Links and Comments: How People Think; the Election and the Pandemic

It’s been a few days since last bunch of links and comments, and I’ve collected several since then that perhaps can be fit together into some kind of overe-arching theme. It’s about how different people think differently.

I should say first, as I have before, that different people exhibit different strengths from a range of possible aspects of human nature. Some people are gregarious, others private; some open to novelty, others prioritizing the traditions of the past; and so on. There is no one right way to be human. In fact diversity is a strength; diversity within a species means that the species is more to likely survive as circumstances change, and circumstances can change radically in different, unpredictable ways. Behavior suitable for survival on a desert island would not work in a large communal city, and vice versa. So again: neither ‘side’ in any given dichotomy is right, or wrong, they’re just different, and perhaps ideal for various circumstances.

Yet different types of behavior and psychological attitudes do play out into how people think, how they organize themselves into groups, how they react to adversity.

Here’s one mundane example. Some people assume their tastes in food, or music, are so obviously intuitively correct that they can’t imagine why anyone would disagree. How can anyone *not* like fried chicken?? Or white rice?? This parallels my comment a couple posts ago, about how some Trump voters apparently can’t imagine why the entire country doesn’t support their candidate, and therefore if Trump lost the election, it must due to be fraud.

This dichotomy, in general, plays out, it seems to me, in very broad strokes, to the political parties and to how people think about science.

Example: Jerry Coyne’s blog asks today, American scientists are mostly Democrats, with almost no Republicans. Is this lack of diversity a problem?. Coyne is a university professor (Chicago) and so concerned with issues about diversity and cancel culture. He dismisses the question on affirmative action grounds, in part because no one knows the political persuasions of most scientists; it’s simply not an issue.

More to the point, Republicans in particular are clearly conservative and prone to ideology over facts and evidence; thus they are more religious, more likely to cling to ideological positions (the poor are deadbeats; tax cuts for the wealthy trickle down) that have clearly been disproved. As I type there is debate in congress about another stimulus package to address the impact of the pandemic, but Republicans don’t want people to depend on hand-outs because, they suppose, people will then be unwilling to work. This is counter to the evidence. (If anything, bailouts in event of national catastrophe is precisely one of the most important things the federal government should do.)

But let’s move away from generalities and look at some specific links.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, Dec 9th: Trump voters don’t really believe Biden stole the election — but they do want a coup, subtitled, Conservatives aren’t entirely delusional — they’re trolls arguing in bad faith to de-legitimize Democratic voters.

Do Republican voters really believe that Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump? Do they sincerely see Trump’s efforts to overturn the election as the legitimate actions of a wronged man trying to defend democracy? When they declare “stop the steal,” are they truly unaware that they are the ones trying to steal this election from the rightful winners?

Or are millions of Americans arguing in bad faith, merely claiming to believe Trump is the true winner?

Here we enter the realm of trying to understand how so many people think in ways that do not involve evidence, or savvy understanding of how the world works. Marcotte:

Well, as the author of a book called “Troll Nation,” it’s clear where I stand: By and large, Republican voters who claim that Biden stole the election are arguing from bad faith, not delusion.

This distinction is important because it shows that the intentions of Republican voters (and too many of their elected leaders) are sinister, and need to be taken seriously as an overt assault on democracy. Understanding modern politics means understanding one crucial reality about the current landscape: Conservatives don’t hold beliefs, they only have rationalizations.

This parallels my provisional conclusion that conservatives value ideology over reality.

Many of their long-standing beliefs don’t hold up to modern moral standards or rational scrutiny. Rather than give up those beliefs, however, Republicans have developed a series of disingenuous gambits, conspiracy theories and trolling tactics to derail conversations, sow confusion and otherwise distract those who would challenge their indefensible ideology.

Of course, it’s morally indefensible to come right out and say you care more about keeping your gas guzzler than protecting the planet. So, instead, conservatives claim to be “skeptical” of climate science, wasting their interlocutor’s time by forcing them to prove, over and over and over and over again, that climate change is real. Similarly, open contempt for women’s rights is hard to argue, so instead, conservatives will claim concern for “fetal life” to justify support for forced childbirth — even though none of their other policy preferences point to concern about the wellbeing of children, much less fetuses.

The article goes on with examples about birtherism and the illegitimacy of votes… from certain black cities, revealing obvious racist motivations.


The danger of clinging to ideology, of course, is that rejecting reality for ideology can get you killed. Masks are Satanic offenses against the God-given beauty of the human face? (I’ve seen this claim.) For communities and states that think that — more of them will die. Think of it as evolution in action.


More briefly:

NY Magazine: White Evangelicals Made a Deal With the Devil. Now What?

This echoes my thought that conservatives are motivated by fear, and paranoia.

To be Evangelical in the 1990s was to learn fear. [many examples follow]

Whatever the cause, whatever the rumor, the fear was always the same. It was about power, and what would happen if we lost it. Certain facts, like the whiteness of our congregations and the maleness of our pulpits and the shortcomings of our leaders, were not worth mentioning. You were fighting for God, and God was not racist or sexist; He was only true. The unsaved hated this, it made them angry, and that was proof you were doing the right thing. If “owning the libs” has a discernible origin point, it’s here, in the white Evangelical church.

This next echoes my thought that religious conservatives are so certain of their righteousness, that hypocrisy (in vetting Supreme Court justices) or cheating (as in trying to overturn a democratic election) are legitimate means to an end.

A party out of step with most voters must either reform, or it must cheat. This, too, is something the modern GOP has in common with the Christian right. Democracy is the enemy. People can’t be trusted with their own souls. Leave them to their own devices, and they make the wrong choices, take the easy way out, threaten everything holy. They need a savior, whether they like it or not.


And so here we are.

WaPo: The president and his party have gone to war against America.

It’s becoming hard to find the right words to describe what Republicans have become at this moment in history. We can call them reckless in their eagerness to undermine the functioning of government. We can call them heartless in their willingness to deprive Americans of aid in such a desperate time. We can call them unhinged in their embrace of deranged conspiracy theories.

But now the Republican Party is quite literally becoming the enemy of America.

…The foundation of that system is that the people vote, we count the votes, and the winner takes office. The GOP is now saying, “No. We win, no matter what. And if the people vote for a Democrat, then they must simply be overruled.”

Media Matters: Rush Limbaugh: “There cannot be a peaceful coexistence” between liberals and conservatives, subtitled, Limbaugh: “I actually think that we’re trending toward secession”

Limbaugh lives in Florida.

I see more and more people asking what in the world do we have in common with the people who live in, say, New York? What is there that makes us believe that there is enough of us there to even have a chance at winning New York? Especially if you’re talking about votes.

There cannot be a peaceful coexistence of two completely different theories of life, theories of government, theories of how we manage our affairs. We can’t be in this dire a conflict without something giving somewhere along the way.

Perhaps this is the moment to recall that the red states are the recipients of more government hand-outs from the federal government, via taxes from the blue states.

The Week: Why Trump supporters won’t accept election results.

Does the result of a presidential election depend upon our attitudes concerning it? You might as well ask people whether they “accept” the results of bad weather or personal financial setbacks.

Which is why I believe it makes more sense to see the conservative response to the 2020 election not as some bizarre new development on the American right or even as the outgrowth of QAnon and other conspiracy theories, but rather as the inevitable culmination of a process that began long ago.

For decades now it has been clear that the flipside of Americans’ veneration of the office of the presidency, which combines the functions of head of government and head of state into one extraordinarily powerful title, is our insistence that presidents whom we do not ourselves support cannot be just that: politicians we did not vote for and would just as soon not see re-elected. Instead, the opponents of virtually every president in my lifetime, from Bill Clinton to Trump, have insisted that he was at the very least illegitimate, if not a tyrant.

Complaining about supposed democratic norms is a mug’s game. In a country in which authority tends to be understood in what might politely be described as conditional terms, it should not be surprising that the sizable portion of the electorate supporting one candidate should reject the other. The days when people of my grandparents’ generation calmly insisted that the person in the White House deserves our full respect and support regardless of one’s vote are as remote as the gold standard or smoke-filled rooms at party conventions.

WaPo: Do not forget how insane it has been all along.

I can’t resist quoting this list.

Only as we return to normal do we full appreciate the serial assaults on democracy, decency and the rule of law. Biden, unlike Trump, does not:

  • Decry the media as the “enemy of the people.”
  • Single out individual lawmakers as “losers.”
  • Elevate his supporters as “real” Americans.
  • Select individual companies for retribution.
  • Lob bizarre threats and insults at foreign leaders.
  • Brag about the wealth of his Cabinet secretaries.
  • Promise to “lock up” his opponent.
  • Insist on concealing his tax returns.
  • Declare that millions of votes were cast by immigrants living in the United States illegally.
  • Designate an oil executive as secretary of state.
  • Insist he knows more than the generals (and everyone else about everything).
  • Scheme to ban Muslims from the country.
  • Promise Mexico will pay for a border wall.

A couple more.

WaPo: Prominent evangelicals are directing Trump’s sinking ship. That feeds doubts about religion.

“I’d be happy to die in this fight,” radio talk-show host Eric Metaxas assured Trump during a recent interview. “This is a fight for everything. God is with us. Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty.”

Elsewhere Metaxas predicted, “Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of ‘a new birth of freedom’ will be fulfilled. Pray.”

None of this will happen.

(And I have refrained from posting the stories, on sites like AlterNet, Right Wing Watch, Friendly Atheist, and Progressive Secular Humanist, about the many religious crazies making absurd, irresponsible claims about the election and the coronavirus pandemic. Jesus will save us!)

NYT, Paul Krugman, Dec 7th: Republicans Can’t Handle the Truth, subtitled, You shouldn’t be surprised that they’re still backing Trump.

The thing is, Republican rejection of reality didn’t start in 2020, or even with the Trump era. Climate change denial — including claims that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by an international cabal of scientists — has been a badge of partisan identity for many years. Crazy conspiracy theories about the Clintons were mainstream on the right through much of the 1990s.

And one half-forgotten episode in particular seems to me to have foreshadowed much of what we’re seeing right now: Republican reactions to the mostly successful introduction of Obamacare. …

WaPo: Who’s going to tell the GOP base that they’re being scammed?.

President Trump has, thoroughly and completely, lost the 2020 election. Now who’s going to tell the Republican base?

Or more to the point, who’s going to tell them they’re being scammed?

The message of the scam is this: Trump can still win — but only if you stay angry enough, keep tuning in to our network and keep sending those donations. He’s counting on you!

All the people making this pitch — Trump himself, his White House staff, his campaign, Republican elected officials, party leaders and conservative media figures — know that it’s a lie. But it’s also the basis of their business model.


So to wrap up: scientists, and Democrats more than Republicans, are about evidence and reality. Conservatives are about ideology, including religion, even in the face of evidence.

(But does anyone read this blog? If so, leave a comment, no matter how brief.)

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