Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Poltics of Fear

My wife and I recently had dinner with two other couples at their home. During the course of the evening the discussion turned political. At one point one of the husbands asked if we would go around the table and reveal who we would likely vote for in 2012. The three wives and I indicated we would likely again vote for Obama; one of the guys was leaning toward Ron Paul. The third guy said he had voted for Obama in 2008 but he would now vote for whoever the Republican nominee was. Clearly the character, experience, or the political platform of the final Republican candidate did not matter whatsoever to him; his vote will simply be “Not Obama”.

During the course of the discussion, Third Guy dropped a few key phrases such as: “Socialism”, “redistribution of the wealth”, “entitlement reform” and finally how Obama’s policies were blatantly “anti-business”. Stereotypical (and mythical) opinions regarding Welfare, Unemployment and Food Stamps were also bandied about. Having personal career experience in administering those programs, I was quick to point out their thinking errors… though I had a sneaking suspicion my facts did little dislodge any already congealed ideas in their minds.

I’m not the best at thinking on my feet and, of course, one often thinks of more salient responses long after the fact. Recalling the previous night’s conversation, the nagging suggestion that Third Guy was a regular consumer of Conservative Talk Media came to mind. Given the opportunity to go back in time to the previous evening, I might have offered the following in reply:

As in publicly run institutions for the greater good such as public schools, municipal water supplies, air traffic control? Third Guy had already revealed he was waiting until he reached 65 to retire so he would not be without medical coverage… you know, in order to quality for that Socialist of all social programs – Medicare.

Redistribution of the wealth:
Is he talking about fearing what he thinks WILL happen; or is he completely ignorant that we have already seen the LARGEST REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH IN OUR NATION’S HISTORY? I am talking about the monumental transfer of ownership from the Middle Class to the upper few percent. There is no shortage of data to confirm this has happened already.

Obama is “anti-business”:
Really? I am curious if the employees of GM, from the highest compensated CEO down to the assembly line, think the government guaranteed LOAN he orchestrated to keep the auto maker from closing, is anti-business. (Conservatives dismiss this as him merely to pay tribute to Unions) The Obama administration even facilitated millions of taxpayer dollars investment in (non union) solar technology company Solyndra, only to have their corporate management squander Our investment and declare bankruptcy. Let’s make this abundantly clear: this private company dropped the ball, not the government.

I find it discouraging to attempt to have any sort of meaningful discussion with people who have surrendered their thinking for mindless parroting of simplistic, and often outright false, propaganda from Conservative handlers. When faced with such doltishness, facts unfortunately become completely irrelevant.

I'll leave you with this little gem I stumbled across on Reddit:


DJan said...

You say it very well. It boggles my mind that people like Third Guy don't see the illogic in their thinking processes. Waiting until he turns 65 to retire so he can get Social Security? Not if his Republican gets in office. It won't be there. Well said, Robert, even if after the fact.

Rain Trueax said...

The frustrating part of this is to mention all you said you wish you had, probably wouldn't sink through. I've tried it with blog commenters, my daughter has tried it on her beloved in-laws. The thinking they are operating under just doesn't seem to react to logic. They are like the citizens in The Emperoro's New Clothes.

Bill Maher refers to it as the bubble and uses the analogy pretty much every week on his show. He has guests who are in one and there simply is no talking to them with facts. The bubble blocks any of the things that might persuade them. The question is from where did the bubble come? And is there a way past it?

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan He sees his OWN logic, apparently... that or the simple catchphrases are logic in themselves to people like him.

Rain A "bubble" is a good way to describe the mind-set, though it is one tough bubble to burst. It is sad and frightening that our fate is in the hands of such a large number of "sheep".

Rubye Jack said...

The thing is that most people are simply not capable of any sort of critical thinking. Or logic for that matter. I like the comment at the end of your post.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I were just talking about this over the weekend. I told him I've finally reconciled myself to the fact that I can't make people think rationally and logically, although I've been able to influence a few. I have to my balance, my "happy place," and accept the facts.

I've also decided there are two types of people in this world (yes, I know this is a gross oversimplification but please bear with me): those who are motivated by logic and reason and those who are persuaded almost solely by emotion.

Now I guess the key is to appeal to certain people's emotions in such a way that it inspires them to start thinking for themselves ... ?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rubye I think many are capable but few avail themselves of the extra work it requires... though yes, some people are just plane stupid.

Dissenter We just got done watching the "Mad Men" series; if there is anything that underscores that people are highly motivated by emotions just look at advertising.

And I have heard that our population formulates roughly 95% of their political opinions/decisions from television advertising. This means that complex topics involving our economy, world affairs, social issues... ALL come down to merely visceral responses to 30-second sound bites - whether they are truthful or false!

This is why propaganda is so remarkably effective.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I think Fox has absolutely brainwashed people. They hear socialism and redistribution of wealth and anti-business so often that it starts to sound true (the phrases have "truthiness," per Stephen Colbert. I fear for our nation, I really do.

Nance said...

You know, I'da been very reluctant to participate in your host's suggestion, which amounted to, "Let's everybody at my dinner party get pissed at each other talking about the one thing we all know is bound to be divisive."

Once upon a time, when conversation with other humans was one of the primary forms of entertainment, there were some fairly elaborate rules that greased the gears and a social ban on discussing politics, sex, and religion is needed now, more than ever.

Meanwhile, those of us who entirely agree with you applaud your valiant effort and thank you for that handy poster.

Antares Cryptos said...

Although I certainly have my opinions, I avoid discussions about politics. Better for my blood pressure.

I am however continuously astonished at the ignorance of people. Critical thinking and analysis should be a made mandatory class in all schools.

Jerry said...

You said it so well.

I think I have discovered that one of my conservative co-workers is afraid. He can't quite articulate what it is her fears, so he trots out the old standby arguments. Perhaps he fears change -- changes in what he grew up to believe.

I really would like to have a reasoned conversation with him, but it seems he reacts fearfully.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent Oh I agree, FOX is a totall propaganda network. Independent studies have polled people and determined that they are completely misinformed about the most basic of current topics.

What seems to be particularly bad, though, is that the Republican party has adjusted it's strategy to dovetail into these influential media manipulators... as if they really represent the true interest of Conservative voters.

Nance I agree that these are often taboo topics at parties... yet on the other hand, sometimes voicing your own opinion in a factual manner just "might" plant the seed of a little cognitive dissonance in someone's brain. You never know.

Cryptos What seems to be mandatory in schools now is achieving the standardized test scores to maintain funding.

Jerry You bring out a very similar observation that I have had as well when you say that the Conservatives you know are unable to articulate their fears. I see comments on my blog, on others, or just general Conservative rants about how, if we elect Obama, the country will be "ruined". My question to these people is always... can you give me specific? What specific rights or liberties been taken from you? What is it you can't do now that you could before? How have you specifically been harmed by Obama's policies? Usually the answers returned are empty stares or shrugs.

That is why I was so frustrated when Third Guy said Obama is "anti business"... oh yeah? Examples, please. [sighs]

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Obama haters are going to hate him no matter what. And - maybe not in this instance since the guy you speak about voted for him - I have a hard time believing that ALL the Obama hate is related to politics, if you catch my drift.

Heidrun Khokhar said...

Where does the real power of the nation reside?

Obama is just working within a framework that he has to and he's coping and will continue to do just fine because he uses his wits carefully. The country will be in good hands for another four years.

What is not so predictable is how the world will be. There are many pressure points almost ready to pop.
I think Obama has shown he can be calm and rational.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dawn I do catch your drift, and according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, hate groups of all stripes are realizing an increase.

I did not support GW Bush, I didn't agree with his policies, I thought he was bad for our country... but I never hated Bush and I never wished for him to be harmed in any way beyond being removed from office.

Heidrun I would agree with your assessment; though I still am very suspicious for a government system that relies so heavily on the power and influence of corporations which have their interests at the forefront.

Paul said...

Some fear is justified, but a lot of fear (I think) is based on insufficient knowledge. Fear is a normal human response to a perceived threat - over-reaction gets is in trouble.

Heidrun Khokhar said...

Robert your suspicions are valid but that system is now deeply entangled on a world scale. I doubt any leader is now free to mess with that. While it's an US election it's more than that. The balance of world power is at a critical place. While Americans wish for their country to be a place where dreams can still come true, that vision now includes most people in most nations.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul I fully agree with what you say and why.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Heidrun I agree that many share a similar vision of the world. Unfortunately conflict arises where those in power promote a vision that is focused more on self-interest.