Intro

This is the blog and homepage of Mark R. Kelly, the founder of Locus Online in 1997 (for which I won a Hugo Award in 2002 — see the icon at right) and of an index to science fiction awards in 2000 that became sfadb.com in 2012. I’m retired from my day job of 30 years, from 1982 to 2012, as an aerospace software engineer, supporting the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

Posts here are mostly about my reading, of science fiction and of books about science, history, philosophy, and religion; and comments to articles in newspapers that I link to. Movie reviews and pics from travels are posted on Facebook.

More on my About page, including a photo of the Hugo Winners the year I was among them, and links to an index of my columns and other writings, and to my earliest homepage with links to some of my work.

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Memoirs and Site Updates

I’ve updated my Memoirs page with a number of essay posts from the past year, and promoted the whole page to the top level menu. I’ve cleaned up with consistent headers this page and the Family History page.

I began this project with the notion to scan family photos, especially the ‘slides’ in the three metal boxes I inherited from my father, of their family and travels in the 1950s. Yet over the past year, I’ve written many essays of family history and personal memoirs, without having scanned many of the remaining family slides in over a year now. Well, I think the narrative is more important, and I’ll get to the slides eventually; I’ve already done the slides that show family members. There are also photos from my albums, prints of photos taken on various trips, and to conventions, from the 1980s and 1990s, that I may scan to supplement my memoir essays. By the 2000s everything became digital, and I have lots of folders of those photos to post, perhaps, too.

Ironically, one of the people I’ve had most in mind as a target of these family history essays and photos (and perhaps my memoir essays), was my younger brother Kevin, and his family (in Tennessee). But when I challenged his support for the Plandemic documentary back in, what, April 2020?, after a couple email exchanges, he unfriended me (as did his wife) on Facebook, and hasn’t replied to my emails since. (We’ve never kept in touch by phone, over the decades.) So I suspect he will never see or care about this family history, or anything else I have to say.

But whose family history ever survives? A generation at best. And then it will all be forgotten. Try as you might. We will all soon disappear in history.

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Links and Comments: True Believers Scorned

The QAnon cult is reeling from the evaporation of the promises Q and a certain former president made about what would happen on inauguration day. It’s like those many examples over past centuries of apocalyptic cults, anticipating the end of the world or the arrival of aliens on a particular date, and then hastily explaining away the failure of their prophecies to come true, as best they can to prevent fleeing adherents. Most of the time they fail, and disappear, which is why we’ve never heard of them.

Prediction: QAnon fans will regroup. They will explain away the failures of January 20th. They will revise their predictions. As those earlier failed cults did.

Now we are seeing such a cult react to failed prophecies in real time. To wit:

Politico: Trump leaves QAnon and the online MAGA world crushed and confused, subtitled “The prophecies did not come true. And people are fuming about it.”

The pardons went to Democrats, lobbyists and rappers, with nary a “patriot” among them. The mass arrests of Antifa campaigners never came. The inauguration stage at the Capitol, full of America’s most powerful politicians, was not purged of Satan-worshipping pedophiles under a shower of gunfire. Even the electricity stayed on.

The moment the clock struck noon on Wednesday, Jan. 20, it was over — and the extreme factions of Trump’s diehard base were left reeling.

Forbes: ‘We All Got Played’: QAnon Followers Implode After Big Moment Never Comes. Among this piece’s key facts:

QAnon adherents appeared to have fractured into two groups on popular far-right message boards Wednesday, with some realizing their crackpot conspiracy theory was a fraud, while others tried to somehow keep the flame of the Crazy Candle alive.

Washington Post: QAnon believers grapple with doubt, spin new theories as Trump era ends, subtitled “The administrator of 8kun, the longtime Internet home of the mysterious Q, says it’s time to move on, and a moderator on Wednesday wiped Q’s ‘drops’ from the website”

QAnon, as with most online creations, probably will not disappear any time soon. On Tuesday night, a small crowd of picketers rallied with signs urging “Repent or Perish” outside Comet Ping Pong, the D.C. pizzeria at the center of Pizzagate — the 2016 conspiracy theory from which QAnon was born.

View predicted that the QAnon community may shrink in the coming months but also become more fervent in their commitment to its ideas.

“History has taught us far-right movements don’t cool off during a Democratic administration,” View said. “The people who stick with it are going to become even more radicalized and potentially more dangerous.”

CNN, The Point: Is the QAnon movement dead?

Wednesday was a rough day for believers of this conspiracy theory. The reaction has been mixed.

Some believers seem to be coming to the realization they have been duped. For some of them, it was confirmation of suspicions they have had for a while. They feel like Trump has betrayed them.

NPR: The QAnon ‘Storm’ Never Struck. Some Supporters Are Wavering, Others Steadfast

QAnon is less a baseless conspiracy theory than an umbrella of many baseless conspiracy theories, but it centers on a belief that there is a shadowy cabal of pedophilic, satanic world leaders. For years, a mysterious figure called Q has issued promises that this cabal is on the verge of being exposed and defeated by Trump in a cataclysmic event that QAnon calls “the Storm.”

And, via a FB post (this is not a site I regularly visit), this:

Religion Dispatches: QAnon’s Predictions Haven’t Come True; So How Does the Movement Survive the Failure of Prophecy?.

Fascinating article about the general phenomenon of cult prophecies. What happens when they fail? I’ll quote:

  • Spiritualization: the group states that what was initially thought of as a visible, real-world occurrence did happen, but it was something that took place in the spiritual realm.
  • Test of Faith: the group states that the prophecy was never going to happen, but is in fact a test of faith: a way for the “divine” to weed out true believers from those unworthy.
  • Human Error: the group argues that it’s not the case that the prophecy was wrong, but that followers had read the signs incorrectly.
  • Blame others: the group argues that they themselves never stated that the prophecy was going to happen, but that this was how outsiders interpreted their statements.

This sounds much like the way believers rationalize away those controlled studies that show that intercessory prayer doesn’t work.

I’m not making fun of QAnon adherents, exactly; actually though, I am astonished by their gullibility. I find the phenomenon a fascinating example of how human nature creates approximations that lead to fantasies about how the world works. And one of my theses is that these can be harmless, in the sense that these people still live their daily lives, have children, and carry on the race. Until they start insurrections on the Capitol.

There is a rich history of such cults, as mentioned above, and mostly they wither and die and are forgotten, except for being written up in books about such phenomenon, some of which I have.

The obvious comparison or contrast of such cults is with traditional religions, despite their own failure of their prophecies to come true, yet which endure for thousands of years. Thus, Jesus still hasn’t reappeared, despite promises 2000 years ago that he would return within the lifetimes of his followers. Yet people are still Christian, and many are certain Jesus will return in *their* lifetimes. The psychology is the same, I think.

This is where we cue the Sunk Cost Fallacy. And tradition (for example), vast and intricate and soul-fulfilling. But only a guide to an enriching fantasy; not to a reality.

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Links and Comments: Farewell to T****, maybe not to his supporters

Marking the occasion: what happened today, for those looking back (including me) from the future.

Joseph Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president and, despite threats from right-wing groups, and honest fears from security officials, there was no apparent protesting during the ceremonies, let alone armed insurrectionists storming the Capitol (again).

Trump withdrew ignominiously.

Perhaps we can stop thinking about him. Perhaps not about his supporters.

What most struck me today — aside from the moving, traditional inauguration ceremony, with its speakers and singers — were several articles about how supporters of QAnon are apparently astonished that its claims didn’t come true — that Trump didn’t triumphantly appear to arrest or kill Biden and rescue all the babies the Satanists were going to slaughter.

Slate: What’s Happening to QAnon Now That Trump Is Out of Chances to Arrest the Satanic Elites

Alternet: ‘None of it has come true!’ Disillusioned QAnon follower admits she’s starting to lose faith

NPR: The QAnon ‘Storm’ Never Struck. Some Supporters Are Wavering, Others Steadfast.

This phenomenon is a variation of the sunk cost fallacy: People who believe baseless conspiracy theories often stay down the rabbit hole because they feel it’s embarrassing to admit that they’ve been misled. (This principle applies to religion in general, of course.)

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Perhaps we can move on from wondering why so many people support Tr*mp. But first, a few links on the past we’ve survived.

Right Wing Watch: The Trump Prophecies: A Look Back at Some of the Self-Proclaimed ‘Prophets’ Who Guaranteed Trump’s Second Term

Not a credit to Christianity, or religion in general. (Supporters will commit the No True Scotsman fallacy.) Curt Landry, Kat Kerr, Mark Taylor, Hank Kunneman.

And: Franklin Graham Falsely Claims Christians Weren’t Involved in the Capitol Siege

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Let us not forget: The Complete List of Trump’s Twitter Insults (2015-2021)

And there are people who *admire* this man.

The Atlantic: The Worst President in History, subtitled “Three particular failures secure Trump’s status as the worst chief executive ever to hold the office.”

The three are:

First, he failed to put the national-security interests of the United States ahead of his own political needs. Second, in the face of a devastating pandemic, he was grossly derelict, unable or unwilling to marshal the requisite resources to save lives while actively encouraging public behavior that spread the disease. And third, held to account by voters for his failures, he refused to concede defeat and instead instigated an insurrection, stirring a mob that stormed the Capitol.

Salon: Donald Trump’s most enduring legacy: The right-wing has a dangerously overblown sense of entitlement, subtitled “Republicans were bad before, but with Trump, they’re more empowered to cheat, lie and deny reality to get their way.”

This last part hinges on the role psychology — not just T***p’s authoritarian policies — plays in his support. More links about that next time.

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Slate: Trump’s “1776 Report” Would Be Funny if It Weren’t So Dangerous, subtitled “The right’s fervid belief in American historical innocence won’t disappear with the new administration.”

The notion of American exceptionalism, which may be true in limited ways, is parallel to the way people think God is on their side, because it’s about *them*.

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NYT, Paul Krugman: Who’s Radical Now? The Case of Minimum Wages, subtitled “Evidence has a well-known liberal bias.”

T**** has been misguidedly focused on the performance of the stock market (which affects only the wealthy) to assess the healthy of the economy… but even there:

The Hill: Trump stock performance falls short of Obama, Clinton.

People like Paul Krugman and David Brin repeatedly point to the evidence of history: that the economy does better under Democrats than under Republicans. And ***** tripled the national debut. But! — you can’t expect people to change their minds from evidence. That’s one significant thing I’ve learned (changed my mind about) in life. Political beliefs derive from herd mentality.

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Links and Comments: Conspiracy Theorists, Psychology, and Beliefs

What does “belief” even mean? How can people claim to believe things that, to others, are transparent nonsense? Clearly belief has nothing to do with what, based on evidence and reason, is actually real. Belief can simply mean conviction to a pleasing, comforting story.

NYT: A QAnon ‘Digital Soldier’ Marches On, Undeterred by Theory’s Unraveling, subtitled “Valerie Gilbert posts dozens of times a day in support of an unhinged conspiracy theory. The story of this “meme queen” hints at how hard it will be to bring people like her back to reality.”

The longish article shows her transition over recent years into crackpot, in distinct contrast from the photo of her, looking mild-mannered and holding a small dog, standing on a Manhattan street.

And part of the answer to my questions are here:

Over a series of conversations, I learned that she had a longstanding suspicion of elites dating back to her Harvard days, when she felt out of place among people she considered snobby rich kids.


What attracts Ms. Gilbert and many other people to QAnon isn’t just the content of the conspiracy theory itself. It’s the community and sense of mission it provides. New QAnon believers are invited to chat rooms and group texts, and their posts are showered with likes and retweets. They make friends, and are told that they are not lonely Facebook addicts squinting at zoomed-in paparazzi photos, but patriots gathering “intel” for a righteous revolution.

This social element also means that QAnon followers aren’t likely to be persuaded out of their beliefs with logic and reason alone.

So: some people by experience resent “snobby rich kids” or “elites” in general; and the attraction to conspiracy theories isn’t about evidence (for which there is none) but for “the community and sense of mission it provides.”

My Facebook friend, the renowned author John Crowley (whom I’ve never meant, but we know each other by reputation), posted this comment about the article:

It seems amazing to me that they can firmly believe that Trump is at this good work day and night and yet in all this time not a single evildoer has in fact been “brought to justice”. George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Lady Gaga (!) — not one of them has been even detained or questioned, though years have passed. No dead babies have been discovered. I’m sure that thoughtful followers have explanations, in detail; but the mass of followers must be just a little puzzled that Trump’s vast power as President and billionaire has not summoned up so much as an interview, or a single instruction to his millions, and yet the followers seem to experience not the shadow of a doubt.

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A few of the relatively sane Republicans recognize the danger here.

The Atlantic, Ben Sasse (the senator from Nebraska): QAnon Is Destroying the GOP From Within, subtitled “Until last week, too many in the Republican Party thought they could preach the Constitution and wink at QAnon. They can’t.”

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Article in yesterday’s NYT: How Republicans Are Warping Reality Around the Capitol Attack, subtitled “Loyalists to President Trump are increasingly relying on conspiracy theories and misinformation, drawing false equivalence with last summer’s racial protests and blaming outside agitators.”

In one of the ultimate don’t-believe-your-eyes moments of the Trump era, these Republicans have retreated to the ranks of misinformation, claiming it was Black Lives Matter protesters and far-left groups like antifa who stormed the Capitol — in spite of the pro-Trump flags and QAnon symbology in the crowd. Others have argued that the attack was no worse than the rioting and looting in cities during the Black Lives Matter movement, often exaggerating the unrest last summer while minimizing a mob’s attempt to overturn an election.

This is gaslighting. It’s saying something untrue over and over until some people, at least, believe it. This is what Trump did for over two months claiming, without a scintilla of evidence, that he actually won the presidential election. This is the so-called “Big Lie”: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

NPR: Can The Forces Unleashed By Trump’s Big Election Lie Be Undone?

Washington Post: Never forget Fox News’s promotion of the ‘Big Lie’

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And today’s NYT: Why Rage Over the 2020 Election Could Last Well Past Trump, subtitled “A vast majority of Americans do not approve of the riot at the Capitol. But experts warn that the widespread belief there was election fraud, while false, could have dangerous, lasting effects.”

For many Trump supporters, the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. this week will be a signal that it is time to move on. The president had four years, but Mr. Biden won, and that is that.

But for a certain slice of the 74 million Americans who voted for President Trump, the events of the past two weeks — the five deaths, including of a Capitol Police officer, the arrests that have followed, and the removal of Mr. Trump and right-wing extremists from tech platforms — have not had a chastening effect.

On the contrary, interviews in recent days show that their anger and paranoia have only deepened, suggesting that even after Mr. Trump leaves the White House, an embrace of conspiracy theories and rage about the 2020 election will live on, not just among extremist groups but among many Americans.

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As always, I try to step back and look at the bigger picture. These items aren’t about political differences, i.e. policy differences. It’s about how an authoritarian dimwit can have such wide support, and more crucially, how some people “believe” things without evidence, or contrary to evidence.

And one big picture lesson: these parallel the claims that “sincere religious beliefs” should exempt one from following civil law. Because, obviously (as if not already apparent from religion), “beliefs” can have no basis in reality. Beliefs can just be stories that comfort people, or make them feel special.

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Notes and Quotes: Ezra Klein’s WHY WE’RE POLARIZED (2020)

Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized was published a full year ago, in January 2020. Ezra Klein is a co-founder of the ‘explainer’ website Vox, and writes essays and columns for various other outlets. (And he lives somewhere here in Oakland.)

The book is of course about the seemingly widening political divide in the US. Part of Klein’s theme is that the system is working as intended, so the polarization shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Take-Away Points

  • The two political parties used to be far less distinct than they are now. The split began in the 1950s when the southern Democratic party, the so-called Dixiecrats, lost the battle for civil rights, and so split from the national Democratic party and became Republicans. The two parties diverged along psychological grounds (e.g. about how dangerous you think the world is, familiar from Haidt).
  • Politics is about group identity (again, familiar from Haidt); evidence doesn’t matter, it’s about winning the argument.
  • America is more and more becoming non-white and non-Christian, and conservatives are threatened by these changes. Trump appeals to voters who want the white, Christian past.
  • People follow politics the way they do a sport or a band, and there are far more sources of information now than even in 1995 (when there were just three networks, and so on). Political news is more about who’s ahead, with scant attention paid to the actual issues.
  • Social media feeds audiences what they want, not what they need. Exposure to arguments from the other side increases polarization. Trump understands what “newsworthy” means: new, outrageous, conflict-oriented.
  • That extremists like Trump can win elections is a flaw in our electoral software.
  • Democrats are a party of difference, a coalition of various groups; Republicans are the party of sameness, of white voters. The former focuses on policy goals, the latter on pure ideology, and relies on a small number of news sources, e.g. Fox News.
  • The solutions, or at least things that would help, include eliminating the debt ceiling, doing away with the electoral college, making DC and Puerto Rico states, revising the Supreme Court, and changing our own personal relationship with politics, focusing more on local change.

My Take

To boil this down even further: America, unlike other countries, is especially divided because of its legacy of slavery and racism, because of the pace of change that is increasingly bringing non-white immigrants into the country, because of obsolete aspects of our political system, and because (this is what we do share with other countries) of modern social media that creates echo chambers of feedback.

Quotes

The last paragraph, page 268:

The era that we often hold up as the golden age of American democracy was far less democratic, far less liberal, far less decent, than today. Trump’s most intemperate outbursts, his most offensive musings, pale before opinions that were mainstream in recent history. And the institutions of American politics today are a vast improvement on the regimes that ruled well within living memory. If we can do a bit better tomorrow, we will be doing much, much better than we have ever done before.

Going In

I always find it useful to ask myself what I expect of a book, what questions I want it to answer, what I suspect the answers might be, before I start reading. With this book my guess was: The bubble culture encouraged by web and social media, combined with groupthink, how people automatically assume the “beliefs” of those with whom they associate, i.e. community, congregation, political alignment. And what solutions might the offer? In this case, better education, critical thinking, respect for facts (and how would one do that?)? Also–why does this seem to be a problem especially in America? Social media is present around the world, and human psychology is the same everywhere too. (The answers are in the My Take paragraph above.)

Summary

Here, only somewhat condensed, are my detailed notes. [[ With some personal comments in brackets ]]

Intro

  • Trump’s win wasn’t an aberration. Most people are like they’ve always been. This is a book about systems, not people. Systems can fail the public even while succeeding by their own logic. There’s a feedback loop: as the public becomes polarized, politics becomes more polarized to appeal to the public.
  • The focus of this polarization is political identity—not “identity politics” exactly, concerning minority groups, but how we all have many identifies, and politics is about which one will vote on election day.

Ch1, How Democrats Became Liberals and Republicans Became Conservatives.

  • The two parties have dominated politics since 1864, but they changed over time. Being Republican didn’t always mean being a conservative. It used to be common for voters to split their tickets (i.e. vote for some Democrats and some Republicans). This has virtually disappeared; now those of each party think very little of the other.
  • Independents have grown. The parties have become more partisan. No Republican would raise taxes today; it was common in past decades for them to do so. Now many believe the other party is a threat the nation’s well-being.
  • So why did the parties become so different? It’s a story that revolves around race.
  • [[ My grandmother used to say she voted for the man, not the party. I guess this made sense at one time, in the 1960s or ’70s. But what led one to become a Republican or a Democrat in the first place? What I didn’t see in this book is what distinguished the two parties in, say, the 1950s and before. ]]

Ch2, The Dixiecrat Dilemma

  • In the 1950s the southern Democratic party, the so-called Dixiecrats, were the instrument for enforcing segregation, even via state-sponsored violence. The national Democrats let them get away with it in order to form a winning coalition for national goals. Yet anti-lynching legislation was blocked at the national level.
  • The national Democratic party came to embrace civil rights. And so the South split from the Democratic party and became Republicans. [[ Shifts among parties has gone on for 150+ years; thus no one gets any points for claiming that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. It didn’t mean then what it means now. ]]
  • The parties came to split ideologically, along many measures, e.g. Democrats prefer big cities, Republicans small towns with houses on large lots. The urban-rural divide, reflecting different psychologies. Of the five big personality traits the fundamental trait is how dangerous you think the world is. Openness to experience is associated with liberalism, which a preference for order and tradition that resists change connects to conservatism. These are reflected in tastes for music, art, restaurants.
  • William F. Buckley famously said, conservatives want to stand “athwart history, yelling Stop.” Yet—society needs lots of different kinds of people as times and circumstances change So what’s changed is how our psychologies map onto politics. This wasn’t true in the mid-20th century, e.g. party opposition to the Vietnam War. An unengaged citizen will ask what a policy will do “for me”; an engaged one is more concerned about identity, and will ask what the policy will “say about me”.

Ch3, Your Brain on Groups

  • The language people use to characterize “others” is remarkably similar across many dimensions.
  • To hate like this is to be happy forever, with examples of sports: it’s all about sorting “us” from “them” even though there might be no effect or benefit. Sports became like politics: one team wins, the other loses.
  • And so politicians focus on the common enemy: the other side. Even football got politicized. It used to be people didn’t care of a child married someone of the other political party. Now such concerns are very high. Now partisanship is as deep as race.

Ch4, The Press Secretary in Your Mind

  • Reasoning is not an individual act; rationality is inherently a collective project, to serve group ends.
  • (This chapter reflects many psychological studies familiar to me; the title alludes to Jonathan Haidt’s book; Haidt is quoted.)
  • The Solomon Asch experiment (discussed here: http://www.markrkelly.com/Blog/2020/10/02/group-think-and-conformity-solomon-asch/)
  • Politics makes smart people stupid: Why doesn’t overwhelming evidence of climate change persuade the skeptics? It’s not about more information and finding the right answer; it’s about winning the argument. Examples of how people’s math skills are undermined by using them in political contexts. The idea that if everyone were given the same information, they would overcome their misunderstandings, is wrong.
  • People don’t reject evidence on inconsequential issues; they reject evidence on questions where the answers could threaten their group, e.g. if Sean Hannity suddenly recognized climate change as a threat, he would become a pariah among his supporters, and lose his job.
  • So what’s the right way to search for answers? We can’t trust our own reason. Well, political answers depend on interpretation. There are no right answers. [[ Maybe it’s simply about either trying to make the world better, or trying to keep it exactly the way it’s been. ]]

Ch5, Demographic Threat

  • America is becoming non-white, and non-Christian; the white Christian domination is dropping.
  • Changes makes us conservative, p107. Knowledge that California is no longer majority white makes whites 13 points likelier to favor the Republican party.
  • Trump, appealing to voters who wanted to go back to the way things were.
  • White identity under threat, p113. Examples of rhetoric from Rush L, Bill O’R, Laura I, Tucker C. (Appealing to anti-diversity.) So now there’s white identity politics. Loss of privilege feels like oppression.

Interlude, p135.

Summary so far in 2 pages.

Second part of book is about how institutions become more polarized in response to a more polarized public.

Ch6, The Media Divide beyond Left-Right

  • No one is forced to follow politics; those who do follow it like a sport or a band. And so many things compete for attention. In 1995 you had three networks, a couple hometown papers, etc. A decade later you could go online and find most newspapers of the entire world. Yet voters aren’t more involved; now it’s less about left-right than it is interested vs. uninterested.
  • Now we have horse-journalism – about who’s ahead, not about policy. Beware moral equivalence.
  • Audiences are told what they want, not what they need.
  • Reading the other side doesn’t change our minds, it deepens our certainty; echo chambers. Exposure to the opposite side increased polarization. If anything, the effect was stronger among Republicans. We dismiss counter-evidence, especially if they are extreme examples.
  • Trump understood what ‘newsworthy’ really means: new, outrageous, conflict-oriented. So the political media is biased—to what’s loud, outrageous, confrontational. And toward those with the most intense political identities.

Ch7, Post-Persuasion Elections

  • Few voters are persuadable, i.e. ‘swing voters’. Now it’s all about mobilizing the base.
  • Parties are weak, partisanship strong. Thus Republicans who demonized Trump later endorsed him.
  • Politicians learned to be confrontation, e.g. the congressman who shouted “you lie” at Obama. He sorta apologized—and he thrilled conservatives.
  • Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party was hostile. That extremists can win elections as Trump did is a flaw in our electoral software.

Ch8, When Bipartisanship Becomes Irrational

  • Scalia, Garland, and McConnell, who changed his position in 2020.
  • American form of government is unstable; the president and legislature are voted separately. So who’s in charge? The system encourages crisis.
  • All politics isn’t local. Politicians routinely make deals in favor of their local constituencies. People identify more with their home than their country. Yet this is changing; people now more often cite nationality as important to their identity. Very different from what the founders thought.
  • The filibuster wasn’t supposed to exist; it used used to be rare. Another dysfunction is the debt ceiling. These are all norms that have broken down, resulting in polarization.

Ch9, The Difference Between Democrats and Republicans

  • [[ My rough take going in: Democrats are more concerned about equality (at least of opportunity), but are hobbled by “identity politics” that focus on individual identities at the expense of the common good; and are less ideologically driven than evidence and fact driven; Republicans are concerned with freedom (including freedom to discriminate against people they don’t like), yet have been hijacked by oligarchs with promises of support for fundamentalist Christianity, white supremacist and racist resentment against cultural diversity, and rejection of science and reason as tools of the coastal elites who don’t respect traditional middle American values. Republicans, conservatives in general, tend toward simplistic answers to every question or issue no matter how complex.) ]]
  • By 2012 the idea of party equivalence was rejected; there’s no comparison between Trump and Clinton in terms of political norms, appeal to conspiracy theories, and so on. Republicans have been the ones to shut down the federal government. Democratic leadership has rejected the disruptive actions that Republicans have indulged in. Why? Democrats have an immune system of diversity and democracy; the Republicans don’t.
  • Democrats are a coalition of various groups; Republicans are the part of white voters. The former the party of difference, the latter of sameness. Oddly then, fewer Democrats are liberal, than Republicans are conservative. The latter thus depend more on pure ideology, the former on policy goals. The former politicians who stick to their positions, and latter those who compromise to get things done. And yet—most Republicans fell in behind Trump. Because for most people conservatism isn’t an ideology, it’s a group identity. So conservatives fell in line behind Trump no matter *what* Trump said; they felt their identity group was under threat.
  • The Fox News effect. The Democrats are more diverse in terms of trusted information sources; conservatives rely on just a few. CNN and NPR on the left; Fox News on the right. Those on the left strive to maintain journalistic standards that are respected by each other; those on the right are self-contained ecosystems that demonize all mainstream institutions. (e.g. Rush L) The right relies on purity; the left on process. Information is valued if it supports the tribe’s values and goals. Thus accusation of “fake news.” Why didn’t conservatives build their own trusted institutions? Because they get farther stoking paranoia, e.g. about brown people. And the trusted institutions of the NYT, say, aren’t really that liberal, so there isn’t much demand for alternatives.
  • America, the undemocratic. In America winning more votes doesn’t gain control. Geography matters more than votes, and sparsely populated rural areas are privileged over dense, urban ones. This leads to restrained polarization among Democrats and unleashed polarization among Republicans. The Republican coalition is endangered, as the population changes. They’re becoming desperate. “I want my country back!” The Flight 93 election. [[ scared, paranoid, frightened people ]] How to explain William Barr? He equated a free government with being religious (!). Thus changing tactics to use any means to bring about their ends. …Yet Democrats need broad coalitions; Republicans appeal to one specific coalition.

Ch10, Managing Polarization—and Ourselves

  • It’s not as simple as rediscovering our common bonds, etc. Polarization itself is not necessarily a problem. There is no idealized past to return to. So how do we work with the polarization that we have? Author has no solutions, just a few principles.
  • Bombproofing, p251. Bombproof the government against political disaster. Debt ceiling—get rid of it. The budget process. Other ideas.
  • Democratizing, p253. Do away with the electoral college. Instead of gerrymandering, do multimember districts with ranked choice voting. This would make third parties viable. As for the senate, get rid of the filibuster. Give DC and Puerto Rico state status; Republicans would be forced to relax their racial polarization. Make voting easy, not hard. If it’s hard, only the most polarized voters will vote. As things go now, by 2040 70% of Americans will live in 15 states; thus 30% of America will be represented by 70 senators. These various measures to make a more democratic system will create healthier competition.
  • Balancing, p258. Competing groups are no longer states; they are political parties. So a new balance is needed. Suppose the parties are guaranteed equal power. Suppose the Supreme court expands to 15 justices: each party gets to appoint 5, the other 5 must be unanimously agreed to. Similar measures to ensure balanced hearings in congress.
  • Depolarizing ourselves, p261. How to change our own relationship to politics…
  • Identity mindfulness, p261. Be mindful of which of our identities are being engaged. Be aware of the things in the environment that trigger them (flags, religious symbols, etc.) Be aware of how the media is manipulating you.
  • Rediscovering a politics of place, p264. Recall a man who simple shut all mention of Trump out of his life (2018). Instead he focused on local change, a personal project. We pay too much attention to national politics, not enough to local issues, where we have more influence. Media has nationalized…. Pay more attention to local issues. [[ Well, this is all very well when there aren’t huge international issues that must be addressed, like climate change. ]]
  • There are no solutions, only corrections, p267. There is no end state. There’s no one best way for the system to work. “For all our problems, we have been a worse and uglier country at almost every other point in our history.” Recalls the political assassinations of the 1960s. Lynchings. Urban riots. Nixon. The consensus about historians is that the state of democracy in American has only recently become successful.

My concluding thoughts:

As things stand now, the system favors the minority, shrinking party of reactionaries against science and modernity, which will doom the US to irrelevancy on the world stage, and in particular the consequences of unaddressed climate change. *Eventually* they will fall from power as their base dies off. But that will take a generation or two.

Final note:

Issues of abortion and “religious freedom” go virtually unmentioned here; issues some on the right are obsessed with are really not central to the problem at all.

Posted in Book Notes, Politics, Psychology | Comments Off on Notes and Quotes: Ezra Klein’s WHY WE’RE POLARIZED (2020)

Links and Comments: Reality; Economics; Religion and Politics

Scientific American: Now Is the Time to Reestablish Reality, subtitled “We need to agree on the evidence—so we can disagree on what to do in light of it”

On the occasion of the passing of the Trump administration, of course.

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NYT, Paul Krugman: Four Rules That Should Guide Bidenomics, subtitled “Basically, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

These rules of course echo themes Krugman has been expressing for years. They’re based on evidence and history, and contradict the ideological superstitions of the Right.

1, Don’t doubt the power of government to help.
2, Don’t obsess about debt.
3, Don’t worry about inflation.
4, Don’t count on Republicans to help govern.

Republicans, for example, obsess about debt when it involves disaster relief programs for the pandemic, but not when passing huge tax cuts for billionaires.

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Not a site I’ve read before, but this piece was linked by a Facebook friend:

Religion Unplugged: Charismatics are at war with each other over failed prophecies of Trump victory

A day of reckoning has come for modern-day “prophets” in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement who falsely foretold a victory for President Trump in 2020.

One charismatic leader calls it a “rebuke from the Lord.”

A major speaker in the movement calls it “the largest scale deception I’ve seen in 49 years of following Jesus.”

And yet another pastor is blasting parts of the movement as being “sick.”

Privately and on social media, these prophets and their thousands of followers are slugging it out in an orgy of self-blame, recriminations and fantastical hopes that somehow before Jan. 20, God will bring about a victory for Trump.

Did they *really* believe, despite all the evidence about the outcome of the election, that Trump was somehow ordained by God to remain the president? (Are they living media bubbles that exclude legitimate news?)

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And NYT, David Brooks: Trump Ignites a War Within the Church, subtitled “After a week of Trumpist mayhem, white evangelicals wrestle with what they’ve become.”

On the one hand, there are those who are doubling down on their Trump fanaticism and their delusion that a Biden presidency will destroy America.

“I rebuke the news in the name of Jesus. We ask that this false garbage come to an end,” the conservative pastor Tim Remington preached from the pulpit in Idaho on Sunday. “It’s the lies, communism, socialism.”

The violent Know-Nothingism, which has always coursed through American history, is once again a torrent, threatening more violence in the days ahead.

On the other hand, many Trump supporters have been shaken to the core by the sight of a sacrilegious mob blasting Christian pop music and chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” There have been defections and second thoughts. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who delivered a prayer at the Trump inaugural, told his congregation Sunday, “We must all repent, even the church needs to repent.”

And

One core feature of Trumpism is that it forces you to betray every other commitment you might have: to the truth, moral character, the Sermon on the Mount, conservative principles, the Constitution. In defeat, some people are finally not willing to sacrifice all else on Trump’s altar.

The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.

Hence, it’s not an argument. You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts. You can’t have an argument with people who are deranged by the euphoric rage of what Erich Fromm called group narcissism — the thoughtless roar of those who believe their superior group is being polluted by alien groups.

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Again via a third party, on conservative site The Dispatch, by conversative anti-LGBTQ writer David French: Only the Church Can Truly Defeat a Christian Insurrection, subtitled, “It’s time to combat the right’s enabling lies.”

Why do I say this was a Christian insurrection? Because so very many of the protesters told us they were Christian, as loudly and clearly as they could. The Atlantic’s invaluable religion reporter, Emma Green, compiled considerable evidence of the Christian presence in her excellent report. I saw much of it with my own eyes. There was a giant wooden cross outside the Capitol. “Jesus saves” signs and other Christian signs were sprinkled through the crowd. I watched a man carry a Christian flag into an evacuated legislative chamber.

I could go on and on. My colleague Audrey Fahlberg was present at the riot, and she told me that Christian music was blaring from the loudspeakers late in the afternoon of the takeover. And don’t forget, this attack occurred days after the so-called Jericho March, an event explicitly filled with Christian-nationalist rhetoric so unhinged that I warned on December 13 that it embodied “a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence.”

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Slate, Dahlia Lithwick: Republicans Still Don’t Get It, subtitled, “Even after almost dying, they are screaming about their right to blather while in the act of blathering.”

Free speech is important. Really, really important. But the notion that the right to lie freely and unencumbered, about the scourge of non-governmental censorship is somehow equivalent to the right not be shot dead in the seat of government itself, is the most tragic perversion of American freedom I have ever witnessed.  Donald Trump was impeached today for actually inciting violence. This happened while his stalwart defenders carped on and on about their fundamental freedom to keep lying about it. It is the most on the nose indictment of “liberty” ever performed.

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Then there’s a certain QAnon congresswoman, as observed by UK’s The Independent (the whole world is watching, and judging, the US through all this, of course): Marjorie Taylor Green: QAnon congresswoman mocked for wearing mask saying ‘censored’ while speaking to the nation on live TV.

This is like Trump’s supporters claiming that Twitter is denying Trump’s free speech, or Josh Hawley complaining that his publisher is *obliged* to published his book, because free speech. That’s not how it works. (Am I denied free speech because that publisher isn’t obliged to publish *my* book, and anyone else who might want to publish a book?) Are all these people being disingenuous for the sake of attracting voters, or are they just dumb?

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Meanwhile, Slate observes, Fox News Can Barely Admit the Capitol Riot Is a Story, subtitled, “It was the week Trump was impeached for fomenting insurrection, and Fox’s hosts mostly railed against Twitter.”

As we all know, America can never be truly great unless conservative pundits are free to whine at all times about their very unfair treatment at the hands of their ideological opponents. And so it went all week on Fox News, as the network’s marquee opinion hosts tried hard to argue that America’s real crisis was one of free speech figuratively under attack by the left, rather than its democratic institutions literally under attack by the right.

Which is why I never, ever, watch Fox News.

Posted in Economics, Politics, Religion | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Reality; Economics; Religion and Politics

Links and Comments: Insurrectionists, the G.O.P., Evangelicals, Fantasies, and Lies

It’s always dangerous to characterize any entire group with some common trait; that’s the first step toward prejudice and bigotry. Yet there are more and more article and essays that find common traits among Republicans, as a group, or at least as a party. Now I realize that this characterization applies to the Republican establishment, i.e. the politicians, and perhaps to some of the most zealous Republican/Trump supporters. I’m sure there are millions of people out there who routinely vote Republican, because they’ve always voted Republican, and perhaps do not follow politics closely (most people don’t, I think) and so are not aware of the extreme, anti-democratic positions that Republican establishment has taken, especially under Trump. And they have no where else to go; because obviously Democrats are radical socialists who would outlaw religion and confiscate your guns.

But an emerging theme in coverage of recent events is that the Republican party has, so to speak, jumped the shark, with the possibility of some third party forming for the reasonable former Republicans who reject the tactics of the current party.

Thomas L. Friedman says as much in today’s NYT:

My No. 1 wish for America today is for this Republican Party to fracture, splitting off the principled Republicans from the unprincipled Republicans and Trump cultists. That would be a blessing for America for two reasons.

Another running theme is how this has been going on for years, for generations, in the GOP.

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Slate, Mark Joseph Stern: The Coup Began Years Ago, subtitled “Republican lawmakers have shown their supporters that there is no line they cannot cross.”

Wednesday’s horrific events were unprecedented, but they should not have been unexpected. The GOP has spent years conditioning its members to reject Democrats’ right to win elections, to appoint judges, to enact policy, to govern the nation. The party has decided that saving democracy means undermining it whenever the other party wins. Republican elites translate this philosophy into midnight power grabs that stop Democrats from passing or executing laws. The Republican base has taken up cruder means to achieve the same goal.

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Paul Krugman: This Putsch Was Decades in the Making, subtitled “G.O.P. cynics have been coddling crazies for a long time.”

One striking aspect of the Capitol Hill putsch was that none of the rioters’ grievances had any basis in reality.

No, the election wasn’t stolen — there is no evidence of significant electoral fraud. No, Democrats aren’t part of a satanic pedophile conspiracy. No, they aren’t radical Marxists — even the party’s progressive wing would be considered only moderately left of center in any other Western democracy.

So all the rage is based on lies. But what’s almost as striking as the fantasies of the rioters is how few leading Republicans have been willing, despite the violence and desecration, to tell the MAGA mob that their conspiracy theories are false.

Krugman goes on with the history of the party, echoing comments from yesterday.

This coddling of the crazies was, at first, almost entirely cynical. When the G.O.P. began moving right in the 1970s its true agenda was mainly economic — what its leaders wanted, above all, were business deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. But the party needed more than plutocracy to win elections, so it began courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals.

Not incidentally, white supremacy has always been sustained in large part through voter suppression. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see right-wingers howling about a rigged election — after all, rigging elections is what their side is accustomed to doing. And it’s not clear to what extent they actually believe that this election was rigged, as opposed to being enraged that this time the usual vote-rigging didn’t work.

And then how conspiracy theories have emerged more and more often since the Reagan years.

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And another theme is how the Trump cult is increasingly bound with evangelical Christianity.

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Front page of yesterday’s New York Times: How White Evangelical Christians Fused With Trump Extremism, subtitled “A potent mix of grievance and religious fervor has turbocharged the support among Trump loyalists, many of whom describe themselves as participants in a kind of holy war.”

I find the mix of Trumpian zealotry and religious fundamentalism entirely plausible; doesn’t surprise me in the least.

This is a news piece (not an op-ed or commentary like many things I link) that observes how many of the marchers/rioters/insurrectionists pause to pray to Jesus, or displayed various “Christian rituals, symbols and language,” before it interviews several participants.

Lindsay French, 40, an evangelical Christian from Texas, flew to Washington after she had received what she called a “burning bush” sign from God to participate following her pastor urging congregants to “stop the steal.”

“We are fighting good versus evil, dark versus light,” she said, declaring that she was rising up like Queen Esther, the biblical heroine who saved her people from death.

“We are tired of being made out to be these horrible people,” she said, acknowledging there was some violence but insisting on the falsehood that Antifa was behind it.

Too many examples to summarize.

Again on this theme, from the site Religion and Politics (subtitled Fit For Polite Company): Scholars of Religion and Politics Respond to the Capitol Insurrection: “How to live among those who see life as a cosmic war between good and evil, self-righteously certain of just who is evil and who shall be victorious, is the great test of our time.”

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The Atlantic: The Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Low Class’, subtitled “The business owners, real-estate brokers, and service members who rioted acted not out of economic desperation, but out of their belief in their inviolable right to rule.”

Another example of the self-righteousness, like that of religious conservatives, who *know they are right,* and therefore can’t lose elections.

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On the Republican party: Slate: Embattled Pro-Insurrection Republicans Checking to See if They Can Still Blame Things on the Intolerant Left.

Also at Slate: “All Bets Are Off the Next Few Weeks”, subtitled “A extremism expert watching the Trump fringes now has never been more worried.”

NYT: Trump Is the Republican Party’s Past and Its Future, subtitled “Donald Trump is not an aberration but a blueprint.”

“Republicans have been fueling the conditions that enabled Mr. Trump’s rise since the 1980s.”

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More about the psychology of those who follow Trump (or any other authoritarian leader).

Scientific American: The ‘Shared Psychosis’ of Donald Trump and His Loyalists, subtitled “Forensic psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee explains the outgoing president’s pathological appeal and how to wean people from it”

What attracts people to Trump? What is their animus or driving force?

The reasons are multiple and varied, but in my recent public-service book, Profile of a Nation, I have outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis. Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence—while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a “lock and key” relationship.

NYT: The Art of the Lie? The Bigger the Better, subtitled “Lying as a political tool is hardly new. But a readiness, even enthusiasm, to be deceived has become a driving force in politics around the world, most recently in the United States.”

It begins with an observation from a US diplomat in 1943 Moscow:

…in the case of many people, “it is possible to make them feel and believe practically anything.” No matter how untrue something might be, he wrote, “for the people who believe it, it becomes true. It attains validity and all the powers of truth.”

This would apply to religion in particular, of course. The article goes on with current political examples in Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, even Britain.

“The art of tribal politics is that it shapes reality,” Mr. Kreko said. “Lies become truth and explain everything in simple terms.” And political struggles, he added, “become a war between good and evil that demands unconditional support for the leader of the tribe. If you talk against your own camp you betray it and get expelled from the tribe.”

What makes this so dangerous, Mr. Kreko said, is not just that “tribalism is incompatible with pluralism and democratic politics” but that “tribalism is a natural form of politics: Democracy is a deviation.”

That last thought sounds familiar. Ending with:

What most distressed Mr. Koyré, however, was that lies don’t even need to be plausible to work. “On the contrary,” he wrote, “the grosser, the bigger, the cruder the lie, the more readily is it believed and followed.”

I’ve speculated before that some people just want some authority to tell them what to do, so they don’t have to think; the world is too complex for them to deal with.

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And the themes converge as the necessity for maintaining zealotry of any kind entails denying reality and thus lying.

Here’s a letter in the NYT, by one Frank Schneiger of New York, responding to the essay by Paul Krugman about the line from Reagan to Trump that I quoted from in this post.

The line from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump and our current situation may be even straighter and darker than Paul Krugman paints it. Consider the following core Reagan messages: Government is your enemy. White people are the real victims of racism. Taxes are theft. Unions are bad. Environmental protection will destroy the economy.

The consequences of the triumph of their belief system include our world-class inequality, hollowed-out government in a hollowed-out democracy, intense racial animus and enormous environmental challenges.

These realities, along with the profound erosion of trust that Mr. Krugman cites, mean that sustaining the system that Republicans have built requires lying on a massive scale. And the willingness of vast numbers of Americans to believe the lies they want to believe. Or, as George Constanza of “Seinfeld” said, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Posted in Lunacy, Politics, Psychology, Religion | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Insurrectionists, the G.O.P., Evangelicals, Fantasies, and Lies

Links and Comments: Election Reform; Social Change; Insurrectionist Victimhood; Republican Entitlement

NYT Sunday Review, Beverly Gage and Emily Bazelon: How to Ensure This Never Happens Again, subtitled “The election and its aftermath have revealed weaknesses in our democracy. Here’s how we can fix some of them.”

The article reviews how we got here, and then lists specific suggestions.

  • Fix the electoral college process [i.e. make corrections to the existing process]
  • Establish national best practices for voting and election security
  • Register voters automatically
  • Turn D.C. and Puerto Rico into states
  • End gerrymandering
  • Make People Vote
  • Shorten the Transition
  • Eliminate the Electoral College

At least two of these, ending gerrymandering and the electoral college, are key points of Ezra Klein in his book Why We’re Polarized. Of course, these are not new ideas, and they are predictably opposed by Republicans — you’d think they are not interested in fairness of voting, but in currying favor to their shrinking base of, among others, white supremacists and religious fundamentalists, at the behest of billionaires like Sheldon Adelson (who died yesterday) who count on Republicans for tax cuts and deregulation. (That’s my potted summary of Republican politics; it plays to two different constituencies.)

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In fact, here’s Ezra Klein right here! NYT: Trump Has Always Been a Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing, subtitled “By enabling the president anyway, Republican elites helped make the storming of the Capitol possible.”

It begins by recalling a 2016 article that

complained that the press took Trump “literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

Then walks us through various examples of Trump lying to his base (that the election had been stolen; that Pence could fix it all by himself), and concludes

The problem isn’t those who took Trump at his word from the start. It’s the many, many elected Republicans who took him neither seriously nor literally, but cynically. They have brought this upon themselves — and us.

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On a broader issue, here’s NYT columnist David Brooks, who likes to think about the big issues (though in a deeply conservative way, always bemoaning the loss of a better past): 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This, subtitled “Our current model of social change isn’t working.”

His point is the familiar one that you can’t argue, or train, someone into changing their thinking. “It turns out that if you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief.” With examples of racial bias training, that turn out not to do much good. So what does work?

People change when they are put in new environments, in permanent relationship with diverse groups of people. Their embodied minds adapt to the environments in a million different ways we will never understand or be able to plan. Decades ago, the social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote about the contact hypothesis, that doing life together with people of other groups can reduce prejudice and change minds. It’s how new emotional bonds are formed, how new conceptions of who is “us” and who is “them” come into being.

This seems plausible to me.

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The Atlantic, David A. Graham: The Insurrectionists Would Like You to Know That They’re the Real Victims, subtitled “The perpetrators of the assault on the Capitol and their sympathizers in the media and Congress lost little time in claiming the mantle of victimhood.”

History is rewritten by the self-styled victims.

Even after more than four years of rationalizing and excusing every violation by the president, Donald Trump’s enablers have their work cut out for them this week, after a mob incited by Trump sacked the U.S. Capitol, disrupted constitutional order, and killed a police officer. But, undeterred, they are still energetically devoted to the task.


The more common argument on the mainstream Trump-friendly right is simpler: It contends that what happened wasn’t so bad, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. The real victims, it turns out, are Trump and his supporters.

Cue Marco Rubio.

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NYT: Trump’s Legacy: Voters Who Reject Democracy and Any Politics but Their Own, subtitled “The mob attack on the Capitol, and interviews with Trump voters this week, show that the president’s subversion of democratic values will have enduring influence within the Republican Party.”

Interviews with Trump supporters, with the recurrent theme that Republicans think only they deserve to win and if they don’t, it must be fraud.

For these voters, the lack of allegiance to small “d” democratic values seemed to stem, in part, from the shift among many Republicans to imbibing information from sources that offer propaganda rather than news and facts. The share of Republicans who trust the mass media has plunged in the Trump years to 10 percent, according to Gallup. A majority of Republicans believe Mr. Trump was robbed of the election.

Mr. Hoyt praised The Epoch Times, a leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation, because “they just give you the facts of what’s happening.” For Ms. Grossi, One America News Network, the far-right channel that spreads conspiracy theories, is the only information source she trusts. She also follows QAnon, the baseless conspiracy movement that links top Democrats to child sex trafficking.

So here’s another notion that the internet is a big part of the problem, because it allows, even encourages, people to live in silos or echo chambers with others of similar views; there’s no larger consensus reality.

I wonder if another part of the reason is that, before the internet, many people simply didn’t pay attention to the news at all (the way I did growing up, reading the newspaper and watching the evening network news every day, reading a weekly magazine every week). And now that the internet is in everyone’s pocket, and social media sites becoming ubiquitous, news, which gets highly selected for them, filters onto the sites whether they ask for it or not… in ways that reinforce their biases.

And as for the apocalyptic predictions of Trump voters fearing Biden’s win: when none of those things happen (confiscation of guns, outlawing the Bible, yadda yadda), what will they do?

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Washington Post: This is what it looks like when the mob turns on you.

The mob looks like America. Because it is America.

I don’t think there’s anything special, or especially corrosive, about Americans. This is a reflection of human nature, across all times and cultures. Democracy tries to counter this authoritarian mob-rules, but has had only partial success.

Posted in Lunacy, Politics | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Election Reform; Social Change; Insurrectionist Victimhood; Republican Entitlement

Links and Comments: Yet more about conspiracy theories, since they never go away

First at Slate, an efficient recounting of the psychological reasons behind the attraction to conspiracy theories.

John Ehrenreich: Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories, subtitled “They’re not stupid.”

Long quote with links to references left intact:

What does predict belief in conspiracy theories? A cocktail of personality traits. Those who believe these theories typically show high levels of anxiety independent of external sources of stress, a high need for control over environment, and a high need for subjective certainty and, conversely, a low tolerance for ambiguity. They tend to have negative attitudes to authority, to feel alienated from the political system, and to see the modern world as unintelligible. Conspiracy theory believers are often suspicious and untrusting, and see others as plotting against them. They struggle with anger, resentment, and other hostile feelings as well as with fear. They have lower self-esteem than nonbelievers and have a need for external validation to maintain their self-esteem. They may have a strong desire to feel unique and special, and an exaggerated need to be in an exclusive in-group. Belief in conspiracy theories often also goes along with belief in paranormal phenomena, skepticism of scientific knowledge, and weaknesses in analytic thinking. Proneness to belief in conspiracy theories is also associated with religiosity, especially with people for whom a religious worldview is especially important. These traits are hardly universal among or exclusive to conspiracy theorists, but they help create a vulnerability to belief.

The articles goes on to discuss the psychological biases everyone is prone to: motivated reasoning, fundamental attribution error, confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance. And how Trump and other conservatives foster mistrust of instituions, including of mainstream mass media, and scientists.

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Second, a long piece by Joe Forrest, on his “Progressive Christian’s Blog”:

Why Your Christian Friends and Family Members Are So Easily Fooled by Conspiracy Theories.

TLDR, but scanning it reveals (of course) many of the same points, with longer examples:

  1. Conspiracy Theories Make Us Feel Special.
  2. Conspiracy Theories Help Us Make Sense of a Chaotic and Complicated World.
  3. Conspiracy Theories Make Our Reality Seem More Exciting.

And then a section about “The Christian Problem” and then an: “Addendum: How to Not Be Fooled by a Conspiracy Theory.”

Posted in Lunacy, Psychology | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Yet more about conspiracy theories, since they never go away

Links and Comments: Not Who We Are; Christians and Trump

First, those of my Facebook friends who have the fortitude to read right-wing sites indeed confirm my suspicion that insurrectionists are planning more violence, against all the state capitals, and on inauguration day.

So then.

Two articles about the claim that the insurrectionists on the Capitol are “not who we are,” both from The Atlantic:

Ibram X. Kendi: Denial Is the Heartbeat of America, subtitled “When have Americans been willing to admit who we are?”

David Frum: The Conservative Cult of Victimhood, subtitled “Trump was a perpetrator who thought himself a victim, and American society has indulged that same illusion among Trump supporters.”

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And then two about the link between Trumpian politics and Christian evangelicals.

The Atlantic, Emma Green: A Christian Insurrection, subtitled “Many of those who mobbed the Capitol on Wednesday claimed to be enacting God’s will.”

The name of God was everywhere during Wednesday’s insurrection against the American government. The mob carried signs and flag declaring Jesus saves! and God, Guns & Guts Made America, Let’s Keep All Three. Some were participants in the Jericho March, a gathering of Christians to “pray, march, fast, and rally for election integrity.” After calling on God to “save the republic” during rallies at state capitols and in D.C. over the past two months, the marchers returned to Washington with flourish. On the National Mall, one man waved the flag of Israel above a sign begging passersby to Say Yes to Jesus. “Shout if you love Jesus!” someone yelled, and the crowd cheered. “Shout if you love Trump!” The crowd cheered louder. The group’s name is drawn from the biblical story of Jericho, “a city of false gods and corruption,” the march’s website says. Just as God instructed Joshua to march around Jericho seven times with priests blowing trumpets, Christians gathered in D.C., blowing shofars, the ram’s horn typically used in Jewish worship, to banish the “darkness of election fraud” and ensure that “the walls of corruption crumble.”

NYT, Katherine Stewart: The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage, subtitled, “Why do so many Republicans appear to be at war with both truth and democracy?”

(My short answer, as expressed before in this blog: because religious zealots *know* are right and so ordinary secular rules don’t matter.)

In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, Mr. Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius — a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago. In a 2019 commencement address at The King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.

The most eloquent summary of the Pelagian vision, Mr. Hawley went on to say, can be found in the Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Mr. Hawley specifically cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words reprovingly: “At the heart of liberty,” Kennedy wrote, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The fifth century church fathers were right to condemn this terrifying variety of heresy, Mr. Hawley argued: “Replacing it and repairing the harm it has caused is one of the challenges of our day.”

Scary stuff. And conservatives worry about Sharia (law)!. To my mind there’s no difference between Sharia and likes of Hawley and Rubio.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Not Who We Are; Christians and Trump