I just don't get it. Maybe I'm over-educated. Maybe I think too much. Maybe I expect too much of other people. But I just don't get just how many people in this highly advanced, technical civilization seem incapable of recognizing a blatant logical or factual contradiction when it stares them right in the face. I just don't get how people can make two completely contradictory statements, often in the same breath, and not for even one second realize the irony of what they've just done.
In this diary, I want to share a few real world examples of this phenomenon before ending with a dream I had that seems to perfectly crystallize what I've been thinking and feeling on this topic lately. In between, I hypothesize that one of the reasons that the Republicans might do well in this election, despite having done everything in their power to make sure there is no economic recovery, is that people seem either incapable of holding more than one fact or idea in their heads at a time, or, though they can hold multiple ideas in mind at once, they seem to think of those ideas in isolation from one another and incapable of recognizing the connections among them.
The two examples I want to share involve family members that I love to death. Both are loving, supportive people who have never been anything but kind to me. They are both good, well-meaning and decent human beings. They're even pretty bright. Which is why it is all the more vexing when their logic goes off the deep end. (I will slightly change their relationship to me to protect the innocent...or maybe to protect myself at the next family gathering...)
A few weeks ago, my grandfather told me about his week. His biggest complaints had to do with his expensive private health insurance. He complained that Medicare did not offer extensive enough coverage, and that was the reason he bought the private insurance. Then he complained that the money he received each month from social security wasn't nearly enough to make such expensive insurance affordable. Then he told me about one of his favorite parts of the week--when the lady from the public library comes to his apartment building to visit the older residents and bring them new books. He went on and on about how wonderful a program this is and about how much he loves the public library.
Now, in the same conversation, he says that the reason for many of the ills in our society is that "government" is too big and spends too much money. If "they just left us alone," he said, things would be much better. I'm guessing that many of the people reading this diary will immediately recognize the blatant contradiction between this statement and what was complained about and praised in the preceding paragraph. Lack of Medicare services and low social security payments could only improved by increases in government spending, not by cutting it. And the public library is one of the best examples of what government can do positively when it spends money on behalf of collective public goods. Free books for everyone, paid for by "hard earned tax dollars." What could be more socialistic than that? And yet, it never occurred to my beloved grandfather that he might be contradicting himself in any way. I actually did try to point out where PUBLIC libraries get their funding, but he dismissed my point by saying that the money came from LOCAL governments and that he only meant the FEDERAL government. I thought it impolite to continue to argue the matter, so I did not point out the federal support of Medicare and Social Security.
Then, just a few days ago, another family member, let's say a cousin, railed against several evils in the world. One major complaint was about the way coal and gas companies damage the environment. Longwall mining, for example, can cause the ground above it to simply drop five or six feet when the mining is completed. You can imagine the pain this may cause for anyone who owns say, a house, above the site of the mining. She complained about the safety record of both mining and drilling operators, and how something should be done to make these industries both safer and less harmful to the environment. Then she went on to complain that, in an effort to be more efficient and save money, the local post office had cut four full-time jobs and that now all the mail was sent to the nearest large city for processing.
At this point, I'm somewhat surprised and thinking that maybe this "cousin," let's call her "Becky," had come around to my way of thinking. She's sounding pro-environment, pro-safety regulations and pro-government jobs. But then she went on to talk about the root of all these problems. Want to guess the cause of all the problems she just described? That "idiot Pelosi" and that "fool Obama" and all those crazy big-spending liberals who were just ruining the country for everyone. Those jobs were cut, she said, because the government is spending too much money. (Wait, isn't cutting those jobs an attempt to spend less money?) She likes West Virginia's governor, Joe Manchin, but then blasted his recent Senate appointment for "voting to spend more money" when he got to Washington and became just as corrupt as all the rest of 'em. (The vote in question was to extend unemployment benefits.)
This time I didn't even bother. There were so many convoluted missed connections leaps of faulty logic in there that I wasn't even sure where to begin. It just seemed so depressing that even people I care about, even decent honest people who can even clearly see many of the problems we face, so quickly leap to the wrong conclusions about both the causes of and the solutions to those problems. And that's only talking about trying to hold several ideas in place over the course of the same conversation. We're even worse at it when trying to remember things that happened in ancient times by today's 24-hour media standards, like say...18 months ago.
I was pleased by Paul Krugman's article in the Times today about the way that Republicans seem on their way to being rewarded for their obstructionism. I want everyone to think back, for a moment, to when the stimulus bill was passed. Does anyone remember the initial amount of money that was requested? I believe it was somewhere around $1.2 trillion. This was the amount that would be needed, according to the Obama administration and many prominent Democrats, to not only halt the recession but to get the economy moving forward in the right direction again. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly (and it seems to be better than most), some on the left were saying that even THAT total wouldn't be adequate to do the job. But all were in agreement that spending an amount substantially less than that, like the $800 billion or so bill that was eventually passed, would do a decent job of stopping the bleeding but would not be sufficient to promote a real recovery.
So, fast forward to today. Just like most on the left predicted, the $800 billion stimulus bill did a decent job of keeping us from getting into an even deeper hole, but did little to encourage a real recovery that would mean robust growth and declining unemployment. So, in effect, the Democrats were right. Right?
WRONG! The failure of the stimulus clearly shows, according to the logic of those who can't hold more than a couple of independent ideas in their heads at a time, yet alone see the connections between them, this set of facts PROVES not only that this particular stimulus bill "failed," but that the reason it failed is because "big government spending doesn't work" ever and that it's made things worse because now we have a huge deficit. Most of the people who have read this far will see the shear idiocy of drawing this conclusion. But for those who are still reading (thank you) and need a little help, consider an easier, more familiar scenario:
A family member is having a tough financial time. He is in danger of having his electric shut off because he is behind on his utility bills. Furthermore, he works on his computer from home, so that IF his electric is shut off, he won't even be able to pull himself out of this trouble because he won't be able to do his job. So, he comes to you and says, "Hey, in order to not have my electric shut off, I need $100 to pay my past due amounts. I'll pay you back in a few months because with the electric ON, I'll be able to keep working and making money."
Now let's imagine that you're married. Your spouse thinks that giving your friend, let's call him Bob, is a good idea. It's just the right thing to do, your spouse says. Let's call your spouse Jamie, because that can be a male or a female. Jamie says this is the right thing to do. You both like Bob, you both want Bob to do well, so Jamie says, and besides, if you do not give him the money now and the electric goes off and he loses his job, then Bob will probably be coming to you again later in need of even MORE help, which will cost you more in the long run, unless you want to see poor Bob living out on the street.
But you, like the Republicans in Congress, think that spending money is always a bad idea (unless you're giving it to someone who already has more than enough). Furthermore, you are a contrarian and a kind of domestic obstructionist. You disagree with Jamie on just about everything, and love nothing more than proving Jamie wrong. So, you say, "No, I'm not willing to do this. I'm not willing to give Bob any more than $70." Now Jamie explains to you that $70 won't really help the situation. It won't solve the problem. It might keep the electric on for a few more days, but in the end Bob can't recover and the electric is still going to be shut off. But you invoke the filibuster rule (by refusing sex or by threatening to not pick up after yourself or by whatever marital filibuster strategy you want to assume) and say, "Nope, $70 or nothing!"
So you lend Bob $70. Then a few weeks later he comes back to the two of you and says, "They turned off my electric. Now I also lost my job. I'm in worse shape than before." Jamie is about to say that s/he told you so, but you are always quicker to blurt out a blustering answer and say, "AHA! Just like I said. Giving Bob money was a waste of time. Giving money to people just makes them lazy and makes them want more money from you later. See, Jamie, I hope you can admit how WRONG you were for wanting to give Bob money."
Jamie is about to respond and defend his/her idea when all of a sudden, Bob, of all people, agrees with YOU! "You're right!" Bob says, "Jamie is to blame for all my problems! If Jamie hadn't wasted that $70 bucks on me everything would be better."
And Jamie can only shake his/her head and frown.
This is already too long, but I promised a dream at the beginning, but here is my dream at the end:
I'm standing on a kind of stage at a religious/political gathering. I've just read through the beatitudes (sermon on the mount stuff, you know, "blessed are the poor" and rich people can't get into heaven and all that...) and I'm about to expound on what these teachings of Jesus mean for our current society. But then I'm interrupted by my high school Geometry teacher, who springs forth onto the stage to light applause (this is the man who kept a copy of the book "EVILution: The Lie" on his desk and who told a Jewish student that she was going to hell). He smiles and starts talking about how these teachings of Jesus mean we need prayer in schools and tax cuts for the rich. He goes on and on about how the man who said "whatsoever you do to the least of these you do to me" wants us to execute more criminals (rather than visiting them when they were imprisoned...although I guess you could visit them to serve them their last meal, right?) and stop giving handouts to the poor.
Disgusted, I throw down my own Bible/sacramentary thing (dreams are very non-specific) and storm off the stage. I get a bite to eat and feel a bit more energized and determined to come back and rebut this crazy man. But as I approach the auditorium again, there is music playing and lights flashing and the people are all clapping and singing along and have now been whipped into a frenzy. They just don't see the irony of believing the Prince of Peace is all for a never-ending War on Terror. I give up on trying to point out all these contradictions to them, and just walk away.
But we can't walk away. Can we? In religion, in politics, in economics, how do we get people-the good, well-meaning, well-intentioned and honest people--to see the inherent contradictions in so many of the beliefs they hold?
Edit: Thanks to the rescue rangers!