FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2021
After that, the deluge: We humans! We're strongly drawn to tribal logic and to tribal facts.
Consider what happened last weekend, when Kevin Drum offered this post.
Drum was asking a very basic question. In effect, he was asking a variant of this question:
How many Republicans really believe that the last election was stolen? How many Republicans really believe the so-called "Big Lie?"
In effect, Drum was asking that question. For what it's worth, we continue to think that it's an interesting question.
In practice, Drum staged his question a bit more generally. You can see him do so here:
DRUM (12/11/21): Republicans, in particular, have been convinced for a very long time that Democrats routinely steal elections. I wrote about this ten years ago in "The Dog That Voted and Other Election Fraud Yarns," and the following ten years have done nothing except cement this belief even further into the Republican psyche.
Do Republicans really believe this?...
Drum wasn't specifically asking about The Big Lie. Specifically, he was asking if Republicans really believe that Democrats "routinely steal elections."
As far as we know, there are no surveys of that question, and Drum didn't offer any. But as he started discussing that question, he did something which is very basic, but also rather unusual.
Drum drew two or three very basic distinctions! Below, you can see the way he proceeded:
DRUM: Republicans, in particular, have been convinced for a very long time that Democrats routinely steal elections. I wrote about this ten years ago in "The Dog That Voted and Other Election Fraud Yarns," and the following ten years have done nothing except cement this belief even further into the Republican psyche.
Do Republicans really believe this? Among party leaders, I don't know. Some always have. Some have convinced themselves just from saying it so often. And some probably don't but play along cynically.
Likewise, among the rank and file, some are believers and some aren't. But as time has passed, and both Fox News and party leaders have unceasingly hammered on this, more and more conservative voters have turned into believers...
For our money, Drum was possibly going a bit too easy on Republican "party leaders." But those are the things he said.
At this point, Drum posted a chart showing that Republican voters' "trust in election results" has fallen to a very low point in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Presumably, the drop in trust has been driven, at least in large part, by widespread belief that the last election was stolen.
That said, let's return to our original question. Do Republicans really believe that? Do Republicans really believe that the last election was stolen?
Drum was discussing a related question. Please note the basic distinctions he drew as his rumination proceeded:
First, he drew a basic distinction between Republican "party leaders" and the GOP "rank and file."
In our view, that's an extremely basic distinction. That said, it's amazing how rarely that distinction is drawn when liberal and mainstream journalists discuss what "Republicans" or "conservatives" believe.
(We're routinely amazed when Paul Krugman fails to draw this distinction, to cite one important example.)
At any rate, hurrah! As Drum started, he drew that first distinction between those disparate groups.
In saying that he doesn't know, Drum is breaking every rule in the book. Drumcat, please! Dating back to the dawn of the West, "I don't know" are the three dirty words you can't ever say in the discourse!
As a general matter, we humans don't like such assertions. Socrates kept pushing that framework, and he annoyed everyone in Athens so much that he ended up drinking the hemlock.
So it goes for those who say, at times of social stress, that there's something they don't quite know.
At times of high feeling, we human beings hate to admit that our knowledge is limited. We tend to adopt a different, two-part approach:
We invent a pleasing tribal story. Then, we all repeat it.
So it went when Drum's readers got the chance to comment. Comment One came in like this:
COMMENT ONE: We don't actually have to accept the framing that the poor benighted Republicans truly believe elections have been stolen from them. It's pure bad faith. They would like to steal elections from us and this is simply cover. It's fine to just say that.
This first commenter rushed to assert what "Republicans" truly believe, full stop. Also, what they would like to do.
In this comment, all Republicans believe, and like to do, the very same things. The commenter turns directly to statements about "Us and "Them." All Drum's distinctions have flown.
That's classic tribal construction—and according to leading scholars, our human brains are wired to perform it. Because we humans are really "the tribal animal," we're strongly inclined to insist that The Others are all exactly alike, and that we know exactly how they are.
The second commenter went down this same road. In this case, all Republican "party leaders" are said to be just alike:
COMMENT TWO: "Do Republicans really believe this? Among party leaders, I don't know."
Oooh, oooh, I know this one! No, stupid as a lot of Republican officeholders are, they know that elections are conducted and observed by members of both major parties, and that their party controls more state governments than Democrats do. And they know how few cases of actual fraudulent votes have been found by Republican Secretaries of State and state Attorneys General, because all of those efforts were loudly hyped by Republicans, until they failed utterly. So they are (gasp) lying sacks of shit who are cynically pushing a phony issue for political advantage, and they don’t care that they are destroying a democracy which until the late 20th century was becoming more and more just and free. It is malevolence, not gullibility.
In this framing, it's the "party leaders" who are all just alike. None of these leaders are so stupid, or so lacking in insight, or perhaps so drunk or delusional or mentally ill, that they can really believe these claims.
Might some of them believe these claims? Experts say that, at times of stress, such possibilities aren't permitted! When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way!
(Other than that, you're a Shark.)
Commenter 4 walks a similar path. In this case, Republicans are all just alike; so are all Democrats. We append a second comment, one offered in response:
COMMENT FOUR: On this specific issue, do Republicans REALLY believe it? Sort of, but I don't think Republicans believe political things in the same way Democrats do.
For example, Democrats really believe that partisan gerrymandering is unfair, undemocratic, and wrong. How do Democrats act on this belief? They enact nonpartisan schemes for drawing district boundaries where they can. This costs Democrats dearly, because Republicans do no such thing where they are in control. On the other side, Republicans believe that voter fraud is rife and must be addressed with voter ID laws while Democrats complain that these tend to disenfranchise marginal voters...
I think it would be more accurate to say that Republicans truly believe they are the real Americans, they are the real patriots, and thus they should be in charge...Republicans and Democrats have very different concepts of fairness and justice when it comes to elections. For a Democrat, fair is when every legal voter gets to vote. For Republicans, fair is when the Republican wins.
RESPONSE: Concur on both counts. They believe in "democracy" as they define it, to wit, not rule by the people generally but by the people who deserve to rule, i.e., them.
And as to believing in "fraud," yes I think they do believe in it, but only as a consequence, a corollary, of their belief that the election was "stolen." They believe it was stolen, therefore there must have been some mechanism for stealing it, i.e. "fraud," and the exact nature of the "fraud" is of minor importance. This is why there's no point in arguing evidence with them, and why they flit from theory to theory like butterflies on meth; they don't reason from evidence to conclusion, but from foundational belief to the implication that there must be evidence to support it.
This commenter, and this respondent, almost seem to be describing two different species. Members of the two different species "really believe" opposing things, full stop. Needless to say, the following is only true of Republicans:
"There's no point in arguing evidence with them...They don't reason from evidence to conclusion, but from foundational belief to the implication that there must be evidence to support it."
For the person who wrote that response, that is true of all Republicans, and it's only true of Republicans. All Republicans "reason" that way. None of us Democrats do.
Our view? We see liberal pundits and mainstream journalists "reason" that way all the time! We see them working from "foundational belief"—from treasured Storyline:
Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Newsmax is rootin' for Putin!
The teenager took his gun to a protest. He went there looking for trouble!
Some of Drum's commenters pushed back against this tribalism. Beyond that, let's be fair:
We're sure that Commenters 1, 2 and 4 would quickly say, if they were asked, that they only meant for their assessments to apply to those different groups on average, for the most part, in general.
That said, we aren't going by what they meant; we're going by what they said. We're talking about our basic instincts—our basic instincts as human beings, the frameworks which lead to our wars.
Go back and look at that very first comment. According to major anthropologists, that's the way we humans are destined to reason:
They want to do something bad to Us. It's pleasing and good "to just say that."
That's the way our brains are wired to work. Or at least, that's what award-winning experts all say. We love the logic of our own tribe. And we love our own tribe's facts.
Drum drew some basic distinctions that day. After that, the comments arrived.
He acknowledged a couple of obvious points. After that, the deluge!
Inevitably, this: Eventually, some commenters began to complain about Drum's willingness to draw those distinctions. This was Comment 18:
COMMENT 18: I don't know what Kevin wants us to get from posts like this. Yes, Republicans believe there is a lot of voter fraud. Interestingly, they never seem to actually find it. How are the rest of us supposed to respond to this? How are we supposed to take seriously a claim that has no supportable evidence? One conclusion seems to be the one that Kevin doesn't want us to draw. This is all an elaborate myth that allows Republicans to believe whatever they want to believe despite the lack of any supporting evidence. How are we supposed to respond to nonsense? Does taking it seriously help or harm finding a way back to rationality? I think it harms us.
Drum didn't churn tribalized Storyline in this particular post. He didn't say that The Others are all one (extremely bad) way, while We're all exactly the opposite.
He didn't provide that basic service. As a result, this commenter seems a bit uneasy, suspicious.
He seems to suspect that he's being scammed in some way he can't quite define. He seems to think that Drum has a motive of some kind. In the end, that's how it went for Socrates, back at the dawn of the West.
The three dirty words you can't say on TV? You can't say The Others aren't all just alike, and you surely can't say you don't know!