MONDAY, JANUARY 24, 2022
Empathy for the devil: On Saturday, we called attention to what we called "a very important post."
The piece had been posted by Kevin Drum. It sat beneath this headline:
Fox News viewers don’t deserve contempt. Save it for the folks fleecing them.
People who watch Fox News "don't deserve contempt," Drum said. As we noted, early commenters to Drum's post didn't seem to agree with that sentiment.
To some extent, neither did Drum himself! The blogger wasn't a total squish. He'd ended his post in the manner shown:
DRUM (1/22/22): We can and should treat the founders, shareholders, employees, advertisers, and boosters of Fox News with nothing but shame and contempt. They know the harm they're causing, but the money is good so they keep on doing it.
But it's a different story for the rank-and-file viewers of Fox News. They're victims as much as the rest of us. It's hard to say that they should be treated with empathy—I guess I'm just not a good enough person to go that far—but at the very least they should be recognized for what they are: marks in a con game run by Rupert Murdoch. They don't deserve the contempt that the folks helping to run the con so richly deserve.
Please understand! Drum doesn't feel empathy for those who watch Fox. They just don't deserve our contempt!
Does anyone agree with Drum's general view? We can't say that anyone does!
As we sit here typing, Drum's web site records the fact that his post has received exactly 50 comments. By our count, that includes 20 original, "first order" comments, along with 30 responses to those original comments.
Some people posted more than once. But of the 40-something different people who posted something about Drum's post, we can't say that a single one agreed with what Drum said.
No one really seemed to agree. The closest anyone came was this:
COMMENT 11: The reality is there's more than one type of Fox News viewer. Some are racist jerks who know, deep in their hearts, that the outcomes they want are profoundly wrong and unjust. But they support the things they do (and consume the news they consume) out of resentment and bitterness. They're like Gollum. I know one or two like these. And there are also Fox News viewers who genuinely are entirely bereft of the ability to analyze what's going on in the world. And they really do believe the stuff Murdoch pushes on them. Such people are profoundly ignorant.
The world is a complicated place.
"The world is a complicated place," this commenter said. He based his assessment on this observation:
Some Fox viewers are "racist jerks" who know what they want is wrong. The rest of the people who watch Fox are merely "profoundly ignorant."
Did this commenter feel empathy for the latter group—for the profoundly ignorant people who are getting conned? Did he feel that this subset of Fox viewers don't deserve our contempt?
The commenter didn't explicitly state his view on such points. But that's what one of Drum's commenters said—and it was the kindest remark anyone made in response to Drum's challenging post.
We also raised a question lst Saturday—a question about the "forgeries" Rachel keeps talking about on her MSNBC program. Our basic question was this:
Why does Rachel keep describing the documents in question that way, even as she keeps looking for ways to charge all the forgers with crimes?
In recent weeks, Rachel has been calling those documents "forgeries" again and again and again. She uses the term over and over and over and over, and then she says it some more.
To our ear, this is clownish proselytization—but "rank-and-file viewers" of MSNBC love her for conduct like this! A judgmental person could almost argue that we over here in our self-impressed tribe are "marks in a con game" too.
For ourselves, we don't necessarily think that Rachel is trying to run a con. Our guess would be that she's mainly a true believer. We'll guess she truly believes that good would be done by charging a whole lot of Others with serious crimes.
For the record, Rachel wants to charge Giuliani and Trump and Sidney Powell with crimes. (We're inclined to think that these people—Sidney Powell, let's say—possibly seem to be mentally ill in some unexplored way.)
Rather plainly, Rachel wants to see those high-profile figures charged with serious crimes. But she apparently wants to do the same for a whole lot of lesser figures—for people who may just be "marks."
A basic piece of anthropology is involved in each of these theaters. It involves the way we human beings tend to divide into tribes.
It involves the way we're inclined to view Others once we've split into such groups. It leads us toward a basic question, one each person might seek to answer:
In the end, do we actually like other people? Do we like and respect other people in some fundamental way? Or can we only like and respect those with whom we're aligned?
Again and again, then again and again, the answer seems fairly clear. This is especially true at times like these—at times of strong partisan conflict.
All week long, we'll sift through the twin phenomena we've mentioned above. We'll look at what Drum's commenters said—and we'll look at Rachel Maddow's recent ridiculous transcripts.
In our view, Rachel tends to have very unhelpful impulses and instincts. We'd say she strongly tilts toward true belief—toward being a dedicated adept of the one infallible tribe.
Absent strong supervision, she never should have been put on the air to begin with. But in our tribe, we love her most of all our stars—and we thrill to her repeated constructs, in which so many of The Others seem to be guilty of crimes.
Some Fox viewers "are profoundly ignorant." The other Fox viewers are worse!
That's what one of Drum's commenters said—and that was the kindest comment anyone appended to Drum's surprising post.
Those reactions by Drum's readers constitute an anthropology lesson. As our society slides toward the sea, it tells us something about the basic wiring of our highly imperfect species.
According to leading experts, Rachel's impulse toward criminalization conveys the same sobering lesson. Our species is strongly war-inclined, these disconsolate experts all say.
We're heavily wired for tribal vision—for the war of the Us against Them. Empathy for the devil is out. So is the simplest kind of nuance, along with the tragic vision and basic human respect.
Tomorrow: The 37 blows