FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2021
...and should stop peddling The Stupid: One week ago, the column in question made a fairly obvious point.
According to the column in question, Americans should stop with the "sweeping generalizations" about members of various groups.
(For example, about such groups as "white women.")
And not only that! According to the column in question, we Americans should avoid creating "a society with rampant dehumanization, where people are barraged with crude stereotypes that are increasingly detached from the complexities of reality and make them feel unseen as individuals."
We should avoid those crude stereotypes, along with the rampant dehumanization those stereotypes engender. That's what the column said!
According to the column in question, we tend to create a society like the one described when we engage in those "sweeping generalizations" about those various groups—but especially, about groups to which we don't belong, about groups we may even disfavor.
We shouldn't engage in "crude stereotypes" about members of various groups! You'd think this would be an obvious suggestion—but if you did, you'd be wrong.
The column in question appeared in the New York Times. After reading the column in question, we wondered ig the paper's readers would be able to tolerate thess fairly obvious suggestions.
We clicked on comments, and started to read. At that time, the third and the tenth comments went exactly like this:
COMMENTER FROM CS: I'm a lifelong Democrat, in my late 60's. Taking my political party as a group, I am proud to identify myself as a member. My group believes in equal rights and opportunities for all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. My group believes in science and understands the existential threat posed by climate change. My group believes in a strong social safety net that will provide health care to all of our citizens. My group understands the importance of knowledge and learning, and supports affordable higher education for all of us.
The other group? Trumpists? (There are no more true Republicans). Well, their group believes in white nationalism. Their group believes that their extreme view of Christianity should be the law of the land for all of us. Their group disdains education and sneers at those of us who have college degrees as "elitists." Their group believes that "rights" mean they are entitled to do literally anything they want, regardless of the harm they cause others—as is evidenced by their behavior during a once in a century pandemic.
I'm proud to align myself with my political group, as it strives to help all Americans. Those folks in the other group, however, ought to be ashamed of themselves.
COMMENTER FROM COLORADO: Oh, please. I recall the days after the November 2020 election when our NPR station hosted "breaking bread" chats for Biden and Trump voters. Biden voters would say "I learned a lot about their issues" while Trump voters would say "I think they learned a lot about our issues." Get the difference, David?
Today, those comments hold a privileged place in the column's comments section.
Those comments stand as the top two entries in the list of comments designated as "Reader Picks." Of the 1,201 comments to the column in question, these two comments were recommended by the largest number of New York Times readers!
They're also included in the list of comments designated as "NYT Picks." Some editor may have thought they were outstanding comments, worthy of recommendation.
Different people will react to those comments in different ways. We'll only note that these commenters instantly engaged in the kinds of "sweeping generalizations" the column in question discussed.
In addition, we'll have to add this:
With apologies, the comment from Colorado could hardly be much dumber. The commenter characterizes something said by some small number of Trump voters on some particular NPR program or programs.
(The commenter may have been referring to this "civic experiment," in which "six Coloradans, three who voted for Trump and three who didn't, br[oke] bread together" in May 2017.)
Based on reported comments by a few Trump voters, the commenter seems to make a sweeping generalization about 74.2 million other Trump voters. The conduct could hardly be dumber, but the conduct is deeply human.
Meanwhile, the comment from "CS" is an absolute classic in the field of sweeping generalization:
Everyone in the commenter's group is honest, upstanding and pure. Everyone in the other group—in the group which is despised—is heinous all the way down.
Everyone in the other group "believes that their extreme view of Christianity should be the law of the land for all of us, disdains education and sneers at those of us who have college degrees." Everyone in the other group even "believes in white nationalism!"
Inevitably, everyone in the other group "ought to be ashamed of themselves." This is the essence of the conduct the column in question described.
It would be hard to overstate the stupidity of that second presentation. But it received the second most recommendations from New York Times readers, trailing only the number of recommendations garnered by the amazing stupid comment which generalized from statements reportedly made by a handful of people who spoke on some radio show.
You can't get dumber than those two comments, but members of Our Own Infallible Tribe stood in line to recommend them. This is the nature of "the problem we all currently live with" as one observer after another describes the existential peril our failing nation now faces.
If Democrats hope to win a larger number of future elections, they will almost surely have to peel away a certain number of people who voted for Trump. Sweeping denunciations of this extremely stupid kind may not be the best way to accomplish this task—and yes, this is exactly the kind of thinking which has led to violent tribal wars all across the face of the globe since the dawn of time.
Our human brains are wired for these deeply stupid generalizations. That's true within our vastly self-impressed Blue Tribe, just as it's true within the Red Tribe which is functioning Over There.
As we noted on Monday, the column in question wasn't perfectly reasoned. On the other hand, the basic recommendations the column made were just blindingly obvious—unless you belong to our self-impressed tribe, in which case the love of loathing is often extremely strong.
Our corporate tribunes sell us this porridge on our "cable news" channels. (The red tribe's corporate tribunes behave the same way Over There.) We humans have construed the world in this highly familiar way since we first crawled out on the land.
Today, we're going to make two recommendations to members of our blue tribe. The first recommendation relates to these two deeply stupid comments. We start by noting this:
Everyone who voted for Trump isn't exactly like the most regressive person who voted for Trump. Our constant insistence to the contrary—our love for sweeping claims about the 74 million deplorables—only makes it that much harder to accumulate future votes.
That leads to our first recommendation:
Stop believing those stupid claims about The Others. More significantly, stop making these deeply stupid statements in public.
That would be our first bit of advice. Our second recommendation concerns the widely-discussed recent colloquy between Ezra Klein and David Shor.
Shor makes a suggestion which is perfectly sensible, at least as far as it goes. He suggests that Democrats should stop discussing unpopular ideas—should concentrate on policies and programs which are broadly popular.
That suggestion is perfectly sensible, at least as far as it goes. That said, a principled person might respond by saying that we sometimes need to discuss unpopular values and ideas if we hope to move the society forward.
That statement makes sense too, though it's subject to widespread abuse. And since many members of our tribe will want to discuss issues involving gender, ethnicity, immigration and "race," we'll offer this second suggestion:
Stop making The Stupidest Possible Comments when you discuss such important topics.
Our vastly self-impressed tribe spills with such unhelpful comments. Our assistant, associate and adjunct professors often lead the way in this area, joined by some of our corporate "cable news" stars.
They love to make the kinds of dumb remarks which mainly succeed in convincing The Others that our tribe is dumb as a sack of rocks, or that we're committed to unpleasant values and perhaps to hidden outcomes. These frameworks now appear in the Washington Post and the New York Times every single day, though members of our own tribe may not be able to spot them.
As with all human tribes, our own tribe—at least on balance—can be extremely dumb. As with all very dumb human tribes, we love to praise Ourselves and to denigrate The Others.
We love to make inane remarks without stopping to consider The Way We Look to Others. When tribal members do such things, we shower them with "recommendations." This is the way of the world.
This is the way we humans behave until we teach ourselves not to. If we want to win more elections, maybe our vastly self-impressed tribe should rein this impulse in.
Please don't do X, the column said. Our tribe took that as a challenge! According to major anthropologists, such is the way of the world.
Next week: People in Anchorage, people right here / The way people look to others