I come to the Daily Kos battle-hardened, and relieved to have finally started an account at a progressive place like this. Here’s why I’m here. Much of this will not be news to you, but it’s also, I think, the sort of stuff that can’t be re-emphasized enough.
To paraphrase the intro to MTV’s The Real World: this is the true story of a guy who tried to engage conservatives in civil debate, to find out what happens when people stop being polite... and start inhabiting an alternate reality.
For a few years now, I’ve spent a fair amount of my free time arguing with right-wingers. I felt it was a moral duty to focus my firepower on them; after all, liberals already agree with me, and my time is limited, so why would I spend it in the echo chamber of a liberals-only forum? So I’ve slugged it out in the toxic trenches of Faux News online comment threads. Last Christmas, I risked turkey dinner tension by explaining to my uncle that we can’t balance the budget by eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts (he genuinely seems to believe this). I also debate the imaginary conservatives in my head. That might sound lame, but it’s not as bad as it seems, because I can probably make a niftier case for conservatism than some conservatives can. Heck, I’ll give it a shot right now:
“Contrary to liberals’ contentions, America’s economic crisis was not caused by a deregulated free market. It is somewhat understandable that liberals adhere to this specious falsity, because superficially, it may appear that the crisis was wrought by private sector irresponsibility on Wall Sreet. However, the truth is that it was the government’s intrusion on and collusion with Wall Street that wreaked havoc. GSEs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, bowing down to big government’s bidding, offered subprime loans to people who could not afford them, all in the name of a well-intended--but economically dangerous--liberal notion of ‘fairness.’ Thus, it was not deregulation, but market-distortive over-regulation of the financial sector that got us into this quagmire.”
Not bad, eh? Maybe not the best, but it’s better than some of the tirades you see out there, e.g., “NOBAMA’S BIG GUBMINT MARXIST FASCIST EXPERIMENT KILLS JOBS AND ALSO HATES GODJESUS!!! [insert link to birther/NWO conspiracy website here.]” Now is a good time to lament that the brainlessness of online discourse can sometimes sink to sea cucumber-like levels. Actually, this is unfair to sea cucumbers, because they aren’t so misguided that they work against their own interests. If a sea cucumber ate all the plankton in its vicinity, it would elect to wiggle its cute/creepy little tube feet, crawl another part of the coral reef, and find more. But if a working class conservative met a Republican politician whose policies would cripple the working class, he would elect that politician President of the United States. (To be fair, the world is not devoid of bad liberal arguments. I’ll touch on that later. But that’s not the main point here.)
The main point is that there are two problems with my nifty anti-government argument. First, and most obviously, while it’s true that the GSEs behaved stupidly, the core claim amounts to a heaping pile of week-old wildebeest droppings. The second problem is a cultural one, extrinsic to the argument itself: Lots of people continue to believe it, and myriad other invalid beliefs, despite--and seemingly because of--their falseness. This has maddened me (and probably you) to no end, and it’s one reason why I need a respite from all those rhetorical skirmishes. You can only politely explain how the sky is blue to the blue sky-deniers so many times before you start to get a little fatigued.
Perplexingly, not all of these people are stupid. There are smart, sane conservatives out there. I am friends with some. And I’ve tussled with some brilliant libertarians who actually persuaded me to revise my political positions (albeit slightly). In other words, there are lots of conservatives who are vastly smarter than marine invertebrates--except maybe octopuses, which may be smarter than all of us. But beneath the rhetorical sheen, their ideas are too often reminiscent of the “Apollo moon landings were staged by Disney” theory: internally cohesive and “right-sounding” in a way, but only because it ignores ocean-sized swaths of observable reality. As H.L. Mencken might put it, whenever a big problem arises, the right is always right there with a solution that is impeccably “neat, plausible, and wrong.”
If you’re a liberal, it’s enough to make you seriously consider relocating to Finland (although I’m pretty sure they cover US politics even in Finland, so there’s really no escape). The most obvious explanation for this phenomenon is that right-wingers are simply lying for political gain. That this is part of the answer is so obvious as to not even require a hyperlink confirmation; just Google “Mitt Romney speech 2012” and take your pick from his ever-expanding smorgasbord of subterfuge.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Romney knows better, and that he’s just regurgitating this hogwash because he wants to become president, so that he can... um... well... OK, so not even Mitt Romney knows what Mitt Romney would do as president. But he wants to do it, that’s for damn sure!
But there’s more to it than mere mendacity. Many of those muttonheads over at Faux News actually believe this babble. But... how? Enter Chris Mooney’s new book, "The Republican Brain"--a really good one that also influenced my decision to stop squabbling with creationists and Ron Paul cultists, and just be a Daily Kos member for a while. Mooney is in a uniquely qualified position to discuss the topic of terminally delusional Republicans. His first book was a withering critique of Republicans’ rejection of the scientific consensus on evolution, climate change, etc. In that book, he simply debunked the right’s claims with logic and evidence. Presumably, he was hoping some Republicans might change their minds in light of the cold, hard, liberal-biased facts.
Well, that sure didn’t happen. If anything, a sizable segment of the right is even more convinced that Noah lured each of the 120+ species of sauropods (and their copious food supply) onto a 450-foot ark--in pairs! (Apparently, he got some baby brachiosauruses). This leads to the burning question addressed in Mooney’s new book: How are some right-wingers still clinging to such bizarre beliefs? Seriously? Still?
Now is a good time to confess that I’ve only read the Google Books preview of the book. My wife, a teacher, is unemployed due to savage public education cuts inflicted by You-Know-Who, so we’ve had to make discretionary spending cuts, and I didn’t want to steal it. But I’ve been casually researching this stuff on my own over the last six months or so, so I have a pretty solid layman’s grasp on it. Many font-pixels have been spilt on this book already, so I’ll just summarize it briefly: All humans--even liberals like you and me--are sometimes guilty of confirmation bias, and of the tendency to think we're engaged in Pure Reason even though we're really just rationalizing our raw gut instincts. But the right is more guilty of this, and guilty more often. And to make matters even more exasperating, they can’t even help themselves: it’s hardwired into their brains’ gray matter (or dearth thereof).
Conclusion: many of the hours I’ve spent crafting clever comments on Faux News threads and elsewhere were not only all for naught. They probably made matters worse. This is fascinating. It’s also deflating, discouraging and depressing. So depressing, in fact, that my brain used up all its dopamines trying to stay motivated so I could write this, and now my receptors are shriveled, starving and sad. Normally, this is where I’d speculate on how we might address this matter with hopeful proactivity, but I’ll have to follow up on that another time, perhaps after a few Stone IPAs and/or a jog around the block. But that’s OK, because this post is probably way too long in the first place.
The Big Question of the Ages: What should we do about this--if, that is, anything can be done at all? I do have some ideas, but any suggestions would be great, because frankly, I’m fucking bewildered, man.