Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Others' Shoes

I've been wanting to write a post on this subject, but haven't been able to get it right.

I have no comprehension of what may be going on in the heads of Glen Beck followers, Tea Partiers, Sarah Palin fans. I have tried, but I am so thoroughly put off by, for only one example, the idea that I and I alone am totally responsible for all the good things in my life, while the gummint is responsible for everything that has gone wrong, that my mental effort to get into their shoes just stops. I would say "aborts," but that would bring in a whole other set of problems.

And yes, I know I've loaded that paragraph in several ways. My attempts, I think, are of better faith than that paragraph; I tried to write it to get across some of my feelings during the process, which include earnestness followed by revulsion.

Today offers a couple of posts at least peripherally related to my failures to put myself in others' shoes. Michael Tomasky reminds us how important it is, and how utterly those I mentioned above reject it. This gives me a further excuse for my failure in this area, but Tomasky isn't about to let me get away with that.

It turns out that Helmut is not the only prescient blogger around. Stanley Fish cites his own earlier commentary on the changing frames for misdeeds by those in outgroups and ingroups. If it was done by someone belonging to a group we want to demonize, it's a symptom of the evil plans of that group. If it was done by one of our guys, it was just one bad apple. This too, of course, is a failure to get into someone else's shoes or to look at the evidence. It's bad faith, but it's also human psychology to make what we think and reality consistent. Unfortunately, it is sometimes too easy to bend reality rather than change what we think; the media share this psychology, although they are supposed to be more questioning of such things than the rest of us. So they wind up, all too often, reinforcing the idea that there is a terrible conspiracy by the bad guys against us good guys. And yes, it was the good guys who attended Beck's rally over the weekend.


helmut said...

Glad you linked to that Fish piece.

I think we can add to Fish's insight that other explanation that goes: if one of our guys did the misdeed, then he really wasn't a true version of our guys. It goes like this: 1) a group of people is brought to a maniacal froth by religious, political, or media demagogues; 2) then someone (or some people) commits an evil act in the name of fighting for that religious or political group's ostensible beliefs (against whoever/whatever the demagogue is demonizing); and 3) then this person or persons is/are conveniently denounced by the demagogues as not being a true member(s) of the group. The purity of the group and its beliefs is thus preserved.

Andy said...

Here is one way to look at the Tea Party view of government. Please note the following is analysis and not advocacy.

First, there is a problem defining what the Tea Party exactly is since it remains a loose coalition of like-minded groups with no national hierarchy or leadership. Consequently, there is a lot of variability in the movement. Still, the Tea Party view of government seems to be fairly consistent based on polling.

So with that, I think it's useful to compare the Tea Party view of government with the Progressive view of corporations. The rhetoric is actually quite similar in many respects. Tea partiers believe government is too big, too powerful and intrudes too much into people's lives. Tea partiers are skeptical of government, it's motivations and it's ability to solve what Tea Partiers view as primarily local problems. Progressives generally hold similar views regarding corporations.

As a consequence, I think it's important to point out that such skeptical views have limits. Progressives, for instance, don't believe corporations should be banned and all business should operate on a sole proprietor model. While the rhetoric is critical of "corporations" in reality it's not a blanket condemnation, but is really aimed rather narrowly at the "big business" segment (and usually even more narrowly on specific practices). Talking to my progressive friends, I get the sense that their mental image of a "corporation" does not include the vast majority of businesses that are actually corporations but are small fry next to the Fortune-500's. My brother, for example, runs a small construction business (about a dozen employees) and his business is a legal corporation. When progressives criticize corporations they do not intend to include people like my brother.

Similarly, the tea-partiers, for all their rhetoric, generally aren't anarchists. Their anti-government rhetoric is similarly limited and is primarily focused on the federal government, though they do talk about the growth of state and local government as well. Polling bears this out (see the sidebar on Tea Party attitudes toward government).

I think that most people in the US subscribe to the principle of subsidiarity. There exists, however, significant disagreements under that definition regarding the appropriate level of centralization. Progressives generally favor greater centralization while Tea Partiers generally favor less. It seems to me this is an enduring dynamic in American politics.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Thanks, Andy.

What I'm trying to do, though, is feel what the Tea Partiers are feeling. I think your analogy between the government and corporations makes some sense, but it also leaves a lot out.

Why do they feel so suspicious of government? Why government, especially when some of them want to keep it out of their Medicare? And how have they gotten so badly ripped out of the social fabric that I can't imagine being without?

Russ Wellen said...

Thanks, Cheryl. Tomasky writes:

"But what is really missing in this country is that no one is making the affirmative case for mutual civic obligation. In the America of my youth, some sense of that was given. . . . majorities of both parties accepted the basic premise of mutuality."

Problem, as I see it, is what with rising Latino population, most Americans don't identify with their country anymore or care about its well-being, despite affirmations of patriotism. Just smaller groups: maybe community, or church, sports team even. Failing that, just family.

Andy said...


Good questions that I don't have really answers for. Part of it, though, can perhaps be explained by the internal splits and contradictions of the GoP. Who represents the "limited government" portion of the electorate these days? No one really, so perhaps part of the answer is a sense of political alienation and betrayal.