WEAKER APART: Seeing the glass a tiny bit empty!


Part 1—These alleged millennials today:
"Stronger together," Candidate Clinton repeatedly said.

In our view, it was a pretty good slogan. In some ways, it was a version of her husband's earlier campaign watchword:

"We don't have a person to waste."

One candidate won, one candidate lost. Each time, we agreed with the outlook.

That said, to what extent are we the people "together" at this juncture? More specifically, to what extent do we tend to share views on the most sensitive "social issues," on matters of gender and race?

Asking the question a gloomier way, to what extent have we been torn asunder on such issues? More specifically, to what extent do Those People hold retrograde views Over There, as opposed to the principled outlooks found in our own liberal tents?

In recent years, we liberals have tended to develop a gloomy, and perhaps misleading, reflexive approach in these areas. We're strongly inclined to see the glass a few percentage points empty, even when the glass in question seems to be largely full.

Did Clinton say we're "stronger together?" Again and again, it seems we liberals may be inclined to prefer "weaker apart." We seem inclined to stress relatively small amounts of difference, as opposed to larger degrees of agreement. We especially tend to adopt this stance when it lets us denigrate The Others, the lesser folk found Over There.

Alas! Even when The Others largely agree with our own spectacular views, we're inclined to focus on much smaller degrees of difference. In our view, this impulse was played out last week in a pair of intriguing pieces, one at the New York Times, one at the Washington Post.

To what analysis pieces do we refer? One was written by Nicole Lewis, a member of the Washington Post's Intern Class of 2017. The other was written by Professor Vavreck, a contributor at the New York Times' brainiac Upshot blog.

In our view, a familiar type of alarmism seemed to guide each effort. We think our tribe could improve its game by reviewing the preconceptions which seemed to be in play at each piece.

For today, let's start at the Washington Post, where Nicole Lewis, the intern in question, discussed These Millennials Today. We thought our tribe's instinct toward gloom was on display right in the eye-catching headline, which Lewis orobably didn't write:
Think millennials are woke? A new poll suggests some are still sleeping on racism.
Are some millennials "still sleeping on racism?" Depending on how you make your assessment, "some" almost certainly are! Presumably, some always will be!

Presumably, there will never be a time when someone fails to be completely "woke" in such complex and difficult areas. An analysis of such matters becomes helpful only when it tells us how many such people we're talking about, and when it tells us to what degree such people remain un-woke.

No doubt, that headline was meant to grab the eyeballs of Post readers. We're assuming the headline was written by a Post editor, not by the intern who wrote the actual piece.

That headline was meant to startle us with a suggestion about These Racist Millennials Today! It did so in the reflexively gloomy way our tribe prefers in these areas.

That said, to what extent are different groups of millennials fully "woke" on race? As we'll note tomorrow, we thought Lewis betrayed a strong instinct to see the glass a tiny bit empty, rather than largely full.

Specifically, she seemed to say that different groups of millennials differed substantially on matters of race. As she engaged in this familiar reflex, we thought she skipped past the most intriguing data in the survey she reviewed.

Meanwhile, we saw no evidence that any group was less than substantially "woke." We saw nothing which would explain that eye-catching, pleasing headline.

Over at the New York Times, Professor Vavreck was exploring a slightly different question. In these highly partisan times, she wanted to know if we the people even agree on what it means to be an American!

"[T]he 2016 election made clear that there isn’t universal agreement on what it means to be an American," she somewhat vaguely, and rather gloomily, said. (Her piece appeared in Saturday's hard-copy Times.) She went on to frisk the views expressed by members of various groups concerning the importance of immigration status, knowledge of English, ancestry and religion.

In our view, the professor's analysis seemed a bit gloomy—and she seemed inclined to place her thumbs on familiar scales. Almost as if by rule of law, she found that Those People, the ones who voted for Donald J. Trump, hold "exclusionary conceptions of American identity" on the basis of their answers to a set of survey questions.

She focused on the (relatively minor) degree to which responses by Trump voters differed from responses by other groups. She referred to the "stark differences" between Trump voters and these various groups, downplaying the fact that their answers agreed with those of the other groups in much larger measure.

Lewis is a Washington Post intern; Vavreck is a professor at UCLA. Despite their differences, we were struck by the degree to which each seemed inclined to overlook substantial points of agreement between different groups among us, the people.

The instinctive creation of Us and Them! It has always been one of our strongest human inclinations. Again and again, we liberals tend to picture the world in this gloomy manner.

We liberals! Are we disinclined, at this point in time, to take yes for an answer? Are we inclined to shun stronger together in favor of weaker apart?

Tomorrow: The data on these sleeping and woke millennials today!


  1. Millennials don't exist, and neither do any other "generation" as a group of people.


  2. Well, as the neoliberal establishment is collapsing, igniting culture wars, doubling down on identity politics, denouncing the ideological 'infidels' - and even organizing thugs to attack them on the streets - is their natural defensive reflex. Nothing new or unexpected here.

    1. Why does Alex Jones call his show "InfoWars"?

    2. "Nothing new or unexpected here."

      Same goes for your useless, troll-bot comment.

  3. Somerby is confused. In terms of categorization, people who focus on similarities between items will tend to place them all in one category. They are called "lumpers" because they lump things together. Those who focus on differences between those same items will form many more categories based on those differences. They are called "splitters." This tendency to lump or split seems to be a personality or individual difference among people.

    There are cognitive consequences to these two approaches. Noticing differences is important to analysis -- the process of breaking items down into their parts and understanding how those parts fit together. Noticing similarities is important to synthesis -- the process of forming wholes out of disparate parts, putting parts together. Both are important aspects of thinking.

    In school, students who engage primarily in synthetic thinking, noticing similarities and glossing differences, have a very hard time understanding subtle distinctions, what makes one thing different from another. They have trouble with analogies and with taxonomic systems. Those who are primarily analytic miss the big picture, cannot see the forest for the trees.

    This is a version of the hedgehog versus the fox controversy. The hedgehog knows many things and knits them together. The fox knows one thing but knows it very well. It is the generalist versus the specialist. Specialists focus on differences and go deep. Generalists focus on similarities, especially across subfields, and they bring things together. And the two groups argue with each other.

    Attributing one quality to liberals makes no sense at all. There are no doubt some liberals who do this and others who do not. It is not the exclusive approach of any political perspective.

    But Somerby only knows philosophy. If he had taken a psychology course, the world wouldn't be so upsetting and confusing to him.

    1. [QUOTE] There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'. Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defense. But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general.... [END QUOTE]

      The Hedgehog and the Fox

      Sir Isaiah Berlin
      Simon & Schuster, New York, 1953.

  4. Somerby doesn't like professors much. Their basic tool is analysis -- the reduction of an entity to its parts in order to better understand it.

    Of course Trump voters are going to be the same as non-Trump voters in many ways. We are all human beings. Does understanding the similarities provide the same useful knowledge as understanding the differences?

    Emphasizing the similarities will perhaps make everyone feel warm and fuzzy. Will it help candidates know how to appeal to Trump voters? Will it help anyone know how to change their behavior, their choices? Probably not. Will it help us understand what happened in the last election to study the similarities instead of the differences? No. What are professors interested in knowing? Maybe not the same things as Somerby wants to know.

    Do stand up comedians get laughs by emphasizing the similarities between people, their universalities, or by describing the differences? Might this affect the say Somerby approaches reading the news?

  5. Somerby is trying to tell us not to focus on differences. His heart is in the right place, but it isn't the differences that are the problem, it is the stigmatizing of difference.

    This 1943 propaganda film is a better explanation. It doesn't advocate ignoring or doing away with difference or emphasizing difference, it advocates valuing difference because we are a country of people with differences (they say in the film, of minorities).

    It is an up hill battle to stop people from thinking in ways that are normal cognition. It is better to teach people to attach value to difference, not solely similarity. Somerby can start there, but he then needs to change his approach to his stupid glass half full obsession.

    Personally, I'd like to see the Bernie Bros stop attacking Democrats from within our party.

    1. Forgot the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dont-be-a-sucker-government-fascism-film_us_599127a8e4b09071f69aa4ee?ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009

    2. @11:27 I've been a Democrat for going on 40 years. Personally I prefer Bernie's progressive populist message to the Clinton's DLC corporate/Wall Street stance. The way I see it, it's no more your party than it is mine.

    3. It isn't Bernie's party because he isn't a Democrat.

    4. He's caucused with the Democrats for decades. He's more a Democrat than the DLC-types posing as Democrats who've pretty much brought the party down to where it is today.

    5. Bernie’s Senate "About" page describes him as "the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history." ... as in, NOT a Democrat. You may choose not to remember how he denounced the Democratic Party (as well as its leading candidate), and how gleefully the GOP quoted him during the general campaign, but others do.

  6. The Jews in Berlin tried assimilation. It didn't work. Most felt they were more German than Jewish. Others did not agree.

    Difference, or lack of difference, is not the problem. Political opportunism that exploits a sense of grievance to gain power -- that's the problem, whether the perpetrators are pissants in the streets of Charlottesville or our wayward President.

    1. Demagoguery is an appeal to people that plays on their emotions and prejudices rather than on their rational side. Demagoguery is a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people. Demagoguery isn't based on reason, issues, and doing the right thing; it's based on stirring up fear and hatred to control people. For example, a politician who stirs up a fear of immigrants to distract from other issues is using demagoguery. Demagoguery is one of the most negative aspects of politics, but it's also one that's all too common.