Behavior Economics

Trump vs. Obama: a new theory of why Republicans and Democrats fight – Vox

Love this article. I think y’all’ll love it, too. One of my favorite formats on is the interview of an author of a recently published book. The author explains the central thesis of the book, so you don’t have to buy it.. err… so you can decide whether you want to buy it or not. It comes off as smart and insightful, and I’ve always learned a lot from it.

In this one, Ezra Klein interviews Marc Hetherington about the book, Prius or Pickup that he co-wrote with Jonathan Weiler. They’re political scientists, y’all. The book is based on a heap of research they did that correlates personal values with views on the current issues of the day.

They’ve concluded that the central divide between Repubes and Dems is fear of change versus embracing change, viewing the world as dangerous or as safe, having a fixed worldview or having a fluid worldview. I don’t know how new this insight into the divide of our partisan politics is. I’ve certainly held it for a long time.

It works like this, though. Repubes view the world as a dangerous place, so they don’t want to risk change. They are risk averse. They like the old traditions and hierarchies that got us to where we are today. In this worldview, you recognize that you have to dismember a reporter or two or teargas seven year olds on occasion to maintain the status quo. It just makes sense. As progressives, we just don’t get that because we hate our country and want to see it destroyed. See??!? See how dangerous the world is???!? The liberals want to destroy the country! How much more dangerous can it be? Luckily, we have memes, gifs, and emojis to stop them with. If we all just post them on liberal social media threads often enough, they’ll eventually understand and come to love Fascist America and the New Cruelty.

Progressives, though, view the world as a safer place. They are more risk tolerant. They’ll accept the risk of change believing that (a) life is change, (b) the benefits of change frequently outweigh the costs, and (c) we are strong enough to withstand any damage done by change. We are willing to question traditions, especially those that perpetrate values that we don’t agree with like discrimination, oppression, racism, and sexism.

I want to highlight some of the invaluable points made in the interview:

The current ideological conflict between the political parties is centered on risk aversion. On the right, the world is a dangerous place, we’d best hunker down and dance with the one what brung us. On the left, the world is mostly safe, let’s live a little and go out and explore. But, this is a relatively recent conflict. Before it was over the size of government with Dems favoring a big robust active government a la FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society and Repubes wanting to drown the baby in bathwater as they tossed it out the window so we can all live under the heal of robber barons and monopolies. It used to be that you had risk averse Dems who wanted limited change and small expansions of government and risk tolerant Repubes who would give that baby mouth-to-mouth resuscitation once in a while.

I think it is important that we remember that what we have now isn’t normal and is quite destructive. Because we’ve organized our political parties based on approaches to risk, we can’t understand each other. If you think that the world is dangerous, then you want to protect yourself and promote safety at all costs even if it means putting some innocent Muslims in Guantanamo for the rest of their lives or executing innocent Black men either by the police on the streets or after being convicted by a jury of white people. Those are sacrifices worth making to keep white conservative Christians feeling safe in their homes in Cancer Alley.

If you think the world is safe and change beneficial, then those are not costs worth paying.

Another point: fear will make people conservative in their judgments and perceptions of risk. That’s why for the past two mid-term elections we’ve seen such remarkable dissembling around scary boogeymen: the Ebola carrying ISIS members are going to infecting us with Ebola before cutting our heads off — remember that one? And the caravan of dirty infectious illegal migrants is going to storm the border and crime us all to death with their dirty infected crimes.

You know, just as an aside, I wish more reporters would read Ye Olde Blogge to inoculate themselves against some of this inane bull shit. Once you see it for what it is, you don’t get fooled by it so often. Because, let’s face it, they were bringing some weak shit into our electoral house. That weak stuff needed to be rejected.

Hetherington cites the Civil Rights versus Southern Strategy conflict as the beginnings of it all. In some ways, those crusty old white Civil War descendants couldn’t tolerate the changes that were being foisted upon them by the Civil Rights movement. In a word, it scared them. They was scared of a world in which Black people could be treated the same as white people. They was scared of losing their privilege which to them felt like the normal way life should be. So, they fought against it eventually realigning the Old South so that those racist old bigots of the Democratic Party switched to being the racist old bigots of the Repubes, which makes the Repube argument that Dems are the real racists really laughable. 

The Civil Rights movement spawned a whole slew of oppressed groups to seek redress on the public stage. After Black people got the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, womens wanted the Equal Rights AMENDMENT and equal pay for equal work. That quickly gave way to gay men coming out of the closet (except for Sister Lindsey and Mother Pence) and marriage equality. That then brought us to transgender rights. To the average white bigoted conservative Christian, they feel like they are drowning and that it won’t ever stop.

They also feel like it is taking something away from them. They feel like they are losing. They are. They’re losing their privilege, and as Nelsen Mandela said, if rights cannot be enjoyed by everyone, they are no longer rights, they are privileges. White people need to give up our privilege.

One of the most interesting findings of their research is that Black people are in the “the world is a dangerous place” group — think about it, racism makes the world pretty awful for them — and would be natural allies of white bigoted Christian conservatives if they weren’t so black. Go figure.

Almost as interesting as that one is the one that conservatives lie a LOT more than progressives do. They accept the lies that their leadership tell, that their media amplifies, and they repeat to each other. It begins with their leadership, though. Science fact: lying happens a lot more on the right side of the political spectrum than on the left.

I believe that it goes back to motivated reasoning and cognitive dissonance. If your conclusion is that the world is a dangerous place, then you set about proving it. But, as Steven Pinker and others have pointed out, the world is getting a lot safer. So, your worldview is a lie. To maintain that worldview you have to enter into some pretty severe cognitive dissonance and twist the facts around to match even if that means using alternative facts.

This led to an interesting discussion of why there is so much more disinformation coming out of conservative orifices than liberal ones. Is it because conservatives tend to be more authoritarian, so they believe the lies authorities spew at them? Is it because conservatives have just gotten more twisted since Nixon and Reagan? Is there any way of telling? Science has yet to answer this puzzler.

Interestingly, Herrington speculates that it may be that the conservative authoritarian mind really is a snowflake and must have a safe place even if that safe place is created by a lie.

The most likely reason would be a differential need for what psychologists call cognitive closure. Those we consider having fixed worldviews have a greater need for closure which suggests a greater need to avoid cognitive dissonance. They therefore are more likely to believe information that confirms their worldview. These differences may drive the supply of misinformation coming from political elites to some degree.

— Marc Hetherington, A new theory for why Republicans and Democrats see the world differently

If you’d rather read the article and avoid the snarky, sarcasticky, profaney commentary, why the hell did you visit Ye Olde Blogge in the first place and read this far in the second? Anywho, here is the real article in case you want to see what they really said. It is worth reading. It is interesting science.

A new theory for why Republicans and Democrats see the world differently

Our political divisions aren’t red versus blue, but fixed versus fluid.

Ezra Klein @ezraklein 18 December 2018

“Of the many factors that make up your worldview, one is more fundamental than any other in determining which side of the divide you gravitate toward: your perception of how dangerous the world is. Fear is perhaps our most primal instinct, after all, so it’s only logical that people’s level of fearfulness informs their outlook on life.”

That’s political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, writing in their book Prius or Pickup, which marshals a massive trove of survey data and experimental evidence to argue that the roots of our political divides run so deep that they make us almost incomprehensible to one another. Our political divisions, they say, aren’t about policy disagreements, or even demographics. They’re about something more ancient in how we view the world.

Continue reading at Trump vs. Obama: a new theory of why Republicans and Democrats fight – Vox

6 replies »

  1. Here’s an interesting paradox: Climate change is a real danger, an existential threat unless huge changes are undertaken, but conservatives deny its reality and the need for those fundamental changes in how we humans power our ways of life. Why? Simply, they see the changes proposed as more dangerous (because more immediate) than the long-term threats of climate change. Maybe it is even simpler. “Climate Change” includes the word “change”, a trigger by itself for the frightened conservative.

    Liked by 1 person

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