Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What "Hating America" Really Means

One of the interesting differences between the two groups of people in the American political system who spend lots of time talking about each other and very little time listening to each other is that the "conservative" ones usually want to make their audience angry and the "liberal" ones usually want to make their audiences laugh.



The "liberal" ones have a really easy job, because the "conservative" ones are so into making their core audience angry that they don't even care about making sense to anybody else. If they speak to the other side at all, it's only to pick fights.



One of the crazier statements to come from the "conservative" side is that various Americans hate America.

This group of people which claims this, they've kind of always had a weird denial that their interests are specifically their interests. It's kind of like how Christian fundamentalists angrily protest that teaching evolution threatens their society. They never actually do it accurately. They always say that teaching evolution threatens all American society, as if their religious beliefs - and indeed, their seriousness about religion in the first place - were a universal American thing. Teaching evolution is no threat at all to American society, but it really is a very serious threat to their particular sub-culture.

I think the idea that their sub-culture is a sub-culture would offend them tremendously, but I can't figure out why. It seems pretty obvious, just in terms of sheer numbers. I've also never been able to figure out whether this was a malicious denial or merely a foolish one. Are they actively opposed to acknowledging other Americans are also American, or do they just really not know?

Either way, the key to understanding the "XYZ hates America" madness is that it's never meant for XYZ to hear. These people aren't interested in communicating with XYZ. What they're doing is saying to their core audience, "XYZ is an enemy. Don't pay attention to anything they say." It isn't about making sense. It's about spreading panic and fear, and drawing a line in the sand. This is why the "liberal" commentators like to be funny. Laughter dismantles panic and fear.

As far as I can tell, the biggest point of argument between "liberals" and "conservatives" in American politics is whether to laugh or fight.

I would say that the "liberals" win absolutely, except for the fact that the "liberals" never seem like they want to make the "conservatives" laugh too. And that really makes the entire thing massively dysfunctional. There is no voice of reason; there's just insane paranoia and dismissive laughter.

I think the "conservatives" are wrong about everything, except that we should take this division seriously.

10 comments:

  1. Got a comment on this, rejected at moderation because it was rude. Interesting, though, in a weird way.

    It basically said these four things go together:

    pro-abortion
    pro gay rights
    against family
    anti-American

    I think the most obvious explanation for the "liberals" looking to make people laugh and the "conservatives" looking to make people angry might be that the "liberals" want to laugh and the "conservatives" want to be angry. whatever floats your boat, I guess.

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  2. If you've ever listened to Air America I think you'd agree it's targeted at getting "liberals" scared and angry. Only thing is AA isn't doing so hot, so I guess "liberals" don't like that tact. What I find is that "conservatives" on TV try to make their core audience angry, but "conservatives" on the radio do both. They try to raise concern on certain issues for the base, and they throw in some anti-liberal comedy, which is good for a laugh.

    My read on it is when "conservatives" say that "liberals" hate America, they don't mean that "liberals" hate this continent, or what they deem the country stands for, but rather they hate the dominant American culture. There's a difference. What I think the "conservatives" are saying is that most Americans like the American culture, but most "liberals" hate it, disparage it, and try to change it through institutional change every chance they get. This effectively marginalizes people within those institutions who used to be accepted, in favor of certain people who they feel have been excluded. You don't have to look too closely to see this: exclude the Boy Scouts, and the military from schools and college campuses--they're deemed anti-gay, therefor bigoted, therefor evil and bad--and make every effort to assuage the fears of gays and minorities, to be "inclusive". I like the idea of trying to include those who are different. I do think that "liberals" have gone too far doing this, because both Boy Scouts and the military have good things to offer, even though their values disagree with those of "liberals".

    I guess the question I'm asking is can't public institutions disagree with organizations without outright excluding them from participation? Does "tolerance" only apply to skin color, or sexual orientation, or can it also apply to ideas and values? I don't mean that all ideas should be entertained all the time. Like I was saying before, I don't think teaching ID should be a formal part of science class. I think it would be perfectly fine to discuss it in some other class, if it dovetailed with a relevant curricular topic.

    Even if you think these organizations suck, wouldn't you agree it's more difficult to engage them, to recognize they are basically good organizations with some perceived flaws, if you exclude them?

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  3. I'm not so sure the dominant American culture really is dominant. I think to a certain extent it's an idea about how America used to be, rather than a reality of how it is now. People like to talk about farmers as if they were the heart of America, but software engineers outnumber farmers 2 to 1. There are more World of Warcraft players in our country than farmers.

    To a certain extent I think there's a culture which is invested in thinking of itself as dominant, without actually being dominant. For example, Caucasians are an ethnic minority in California, yet Caucasians predominate in the state legislature. What is the dominant culture in California? The answer probably varies depending on whether you mean politically dominant or socially dominant.

    I do think the current situation is too polarized. On the other hand, I think the idea that people are somehow entitled to cultural or political dominance is pretty unhealthy.

    Neal Stephenson's solution in Snow Crash was to permit bigotry of the type perpetrated by the Scouts and the military, give people total economic freedom, arm the oppressed, and make responding to violence with violence simply legal. I think he was being extremely lazy, in that a serious analysis will show you problems with that very quickly, but I kind of see where he's coming from. As long as there isn't government money in the Scouts, or violence being done, they should probably be free to organize around whatever values they want to organize around. In practice, though, government money is usually involved.

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  4. Less politics, more programming.

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  5. Meh. I was planning to launch my campaign here, but maybe I'll start for another blog for that instead.

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  6. Don't listen to that anonymous guy. I came to your blog for Ruby and through Ruby, but I stayed because of your opinionated articles.

    I also happen to agree to about everything you say, but then I'm European, so what you say just strikes me as common sense, not as some sort of fringe belief.

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  7. My parents come from England. Most non-Europeans would consider them European. So I'm a first-generation American.

    This bit here:

    pro-abortion
    pro gay rights
    against family
    anti-American


    I can't even figure out how those things are supposed to be connected. Like if you're a European reader and you're like, hmmm, I wonder how those things are connected, I'll read an American blog and then I'll know, well, the bad news is, we don't know either. Maybe it's just because my family's European, maybe it's just because only the people who believe those things even understand how they're supposed to be connected in the first place. I have no idea. But it does kind of give you perspective how weird and divided things are over here.

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  8. Well, I personally consider English people to be European, although they might disagree with me :) .

    But then I'm weird even for a European guy: I'm French, living in the Netherlands, speak three languages fluently (French, English and Dutch) and two more at a more Basic level (Spanish and Modern Greek). Most French people I know struggle with English, when they know a second language at all. Despite being French I am not prejudiced against British or German people (actually two of my colleagues are German and Scottish) . Heck, I don't even lump all Americans in the same basket :) .

    But to come back to the subject at hand, about those four subjects:

    pro-abortion
    pro gay rights
    against family
    anti-American


    I actually don't believe most people who say they are related actually understand why. They usually just parrot what somebody else said without thinking (a phenomenon unfortunately pretty much planetary). As for the ones who say they have an explanation, that explanation is usually deeply religious, and as such full of logical holes (you can guess that I have little tolerance for people trying to impose religious rules on society at large). I for instance never understood how someone can be Christian (and thus believe in the original sin and the fact that we are all born sinners, but also in the 5th/6th Commandment - depending on actual denomination -), be against abortion, and still be in favour of capital punishment. But that may be just me...

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  9. @Giles:

    I would not limit the perceived "dominant culture" to just farmers.

    I wouldn't put much weight in the influence of Silicon Valley culture, either. Technology workers, in and out of SV as a whole (I'm talking about programmers, network engineers, etc.) make up about 3-4% of the total workforce. This is the way it's been for decades, even during the booming 90s.

    The industry that surrounds Christianity in the U.S. makes billions of dollars a year. I'm not saying they're better than anyone else, just talking about size and influence.

    Re: the Scouts and military

    What I was getting at with them is yes, they're discriminatory, but they're not the Klan. I wouldn't allow the Klan as much leeway, since they're literally in the business of assaulting minorities, but I think the Scouts and the military are organizations that can be dealt with and they can be engaged in debate and discussions about their values.

    It isn't just them either. I've heard of Christian groups, which have been part of college campuses for decades, being kicked off campus now for being "intolerant" just for holding to tenets of their faith.

    What's irked me the most with college campuses is the idea of speech codes. That to me is antithetical to an academic environment. I can understand about banning slurs about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the like, but you'd be surprised the kind of speech that gets banned in the name of "tolerance". It goes beyond common sense.

    If government money is involved, it probably has to do with the state government. The federal government has actually been more firm about it: you allow the military to recruit on campus or you're not getting money from us. This has been law, actually, since the mid-1980s.

    I have mixed feelings about the military. I think they provide an essential service to us, and particularly right now I wouldn't want to do anything, no matter how noble or moral, that would disrupt their ability to do their jobs well. I wish things were different, but like the issue of Turkey and the Armenian genocide, I'm wary of the idea that now is the time to bring that up within that institution. What would change my mind is if I knew most people there were cool with working with out-of-the-closet gays. If that were the case I'd say alright, let's allow them to be out in the open without getting discharged.

    I think it needs to be recognized that there are degrees of intolerance. People can be angry about it all the same, but people and organizations don't have to be painted with the same broad brush when it comes to institutional access.

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  10. I disagree about not criticizing the military. The military did their job brilliantly five or six years ago. What's going on now is that politicians are using the military to solve a political problem. The politicians should be criticized for misusing the military, and the military should be criticized for allowing themselves to be misused.

    But I also think we're very far off the topic of the original post. I don't really want to get into this.

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