A tribally pleasing discussion: These are highly tribal times. If you want to avoid being dumb in the oldest and dumbest ways, we would make two suggestions.
First suggestion: If some study says the other tribe is more likely to think X, Y or Z, always ask yourself this: How much more likely are they?
For background, see yesterday's post.
It’s easy to read a statement like that and think The Others are all like that. That’s kind of the way the headlines worked when Salon reprinted the interview we’ve been discussing, the interview between Joshua Holland and Chris Mooney:
SALON HEADLINES (11/7/13): Can science explain Tea Party rage?For starters, please note that science isn’t being asked to explain anything about our tribe’s behavior.
Conservatives, one study shows, find it easier to dismiss the unpleasant consequences of their beliefs
That headline assumes that our tribe is all right. As always, it’s the other tribe which needs explaining by science.
Beyond that, the headline says conservatives find it “easier” to dismiss unpleasant consequences of their beliefs. Who knows? That may be true, in some sense.
But even assuming that it’s true, how much easier do conservatives find it? Could it be just five percent easier? If so, is it worth discussing?
(By the way, did you note that the headline says we're talking about one study?)
Headlines like that may lead you to picture absolute differences between the two tribes. If you want to avoid being dumb, you should learn to challenge that impulse.
This would be our second suggestion: Don’t take your bombs to town!
As we noted yesterday, Joshua Holland brandished an A-bomb midway through his session with Mooney. Out of nowhere, he said this:
HOLLAND (10/31/13): And we’ve discussed authority before. That’s really central to understanding the conservative mindset. There’s been a lot of research on the so-called authoritarian personality type, and I want to connect this with the idea of political polarization.All of a sudden, the fellows were talking about “authoritarians.” Warning! A-bomb alert!
One of the things that we understand about authoritarians is that they have a stronger sense of the importance of loyalty to one’s own in-group. How does that factor into this equation, do you think?
Talk like that is dangerous. All of a sudden, you’re creating a very powerful category. Through its use, you can easily start constructing The Other.
For our money, Mooney didn’t put up much of a fight concerning the use of that loaded term. We’d say he was eager to play:
MOONEY (continuing directly): Again, this is an area where liberals and libertarians differ from conservatives markedly. Liberals and libertarians aren’t particularly tribal in the sense of having loyalty to their group, and they aren’t particularly authoritarian in the sense of thinking you have to follow a strong leader. And basically, authoritarianism is also associated with sort of black and white, “you’re with me or you’re against me” thinking. But it’s also about deference to authority, whether that’s the police officer or your father or God. You must obey authority and if you don’t, that’s a moral wrong.It sounds like a very bad thing to be an “authoritarian.” But just like that, Mooney said that this is an area where the two tribes “differ markedly.”
Mooney’s comments are rather disjointed, but he’s talking very pleasing tribal talk. The other tribe is markedly more likely to exhibit a trait—a trait which sounds very bad.
There is no attempt to define this trait, or to say how markedly the two warring tribes may differ. How many people are authoritarian? There’s no attempt to explain that either!
By the way: Is it your experience that liberals “aren’t particularly tribal in the sense of having loyalty to their group?” That isn’t our experience either. But that’s what Mooney said!
Be careful! When we liberals start dropping our R- and A-bombs, tribal juices start flowing. Personally, we think opinion leaders should be very careful when they brandish such weapons. In the case of this discussion, impressionable readers may not realize they really have no idea what these fellows are talking about. Unfortunately, they’re hearing history’s oldest and falsest tale:
Our Tribe contains all the good decent people. The Other Tribe does not.
Sure enough! With the A-bomb rattling about, silly season gets started. This was the next exchange:
HOLLAND (continuing directly): Jonathan Weiler at the University of North Carolina did a study which found that you can predict a person’s ideological leanings by how they answered just a few questions about child rearing. And one of the questions was whether someone values obedience or creativity more in a child. It’s really—it’s telling stuff.By now, the conversation is very deep in the weeds. But a pleasing tribal story is being advanced: Their tribe has a bunch of authoritarians. Our glorious tribe does not.
MOONEY: Yeah, this is another way of measuring authoritarianism, because the theory is—and it seems pretty sound to me—that if you’re an authoritarian, one of the places it’s going to come out is in how you view child rearing. That is a situation in which the parent has to exert some level of authority, but parents interpret that differently. And if someone interprets parenting as sort of a strict father model—you need to obey the rules—then that’s an authoritarian style of parenting. So he’s just saying, “Let’s ask about parenting and we’ll figure out who our authoritarians are,” and what’s good about that as a scientific method is that you’re not actually asking anything that seems politically tinged. You could be confounding your variables if people get the sense that you’re asking them something political, but that’s not the case here—you’re just asking about parenting. That’s what’s nice about it.
What exactly are these fellows saying at this point? Do you really have any idea? Do you think these guys really know what they’re talking about?
Holland says Jonathan Weiler has shown that “you can predict a person’s ideological leanings by how they answered just a few questions about child rearing.”
Really? How well can you make such a prediction? Do you think Holland has any idea? But in this instance, it’s Mooney who makes the leap. According to Mooney, you can tell if someone’s “an authoritarian” by the way he rears his child!
That is probably true, of course. But how many “authoritarians” actually exist in the world? The boys have made no attempt to speak to that rather obvious question. But they’re making it sound like there’s quite a few, and they’re all in The Other Tribe.
This is loose, lazy tribal talk. At the start of the book to which Holland refers, Weiler actually spends several pages discussing the danger of using a loaded term like “authoritarianism.” He criticizes John Dean for his lazy, politicized use of the term in the 2006 book we liberals all knew we should love.
It is “nearly impossible to discuss [authoritarianism] in nonscholarly circles,” Weiler writes, early on in the book Holland cites. As you can see, warnings like that aren’t likely to slow the loose talk at Salon.
Holland mentions “the tendency of people with authoritarian personalities” at one more point in the session. Again, he makes it sound like he’s talking about a lot of people and they’re all in the other tribe.
Do you think he knows what he’s talking about? Second question:
When you throw bombs around in such tribal ways, could that be seen as a vaguely “authoritarian” thing to do?
People! We’re just asking!