It's often difficult to understand why people behave the way they do, even people we know well. It's often far more difficult to understand why people who are very different from us act in ways that we consider inexplicable, particularly when those actions threaten harm to large numbers of people, including themselves. Of course, I am speaking about the current situation where a certain faction of Republicans in the House of Representatives is threatening a second global financial meltdown by shutting down the US government over raising the debt ceiling, despite warnings from economists, Wall Street CEO's, their own leaders in the House and anyone other than their own small closed off circle of friends and allies.
This is often because we make the logical fallacy of assuming that most people think and reason like we do, or to put it another way, that they will acknowledge what we consider to be objective facts about reality as true and valid. Unfortunately, with people who are fanatics, dogmatic ideologists or whose minds are ruled more by their emotions (especially the negative emotions of fear and anger) than by rationality, this isn't the case. Your standard "Tea Party" Republican Representative in Congress usually combines all three of these traits.
In these cases, I find it helpful to make up a list of what people who deviate so far from the norm believe to be true versus what the consensus opinion accepts as true. Consider this a thought experiment, though one informed by what we have all heard and seen from these folks over the past year and a half:
Tea Party Member's Belief Consensus View
1. Why I was elected
I was elected to stop Obama While there is some truth that a few
& Democrats from destroying people voted out of fear of the
the country. President's "Big Government"
agenda," most people voted for the
Tea Party candidate because the
economy was bad, unemployment
was high, and the GOP candidate was
voters only alternative to express
their unhappiness with the perceived
performance of the President and Dems
re: the economy.
2. Biggest Problem
The Socialist Policies of Obama Jobs.
which have added to the deficit
and burdened business.
3. Solution to problem
Cut more taxes on Corporations There is no clear consensus view
& the rich; Cut Soc. Sec., Medicare but most neutral observers agree that
and Medicaid; Deregulation; & increasing gov't revenue needs to be
Cut Deficits by cutting spending - a big part of the solution, i.e., raising.
lots of spending (except Military) taxes.
4. How big a problem would
a failure to raise Debt Ceiling
Not that big a deal. Not raising the debt ceiling is insanity
* * *
So why do the Tea Party faction in Congress hold these beliefs? First, they include a large number of fundamentalist Christians who view the world in terms of black and white, good or evil.
This caucus is more evangelical than the rest of the House. About 45 percent of the caucus attend an evangelical church, compared to 13 percent of others in the House. Another 30 percent are mainline Protestants, mostly of a largely Southern variety. Several Mormons are also part of the caucus.
Many of them come from rural communities, small towns or reside in the exurbs. A large number owned farms and ranches, or small businesses.
A quick examination of the 60 official Members of the Tea Party Congress clears that up: most from very rural and exurban states like Alabama, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri, Kansas, etc. These are the folks currently setting the tone and direction of debate on a number of critical policy issues. [...]
These are folks coming from states or locations where only 16 percent of the population resides – telling the other 84 percent of us, mostly from cities, what to do.
They are antagonistic to gay rights, more than Republicans in general, and more than past Republicans in Congress:
Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's leading gay-rights advocacy organization, has studied the records of the members of the 112th Congress and it finds that the House of Representatives has flipped from a pro- to anti-gay-rights majority. (HRC uses the acronym LGBT, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.) [...]
But this new Republican majority is definitely anti–gay rights, according to HRC. The report ranks 225 members of the new House as "anti-LGBT," up 53 from 172 in the 111th House.
Their ideology is informed by Ayn Rand, and her dogma that government can only harm the elite individuals whose intelligence, creativity and ambition make society possible. This makes them not small government Republicans but anti-government Republicans:
When she died almost two decades ago, Ayn Rand was considered a fringe figure whose philosophy was derided by both Left and Right. But in the “Greed is good” era and the ascension of her disciple Alan Greenspan to chairman of the Fed, Rand became an inspiration for those who needed justification for extreme selfishness to look down at the rest of humanity as “looters” and “moochers.” Money, according to the Rand scripture in the turgid 1200-page novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” is the root of all good. [...]
[H]er ghost has migrated to Washington as a prophet for Tea Party members and will hover over the attempted demolition of Obama health care reform and other social measures of the past two years.
Even George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speechwriter Michael Gerson is a bit nervous, complaining that “Paul and other libertarians are not merely advocates of limited government; they are anti-government. Their objective is not the correction of error but the cultivation of contempt for government itself.”
For that reason, they don't view their own leadership (who are after all long term members of Big Guvmint) as radical enough or tough enough, and they have demonstrated open defiance of their Speaker, John Boehner. They believe political "chaos" is a good thing. He said as much himself on Wednesday during an appearance on Laura Ingraham's radio talk show:
The caucus, Boehner says, has been infiltrated by a cabal that hopes to take the US economy hostage in order to force political concessions from President Obama and Congressional Democrats. [...]
So “why,” Ingraham asked, were House Republicans resisting the deal that President Obama has offered—a deal that is ridiculously deferent to Republican demands for cuts to needed domestic programs and for tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.
“Well,” Boehner said of the most belligerent members of his caucus, “first they want more. And my goodness, I want more too. And secondly, a lot of them believe that if we get passed August the second and we have enough chaos, we could force the Senate and the White House to accept a balanced budget amendment.”
In short, they come from a very different background than you or I. Not only are they predominantly white, but they come from rural or small town communities that were either not very diverse, or where racism was an acceptable viewpoint and an "accepted fact of life." They dislike their own leaders nearly as much as they hate the President. They trust no one who has any experience with making government work because they don't believe in government. Their life experience has led them to adopt an ideology of radical individualism, though they are certainly willing to help themselves to federal largesse when its been made available to them.
Shocker: Anti-government activists are all welfare queens! But they accept the "wealthy white person" version of welfare, which is "farm subsidies." (The "wealthy white person" version of welfare is also lots of other subsidies and tax credits and government spending.)
According to ABC, "at least 23 current members of congress or their families have received government money for their farms."
They will not compromise: certainly not with the President (despite his many attempts to find "common ground), not with Democrats and not even with the other Republicans in the House and Senate who, while extremely conservative by past standards, are not extreme enough by Tea Party standards. These are people who have usually gotten their way before in life, have little if any experience with people whose life experience or political views differ from there own and who view government, in all its forms, as evil.
I imagine they identify most strongly with as Samson in the Temple of the Philistines, destroying his enemies in a bloody mass murder in order to save his own "people." They don't look at liberals, Democrats, African Americans, Hispanics, the disabled or members of the LGBT community as part of America, part of the people who need saving. They imagine that government is rigged to benefit these groups and harm their own followers, the "Real Americans" as Sarah Palin so unabashedly called them: overwhelming small town, white, Fundamentalist Christian, "hard-working" and most of all not city dwelling liberals.
Perhaps, then, a more nuanced definition of magical thinking would be believing in things more strongly than either evidence or experience justifies. Though I can't prove the sun will rise in the East tomorrow, because it has every day since I've been alive, such a belief couldn't then be said to represent magical thinking. But because every person who's ever jumped off a building or a bridge has gone down and not up, believing that flapping my arms hard enough would enable me to float into the sky certainly would. [...]
Clear and sophisticated thinkers remain consistently wary of the influences that put them at risk for magical thinking, always cognizant that why they believe what they do is influenced by so many things besides their reasoning minds:
What their parents taught them from an early age.
What they want to believe is true.
What their experience suggests should be true.
The Tea Party Caucus knows what it knows, and refuses to accept any and all evidence to the contrary, no matter what the source. They are not clear and consistent thinkers. They believe economic chaos is better than making government better and more effective. Indeed, they don't accept the legitimacy of government at all. And "believing" that you can change their minds about what they believe, is also magical thinking.