I’m trying to get you to engage in crimethink

Off in my corner, out of sight of the telescreen, writing down my subversive thoughts...

Off in my corner, out of sight of the telescreen, writing down my subversive thoughts…

Back on my post last night expressing horror at the number of South Carolinians (49 percent!) who voted straight-party on Tuesday, Lynn T. posted this thoughtful comment, to which I responded, and I thought the exchange was worth its own post. Lynn’s comment:

The parties have successfully sold the idea that they stand for a consistent set of values and priorities. Anyone who watches actual votes and decisions knows better, but few citizens do. First we have to set aside the cases in which consistency isn’t a reasonable goal because pragmatic lawmaking requires compromises. Even excluding those cases, the variation is substantial. One Democratic senator campaigned on his 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce, normally more closely associated with the Republican Party. At the same time, his environmental record was not nearly as positive as that of some Republicans, who are usually perceived as more inclined toward business than environmental preservation. There are Republicans who support no-excuse early voting without adding “poison pill” restrictions, and others who take a very different direction. The diminished resources of the press in this state are a serious problem because the press is the closest thing we have to a reality check. If The State had as many reporters on the State House as on Gamecock football it would be fabulous. But then if more citizens cared about their government as much as they do about Gamecock football, it would be fabulous.

My response:

What the parties — and the media, and interest groups, and practically everyone whose profession has to do with politics — have successfully sold is the binary paradigm.

Almost all of the people who write or talk about, or otherwise deal with politics for a living, talk about political decision as being a choice between two options, and two options only. Either-or. Left-right. Democrat-Republican. Black-white.

And because that’s the way THEY talk and write about it, the rest of the public does the same. Why? Because they lack the vocabulary to speak or think about politics any other way. It’s a very Orwellian situation. The point of Newspeak in 1984 is to eliminate all words that express concepts that would free people’s minds. If they don’t have words for a concept that would be a thoughtcrime, they can’t engage in crimethink.

Too many people just can’t think beyond the notion that good people like me vote THIS way, and only this way, and that people who vote that other way are bad.

The way rank and file voters react to Nikki Haley offers a good example of this phenomenon. Among in-the-know Republicans — the Inner Party members, carrying forward the 1984 analogy — have never liked her much, although I sense a lot of them have now warmed to her.

But among the great masses of people who think of themselves as Republicans, if you criticize Nikki Haley, then you are a liberal Democrat. This, to them, is a truth that cannot be disputed. There can be no other explanation for your criticism.

I know this from personal experience. I actually have missed out on getting a job because the boss was convinced I was “left of center.” Why? Because I’ve criticized Nikki Haley. That was the entire explanation. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I knew I’d have trouble working for someone who didn’t think any more clearly that that, so sour grapes.

Cindi Scoppe and I both got that a lot over the years. And the idea that either of us is a liberal Democrat is risible to anyone who looks and listens and thinks. But otherwise bright people who don’t think about this stuff all the time believe it as a matter of course, because their paradigm admits no other explanation.

Back when Jim Hodges and Bill Clinton were in office, we caught similar hell from Democrats. Their notion that we were right-wingers was equally laughable, but you couldn’t convince THEM of that. (I’ll never forget one through-the-looking-glass experience I had speaking to a small group of academics back when Hodges was in office. They sat there with these stony looks of hostility on their faces. They finally let me know that, because I was opposed to Hodges and his “education lottery,” I was an enemy of public education — despite the fact that we had written FAR more over the years as champions of the schools than we had written about Hodges and his plan. They could not be moved. They sat there and informed me I had never lifted a finger for education. They were adamant in their absurd belief.)

As you say, Lynn, “Anyone who watches actual votes and decisions knows better, but few citizens do.” Posts such as this one are part of my campaign to gradually wear away at the bars of the average citizen’s mind prison, which was largely created by my colleagues in the media…

11 thoughts on “I’m trying to get you to engage in crimethink

  1. Karen Pearson

    The constant use of negative ads really drives this form of extreme politics. I don’t think I heard more than 1 or 2 positive ads this last campaign. Mostly the ads were devoted to demonizing the other person and or his/her party. I suggest that we will not escape these extremes until we stop negative ads. Now, how to put the evil genie back in the bottle. Any suggestions?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s not just the ads. It’s the entire thrust of campaigns now. I think one reason Vincent Sheheen didn’t do as well as he did four years ago was the unrelenting negativity of his campaign — practically every release I saw was about how bad Nikki Haley was.

      The people who run campaigns and parties and interest groups are funded by constant, drip-drip-drip appeals to potential funders that are all about how horrible the opposition is. It’s monotonous, offensive, and has a corrosive effect on our republic…

  2. Karen Pearson

    Where do most people see the thrust of campaigns, except in the ads? Those negative ads generate the most votes because they get people stirred up about hot button issues, and because it’s easy to pick you preferred candidate if you perceive the other as the devil incarnate. When the ads are positive, those who don’t make careful comparisons are less likely to vote. I don’t think that’s a bad idea. In fact, I think the negative ads tend to turn thinking voters off. It leaves a bad taste to vote for either of the likely winners. I have heard several people say that they wrote in their own names as a protest vote. I can’t say I blame them.

  3. Norm Ivey

    Here’s a study from Stanford that suggests that politics is more divisive than race now.
    “Almost all of the people who write or talk about, or otherwise deal with politics for a living, talk about political decision as being a choice between two options, and two options only. Either-or. Left-right. Democrat-Republican. Black-white.”

    So how do we change that? Where do we go (and encourage our friends to go) to get politically unbiased reporting? The Internet has given me the resources to do my own digging: I can fact-check, find historical precedents, research how other nations or communities have addressed issues important to me, and find what science says. Unfortunately, many of my friends and relatives don’t have the desire to do research, or they are suspect of my leanings, and refuse to look at information I suggest.

    Political polarization scares me more than ISIS, ebola, the economy–pretty much everything except global warming, but it looks like we are going to continue down that track for some time.

    1. Brad Warthen

      Yep. We’re messed up. As I keep saying.

      And it’s all so stupid. Attachment to a party means no more than being a fan of USC or Clemson. Of course, I see people making way too much of THAT, too.

      I don’t get tribalism…

      1. Norm Ivey

        I get tribalism–it’s exactly what drives fans to fanaticism for a team, hipsters to drink PBR, and gangs to form. We all have the need to belong. It’s level 3 of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs–belonging. And maybe that’s where we are as a society–we’ve stunted our psychological development and we’re stuck at that level.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I don’t think I feel it. At least, it doesn’t manifest itself in the usual ways. I can’t begin to understand the way people relate to parties, why they don’t find them repulsive. I don’t think I’ll ever refer to a sports team as “we” when I’m not an actual member of the team (which, no matter how many thousands of times I hear it — from friends and family as well as strangers — still strikes me as odd).

          Maybe it’s because, going by the Myers-Briggs test, I’m extremely introverted. Which, under that system, means I get my energy and my approval from within. Sometimes this manifests itself in ways that make me practically antisocial. For instance, yes, I belong to a CLUB. But the club is, for me, a place to eat breakfast by myself and read the papers. (Of course, I DO interact with people, which is part of my excuse for having the membership. But when greeting is over, the part I enjoy most is the quiet reading and reflection.)

          I’ve always thought that if I could have realized my childhood dream of being a Marine (which health problems prevented), I might have had that sense of belonging. Whenever I think about tattoos, I think, there is only one way that I could imagine ever getting one: If I had been a Marine, I might have gotten “USMC” tattooed on my deltoid, like the guy in “Gladiator” with “SPQR.” Or if I’d been in the Navy, an anchor. Since I never served, I can’t imagine marking myself for life with any symbol…

          1. Norm Ivey

            “I get my energy and my approval from within. ”

            The Armchair Psychologist thinks: Sounds like maybe you’ve satisfied your need to belong and are working on one of the higher needs–esteem and self actualization.

            The only tattoo I’ve ever given serious thought to getting would be one that would only be visually complete when combined with a tattoo that my bride would get at the same time. And we never went further with that idea than a pleasant conversation.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, that Stanford study about “partyism” is the same one David Brooks wrote about a couple of weeks ago. It struck a chord in me. As he wrote, “the best recent research suggests that there’s more political discrimination than there is racial discrimination.”

      This small point, which Brooks mentioned but didn’t say anything about, struck me:

      Race influenced decisions. Blacks favored black students 73 percent to 27 percent, and whites favored black students slightly. But political cues were more powerful. Both Democrats and Republicans favored students who agreed with them 80 percent of the time. They favored students from their party even when other students had better credentials.

      Did you catch that? “Blacks favored black students 73 percent to 27 percent, and whites favored black students slightly.

      That result, among top college students, doesn’t surprise me. White kids who go to Stanford probably grew up believing that they needed to make a particular effort to give black candidates a chance. The black students ALSO believe other black folk need a break.

      This feeds into something that I think is true today about race in America. I think the cognitive disconnect between black and white is greater, and perhaps more of a problem, than traditional racial prejudice. Which is something that mostly only white guys like me say, which is part of the cognitive disconnect. Black folks think white folks just don’t see the racism because they’re not black don’t experience it; white folks think black folks don’t see how nonracist most white’s minds and hearts are, because they’re not white.

      So we have bizarre moments like the O.J. Simpson verdict. Black people celebrated because a brother got a break. White people looked at their black friends celebrating and thought, “What the HELL…?” Because they saw it as another rich guy with expensive lawyers beating a rap; race had nothing to do with it. (Or at least I did; I suppose it’s wrong to think other whites thought as I did.)

      I have no doubt that there’s not a black person in America who hasn’t experienced old school racism at some time. And once you’ve experienced it, I can see how that would put you on guard against it all the time. White folks aren’t subjected to that same trauma, so they see it as anomalous, and not the norm.

      All that aside, though, I take Brooks’ point that partyism is the new racism — a socially acceptable form of being arbitrarily prejudiced toward another group of people…

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