Many of my gentlereaders access my columns without visiting my website.)

The subject and title of a recent column was the Dizzinformation Age. I defined Dizzinformation syndrome (DS) as dizzy from too much information -- correct, incorrect, or, worst of all, contradictory. I failed to mention Dizzinformation Anxiety Syndrome (DAS), a closely related malady that often manifests concurrently with DS. DAS is the fear that you might miss/have missed/are missing a highly important bit of information.

Highly important is a relative phrase. For example, it could refer to the fact that you forgot to acknowledge your obnoxious aunt Eunice's birthday. This is important because she's sitting on a significant pile of dough. Although she's unlikely to bequeath a significant amount of the aforementioned significant pile to you (it's complicated), you figure that odds are you're going to get something if she ever finally dies. 

Alternatively, any information of quality about how H. sapiens actually function in the real world on a day to day basis, as opposed to how you wish they did/hope they do may be highly important to you also, for any number of valid reasons.

While the former would seem, generally speaking, less important than the latter, both are important, both can trigger DAS.

I recently discovered a book, that I haven't read yet (more on that in a sec') titled, "The Righteous Mind," by Jonathan Haidt that was published in 2013. The subtitle, "Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion," embodies a passionate interest of mine and is easily conflatable with the desire to know how folks actually function in the real world mentioned above.

I've purchased the book and haven't read it yet because I'm mildly obsessed with the video that clicking on the link above will connect you to. Bill Moyers, well known progressive, interviews the author, a moral psychologist who claims his work has moved him from a moderate liberal stance to that of a moderate conservative. It's an excellent interview and while I'm sure there's additional insight in the book, the interview reveals the important stuff.

I'm obsessed with the video for two reasons -- the tone and the substance.

As to tone, the interview consists of 47 minutes and 9 seconds of two intelligent gentlepersons exploring a subject of interest to us all most people. All the while they both listen carefully to what the other guy is saying, or asking (it is an interview after all); at no point does the conversation devolve into shouting or talking over or interrupting or displays of self-righteous fury. Not very infotaining. Well, at least by the standards of the average cable news show.

As to substance, the fact that I, your DAT (dilettante about town) was unaware of the book or the interview triggered a dizzinformation anxiety attack. A well-spoken Ph.D., whose field is moral psychology (a subject I find endlessly fascinating), wrote a book and gave a great interview about a subject I'm obsessed with (see subtitle), and has compiled an impressive array of studies that seem to confirm most of my thoughts and opinions on the subject in question.

And I, a semi-humble DAT, with 39 certified college credits, missed it.

Of course, so did a lot of other people. The sales of the book in question were/are a tiny fraction of any given book of the Harry Potter series. I went poking around the web to try and make myself feel better and became deeply depressed when I discovered that it was once on the N.Y. Times bestseller list. However, I then discovered that discovering how many copies of given book have actually been sold is impossible; the veracity of the Times list is a matter of some controversy. I'm feeling much better now.

As I said, I haven't read it yet, but the interview absolutely drips with insight into our current mess and when I'm king...

[Marie-Louise rolls her eyes, my imaginary gentlereader scoffs. Dana. What's that? Dana, I'm tired of being called imaginary gentlereader, my name is Dana, OK? Yeah, sure, whatever you say, what prompted... Just move on, OK? Um, yeah, sure.]

Anyway, I can't recommend watching this interview enough. Ironically, Mr. Haidt did a TED talk that I vaguely remember watching, and enjoying, but it was quite awhile ago and doesn't delve into the subject with quite the same amount of insight or present nearly as many subtle details.

You really should watch the interview. Here's a summary of Mr. Haidt's thesis if you don't want to, or to help you decide if you wish to spend some of your valuable time. Honestly, however, I'm doing it mostly for me. Writing helps/forces me to clarify concisely and I want to burn his ideas into my head as I think they are that important.

Abraham Lincoln was a Republicrat, one of the first important ones, and he freed the slaves. Many folks in the South took umbrage at this and the South became a Depublican stronghold. Yes, those of you who are historically challenged, the Republicans (traditional but now inaccurate name) freed the slaves; the Democrats (traditional but equally inaccurate name) gave us Jim Crow and the KKK.

Ain't that ironical.

[For the record, I use the names I do because although the parties have lost the ability to compromise over the years in order to do what's best for the republic, they both agree, strongly, on the same principle, that obtaining and keeping power is job one. Beats having to get a real job.]

And then in the early sixties, Lyndon Johnson put together a bipartisan effort and destroyed the obscenity that was/is Jim Crow. A certain element in the South once again took umbrage and turned Republicrat, feeling abandoned and looking for revenge. Then the Baby Boomers began taking over from the Greatest Generation and began redefining the Depublican party. This was the beginning of (what I call) the Great Fragmentation. As Mr. Haidt puts it, both parties began moving towards logically extreme positions. Liberal Republicrats and conservative Depublicans began to disappear.

Mr. Haidt points out that it's perfectly normal, and advantageous for survival, for H. sapiens to belong to a tribe of some sort. Cooperation/competition being opposite sides of the same coin, this can be a good thing if a balance is maintained. We can cooperate by competing in everything from sports to business to politics, to pursue excellence but stay friends -- if we share common goals, share the same country, and avoid a culture that is defined by Us v. Them.

This was relatively easy for the Greatest Generation. They had to compete/cooperate to survive the Great Depression and then World War Two. The threat of economic collapse/starvation followed by the threat of death/enslavement by another culture served to unite a nation of rugged individualists. A general consensus as to what constituted a moral lifestyle -- though we must acknowledge there was, as there always is, much hypocrisy -- also helped.

Very long story short: The rise of the most pampered/indulged/prosperous generation in American history -- at least till the rise of the Millennials, and now the Snowflakes -- was upon us. The moral and cultural consensus was replaced, in an amazingly short time, by if it feels good do it we'll sort out the consequences later ethos.

Compromise was replaced by Us v. Them. Consensus, even geographical consensus, is vanishing. We've separated into, as Mr. Haidt says, lifestyle enclaves -- physical/emotional/political/moral -- from where we can comfortably throw rocks at the other tribes.

Manichaeism is back on the charts kids, with a bullet. Hey, buddy, you're not just wrong, you're evil, and you can't compromise with the devil. Please watch the interview, eye-opening stuff, I promise.

Have an OK day.

[P.S. Gentlereaders, for 25¢ a week, no, seriously, for 25¢ a week you can become a Patron of this weekly column and help to prevent an old crank from running the streets at night in search of cheap thrills and ill-gotten gains.

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©2017 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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