Mainly just want to pop in with a reference to Thomas Sowell on the subject. It’s a pleasure to actually agree with every word of something Dr. Sowell says (in the National Review, no less), I think for the first time in my life; in addition, he’s understated, polite, and has a particularly useful perspective. The celebrated moral psychologist Jon Haidt seems nearly full-time on this subject, and gets rather breathless on the subject, having witnessed the change over the last two years, as it has mushroomed into a virtual movement; Jon Chait made a very useful connection between campus oppression and the acceptability of Marxism on campus; culturally, Marxism is particularly bad at supporting free speech, advocating instead of a kind of deli-style support of free speech, yea for the oppressed or proletariat, nay for the oppressors, or who they perceive as oppressors (which are assumed to be the same thing).
How terrible is this problem of campus intolerance? Well, besides its ability over time to insulate the educated class from conservative ideas or influence, which I view as deadly (because I think of liberalism inoculated with conservatism as an ideal), there’s a much broader problem. Because we liberals more or less worship the intellect, we take a great deal of inspiration from our educated class, and I see broad tendencies to silence free thinking along the same lines in liberal activism circles. Intolerance makes for lousy compromisers, and tilts the whole playing field toward conflict and alienation, which may be great in some instances in terms of effect, but can also be disastrous. The fact that it’s essentially involuntary through bad ideas and cognitive bias means that it’s not a tactic driven consciously by strategy, but unconsciously by bad strategy. So that concerns me even more. This intolerance has been involved in liberal politics since I started getting involved decades ago, but it is a stronger effect now. I’ve been in several meetings that were entirely derailed through notions of privilege of underclasses, which feels like a very strange, 1930′s communist vibe for me when everyone sits around and puts up with it like sheep; it’s especially odd for everyone to kowtow and go quiet in a typically-vociferous crowd that can’t seem to agree on much otherwise without a lot of work. Jon Haidt’s characterization of far-left intolerance as a quasi-religious effect feels quite accurate.
We on the left tend to misinterpret this as a legal issue, but it’s much broader than that. I’ve had people pounce on me about the first amendment right for leftists to shut down a Trump rally, but they’re missing the point. Lots of things that are legal are dead wrong, and extremely dangerous. At bottom, there’s something about the urgency of politeness and unfetterd communication of disagreeable ideas in our individual approaches to getting our world view to show up. Personally, I’m quite OK with chaining myself to things or shutting down government meetings in the name of animal rights, or government overreach, or any of a number of other liberal causes, so for me, it ‘s a question of discriminating carefully who the enemy is, and how to address them. And a number of rhetorical questions, to varying degrees, come up. When is impoliteness appropriate? Other than prohibiting speech designed for immediate, premeditated harm, should anyone be stopped from communicating their ideas? Are there hidden values to speech being enabled, and even encouraged, that is diametrically opposed to our viewpoint? Does a liberal nation mean a nation that discourages non-liberal ideas from being communicated? How is civil disobedience different from discouraging free speech?
The moral historian and writer Kenan Malik has thought a great deal about related issues, mostly in the context of the intolerance of immigrants, and often, as a European, in the context of liberal confusion around what how annoying, inconvenient, and essential it is to be broadly tolerant.
Tolerance is incredibly powerful for its wielder, as well as enlightening. Intolerance is a great way to get used to employing ends-justifies-the-means tactics, which we’re so anxious to attack on the right.
Putting out some links to basic research about police brutality. This is simply informational, and it will be finalized soon at about three times this size (while, hopefully, being much more useful and comprehensive). There are mistakes; kindly blame my granddaughter, who took time out of her vacation to do that page and the others. We’ll straighten the formatting and such out within a couple of weeks, when waves of drama aren’t as paramount as they are now in the household.
The coming reference material does have one twist I have to inform you of upfront. The articles section will be virtually all articles by independents, libertarians, or conservatives. The reason for that is simple: 3 out of 4 Americans are not liberal, and this site is designed to be an antidote to the echo chamber that happens in any ideology, particularly when feelings are strong. Pew recently confirmed a 23% liberal quotient in our fair land -that’s up, actually, along with the conservative count, thanks to increased polarization.
This frayed-minority level of clout confuses many of us Californians. We’re so used to the echo chamber here that we routinely speak in a shorthand about abuse and terror that jars or frightens many conservatives; from our mouths, the words seem a kind of careless opposite to their definitions of the words. So on this site, I like to provide sound views from the center and right, at least the ones we can agree with. It helps with understanding the real battle ground (hint: it’s not among the liberals). We can get clearer on the language that’s being used among themselves, which is ours to understand if we choose. It helps us see the concepts that lasso them, and, more importantly, those that don’t.
Slowing down and listening to conservatives you agree with is always a pleasure. This happened many times for me as I read their thoughts about police brutality and related human rights issues- my favorite was this, from Charles Cooke in the National Review, but it happened several times, especially as they sounded the clarion call about government overreach, monopolistic pubic unionism, and the simple, practical shite, like cameras* and, lo, these expenses of brutality, which the Cato Institute has at well over a billion dollars, per their 2010 report on police brutality (the, ahem, last one they done) .
Getting pleasantly surprised by a conservative argument feels like finding a unrecognized capacity for friendship.
* There’s a rather problematic camera procedure issue that should be part of the general public’s concerns right about now, especially because it’s a beyond-ideology point. If there is such a thing.
Thank you to the fans and Democrats that came out for the Reach the Right presentations we did in San Francisco in early March, 2014! We did four:
The 8 primary reasons for polarization
Psychological differences between conservatives and liberals
Neurology and ideology
The most common political cognitive biases.
It was a series of very successful shoots, thanks to the volunteers who helped with sound, camera, wardrobe, lighting, makeup, catering and the million other little details that got taken care of. At one point between takes, I looked up from getting my nose powdered and my baby brother Dave was swinging from the ceiling doing grip work; the bowl of quarters for downntown parking emergencies was half-emptied; and a dozen people were hopping around s to get the filming machine lurching forward again. That was a very moving moment for me. Writing a book and researching can be a lonely affair; it was fantastic to feel the enthusiasm and support of our volunteers and the audience in these early days. The concepts are so important to get out, and to have in a coherent package; I’m so grateful to all of you for helping with that effort.
I’m busy editing the footage now, and incorporating supporting information to turn each of those talks into 20-30 minute presentations; they will be available when this blog is updated into a more fully fleshed-out informational web site in late May of 2014. There were a lot of very good questions during the Q&A session that I will be folding into the videos as well. The fifth presentation, Putting It All Together, will be shot in Santa Rosa, CA after this editing is done, and we will have a invite to Democrats and the general public at that time. Let me know if you’d like to get early access to the presentations in preliminary form, as feedback is helpful.
The final footage of film that details Reach the Right’s principles will be shot in San Francisco over the March 1-2 weekend, and we’re pleased to invite you to be in the studio audience!
Besides the interactive parts of the presentation, there will also be Q and A and a chance to mingle with Democrats from clubs all over the Bay Area, and with the volunteers of Reach the Right. Great catered goodies and a lovely location to boot! The details are in this video invite the team put together, which I hope you enjoy. In the video, you can see samples of the footage for the film that our team shot in Austin, Denver, Santa Rosa and Oklahoma City.
We have an urgent need to do much better reaching out to centrists and conservatives. Please join us to learn what this effort is about, to meet with new friends, and to be inspired by what recent research and interviews have uncovered.
Bill O’Reilly, longtime FOX TV star, is an interesting character to follow. He’s unpredictable, often egotistical and rude, and not always particularly thoughtful or practical. But when he prepares and thinks, he quite often gets things very right, and I respect and admire him for the home runs he hits. I’m particularly fond of his ability to see a way through to relating with those on the left while making clear his opposition to our ideas. Here’s a great example of him doing just that, as he guides his conservative followers through a way of thinking about the suspension of a TV star who expressed belief that homosexuality is a sin. His opinion piece is a courageous and ambitious effort to teach Christians about taking care with judgement, not just in words, but also in their thoughts.
He could’ve taken the perfectly reasonable road that nearly everyone else on the right has, of attacking political correctness and intolerance, but he deliberately chose the more difficult and controversial high road, to highlight a conservative weakness. Can we work to do the same- struggle to turn lessons inward, instead of predictably sticking with our ire and our repetitive talking points? It takes guts, creativity, and an ability to get over ourselves and our petty irritations.
A bit of a thrill for me, to be inspired by a Fox commentator.
Early in the difficult legislative battles of 2013, a side effort to get to budget compromise by the end of the year was quietly going on between Paul Ryan, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin, and Patty Murray, the Democratic Senator from Washington. While 2013 will go down in history as quite polarized and rancorous in D.C., the months these two worked together resulted in a historic 2-year budget compromise agreement that sailed through the legislative process, to the surprise of most of the public, and even of many insiders who were involved. Senator Murray was asked (5:50) how hard it was to come to trust each other in the negotiation process: More
One of the most misunderstood differences between the ideologies is on the communication frontier. For both practical and psychological reasons, conservatives may not see the need to reach out to liberals aggressively. They may shun us, even. The public forum is often littered with the internal notes of the conservative movement’s struggle with this tendency, especially after a beating at the polls. There are intermittent writings of both moderate conservatives (Douthat, for instance) and those further right (Coulter) that bemoan a tendency to be combative rather than inclusive, or that advocate for reframing or tweaking conservative ideas for minorities or moderates, or that even suggest giving up on lesser principles so more people can be attracted to voting for more important ones. Conservatives need to have this internal discussion more than liberals do because conservatives have a tougher psychological task when it comes to persuasion: preserving principles and institutions as a highest priority makes it naturally more difficult, or even wrong, to bend and compromise with those who don’t share their respect for those principles or institutions. Theirs is a world more black-and-white than the one that greets me when I wake, shrouded as I am in a horde of grays from morning ’til night. More
Shaming people into doing good is a classic conservative technique, so common among them that it’s assumed to be important, or even a given. I personally react negatively to this assumption, just because I see where the cost of using shaming as a social tool can be so high- how it can be used to manipulate people to do what you want, without considering well what might be best for them. This manipulative potential doesn’t trouble conservatives as much as it does me, for several reasons: More
I talk both sides of arguments. One indication of maturity around a perspective is the ability to do that- when you see yourself doing that a lot, it will be the beginning of wisdom. Libertarians are typically completely terrible at this skill, the worst of the three, actually, so be aware you’ve got a cultural predilection you should be consciously fighting: to reframe everything as about liberty, and to be careless about arguments that are not explicitly centered on liberty, or that have deeply opposing liberty characteristics embedded. More
Jeffrey Sachs is an expert on poverty and government policy who jets around the world helping various countries get a leg up on severe problems. I’d call him a foam-at-the-mouth liberal, and you probably would, too. But Jeffrey Sachs hates the famous liberal economist Paul Krugman’s economic ideas about deficit spending because, as conservatives have said all along, the ideas don’t completely work, and they’re very expensive. More
This article was written by the founder of the company Seventh Generation, and provides one of the very best summations of how possible it is now to get products created that are not just sustainable, but that benefit the natural world. This seems really tough to do, but the article makes the wonderful point that the most important steps are around policy, not some kind of spiritual, vague movement toward health, or any somesuch. Best of all, these steps are essentially absent of any taint of ideology: More
We usually paint our moral choices as a pure form of good, especially for people who disagree with us. In reality, like any other choice we make in life, there are almost always positive and negative consequences of moral choices. That’s especially true when we look at things statistically, at large numbers of people making the same choices. Even seemingly no-brainer moral choices have costs. More
This online game is a great nonpartisan tool that clues you in to how corrupt and manipulative our system is. Out of hundreds of funny-looking stmts by President Obama and the Republican presidential candidates that were checked by investigative journalists, More
A liberal thinker I follow online, Benjamin David Steele, recently said “Sometimes stating and restating the obvious is the best one can offer in defense of truth and morality.”
There is a great deal to this statement, for two reasons. One, because we should feel obligated to do the best we can to further a moral impetus, and if all we can do is state and restate, we should do it. The other reason is more important: kind, creative, fervent, and responsive repetition has an impact with conservatives, even when it doesn’t seem to. More
This simple yet brilliant analysis by Jonathan Chiat lays out how liberals have come to completely dominate the entertainment industry. Toward the end, it also has a convincing and bizarre explanation for why wide swaths of the 3rd world have drastically reduced reproduction rates of late.
I was sent this article by a right-wing source I subscribe to. It makes the simple point that cutting entitlements for the poor doesn’t make enough of a dent in our fiscal problems to be worth emphasizing- Medicare and Social Security benefits to middle and upper class Americans are the main fiscal problem. More
Partisanship is the way we get the disparate needs of society addressed best- specialists, if you will, who care most about each side of somewhat-competing, valid interests. People forget how frustrated America was in the late ’50′s/early ’60′s with parties that provided little diversity for the voters- similar cries of inefficiency and stagnation came up back then, but for an opposite reason. More
The below is a post from a conservative I’ve been talking to for a few weeks online. Gordon keeps a nice blog at theindependentwhig.com (I call him TIW). I respond here, below his entry. I warn you that neither of us are kind to a particular kind of liberal. This bit is taken, a little out of context, from his original review of “The Righteous Mind” at amazon.com. More
I’ve been trying to rep for Dr. Jon Haidt (pronounced “height”), a sensitive, intelligent psychologist, ever since I was struck amidship with the moral info that he and his partners have had online for years at yourmorals.org. More
In an upcoming work (“Getting Beyond Stupid, Evil, and Crazy: A Liberal’s Guide To Conservatives“), I’ve used neurology and brain-related metaphors to explain ideological differences, mostly based on a model of brain hemisphere influence on behavior invented by the neurologist V.S. Ramachandran. One simple part provides oodles of elegant explanations for why people see things differently, and also helps guide our tactics for dealing with one another. I also interviewed the neuropsychiatrist Iain McGilchrist and used information from his “The Master and His Emissary“, a work that uses a startling set of evidence from neurology, psychology, philosophy, and cultural anthropology to explain how techniques and perceptions associated with left hemisphere capabilities of our brain can exert unhealthy influence in peoples’ lives, and even in Western culture in general. I find both these perspectives very powerful in a wide variety of settings, yet I use almost no neurology to explain them. Below is an explanation of my position that McGilchrist’s hypotheses about the brain hemispheres’ influence on behavior ultimately have very little to do with neurology, even though he has made a powerful case that the high-level ideas are embedded and expressed through our hemispheric brain structure. We discuss why I think framing his work as neurological makes unnecessary enemies, and how it’s deceptive. At the end, I recommend modest practical steps to highlight for non-neurologists the cool unintuitive examples and patterns of the cultural effects McGilchrist hypothesizes, and suggest a way of analyzing his points usefully and positioning them in the marketplace of ideas.
In a discussion with me and others of Iain McGilchrist’s impressive work, Jonathan Rowson of the Social Brain Centre used the term “distal” to describe a probabilistic or partial cause, and used climate change as an example of a distal effect on a specific weather disaster (a detailed treatment of what distal means by David Roberts is here). Distal causes are not necessarily “proximate”, or immediately responsible- like the difference between climate change and a careless campfire- both caused a forest fire during a drought, but one is easy to link to the fire (proximate) and the other is not (distal). Anything distal is tough for human minds to deal with well. As Roberts wisely said, a big job we humans have is “…finding ways of making distal causes visceral, giving them a bigger role in our thinking and institutions.” Dr. Rowson and I believe that McGilchrist has hit upon an important distal reason for society’s ills through his research- brain structure- but the idea is having a tough time getting a hearing in the world, despite the ideas being intuitive and well-grounded in neuroscience. The reasons for that silence have to do with how the ideas were birthed, and who they’re really for. More