Part 2—Drum asks, anthropologists answer: Kevin Drum asked a good question this week, even if in overwrought and selective form.
His question appeared in the headline which sat atop a recent post. The question he asked was this:
Do Republicans Believe Their Own Lies?In one way, there we went again! If a person believes an inaccurate statement, then, of course, his or her misstatement isn't a "lie," if we're all still speaking English, which we frequently aren't.
That said, Drum was asking a very good question—though his question applies to Democrats, liberals and journalists as well as to Those People.
In a nutshell, Drum's question starts with this accurate observation:
We often see members of political groups repeating standard misstatements. The statement in question is factually false, but it gets repeated over and over again.
That's the background. Drum's question is this:
When people repeat a standard misstatement, do they believe the inaccurate claim they're making? Or do they actually know that the statement in question is false?
Given the times in which we live, Drum restricted his excellent question about this syndrome to Republicans. In particular, he correctly noted that Republicans commonly make a misstatements about the way Obamacare—the ACA—first passed into law.
How did Obamacare pass into law? Did it pass the Senate under "reconciliation," requiring just 50 votes? Or did it pass with a real majority as defined by Senate math, with 60 votes out of a hundred?
In fact, it passed with 60 votes. The leading authority on the matter tells the story like this:
On December 23, [2009,] the Senate voted 60–39 to end debate on the bill: a cloture vote to end the filibuster. The bill then passed, also 60–39, on December 24, 2009, with all Democrats and two independents voting for it, and all Republicans against (except Jim Bunning, who did not vote).Despite this history, Republicans routinely claim that Obamacare slithered through with just 50 votes. Drum was wondering if Republicans really believe this inaccurate statement, or it they're simply lying when they make this claim.
We took his question to a panel of anthropologists. Thoughtfully, they explained the way the minds of our failing species work.
Not unlike the lemming, they said, members of the species known as Homo sapiens are strongly inclined—"hard-wired" even—to work in groups. Even worse, we're inclined to divide ourselves into rival groups—Us and Them, or perhaps skins and shirts or even Nike and Reebok—and to battle things out from there.
We tend to acquire our beliefs from the sachems of our tribal group. If we hear the sachems say X, Y or Z, we minions will start to repeat it.
Typically, these scientists told us, the minions will in fact routinely believe the various claims they are making, The minions will rarely fact-check the statements they hear from tribal leaders and then from other tribal minions.
As a general matter, they will assume their own tribal claims are correct, and that the tribal claims of The Others are wrong. Or at least, so these scientists said.
These scientists panted a gloomy picture of the way our species works. You can forget all that "rational animal" crap, one of them hotly said, brandishing a supersized rum toddy.
That said, their presentation turned even more gloomy when they offered some current examples of the way this hard-wired system works. They pointed to the current claim that a "huge black turnout" decided Tuesday's Senate election. Incredibly, they also pointed to some bogus statements made just this week on The Rachel Maddow Show!
Liberals hear Rachel make these claims, these scientists said, and they are strongly inclined to assume her claims are accurate. Soon, minions start to repeat her claims. As a general matter, liberals believe these false or highly misleading assertions, according to these scientists.
These anthropologists were painting a gloomy picture of the way our species works. That said, we fact-checked the claims from the Maddow Show and saw that the scientists were right.
It was much as the anthropologists said. This bullsh*t works this way Over Here as well as among The Others!
We'll take you through Maddow's recent misstatements in the next day or so. That said, we'll suggest that you consider another deeply destructive example from the recent past.
We refer to the widely bruited claim that Candidate Al Gore said he invented the Internet. Within the upper-end mainstream press corps, minions repeated this claim for twenty straight months, helping send Candidate Bush to the White House, where he launched a disastrous war.
The journalists' claim that Gore made that statement is extremely hard to sustain, these scientists told us. By normal standards, the scientists said, the journalists' ubiquitous claim should be scored as false.
Despite this fact, journalists kept repeating their claim from March 1999 through through November 2000. Some of them even put the word "invented" inside quotation marks, though Gore had never used it!
Almost surely, many of these journalists believed the assertion they were making, the anthropologists surmised, since they'd seen their sachems make it.
Many journalists did believe their guild's inaccurate claim, the scientists said—but some of them likely did not.
Drum was asking a very good question about the way our species works. Because we live in tribal times, he may have seemed to suggest that his excellent question only applies to The Others.
In fact, a wide array of major groups parade about the countryside repeating bogus claims. Bees do it; birds do; even educated D's do it. They fall in love with favored claims which may, in fact, be false.
As a biological species, we're strongly inclined to fall in love with our tribal claims and assertions. Anthropologically speaking, we aren't especially strongly inclined to ask if these statements are true.
Our documentary film, Anthropology Now, will be coming to movie palaces soon.
"I love the smell of misstatements in the morning?" Many people from many groups will implicitly make that statement in this award-winning film.
Still coming: Weaponizing moral claims. Also, the sounds of silence
Full disclosure: On July 20, 1958, we were present in Fenway Park when Bunning pitched his first no-hitter.
Only ten years old at the time, we sensed he was up to no good.