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Please begin with an informative title:

I would like to help you understand the minds of Republicans and what we can do about that, which means that I have to apologize before we even start, for what I am about to expose you to. In this new series for Readers and Book Lovers we are not going to plumb the lowest depths of Redstate, Free Republic, and the like, but we do have to look at what makes the 1%, the Religious Right, the Tea Parties, the Neo-Confederates, and others tick in general, including how they got that way. The most important part is how to pry them loose from their delusions, where possible, as I wrote about in May in Undeluding the Deluded, and how to recognize when that is even worth trying. We do occasionally see Republicans of some note coming over to our side, and we know that millions of them do each year, mostly among the young.

We have a lovely collection of books to get started with, and I am looking around for more. Suggestions welcome. The list begins, of course, below the Sigil of the Great Orange Satan. Abandon derp, all ye who enter here.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

Except as an object of study, of course.

One of the points of my selection of readings is that we have scientific research on a variety of troubling phenomena that we observe among Republicans, along with historical/sociological/anthropological analysis, and just sharp observation. We do not have to regard them as inexplicably evil. It takes a lot of careful work to direct their children to the Dark Side and keep their hatred flowing as they are growing up, and it isn't working as well any more now that they can't keep the kids in the bubble full time.

The initial list of books and their themes is as follows. This is not necessarily the order we will take them up in. That will depend, in part, on what themes you indicate an interest in, and what questions you ask.

  • When Prophecy Fails, by Leon Festinger et al., Cognitive Dissonance resulting in denial of or transparent excuses for the most obvious facts
  • The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen, Conspicuous Consumption and the delusion that richer means morally and intellectually superior, at all levels of society, plus slavery and oppression of women
  • The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, ideology
  • Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, by Stanley Milgram, the classic Yale study on getting people to harm others
  • Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean, applying the Milgram experiment results to post-Watergate Republicans
  • Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, by Christopher Peterson, Steven F. Maier and Martin E. P. Seligman, how animals and people can be taught to be helpless, and also taught not to be, which we will apply to GOTV
  • The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod, including how non-cooperation and oppression come about and can be undone
  • The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford Prison Experiment; how power and powerlessness both corrupt and damage participants
  • The Jack Acid Society Black Book, by Walt Kelly, a pointed and comic look at the paranoia of the John Birch Society, which is still very much with us
  • The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James, which we will use to examine Evangelistic and Creationist claims to own the frame for the religious debate
  • Added 9/2/2014: The Authoritarians, by Robert Altemeyer, on the various kinds of authoritarian personality. Free download from his university Web page

I have some questions for you right now, before we dive in.

What other books would you recommend that give evidence-based insight into Republicans? (So, no, before you ask, not any part of the Bible, and not the apologists for political evil like Machiavelli or Glenn Beck.)

Which Republican shenanigans have you wanted explained because their motivation seemed impenetrable?

Have at it in the comments, and I will try to address your recommendations and your questions further as we go along.

Your First Assignment

We will begin by reading When Prophecy Fails this week. It tells a tale that it also tries to explain scientifically, of a doomsday UFO cult that predicted the end of the world, but promised that people who fulfilled certain requirements would be rescued by the UFO dwellers at a specified place and time. You may have noticed that we are still here. So did they. The cultists then doubled down on their belief, with the excuse that their demonstration of faith had persuaded the UFO dwellers to give the Earth a second chance. The cult grew larger.

Pay attention to the conditions that the researchers found for this to occur, stated early in the first chapter, unfulfilled prophecies and disappointed messiahs. They explain how they discovered those conditions and verified them in this case, and through other observations and experiments before and after.

You aren't doing it right unless you can think of an objection to the theory that the book does not address, and an instance where Democrats or scientists fell into Cognitive Dissonance. Even mathematicians, it turns out, have had a few major disconfirmations of what were supposed to be theorems with ironclad proofs, and some have reacted badly.

This is science. If we don't end up with more questions than we began with, we have missed the essential. If it tells us only what we thought we knew, we have learned nothing.

We will apply the conditions given in the book to a variety of predictions still made with great confidence by various factions of the Right after being repeatedly exploded. Do we also see conditions that would explain why the Republican factions, and the Party as a whole, are shrinking, in spite of the predicted increase in recruitment efforts? You should be able to apply these criteria to any new Republican shenanigans, and conjecture some of what will come next.

Unskewing the polls? No problem.

Benghazi? You make me laugh.

The IRS? Easy, but there turns out to be a much darker motive.

Children at the border? Oh, yeah. Have you heard that the 300 planned anti-child protests nationwide have all fizzled? Or that Gov. Perry is sending the Texas National Guard to the border with no authority to arrest or detain, and demanding Federal repayment of their expenses? How about the claim that they are carrying Ebola, a dread disease that exists only in Africa?

As we progress, I intend to use this Diary series as reference material for other Diaries, so that I can give a link to a topic rather than try to give a too-simple explanation of any new Republican disaster on the spot. It will be fun to see how many of these books apply to any particular Republican meme that may appear in the future. Feel free to quote me or link to me, and invite your friends.

Note: The word grok comes from the Robert Heinlein novel Stranger in a Strange Land. The central character, Valentine Michael Smith, is a human raised by Martians, which gives him an unusual perspective on human foibles, and a few semi-magic powers. The novel explains grokking thus.

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.
Thus, a direct perception of the essence of something, including its relationships with other things. The first example is when Smith is initially hesitant to walk on grass, but then groks that grass is meant to be walked on. The word has passed into popular culture, with a rather looser meaning.

For those who might be worried by merging with Republicans, losing our identity in a shared experience, let me assure you that we are not talking about being so open-minded that our brains fall out. We can have empathy (Greek), compassion (Latin) or karuna (Sanskrit) for those brought up in a bubble of fears and hatreds, as Jesus is recorded to have said on the cross.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
We can take action against them without hating them, and our action will be the more effective the more we understand what we are working against.

Published and Announced Diaries

Thu Aug 21, 2014 at  9:06 PM PT: I am going to refer to this book list in future Diaries, so I am adding links to Diaries in this series here.

Monday, 8/4/2014: Grokking Republicans: Cognitive Dissonance on When Prophecy Fails

Monday, 8/11/2014: Grokking Republicans: The Theory of the 1%, Part 1 on The Theory of the Leisure Class

Monday, 8/18/2014: Grokking Republicans: The Theory of the 1% Part 2 on The Theory of the Leisure Class

Monday, 8/25/2014: Grokking Republicans: The Non-Cooperator's Dilemma, on The Evolution of Cooperation

Monday, 9/1/2014: Grokking Republicans: Obedience to Oppression

Monday, 9/8/2014: Grokking Republicans: Authoritarians Without Conscience

Monday, 9/15/2014: Grokking Republicans: Authoritarian Followers, Leaders, and Doubles The Authoritarians. Free PDF.

Monday, 9/22/2014: Grokking Republicans: The True Believer. Free PDF.

Monday, 9/29/2014: Grokking Republicans: The Jack Acid Society Black Book

Monday, 10/6/2014: Grokking Republicans: The Lucifer Effect

Monday, 10/13/2014: Taking Columbus day off

Monday, 10/20/2014: Grokking Republicans: The Varieties of Religious Delusion

Monday, 10/27/2014: Grokking Republicans: Learned Helplessness vs. Personal Control

Tuesday, 11/4/2014: Be sure to vote, and ask others to vote also.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 07:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Psychology of Conservatives and Liberals and Community Spotlight.

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