WHICH TRIBE REEZUNS BETTER: Mooney adds an extra step!

TUESDAY, MAY 8, 2012

Part 2—Why is this bunkum so different: In Saturday’s piece at Salon, Chris Mooney described a sad but familiar pattern.

This pattern has driven our political discourse for decades. Here it is:

Big players churn some disinformation—and true believers believe it. Over the past forty years, we’ve seen this pattern infest our discourse in a wide array of subject areas.

In his piece, Mooney seemed to say that this pattern also obtains in the matter of same-sex marriage. According to Mooney, conservative groups have been churning “bad science.” In an especially egregious way, they have pretended that studies show that same-sex marriage is bad for kids (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/7/12).

In fact, the studies show no such thing, Mooney says. He says the groups which are peddling this bunk are grossly misstating these studies. But according to Mooney, many conservative voters have come believe the hokum they have been served. This may explain the outcome of today’s vote in North Carolina concerning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

This is a very familiar story: Interest groups peddle some well-crafted bunkum; voters come to believe the bunk! In the past four decades, conservative voters have been misled by the leaders they trust on a wide array of topics.

(Liberal voters get misled too. Did you hear that women are paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the exact same work as men? Did you hear that the Sanford police let George Zimmerman “walk away with his gun?”)

Mooney describes a familiar pattern. In these passages, he refers to the folk who have been spreading some very bad science about the children of same-sex parents:
MOONEY (5/5/12): Many voters who go to the polls to support Amendment One will do so believing outright falsehoods about same-sex marriages and civil unions. In particular, they hold the belief that such partnerships are damaging to the health and well-being of the children raised in them. That is, after all, one of the chief justifications for the amendment.

According to the pro-Amendment One group Vote for Marriage NC, for instance, “the overwhelming body of social science evidence establishes that children do best when raised by their married mother and father.” If marriage is defined as anything other than the union between man and woman, the group adds, we will see “a higher incidence of all the documented social ills associated with children being raised in a home without their married biological parents.”


There are a small number of Christian right researchers and intellectuals who have tried to make a scientific case against same-sex marriages and unions by citing alleged harms to children. This stuff isn’t mainstream or scientifically accepted—witness the APA’s statements on the matter. But from the perspective of the Christian right, that doesn’t really matter.
Who has been spreading this bullshit around? Who had been leading conservative voters to believe these “outright falsehoods?” Mooney names the name of one group—“the pro-Amendment One group Vote for Marriage NC.” Later, he says that “a small number of Christian right researchers and intellectuals” have been spreading this bullshit around.

Might we make an educated guess? If such bunkum has been pimped around, these bogus claims have likely been echoed by other “intellectual leaders”—by North Carolina radio hosts, by preachers in the pulpit. Typically, this is the way the bullshit spreads. Regular voters hear troubling claims voiced by an array of leaders. In the process, they come to believe that these claims are true.

(This is the pattern among liberals too. When Rachel Maddow made an error on Meet the Press, Digby, Steve Benen and Joan Walsh all rushed to praise her performance. None of these liberals told liberal readers that Maddow had made a mistake.)

Back to the bunkum in North Carolina: Mooney describes a painfully common process. Over the past forty years, conservative voters have come to believe a large array of bogus claims—bogus claims they have heard advanced by their most trusted leaders. For good or for ill, it’s the norm when regular people believe the claims they hear from their leaders. It’s the norm when voters get misinformed in this way—when they end up “believing outright falsehoods” about an array of topics.

Thanks to figures like Sean and Rush, conservative voters have routinely been misinformed in this manner. But in this case, Mooney describes a familiar pattern, then adds an extra step. For unknown reasons, he wonders why conservative voters would believe this particular bit of hokum, as opposed to all the rest.

Early on, he defines his somewhat puzzling objective:
MOONEY: [A]s I report in my new book, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality,” the claim that the kids won’t be all right in same sex marriages or partnerships now rates up there with a number of other hoary old falsehoods about homosexuality: the assertion that people can “choose” whether to be gay; the notion that homosexuality is a type of disorder; and the wrong idea that it can be cured through “reparative” therapy. All of these claims are explicitly disavowed by the American Psychological Association (APA).

In a moment, I want to explore the underlying psychology behind how conservatives, especially religious ones, can believe such falsehoods. But first, let’s dismantle, on a substantive level, the idea that research shows that kids fare worse when raised by two parents who are of the same gender.
Mooney lists a number of "hoary old falsehoods" about homosexuality. He then says he wants to explore “the underlying psychology behind how conservatives, especially religious ones, can believe such falsehoods.”

Mooney may have good points to make, but he introduces a slightly puzzling question at this point. Conservatives believe falsehoods about a lot of topics—falsehoods they’ve been served by their leaders. But now, when they believe these falsehoods about this topic, an extra explanatory step is required. Suddenly, an “underlying psychology” is needed to explain these false beliefs.

Mooney may have good points to make, but his logic is slippery here. Later, he makes another strange move—he assumes that conservative leaders believe the bunkum they’ve been peddling about children of same-sex marriage. Might we ask an obvious question: Why would he assume that?
MOONEY: Don’t Christian conservatives want to be factually right and to believe what’s true about the world? And shouldn’t a proper reading of this research actually come as a relief to them and help to assuage their concerns about dangerous social consequences of same-sex marriage or civil unions? If only it were that simple. We all want to be right and to believe that our views are based on the best available information. But in this case, Christian conservatives utterly fail to get past their emotions, which powerfully bias their reasoning.
Say what? In the highlighted passage, Mooney makes a strange assertion. “We all want to be right and to believe that our views are based on the best available information,” he weirdly says. This is a cheerful thought—but it implies that intellectual leaders never lie to us rubes about key subjects like this.

In this passage, Mooney seems to say that the Christian groups which have peddled this bullshit truly believe that the bullshit is right. They have simply been overwhelmed by their force of their emotions. But conservative leaders make all kinds of claims which, presumably, they don’t believe. Why on earth should we assume that they are sincere in this matter?

Do conservative leaders believe the egregious bullshit Mooney describes in his piece? We don’t have the slightest idea—but Mooney simply asserts that they do! And as he does, he seems to suggest that some “underlying psychology” must be at work when regular conservative voters come to believe these claims. In this way, Mooney moves toward the larger theme of his piece—but as he makes these unfounded assumptions, he has already peddling some bad science of his own.

Does our tribe reason better than theirs? Is their tribe racked by vile emotion, by hate? That is the theme of Mooney’s piece, as we see from his headline on down.

Mooney may have good points to make—or not. But on a purely tribal basis, such claims have always been very pleasing—and they’ve always been dangerous.

Tomorrow: Are Republicans “wired for homophobia?” All of them? To what extent? And how many Dems are so wired?


  1. If the premise is true, and the logic is valid, then the conclusion is true.
    If we start out with facts, we end up with facts.

    If we start out positing an ideology as being true, then the "facts" at the end of the chain are also "true".

    The "reasoning" may be just as good in both cases, but the conclusions are NOT just as true.

    (IMHO) No, leaders do not believe the bullshit they are shoveling. I don't think Rush believes most of it, either. But their audience does believe it, and when it goes viral on the internet, it achieves immortality.

  2. This is one place where I disagree with Bob. I think most leaders of the Christian Right believe the things they say. You can never be really sure, but I've never seen any evidence that they are faking it. Of course, that doesn't mean that they don't lie sometimes, or try to sell their followers out for their own advantage. If one of them gets exposed as being hypocritical on one of their fundamental issues, it's a serious threat to their positions, and their livelihoods.

    But more specifically, do evangelical leaders know they are distorting psychological science when they torture studies to "prove" being a gay parent is harmful to their children? Maybe. For most evangelicals, it doesn't really matter what the science says, it only matters what the "correct" (i.e. their) interpretation of what the Bible says that matters. The science they distort for them is just cream, something to use to muddy the waters and confuse people who aren't evangelicals and share their religious convictions. Maybe in this instance, they are pious frauds, but I think it's something else. Since the Bible says something is wrong, so must "true science." From their view, it's probably people that don't share their religious convictions that are torturing the science to make it say that being gay is okay. For evangelicals who have relevant degrees in the field of psychology, there is probably a lot of cognitive dissonance, or, maybe they just look at the studies conclusions and accept those that flatter their prejudices, or torture them into doing so.

    I should say that not all evangelicals do this, for an example please see this website http://wthrockmorton.com/

    1. Having said all that, I'm not all that impressed with what Mooney has said about conservatives being "hardwired" for misinformation. Psychology is shot through with so many false positives. I think he is just flattering the prejudices of liberals, but I haven't read his book so I can't be sure. Kevin Drum has his take here http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/04/are-republicans-really-anti-science

  3. Good job at shoehorning Rachel Maddow in there, you monomaniac.

    1. That she's constantly providing perfect examples of this behavior means mentioning her is off-limits, says I, Anonymous.

    2. Don't you get it? The words "Rachel Maddow" to the Somberby tribe is like a wingnut invoking the words "Jane Fonda" on the Free Republic site.

      The first one to do that, wins.

      And the first one is always Somerby. It is his code for telling his adoring fans when they can marvel once again at his brilliance.

    3. Duh. It's a no-brainer. If you agree with Somerby then you are merely an "adoring fan." Unlike me, Anonymous, who can think for myself!

  4. First off, I was a psych major who aced every psych course I ever took (with the woeful exception of my first stab at psychological statistics), and I can tell you that psychology, despite some good work, is a field full of faddish jerkwads who plug whatever crap happens to be flying in their particular circle whether it actually makes sense or not. Never forget that homosexuality was once categorized as a psychological disorder, that autism was supposedly the result of something called "refridgerator moms" and not the neurological disorder that it actually is or that it was recently believed that repeated torture of the most heinous kind performed over years on end was the most likely to be forgotten (see Judith Herman among many others) and never mind the fact that European Jews seemed to have had no problem at all remembering the Holocaust. So, I'd strongly advise that when it comes to dealing with Mooney's theory, everyone keep their bull shit detectors on high alert.

    In any case, it is clear that at least some conservative leaders believe their own BS. Take Michelle Bachman. She has a husband who is 1) somewhat and suspiciously effeminate and 2) a "therapist" devoting his life to "curing" "the gay lifestyle."

    Rush Limbaugh on the other hand had the very notoriously (if you're a homophobe) gay Elton John play at his most recent wedding so, you have to think the Limbaugh knows better.

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