Young bucks dancing on the head of a pin

Noah Millman has a thorough piece on the origins of conservative epistemic closure. He lists several possible causes, but, while these aren’t not wrong or dumb, he misses the big one. Conservatism is epistemically closed because conservative philosophical/hypothetical arguments have proved effective politically; conservatism is epistemically closed because it can be.

There’s a temptation to say that conservatives deal in anecdotes, while liberals deal in data. Irving Kristol famously claimed a neoconservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. That isn’t right, though; it’s more accurate to say that a neoconservative is a liberal who saw a mugging on the local news or, better yet, a liberal who contemplated the hypothetical possibility of being mugged.

The strapping young buck buying T-bone steaks with food stamps is a philosophical construct not an empirical fact. How many young bucks bought T-bone steaks with welfare checks last year? That’s like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It’s not just that we can’t count the young bucks it’s that the actual existence or nonexistence of even a single young buck is secondary (at best) to the role the buck plays within a specific, politically potent thought structure.

Look at how many conservative arguments involve hypotheticals. The ticking bomb scenario. The smoking gun that we hope isn’t a mushroom cloud. What if the government came for your guns.

Yet, these arguments have great power. The T-bone buying young buck is probably the most powerful image in American politics, infinitely more powerful than studies on how many tens of thousands of Americans die because of lack of access to health insurance. Our entire foreign policy from 2002 to 2008 was based on a “one percent doctrine” about weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist.

There is no liberal analog of the young buck or the ticking bomb. Liberals need to cite CBO scores to justify reforming the most unfair, inefficient, and inhumane medical system in the word. And even when liberals are armed with CBO scores, along with endless stories of cancer victims being denied coverage for no reason, conservatives can fight them to a draw simply by yelling “My freedom, your fraud!”.

That’s not to say that every Republican slogan works. Field mice! Bear DNA! (Though maybe the problem here is that these are actual anecdotes and not some religious fairy tales that Peggy Noonan made up.) It’s also true that Republicans are not doing well politically. They’re a minority party and are likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Still, they do a lot better than Democrats would do if Democrats forsook reality. Anyway, political success may be beside the point: epistemic closure suits the staff of the Weekly Standard, National Review, and Fox just fine.

Conservatives will always be tempted to move from the empirical arena to the philosophical one, even when they are trying to be intellectually honest. Bobo’s Hume/Bentham column is a classic example; it says, essentially, “I tried to sort through the climate data and it was complicated, so fuck it, FREE MARKETS!”. That’s nothing more than a totebag-friendly version of a Lee Greenwood song, even if it began as a real attempt to come to grips with the issue.

Maybe liberals would do the same if there were a simplistic, closed liberal mythology/belief system that had a solid political track record. But there isn’t one. Some liberals believe we should build one up — that’s what the Overton windows stuff is really about.

In the end, there is probably no way that a political movement can continue to engage in reality-based thought once it has had sufficient success with fairy tales, hypotheticals, and quasi-philosophical musings.

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130 replies
  1. 1
    robertdsc says:

    Do you think that if Dem politicians said the word lie every time a Gooper lied, things would change?

  2. 2
    Michael says:

    Conservatives are psychotically lazy, and self-delusional about it. No matter how many people call that fat, lazy piece of shit drug addict and talk about how “hard working” conservatives are, nothing will change the fact that in my mind that Scots-Irish have a degenerate, labor stealing cultural conditioning that is oriented to an entitlement mentality.

  3. 3
    Redshift says:

    This reminds me of the classic Doonesbury cartoon (which I can’t find and link to because the Doonesbury site search appears to be completely broken) showed Reagan being told (by Democratic politician, I believe) about a poor woman in desperate circumstances, to which he reacts “My Lord, we have to help this woman!” The Democrat then points out that she’s just an example, there are thousands like her, at which point Reagan loses interest, because she’s just another welfare mother.

  4. 4
    Splitting Image says:

    I wouldn’t say that “liberals” necessarily deal in data. I had a fairly nasty argument with my sister over Easter over whether or not renaming manholes “maintenance holes” was as important as getting an effective day care system.

    It started when somebody brought up David Frum and his “Waterloo” essay. I mentioned that Bruce Bartlett has written some similar things, and that in his opinion conservatism was falling into the same traps liberalism did in the ’70s and ’80s.

    My sister disagreed with that and I brought up the first thing that came to mind, which was the manhole name-change back in the early ’90s. I was arguing that anything that took time, effort and money away from the daycare issue has to be counted as a bad trade since daycare ultimately ended up not getting done. She argued that it’s only my opinion that daycare is more important and that I’m basically a right-wing extremist for not recognizing other people’s points of view.

    I can name at least 40 or 50 people on the floor of the office where I work that are directly affected by the availability of daycare. I have yet to meet a single person who claims to have had their life improved by pasting over the word “manhole” on road signs. My sister is convinced that they exist, at least hypothetically, and that I need to respect their opinions if they do.

  5. 5
    licensed to kill time says:

    @robertdsc:

    Maybe they could hire a gospel chorus to stand behind them and sing out “Lies lies lies yea, they gonna get you!” each time a fib jumps out of a GOPer mouth.

    I’d pay to see that.

  6. 6
    QDC says:

    There is no liberal analog of the young buck or the ticking bomb.

    This is actually a useful thought experiment. If I had to suggest a liberal analog, it would be the evil, fat-cat CEO. (Setting aside that this is probably a better reflection of reality than the young bucks.)

    For a specific example, the notion that insurance company profits were responsible for health care inflation had a striking hold on many liberal’s imaginations, even after Ezra Klein pointed out they were a tiny portion of overall health spending.

    But the key point, which supports your point, is that the health care bill was not, in fact, based on sticking it to fat-cat CEOs. Much the opposite, actually. Whereas the conservative opposition to the bill was motivate precisely by the fabricated anecdotes and vague misgivings about big government.

    I mean Burkean Bells aren’t even a hypothetical. They’re just imaginary fucking bells.

  7. 7
    Uloborus says:

    Bear in mind, the whole reason BJ blows up about Hamsher is a fairly similar thing. Taking one random fact ‘Mandates, aaaaugh!’ and interpreting it in utter disregard for the existence of any other facts.

    But still, in conservative circles that kind of thinking is dominant, not the annoying fringe. I blame it on Christianity. Honestly, I do. This is just the logic they’re taught to apply to the bible being applied to the rest of their life. That it works is the EFFECT, not the CAUSE.

  8. 8
    Parole Officer Burke says:

    Conservatism is epistemically closed because conservative philosophical/hypothetical arguments have proved effective politically; conservatism is epistemically closed because it can be.

    The free market solution to philosophical problems!

  9. 9
    Roger Moore says:

    I think the basic truth is even simpler. Conservatism is about keeping things the way they are, while liberalism/progressivism is about trying to improve things. Planning to create something new requires that you think first about what new thing you want to create, and how exactly it will make things better. You can’t do that effectively without engaging with the real world.

    In contrast, Conservatives have a single, clearly identified goal: keeping things the way they are. It doesn’t require much grappling with reality to stand astride history shouting stop. If anything, it’s better to deny reality in favor of fairy tales. Otherwise, the rubes you need to help you out might notice how badly their current situation sucks and start thinking about how to improve it.

  10. 10
    LuciaMia says:

    Look at how many conservative arguments involve hypotheticals

    And don’t forget the Tea Partier mantra. “Obama may not have raised our taxes yet, but he will!!”

  11. 11
    Redshift says:

    I’ve heard it said that the reason why liberal talk radio has never approached the ratings of the conservative variety is that liberals will listen to viewpoints contrary to their own and conservatives won’t, so the potential audience for conservative talk is bigger. Don’t know if there’s actual data to back that up.

    Personally, I think it’s because liberals don’t find it interesting to have ideas they already agree with repeated back to them over and over. That’s certainly why I never found Air America all that interesting. I like Stephanie Miller because it’s basically a “morning zoo” comedy show with politics instead of music, and I liked Al Franken’s show because he got into a lot of depth, but the ones that were basically repeating stuff I’d already read on the Web and callers with the liberal equivalent of “megadittoes” were deathly boring.

  12. 12
    cleek says:

    There is no liberal analog of the young buck or the ticking bomb.

    dude… are you seriously asserting that liberals don’t have a whole pantheon of mythological conservative demons ?

  13. 13
    ReMarksDC says:

    From The Eustace Diamonds “These people [Conservatives] are ready to grumble at every boon conferred on them, and yet to enjoy every boon…A huge, living, daily increasing grievance that does one no palpable harm is the happiest possession that a man can have.” Anthony Trollope, 1871.

  14. 14
    ItAintEazy says:

    The problem is not that wingnuts think closemindedly, it’s the way they are always being treated seriously and with undue respect by the usual company. This thought experiment by Tim Wise (via GOS) describes in plain language the elephant in the room that even I failed to realize was there regarding the teabaggers.

  15. 15
    PeakVT says:

    conservatism is epistemically closed because it can be.

    Conservatism is closed to new knowledge because of its fundamental nature. New knowledge that is not in the hierarchy’s control is potentially dangerous and destabilizing. So it needs to be rejected.

  16. 16
    licensed to kill time says:

    @Roger Moore:

    This is quite true that conservatives are all about keeping things the way they are, but I would also add the “going back to a (mythical) way it used to be” is strong in them. Dream up a past utopia, a Mayberry or a Founding Fatherland and wish your way there.

  17. 17
    John Cole says:

    This may be your best post to date.

    Although I am still chuckling over the line the other day in which you said Broder should just hire a hooker to dress up like Sarah Palin and beat him with a riding crop.

  18. 18
    DougJ says:

    are you seriously asserting that liberals don’t have a whole pantheon of mythological conservative demons ?

    None of them is effective politically.

  19. 19
    DougJ says:

    @John Cole:

    Thank you!

  20. 20
    SGEW says:

    See, it’s posts like these that Julian Sanchez was trying to get out of people. Hell, it even got one out of Ambinder.

    Good stuff.

  21. 21
    Uloborus says:

    @licensed to kill time:
    Still Christianity, just more subtle. They’ve embraced Platonism as adored by the Catholic Church (which the fundies ape while thinking they’re opposed to it – how’s that for fucked up?). Included in that package is the Greek concept of a ‘golden age’, that all knowledge drives from the past, from a time when things were perfect and we have devolved from that state of grace.

    It’s one big philosophical package, a world-view and way of problem solving that they’ve been spoonfed until they apply it to everything. And it’s easy for them to fall for, because it’s hooked into all kinds of basic ways the brain functions. Logic is not something human brains like to do. Rationalization is.

  22. 22

    somebody in this country needs to remain reality based in it’s political arguments. That be democrats by default since the wingnuts run off and joined the circus.

  23. 23
    Spiffy McBang says:

    @John Cole: WOW. Visual. Eeeyagh.

    “Still, they do a lot better than Democrats would do if Democrats forsook reality.”

    I’ve often thought about this, but I sincerely doubt it’s true. One of the major things that separates the average modern liberal from the average modern conservative is not just a willingness, but often a need to hear rhetoric couched in logic at minimum and hard fact whenever possible. If Democrats took a hard shift towards the same strategy, all it would do is leave a wide swath of independent voters thinking the system really is hopeless because literally everyone has lost their minds.

  24. 24
    Tom Johnson says:

    There are, in fact, many liberal equivalents of the young buck — that is, generalizations based on some small percentage of use that serve to shut off objective understanding of a situation.

    Take, for example, affirmative action. Certainly, some of the people most offended by affirmative action were racists. But many disliked affirmative action because they sincerely believe it is a type of racial discrimination in itself.

    You can believe, as I do, that affirmative action is a necessary evil to correct a deeply embedded injustice. But automatically dismissing all arguments against affirmative action as inherently racist and therefore proof that affirmative action is necessary — which is what liberals did for a long time — is textbook epistemic closure. When the mere existence of reasoned arguments against something becomes evidence in favor of that thing — well, is that not the basic conservative construct of today?

    That Democrats, today, are more engaged with the world as it is than conservatives is, I think, obvious. But let’s not pretend it was always that way. We have our moments of ridiculousness, too.

  25. 25
    Tonal Crow says:

    Conservatism is epistemically closed because conservative philosophical/hypothetical arguments have proved effective politically;

    Yes, but…

    conservatism is epistemically closed because it can be.

    No. It’s epistemically closed because epistemic openness would require the decidedly-unconservative act of, you know, examining data. And examining data, if done rigorously, would show that most conservative arguments are not only incorrect, but remarkably high-caliber fraudulent bunk. Conservatism is, thus, epistemically closed because opening it would require conservatives to become liberals — or to commit suicide.

  26. 26
    Billy K says:

    Well said, DougJ.

  27. 27
    Svensker says:

    @Tom Johnson:

    You can believe, as I do, that affirmative action is a necessary evil to correct a deeply embedded injustice. But automatically dismissing all arguments against affirmative action as inherently racist and therefore proof that affirmative action is necessary—which is what liberals did for a long time—is textbook epistemic closure.

    Try saying something against a firefighter making $350K a year… :)

  28. 28
    Uloborus says:

    @Tom Johnson:
    Yeah. I agree. The ‘racist teabagger’ is one of them. There are racists among the teabaggers. We don’t have any evidence that racism is what drives them. There are plenty of other possible explanations for their incredibly obnoxious behavior. Racism could be a symptom or a coincidence.

    But how many people here are convinced that racism is *it*, the number one absolutely driving explains-everything reason for the conservative movement because there’s a visible thread of blatant racism?

    Heck, those people could even be right, but it doesn’t matter. They have their bogeyman.

  29. 29
    Comrade Kevin says:

    @Michael:

    nothing will change the fact that in my mind that Scots-Irish have a degenerate, labor stealing cultural conditioning that is oriented to an entitlement mentality

    Fuck off, you prick.

  30. 30
    Spiffy McBang says:

    @Tonal Crow: And they would be a lot more likely to examine that data if their current strategy of disregarding it caught them nothing but shit from the public and the media, and lost them Congressional seats by the bushel. But that doesn’t happen; thus, they’re closed off because they’re able to do it.

  31. 31
    cleek says:

    None of them is effective politically.

    ORLY ?

    here’s about.com’s “Top 5 Myths About Conservatives” :

    Conservatives are Religious Zealots
    Conservatives are Racists
    Conservatives are Homophobes
    Conservatives are Warmongers
    Conservatives Oppose Immigration

    also a couple more off the top of my head:
    Conservatives hate women, the poor, cities.
    Conservatives worship guns, money and power.

    think any of those myths keep liberals from voting for conservative candidates ? i’ll admit they work on me.

    and any day of the week, you can find people all over the leftosphere riffing on these stereotypes. but as blanket statements these are obviously false – most conservatives are none of those things. yes, some are; yes, many of them are vocal. yes, some of them are influential. but a liberal should know better than to apply the sins of a few to the larger group.

    and really, isn’t it a bit odd to complain about conservatives relying on symbols and myths in a post that stereotypes and homogenizes conservatives ?

  32. 32
    AhabTRuler says:

    Along these lines, I highly recommend Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters by Elizabeth Pryor Brown, whose CSPAN presentation was linked to by TNC and here as part of the Confederate History Month.

    The many direct correlations between the Confederate South and the modern Republican Party are startling, and the author effectively punctures the myth that the South only wished to be allowed to live according to their own designs without interference. The arrogance & superiority, the willingness of a violent minority to impose its will on the majority (while displacing the source of the violence on their opponents), the fear of (largely dis-empowered) “young bucks”, and the idea that elections (and wars) only have consequences for the other guy all put in bold appearances.

    I don’t feel that I am doing the book justice, but I thought that it was a brilliant biography based on fascinating primary sources, and an incredibly easy read for academic history. I really cannot recommend this book more strongly.

  33. 33
    freelancer says:

    @cleek:

    and really, isn’t it a bit odd to complain about conservatives relying on symbols and myths in a post that stereotypes and homogenizes conservatives ?

    Not when it applies to all of them because they’re all the same.

  34. 34
    DougJ says:

    @cleek:

    and really, isn’t it a bit odd to complain about conservatives relying on symbols and myths in a post that stereotypes and homogenizes conservatives ?

    I wasn’t complaining.

  35. 35
    Germane Jackson says:

    I think this theory misses the mark a bit. The right, after 40 years of demographically targeting the dumbest, most ignorant, racist, religious fundamentalists as their voting base, has become very much like that base institutionally. Yes, the higher-ups at Weekly Standard and the Nation know who Edmund Burke and the Austrian School are. Nonetheless, the rot has crept up the tree from its roots, and there is a systematized disdain for facts in the GOP at this point.

    In this sense the right has become very much like a fundamentalist religious group–they cannot for a second let silly little things like science or empirical evidence challenge the orthodoxy of their beliefs. See Manzi, Jim.

  36. 36
    cleek says:

    I wasn’t complaining.

    :)
    oy

  37. 37
    Redshift says:

    @cleek: But note that the post was about a worldview based on anecdotes and hypotheticals, not stereotypes. There’s a whole pile of conservative stereotypes about liberals, but they weren’t the basis for this discussion.

  38. 38

    The wingnuts economic ideas have failed, ideas that were at the core of ideological thought for belief in conservative governance. Which in one way or another molded their entire political philosophy and world view for both domestic and foreign policy.

    When the substance of your existence turns out to be filled with shit, something has to fill the void. Crazy will do in this kind of existential emergency to regain the power they crave with dwindling demographic means of attaining it.

    Throw in all the other nativistic and atavistic impulses of folks who run on over sized sense of entitlement to begin with — handed down generation by generation from the pale skinned patricians in this country, and the pot of discontent begins to boil.

    These people are mad at democracy and it’s innate race, creed, and color blindness when the chips are down and it’s time to count the votes with the writing on the wall that says you are the minority now.

  39. 39
    El Cid says:

    @QDC:

    If I had to suggest a liberal analog, it would be the evil, fat-cat CEO. (Setting aside that this is probably a better reflection of reality than the young bucks.)

    For a specific example, the notion that insurance company profits were responsible for health care inflation had a striking hold on many liberal’s imaginations, even after Ezra Klein pointed out they were a tiny portion of overall health spending.

    The fat-catness of insurance company CEO’s is not measured in company profits, since their income is a cost, so insurance companies’ work on managing profit statements is not related to whether or not the same company is paying a CEO tens of millions to deny coverage to people who had paid for their insurance product.

    These are two different things.

  40. 40
    Mark S. says:

    I liked the Millman piece a lot. As someone who was a conservative until the Iraq War, I remember Frum’s douchebag article very well. Well, David, it can happen to you.

    conservatism is epistemically closed because it can be

    Well, that depends on how they do in the elections. If they win a fair number of seats (which they probably will, but not enough to take either house), they’ll think obstinacy was the key to victory and double down on the crazy.

    But shit, even if they do worse than expected they aren’t going to change. They are only going to change when it becomes obvious to even the dimmest bulbs that they can’t win with just angry, resentful white people. Their leaders make a lot of money in the present situation (look at Palin), and they probably do best when they can rail against a Clinton or an Obama. I think we have at least another ten years of this shit.

  41. 41
    AhabTRuler says:

    I think I have some reservations about the about.com article:

    Myth No. 1: Conservatives are Religious Zealots:

    While it’s fair to say that most conservatives use faith as a guiding principle, most try to keep it out of political discourse, recognizing it as something intensely personal.

    Myth No. 2: Conservatives are Racists:

    In fact, conservatives believe in a equality for all Americans, regardless of ethnicity or national origin.

    Myth No. 3: Conservatives are Homophobes:

    For many people (not just conservatives), marriage is a sacred symbol of heterosexual love and commitment. Seeing it changed in such a profound way would be like the NRA suddenly claiming the rainbow flag as its symbol.

    Myth No. 4: Conservatives are Warmongers:

    George W. Bush plunged America into the War on Terror in direct response to failed Clinton-era national security policies. Most conservatives support troops, but abhor war.

    Myth No. 5: Conservatives Oppose Immigration

    …the reality is that conservatives support open immigration — when done properly — because it creates a stable workforce of tax-paying Americans who strengthen the economy. Conservatives also favor assimilation for migrants.

    While this might describe some conservatives, it doesn’t really reflect the “conservative movement” at present.

  42. 42
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Tonal Crow:

    No. It’s epistemically closed because epistemic openness would require the decidedly-unconservative act of, you know, examining data. And examining data, if done rigorously, would show that most conservative arguments are not only incorrect, but remarkably high-caliber fraudulent bunk.

    That was my reaction too. Politically powerful movement conservatism* is closed epistemically for the same reason East Germany was closed – to keep the population drain down to a sustainable level.

    *I thow this caveat in because cleek @ #31 has a really good series of points, including this:

    and really, isn’t it a bit odd to complain about conservatives relying on symbols and myths in a post that stereotypes and homogenizes conservatives ?

    In fact dissident conservatives are not that hard to find – Larison is one of the favorites on this blog. Sullivan is still in his own idiosyncratic way a rather conservative fellow. Ron Dreher dissented from the neocon position on torture during the Bush years. Bruce Bartlett is a heretic with respect to GOP economic orthodoxy. A lot of the positions our esteemed blog-host takes are small-c conservative in their own way, a trait he shares with (amongst others) the current Democratic President.

    But show me a dissident conservative (and excluding the Eisenhower conservatives who are now Democrats), and chances are they are nowhere near having their hands on the levers of power within the GOP or within movement conservatism more generally. We need to be careful to point out that what we are criticizing is the very unequal and unhealthy distribution of power on the right in favor of people who are crazy and/or utterly irresponsible, and the marginalization of the people who have something to say which is at least partly empirical in nature and with whom we can at least have a debate.

  43. 43
    Marc says:

    This whole post is gold, but the explanation of Overton windows and the totebag-friendly Lee Greenwood song are sheer genius.

  44. 44
    Ecks says:

    This may be your best post to date.

    I was thinking the very same thing. It’s a provocative thesis.

    We have some candidates so far for liberal myths: All tea baggers are racist, all people who oppose affirmative action are sexist, big bank CEO’s will do anything just to hurt the little people.

    But they aren’t quite the same thing.

    Young Buck is a myth that justifies the whole course of action – without it you lose the big reason to cut welfare. Evil CEO’s and sexist AA opponents may be cognitive shortcuts that overgeneralize too broadly, but for the most part they aren’t why bank regulations or AA should exist in the first place.

    I think there is a reasonable space for reality based left-right disagreement. The left generally wants welfare programs to help people because they don’t like seeing the powerless get dicked over. There is a right wing critique that welfare programs can have downsides such as creating cycles of dependency and helplessness… Wherever you come down on these, there is a legitimate discussion to be had, and a legitimate balance to be made.

    The right wing in the US has basically abandoned these debates over the past 30 years in favor of demagogic myth making, and authoritarian tribal loyalty. And they’ve done that because it has worked for them at the ballot box.

    Extra idea: Much American political commentary is an awful lot like American sports commentary – it’s not made by the sabermetrics guys or the inside pros who have become experts at making hard decisions that implicitly balance a lot of tradeoffs… it’s by guys who like to tell nice clean stories that focus on one or two key personalities, and the notion of momentum. Watch ESPN, you never hear little about systems (even for sports like Football and hockey where they are key), but everything about which key quarterback or running back or goal scorer will “dominate the other team, because they have no answer, and look at that throwing arm”. It’s the charisma of personality being easier to understand than the complexities of system. It’s why they have such a hard time understanding how much better Obama is than Palin (“but she excites people!!1”)

  45. 45

    @cleek: OMG! I always thought that was the Top 5 Truths About Conservatives!

    :-)

  46. 46
    trollhattan says:

    I’m listening to Ira Glass’ piece on Steve Poizer’s book today on “This American Life.” In the closer Poizner just said, nearly to the word, that it doesn’t matter if he got some details wrong on Mount Pleasant High, because these problems affect all the other high schools.

    Facts. Don’t. Matter.

    Except this fact: The billionaire beats the hundred-millionaire.

  47. 47
    DBrown says:

    @Tom Johnson: Oh, please – you are generalizing to the point that your statement is totally false. Some liberals might have said that some people opposed affirmative action on racist grounds. Yet very, very few did say such things even over the last thirty years – I have paid close attention to newspapers, radio and TV and this point was so rarely made that it is not even relevant but sure, I am certain (without proof) that with enough effort I could find someone who said the Earth is flat, is a racist – ipso-facto this is the reason ALL people oppose affirmative action. Also, and more to the point, some people that opposed it are in fact racist and did it for that reason. I have never heard anyone at all make your claim that any one against affirmative action are always racist based.

  48. 48
    jwb says:

    “Conservatism is epistemically closed because conservative philosophical/hypothetical arguments have proved effective politically; conservatism is epistemically closed because it can be.”

    I agree with the second part of the statement, but I’d say the first part of that statement is misleading. What’s missing in the statement and indeed the rest of your analysis is attention to money. “Conservative philosophical/hypothetical arguments have proved effective politically” primarily because they have the monetary resources to sell the abstraction, or rather to turn the anecdote into a “fact” through the abstraction of the (stereo)type. Likewise, conservatism is epistemically closed because it has (and is willing to expend) the monetary resources to effectively control the media, or enough of the media, in any case, for its “facts” to take hold.

  49. 49
    DougJ says:

    @Ecks:

    Young Buck is a myth that justifies the whole course of action – without it you lose the big reason to cut welfare. Evil CEO’s and sexist AA opponents may be cognitive shortcuts that overgeneralize too broadly, but for the most part they aren’t why bank regulations or AA should exist in the first place.

    Yes, that’s a good distinction. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the “Fabulous Fab is an asshole, therefore we need new financial regulation” argument on FinReg, for example. (Though the truth is, as you say, we don’t hear it or anything like it that much.)

  50. 50
    cleek says:

    @Redshift:

    But note that the post was about a worldview based on anecdotes and hypotheticals, not stereotypes

    i dunno bout that. the “young buck”, as DougJ makes clear, is a symbol not an anecdote. he’s a shorthand for all kinds of conservative complaints (both real and imagined). he’s the mythological welfare cheat (also black! and healthy enough to work for his own money, if he wasn’t so lazy!). nobody would get upset if it was just one guy. but he’s not one guy – he’s the stereotypical welfare cheat.

    the ticking bomb is a hypothetical, yes.

  51. 51
    cleek says:

    @trollhattan:

    that was an awesome segment. one of the best bits of investigative journalism i’ve ever heard.

  52. 52
    wrb says:

    I think “trailer trash” and related anti-rural stereotypes qualify. I find them deeply offensive. I live in an area where all affordable housing and much middle–income housing consists of trailers.

    People casually throw around negative stereotypes of the people based on the housing available to them who would never do the same in relation to urban affordable housing.

  53. 53
    DBrown says:

    @Uloborus: Really? Prove people here say that all or the vast majority of teabaggers are racist. Otherwise, you are just making this up. I read a lot of the posts here and I don’t agree. Yes, some signs that teabaggers carry are terribly racist (way beyond what any reasonable person would do) and the repug-a-thug leaders don’t say anything against these very racist people – that proves that the repug-a-thug leaders like this approch by these sick racist and refuse to undermine it. That is crossing a line that opens these repug-a-thug leaders up to such charges – that is their stupid fault not people here at BJ. As for the other (majority) of teabaggers around them, sure some are racist and approve this message but most just ignore this. That does open their movment to such charges and that is again, their fault, not ours. But I really do not believe most teabaggers are racist and I don’t see it here. Prove me wrong with a number of examples.

  54. 54
    Soul On Ice says:

    Yeah, but my buddy’s father swears he saw hippies spitting on returning Vietnam War veterans. ..

  55. 55
    d.s. says:

    Like you said before, 1988 is the turning point.

    When they figured out that they could win purely on bullshit issues, there was no longer any need to pay attention to reality.

  56. 56
    Mark S. says:

    re: Myth No. 4: Conservatives are Warmongers

    How many misstatements of fact are in this freaking paragraph?

    In fact, every major war undertaken by the US in the past 100 years (except one) was initiated by a Democratic president. Democrat Woodrow Wilson entered the US into World War I. Democrat Harry S. Truman entered the US into World War II and the Korean War. Three Democrats, Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson perpetuated the Cold War. Kennedy entered the US into Vietnam. While Republican George H.W. Bush entered the US into a conflict with Iraq, it was only to protect US interests in Kuwait. George W. Bush plunged America into the War on Terror in direct response to failed Clinton-era national security policies.

    Let’s see

    1) Truman entered the US into WWII?

    2) Ike wasn’t president during the Cold War?

    3) Ike didn’t put any military advisors in Vietnam?

    4) Wars apparently don’t count if they are to protect US interests. WTF?

    5) Bush “plunged America into the War on Terror”? I would say 9/11 did that.

    6) But it was all Clinton’s fault.

    Jesus, there’s a serious error in just about every fucking sentence. And we’re supposed to engage in discourse with these dumb fucks?

  57. 57
    Bill Murray says:

    WRT the liberal analog to the young buck, the examples given thus far don’t really work because the T-bone buying young buck is apparently apocryphal, while the examples given conservative religious zealots, racists etc. can be found on radio, TV and youtube — which is, in my opinion, what the post was about.

    Also, I don’t think the author understands the Overton window if it is supposed to be about building a liberal mythology

  58. 58
    AhabTRuler says:

    he’s the stereotypical welfare cheat.

    Erm, actually, the stereotypical welfare cheat is a small business.

  59. 59
    DougJ says:

    @Bill Murray:

    Also, I don’t think the author understands the Overton window if it is supposed to be about building a liberal mythology

    I understand what Overton windows is supposed to be about in theory, but I think in practice it is about building a liberal mythology.

  60. 60
    Phoebe says:

    @Redshift: Exactly exactly. The difference is all in style and approach, nothing to do with even whether something is true or false.

    What is the deal with this? Are these people just lazy? Is that why they go with their gut and think that’s good enough?

    I like gut feelings. I like the “little man” inside of the Edward G. Robinson character [Keyes] in Double Indemnity who tells him when someone’s claim is fraudulent. But does Keyes just refuse to pay it on that basis? Of course not. He tries to figure out why it’s a phony, through investigation and labor and all of that reasonable stuff. Because he’s responsible and sane. Sometimes you go with your gut because that’s all you can have in a particular situation. But these people shun facts that are there for the taking. Why?

    This is not a rhetorical question. I really want to know. Sometimes I start to think like Ignatius Reilly in Confederacy of Dunces, when he is trying to speculate on why the Greyhound Scenicruiser is traveling so fast through Louisiana, and guesses that if it slows down the backwoods people throw rocks at it because it’s a symbol of progress.

    Well? Why?

  61. 61

    Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but wasn’t the original “Young Buck” actually a welfare mom driving a cadillac and collecting food stamps?

  62. 62
    AhabTRuler says:

    @Mark S.: From the about.concom post’s author:

    The mission of this site is to provide accurate, thoughtful and informative content for people interested in learning more about the conservative movement and its political agenda.

  63. 63
    Karl says:

    Now if only it were a Lee Hazlewood song .. “I tried to sort through the climate data and it was hard, so please indulge my feelings of misery as I nudge myself toward confronting reality.”

  64. 64
    RSA says:

    @cleek: I also have some reservations about that about.com article, in the sense that it’s easy to dispell “myths” if you’re allowed to make stuff up. For example:

    Most conservatives who oppose gay marriage roundly support civil unions.

    The latest polls I’ve seen (e.g. here) show that, if we take Republicans to represent conservatives, this is just not true.

  65. 65
    toujoursdan says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    What I never understood about the welfare queen meme is that it strikes me a call to strengthen fraud protection measures in the system, not to cut welfare out altogether.

    Admittedly I wasn’t old enough to pay attention when it was used, and I wasn’t living in the States.

  66. 66
    J says:

    conservatism is epistemically closed because it can be

    I’d say conservatism is epistemically closed because it has to be.

    To most sane people it is obvious that conservatism (of the GOP variety) has failed in the real world. This, however, must never be admitted; and hence, the only course of action is doubling down.

    More expressly, if your dysfunctional ideology must be preserved at all costs, reality must be adjusted to fit your ideology, rather than the other way around.

    Hence, conservative discourse is divorced from reality for the exact same reason that, for instance, the Pravda was divorced from reality. Conservatism, like communism, does not work. This, quite simply, is the root of the problem.

    The fact that there is not much of a political price to pay for ignoring reality is only secondary to the issue.

  67. 67
    AhabTRuler says:

    @toujoursdan: But the meme was never meant as serious policy, it was solely a racist dog whistle (reinforced by the sparrow-on-a-coat-hanger principle of American politics).

  68. 68
    cleek says:

    @RSA:
    yeah, that’s why i only quoted the ‘myths’ themselves. the defenses seemed a bit whiny and oversold. and i didn’t look at the links from that article.

    @AhabTRuler:
    yeah. maybe i should’ve added “in the minds of some”.

  69. 69
    toujoursdan says:

    Most conservatives who oppose gay marriage roundly support civil unions.

    Not only is this not true, but it ignores the fact that civil unions do not provide gay couples the same level of benefits and protections that marriage does. This is because we don’t have 200 years of legislation, jurisprudence, regulation, corporate policy and cultural acknowledgement surrounding civil unions like we do with marriage. When that fact is pointed out, most conservatives simply don’t care, and most oppose strengthening anti-discrimination laws, changing the tax code, changing family and property laws and changing the rest of the 1,000+ other laws codifying marriage as well as protesting unequal court decisions, etc. in order to make civil unions truly equal.

    Civil unions are just considered a “throw away” status for relationships that really don’t matter anyway.

    (And yes, I am aware that Obama and Hillary oppose gay marriage and support civil unions, but I don’t consider either liberal.)

  70. 70
    sparky says:

    uh, the only reason there’s less “pony thinking” amongst the Ds these days is because they had their asses handed to them repeatedly following the 1960s, in part because the system they had constructed started to display some serious cracks (and there were some stupid ideas advanced in those days as well). all you are seeing now is the failure of another set of pernicious ideas,* just as the late 60s and 70s provided fodder for the Rs to work against. this self-congratulatory pap about how one side deals in facts and the other doesn’t is nonsense (and, in a hugely entertaining reprise of the past is exactly what the Rs used to say about the Ds**). what’s worse, it leads to the same kind of silly self-congratulatory circle jerks that will end badly. sorry.

    *from my perspective the R arguments are generally (though not always) more pernicious than the D arguments.

    **is this post a meta-spoof? if so, ignore what i said above–victory is yours!

  71. 71
    RSA says:

    @cleek:

    the defenses seemed a bit whiny and oversold.

    That surprised me; I’d thought of about.com as having a reputation for objectivity. Maybe because I’ve only ever looked at technical stuff on the site.

  72. 72
    wrb says:

    @Bill Murray:

    given thus far don’t really work because the T-bone buying young buck is apparently apocryphal

    I’m convinced you are wrong here, based on some years running construction and logging operations both with urban black young bucks and rural white ones.

    I started with liberal belief that the young buck and welfare queen were inventions for purpose of propaganda. I found that they were everywhere- white ones and black ones- and my good workers were very angry about it, as they were taking money out of the the workers’ pockets.

    Liberal blindness to this is much of the reason the right has been able to get the working classes to vote against their interests, as liberals (mis)percieve them.

    The rural workers called them “compers.” People who would claim to be disabled by an injury that another would have shaken off (physically, logging is like football- you have to be able to play through some pain) and live for months on comp- drinking, smoking and snorting. The other workers hated it. They knew that in the end the comp came out of their paychecks.

    So of course there are plenty of bucks, white and black, buying T-bones with food stamps. Some are dealing on the side or have other unreported income. That is human nature. To believe there aren’t is actually condescending. If Harvard grads can rip off the public for billions surely an entrepreneurial buck can manage a T-bone.

  73. 73
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:
    There’s another cultural stereotype here that is kind of funny: why were those apocryphal young bucks always buying T-bone steaks anyway? Not exactly the most expensive thing you could get your hands on in the grocery store, even back in the 1960s. If the point was simply to gorge excessively on the white man’s money, that seems like rather small change.

    Was it that wolfing down a T-bone (bleeding rare, natch) seemed more manly and virile (in a Shaka Zulu sort of way) than the illegitimate and unearned consumption of say champagne and lobster? It needed to be (in the most literal possible fashion) red meat because the wonderbread sandwich and Sunday meatloaf eating masses didn’t worry about being butchered in their sleep by cavier and foie gras crazed murdering thugs (because those were girly-men foods, liable to sapping the primitive atavistic rage of anyone who consumed them)? Or was it that the LaVitaDolce-stoss legende needed to retain some slight degree of plausability, so the top end of the food price range wasn’t going to work for this legend, and the putative luxury item being consumed by young bucks had to be something you could rationally believe might be available, even in a bad neighborhood?

    And why T-bones specifically and not say a nice big juicy ribeye? There’s got to be some sexual symbolism lurking at the heart of precisely which variety of steak was chosen for this legend.

  74. 74
    Roger Moore says:

    @cleek:

    think any of those myths keep liberals from voting for conservative candidates ? i’ll admit they work on me.

    And that couldn’t be because the actions of Republican candidates work to confirm the stereotypes? Take a look at how those candidates pander to the base, and you’ll see examples of:

    Racism: thinly veiled racist dog whistles about welfare and affirmative action.

    Religious zealotry: anti-abortion and explicitly Christian messages

    Homophobia: opposition to gay marriage, gay adoption, and gay acceptance in general

    War Mongering: targeting “Defeatocrats” for failing to double down on failed wars

    Anti-immigrant: ever tougher border security, denying all kinds of things to immigrants, etc.

    Those groups may not make up the whole of the Republican party, or even a majority of it, but they’re apparently a big enough constituency within the party that Republican candidates feel a need to pander to them even if it hurts their ability to attract non-base voters.

  75. 75
    Mark S. says:

    Yeah, most conservatives support civil unions, which is why they’ve tried several times to pass a constitutional amendment to ban them.

  76. 76
    Mnemosyne says:

    @wrb:

    So of course there are plenty of bucks, white and black, buying T-bones with food stamps. Some are dealing on the side or have other unreported income. That is human nature. To believe there aren’t is actually condescending. If Harvard grads can rip off the public for billions surely an entrepreneurial buck can manage a T-bone.

    That’s the thing, though. We’re not saying that there’s no such thing as welfare fraud. We’re saying that it’s not limited to people of a single race, which was Reagan’s claim when he talked about “welfare queens” and that “young buck” with a T-bone steak.

    When Reagan referred to a “young buck,” he wasn’t talking about a young man of any color. He was talking, very specifically, about a black man. The term has gone out of style, but in the US it has always referred specifically to black men and not to white men. It’s never been just a generic term for “young man” in this country, though Republicans like to pretend that it was. It has always had a racial connotation.

    That’s what we call a “dogwhistle” around here — it’s a term that goes over the heads of ordinary people, but the ones that Reagan was communicating his allegiance with knew exactly what color that “young buck” was, just as they knew exactly why Reagan would go to Philadelphia, MS, and talk about “states’ rights.”

  77. 77
    DBrown says:

    @wrb: First off, whites get the vast majority of wellfare benifits. Also, the wealthy get far, far more. Next, no one ever said some blacks don’t use food stamps to buy a T-bone – big fucking deal. What they are saying and you completely missed is this very, very tiny amount of money pales compared to the monster waste of a bomber never worth shit (B-1) and a trillion dollar DoD/year that wastes many tens of billions and in one case, flew in a C-5 full of twenty-dollar bills (billions of dollars worth) and the money just disappeared and you, like the fools working for you believe that wellfare people are the ones robbing you? That is the myth and you took it hook-line and sinker stinker.

    So, you see, the story is bullshit and just made to make fools believe that a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny amount of money lost to some smart “nigg#rs” is robbing them while NASA could build a shuttle that costs over a billion dollars per mission to fly trips to a $100 billion dollar and growning space station that is only useful to prove it could be done? I’d rather pay for T-bones that feed people and support a large food industry over that waste.

    You proved that myths have power to make people believe stupid stories over facts and that has been the point so many repug-a-thugs live for and why it is all bullshit.

  78. 78
    jcricket says:

    To me this is more about Democrats being a home for everyone from the far-left (basically socialists), the disenchanted “Independents”, to the non-crazy conservatives. You’ve got jews, gays, blacks, latinos, immigrants, college-educated white folks, most of the lawyers and doctors, technocrats, etc. With so many divergent forces we can’t even rally around a single unifying set of anecdotes/slogans even if they existed. It wouldn’t appeal to any more than one or two of the groups, so what’s the point.

    Contrast that with the racial, religious and ethnic homogeneity of the Republican party and you can see why the difference exists.

    Basically, these days, the Democrats are the “pragmatists” above all else. What kind of slogans appeal to a party where the basic MO is “we’ll do what works and what we can pass”. Whee, what a rallying cry.

    However, for some strange reason, Republicans have decided being pragmatic doesn’t win elections, so they’ve gone all out on the “red meat for the base” strategy (birtherism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-abortion laws to the max, zero tax=great, etc.). They didn’t have to choose that course (see any conservative party in Europe, for example), but they did. I think this will absolutely destroy the party in the long-term. For example, 80-90% of Gays, Jews, Blacks and lawyers voting Democrat. Wasn’t always that way, but if Republicans keep this up, that’ll be true for anyone who isn’t a white, evangelical or conservative Christian. And even amongst white people there will be “enough” turned off by the toxic politics of Republicans (see my “middle of the road” parents, for example) that Republicans will be unable to win in the vast majority of states within a decade.

    Frankly, it’s ultimately fine by me, b/c the sooner the Republican party fades into a rump, perhaps the sooner we could have two “real” parties (an actually liberal one, and a “sane” conservative ones) that would provide some contrast for voters.

  79. 79
    Ecks says:

    @Phoebe: If you want a serious answer about why that’s backed up with at least a certain amount of science (and in readable format too) see

    Bob Altemeyer on Right Wing Authoritarianism (hm, with a new addendum on the tea party).

    There’s also some newer work on System Justification Theory.

  80. 80
    wrb says:

    @DBrown:

    Actually I never said that I though that I thought the amount of money was significant in a global sense.

    I was pointing out how it is perceived within a contained economy, how it is not apocryphal, and the roots of its power.

    In fact, these people pay very little income tax. The cost of a shuttle has little direct impact on them. But their employer’s comp insurance going up by 60% because two guys are on the couch watching TV while they are busting themselves does, and is understandably maddening.

    We liberals would do well to stop dismissing how maddening.

  81. 81
    cleek says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Those groups may not make up the whole of the Republican party, or even a majority of it,

    … but many liberals treat the whole party (indeed, the whole “conservative” ideology) as if they did.

    but they’re apparently a big enough constituency within the party that Republican candidates feel a need to pander to them even if it hurts their ability to attract non-base voters.

    not all Republican candidates do this; though liberals sometimes treat the whole party as if they did.

  82. 82
    Alex says:

    I do sometimes feel a nagging doubt that conservatives can really be all that crazy…but then I read about the Guy Fawkes tribute, or Chickencare, or the ad against Betty Sutton that told voters to put her “out of the House and back into the kitchen.”
    And these aren’t crazy bloggers doing this: all three of those came from Republican party officials or candidates. I get that the craziest stuff will draw the most people’s attention, but it sometimes seems like the ration is 80-20 or 90-10 crazy. And the non-crazy is always followed up with a story about the crazy trying to force it out. It does sound more mature and reasonable to say that both sides have their benefits and faults, but it’s getting hard for me to earnestly think that.

  83. 83

    @Germane Jackson:

    I think this theory misses the mark a bit. The right, after 40 years of demographically targeting the dumbest, most ignorant, racist, religious fundamentalists as their voting base, has become very much like that base institutionally

    It’s like Nietzsche said. If you gaze long enough into teh stoopid, teh stoopid gazes also into you.

  84. 84

    @cleek:

    not all Republican candidates do this; though liberals sometimes treat the whole party as if they did.

    At what percentage of candidates does it because representative of the party, though?

  85. 85
    Jess says:

    @wrb:

    I started with liberal belief that the young buck and welfare queen were inventions for purpose of propaganda but found that they were everywhere and my good workers were very angry about as they were taking money out of the the workers’ pockets. Liberal blindness to this is much of the reason the right has been able to get the working classes to vote against their interests, as liberals (mis)percieve them.

    As a white liberal living for years in impoverished, predominantly black neighborhoods, and married into the black community for 6 years, I’ve come to some conclusions that are unpopular with both liberals and the conservatives. Generations of poverty, brutal discrimination, violence, fear, despair, and racism from both within and without, is massively destructive on a level most of us can only begin to imagine. The results are not unlike the effects of living in a war zone. Growing up in such an environment inevitably creates a large number of angry, bitter, paranoid individuals who are proud to screw the (white) system at every opportunity, as well as perpetrate hate crimes against those they see as their oppressors. I hope I never have to live in close proximity with such people again, and while I sympathize with their plight, I also sympathize with those who are too often unfairly targeted by the vast rage of the more damaged members of this community.

    However. These are our fellow Americans, and at the risk of sounding pompous, I believe it’s our patriotic duty to work for social justice and keep trying to repair the damage that was done, despite what a messy and painful process it can be. Ultimately, it’s not an us-vs-them situation; it’s all just us.

  86. 86
    DBrown says:

    @wrb: Ok, the first part makes sense but the rate increase is not due to people that sit around doing nothing if you mean that these people can work – that this isn’t due to people that are injuried. Workers comp insurance going up by 60% is due in great part to what? I know little on the direct cause, and who pays and why so please source your source for this huge cost increase and that it proves the increase is for a reason you, I and anyone should blame these evil parasites that absorb most money? Thanks.

    By the way, the fed tax is one of the biggest chunks of money taken from your pay check so you should care about NASA, DoD waste and corp wellfare for the rich because that is where a great deal goes.

  87. 87

    I think it has to do with how you define “racism” as to whether or not you believe that tea baggers are mostly that, though there are surely rank racist types amongst them. I personally believe that what is motivating many, and providing much of the energy of tea baggers is a sense of white supremacy, at least in regards to the primary governance of this nation. And that white supremacy can exist in the absence of overt racism in the context of electoral politics in this country. It is something I personally oppose and do not practice when deciding who to vote for as leaders. But I also recognize people’s vote is highly personal, and if it includes by skin color for some people, white or black, then so be it. That is their choice.

    But when that choice takes the form of violence and sedition, or incitement for those things, with efforts to thwart other peoples right to make individual choices, then it becomes a problem of legalities and denied rights, and so on.

    Currently, those on the right, not only rank and file tea bag types, but also a number of their kindred spirits in elected office are dancing very close to that line, imo, and a few times sticking their toes in those dark waters of rebellion in lieu of acceptable political activities.

    We shall see how far it goes.

  88. 88
    Stroszek says:

    @sparky: You mind clarify which “pernicious” ideas you are referring to?

    Was it the extremely popular Medicare and Medicaid programs that have proven to be far more efficient than private insurance?

    Was it the effort to ensure equal rights and opportunity for minorities?

    Was it the idea that we shouldn’t dump loads of blood and money in southeast Asia?

    Was it the insistence that we should actually pay for the social programs that people don’t want to cut?

    Beyond those ideas, I guess there was the whole energy crisis of the late 70’s, but that wasn’t exactly a product of liberal ideas.

  89. 89
    wrb says:

    @Jess:

    I agree with all you said.

    Reading the passage of mine you quoted I see I should clarify- I thought I had specified that while I was using the terms that carry a racial connotation I was using them without it. My white workers were angry with white freeloaders, the black with black.

    It is true about what you say about damage though. I fear the damage from slavery in particular is much worse for many than we would like to think.

    I came to see it like this: If I had a kid who grew up on a family farm he was awesome. This was because there was no separation between self and job. If the farm failed you failed. So you worked all night. Self-worth and position in the community were all one with success at the job.

    Make the same person a slave and everything is different. Self-worth comes form not merging self with the desires of the man.

    However my farmers’ ancestors were once slaves to the Normans or Romans. So time heals. But damn slowly, at least for some.

  90. 90
    cleek says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    i don’t know. i don’t even know what percentage of them do it. i’d guess that number is a lot less than we think – we just hear about the nuts more than we hear about the sane ones.

    (and just for comparison, i’m sure we’d all be surprised by the list i’m sure the wingnuts maintain which details every racist, homophobic, xenophobic, intolerant, crazy-religious thing a Democrat has ever said – which, to their minds, is solid proof of the inherent racism of Democrats)

    but, bottom line… i’m not trying to say there aren’t racists (or whatever) in the GOP. i’m just pointing out that many liberals happily talk about conservatives as if the very worst were perfectly representative of the whole. but i personally know plenty of conservatives (and i’m sure most everybody else here does, too), who are nothing like that – they just have fucked-up ideas about taxation, or gun laws, or whatever :)

  91. 91
    wrb says:

    @DBrown:

    Different states do unemployment and comp different. Here both are experience based: if your employees file claims your rate goes up- often radically if yours is a small to medium sized outfit. For office jobs comp insurance charges are going to be negligible anyway.

    But for someone in logging and certain types of construction they might range from 20% of wages if you have a clean record to 60% or 100% or more if the employer has claims.

    The other employees are observant- most likely they’ve been laid off after another employer suffered a string of claims. So they see the guy they call the “comper” as an existential threat.

  92. 92
    Ecks says:

    @sparky: I have to admit, I’ve wondered about this… it’s what I was referring to above when I said there is room for legitimate right/left tension over how to run the country. But the tea party lot now are way crazier than the Dems were, even at the height of the 60’s. It’s not even that they have lost traction with reality to a greater extent, it’s that they don’t even care about traction with reality, they’re perfectly happy to make their own.

  93. 93
    Stroszek says:

    Of all the myths that make up right-wing ideology, this one is the most destructive:

    There are secure, decent-paying jobs available for anyone willing to do the work.

  94. 94

    The article did have one rather good point:

    Ultimately, you can only have an intelligentsia if you have patrons who are interested in learning things they don’t already know.

    I’m sure there are many Republicans who have never stopped learning, never stopped growing. I just don’t happen to know any of them.

  95. 95
    Zach says:

    The cap and trade debate is probably the best example of how the 1% doctrine’s been inverted. Now, nearly 1% of scientists aren’t totally comfortable with the consensus of 99% of scientists that climate change will be severe and irreversible absent drastic CO2 reductions, so god forbid we do something about it lest those 1% turn out to be right.

  96. 96
    mclaren says:

    @Dougj:

    Conservatism is epistemically closed because conservative philosophical/hypothetical arguments have proved effective politically; conservatism is epistemically closed because it can be.

    Actually, the big one seems to be that conservatism is epistemically closed because conservatives can’t handle reality. Every time a conservative has made a statement about the real world in the last 40 years, the facts have contradicted him (or her).

    Nixon told us that if America lost the Vietnam war, all of Asia would go communist. Ford said the communists didn’t dominate eastern Europe. Reagan said forest fires created more pollution than all the smokestacks in history and the contras were the moral equivalent of the founding fathers and we never did an arms-for-hostages deal. The drunk-driving C student told us Iraq was full of WMDs and American troops would be welcomed with flowers and those tax cuts for the rich would benefit the middle class and deregulation on Wall Street would boost the economy.

    Every time a conservative has opened his mouth for 40 years, it contradicts observed reality. After a while, if you’re a conservative, you start to realize your best strategy is to avoid reality altogether. Thus epistemic closure.

  97. 97
    Ecks says:

    @wrb: This actually fits with some poli sci people’s ideas about what makes countries tick.

    The observation is that in some places (e.g. Russia) the transition to communism to capitalism was a clusterfuck, while in other countries the same or similar transitions (say,Japan moving smoothly from Feudalism to capitalism, or China moving to a new capitalist hybrid) work just fine.

    The explanation is that it’s not the exact system you run that really matters so much as the strength of your institutions generally. In some places authority is seen as legitimate, and people feel that hard work and doing what you are supposed to do pays off, and so they do. In these places there also tends to be norms where people who are in power act more in the interests of the institution that put them there than just for personal enrichment – they follow and enforce the rules, and principles behind them.

    So your guys who came from farms came from a place with strong institutions – the farm rose and fell and depended on the people working there, blah blah blah. The people who come from slavery, or economic systems that have just dicked them over endlessly tend to see the system as a game to be played before it plays you, and to see nothing wrong with getting away with whatever they can.

    Unfortunately, once these things gel into cultures they become very hard to change, as they are more to do with baseline unacknowledged assumptions about how the world works, and people HATE having those types of assumptions challenged, because it shakes their entire view of reality – and that’s the kind of existential-seeming threat we fight hard.

  98. 98
    Roger Moore says:

    @cleek:

    but many liberals treat the whole party (indeed, the whole “conservative” ideology) as if they did.

    Straw man much?

    not all Republican candidates do this; though liberals sometimes treat the whole party as if they did.

    And not every Democratic candidate tries to appeal to union members, minorities, LGBTs, and environmentalists. But I’d be a fool to think that those groups don’t make up the core of the Democrats’ base.

  99. 99

    @jcricket:

    Very good point. We can’t agree on much at all.

    “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

  100. 100
    wrb says:

    @Ecks:

    Perfect statement of the beliefs I developed based on micro-scale observation.

  101. 101
    Phoebe says:

    @Ecks: That is all very interesting [not said sarcastically or dismissively!]. I have been ruminating a long time on confirmation bias, which I see as a big contributor to the phenomenon of police and prosecutors going after the wrong guy, and staying after the wrong guy, seemingly impervious [if not resentful] of evidence that he is the wrong guy. It all seems of a piece.

    Thanks.

  102. 102
    Phoebe says:

    @wrb: @Karl: DO NOT confuse Lee Greenwood with Lee Hazlewood!

    Yeah. I’m not linking to Lee Greenwood.

  103. 103
    Phoebe says:

    Oops, that [@102] had nothing to do with wrb. I agree with everything wrb says though. So far.

  104. 104
    HE Pennypacker, Wealthy Industrialist says:

    I think Richard Dawkins’s theory of memes — especially as it applies to religion — could be fruitfully applied to the subject of the staying power of conservative anecdotes. They survive because they inoculate against reality.

    Just to borrow a bit from wikipedia (the article on memes):

    In her book The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore regards religions as particularly tenacious memes. Many of the features common to the most widely practiced religions provide built-in advantages in an evolutionary context, she writes. For example, religions that preach of the value of faith-based belief over evidence from everyday experience or reason inoculate societies against many of the most basic tools people commonly use to evaluate their ideas. By linking altruism with religious affiliation, religious memes can proliferate more quickly because people perceive that they can reap societal as well as personal rewards. The longevity of religious memes improves with their documentation in revered religious texts.

  105. 105
    Batocchio says:

    Conservatism is epistemically closed because conservative philosophical/hypothetical arguments have proved effective politically

    Well, yeah. In an earlier thread I mentioned Cheney’s remarks: “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter. This is our due.” Who cares about crappy policy if it gets them power? And who cares whether power is used well? Reagan was the triumph of style over substance, and most of his policies were horrible. His acolytes are even worse, running on slogans, and trying to govern on them as well. It’s been disastrous. They lack even Reagan’s occasional pragmatism.

    The key paradigm for liberalism is being fair. The key paradigm for conservatism is power. For the tribalist, movement conservatives, no election victory by a Democrat (even a centrist) can be legitimate, and abuse of power by a conservative is by definition impossible.

  106. 106

    In the end, there is probably no way that a political movement can continue to engage in reality-based thought once it has had sufficient success with fairy tales, hypotheticals, and quasi-philosophical musings.

    While this is true Dougj, I have to believe that at some point a critical mass of perpetrated fraud will be reached. It looks like now that isn’t quite the case, when it seemed the results of 8 years of quasi neocon/con/anarchy to rule of law would have done the trick.

    Maybe it’s the Peak Wingnut fantasy I secretly hope for, that some day Americans will largely in unison, (save for the 28 percenter zombie flesh eaters), realize and admit to themselves that these conservative mofo’s are batshit crazy hucksters who have conned them with malevolent wordsmithing, and actually possess nary a workable idea for healthy governance from the lot of them.

    Right now, we are still in economic distress, and with jobs, even a continuing calamity. Throw that on top of having a black POTUS that stirs the deeply complex psychology on race relations in this country, a black man that while many voters would like to trust, but can’t quite yet, then we have a nervous uncertain electorate still open to the right wing con.

    I say, Let’s wait and see when things get better economically and Obama is more trusted (personally), for a verdict on whether old rules of politics still apply, or if we have, albeit on delay, entered a new paradigm regarding the viability of former winger bullshit turning elections. Or, not that Obama and dems have created a new liberal friendly Overton Window, but rather that the right has smashed to bits the old one Reagan mostly installed and common sense will rule the political roost.

    We are kind of in a void right now, I think, between the old and new. And wingers have always been good at opposition from historically long periods in the minority/ They really don’t have any new ideas not tried and failed, and sooner or later they will be required to produce some that are palatable to the average voter. And I can’t imagine what they might come up with, that will also be acceptable to the crazy base.

    BTW. ditto on kudos for this post. most excellent.

  107. 107
    cleek says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Straw man much?

    are you fucking kidding me ?

    are you seriously asserting that people here, and on every other liberal blog, don’t accuse the GOP as a whole of being inherently racist ?

  108. 108
    gwangung says:

    are you seriously asserting that people here, and on every other liberal blog, don’t accuse the GOP as a whole of being inherently racist ?

    Racist intent? Racist attitudes? Racist results in policy?

    They’re not all the same, of course….

  109. 109
    Jay F says:

    @Ecks:

    That’s exactly what I thought about Rush Limbaugh, he narrates his political commentary as team sports, politicians positioning themselves etc. He’s always wanted to be a sports commentator I believe. After the McNabb incident that shut down that route.

    Another conservative belief is that the unemployment rate is due to all of these people taking “extended vacations at taxpayer expense.” I’ve asked my dittohead coworkers how many people are on “funemployment”, and I never can get them to give me a number. They just want unemployment compensation cut because it ruins people’s work ethic.

  110. 110
    Zach says:

    @cleek:

    are you seriously asserting that people here, and on every other liberal blog, don’t accuse the GOP as a whole of being inherently racist ?

    Do you mean at least one commenter on every blog or something? I don’t know that any liberal blogger I read has ever said anything so simple minded.

  111. 111
    Mnemosyne says:

    @cleek:

    are you seriously asserting that people here, and on every other liberal blog, don’t accuse the GOP as a whole of being inherently racist ?

    Now I’m getting confused, because the GOP/Republicans and conservatives are not necessarily the same thing. Some conservatives identify as Republicans, but by no means all. So are you saying that people are making these generalizations about the GOP, conservatives, or both? I agree that people who generalize out from the GOP to all conservatives are being very sloppy.

    It’s hard to make the case that the present-day GOP as an institution is not inherently racist given the Southern Strategy and 40 years of barely-coded appeals to voters’ inherent (if often unconscious/suppressed) racism. You can argue that individual Republicans are not racist — believe it or not, W always struck me as someone who was pretty free of personal racism — but when your party’s policies and appeals to voters are based on racism, you don’t get to wipe your hands clean because you don’t personally believe that stuff.

  112. 112
    Little Dreamer says:

    @Uloborus:

    The problem is that while they sit there on pedestals stating that their way is so much more ethical than all the others, they are all for making sure that living breathing humans don’t get services needed to keep them from suffering and starving while living on this earth (an involuntary act, nobody decided to be born and nobody should suffer pain and starvation just because they continue to get out of bed everyday) – and then just to put the cherry on top of the sundae, they imagine that all who don’t think like them are going to burn in an eternal fire of God’s wrath!

    Personally, I don’t believe in Hell, but if I did, I would find it hard to believe that these insufferable assholes aren’t the ones who would find themselves burning in it.

  113. 113
    cleek says:

    @Zach:

    Do you mean at least one commenter on every blog or something?

    yes. i’m saying some liberals, sometimes, say things like that. it is one of the pantheon of myths that liberals (some liberals) like to believe about conservatives. that’s what i’ve been talking about: the myths and stereotypes that liberals have about conservatives.

    not everybody thinks it. and not everybody says it. but it’s one of those things that just appears over and over in conversations like this. sometimes seriously stated, sometimes an offhand remark, a joke, etc..

  114. 114
    Jess says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    when your party’s policies and appeals to voters are based on racism, you don’t get to wipe your hands clean because you don’t personally believe that stuff.

    Well said!

  115. 115
    wrb says:

    @Phoebe:
    Thank you Pheobe.

    I’ll try to get stupid, so as to free you.

  116. 116
    Liberty60(Veteran, Great war of Yankee Aggression) says:

    I am not willing to accept the premise that conservatism is closed, by its very nature.
    Like Spitting Image, I remember plenty of emotional mythologies from the 1970’s that made Maintenance Holes the existential issue for fairness and justice.

    For example, even though I strongly favor a more aggressive role for government, I can see a very good argument for being skeptical, cautious about the limits of what government power can accomplish- the conservatism of doubt that Sullivan and Russell Kirk talk about.

    I think Doug’s observation it has become closed only because it can is very sharp; it is a political development, not an intellectual one that closed the conservative mind, or as Ecks points, out pursuit of political expediency that caused them to forsake reason.

    Which should serve as a cautionary tale for liberals, myself included.

  117. 117
    Liberty60(Veteran, Great war of Yankee Aggression) says:

    @Alex: For what it is worth, there are crazy people lurking in the shadows of every party and movement- when I go to my MoveOn or CoffeeParty meetings, we get the occasional nutjob who wants to talk about chemtrails or something.

    But see, most movements chase these people to the margins, like Buckley did with the Birchers; but now that Buckley is gone, and all the reasonable conservatives have either jumped ship or shut themselves down, the Birchers now hold the floor.
    There was a time when Sue Lowden and Michelle Bachmann would have been politely told by the GOP apparatchiks that they would “be more effective working behind the scenes” and directed to a cubicle to lick envelopes.

  118. 118
    Johnny Pez says:

    @cleek:

    that’s what i’ve been talking about: the myths and stereotypes that liberals have about conservatives.

    And that’s why you’ve been missing the point DougJ has made. He’s not talking about conservatives’ myths about liberals; he’s talking about conservatives’ myths about, frex, black people, or government bureaucrats, or gays — the myths that conservatives use to justify their policies.

  119. 119
    DougJ says:

    @cleek:

    My point is not that liberals don’t have myths or that liberals won’t eventually come to inhabit a closed, myth-based intellectual universe, it’s that the current political impotence of liberal myths may be a blessing for liberalism, intellectually.

  120. 120
    Johnny Pez says:

    @DougJ:

    I think you’ve let yourself be led astray by all of cleek’s talk of liberal myths. There is no liberal counterpart to the “young bucks buying T-bone steaks” myth. Liberals just plain don’t rely on myths to justify their policies the way conservatives do. Liberals’ policies are based on AGW, which is a real problem, or out-of-control health care costs, which are a real problem, or growing income inequality, which is a real problem. Conservatives, OTOH, as you pointed out in your original post, do rely on myths like the young bucks, or death panels, or The Homosexual Agenda, to justify their policies.

    That’s why conservatism has become detached from reality.

  121. 121
    DougJ says:

    @Johnny Pez:

    Liberals just plain don’t rely on myths to justify their policies the way conservatives do.

    I think there are liberal myths, they just aren’t as widespread. And that’s partly because they’re not that effective politically.

    It could be that what I’ve seen isn’t typical — I spent time at a small liberal blogs where the other posters explicitly espoused the idea of creating our own liberal countermyths and jamming them into everyone’s heads.

    On the other hand, I fought endlessly with them about this and eventually left.

  122. 122
    Johnny Pez says:

    @DougJ:

    I think there are liberal myths, they just aren’t as widespread.

    Which is another way of saying that liberal policies aren’t based on them.

    I cite your own canonical example: conservative policy on welfare reform is not based on an actual problem of widespread fraud; it’s based on a myth of widespread fraud.

    And this is true of pretty much all conservative policies. Conservative policy on gay marriage is not based on a real problem of widespread gay pedophilia, it’s based on a myth of widespread gay pedophilia. Conservative foreign policy is not based on actual threats to the United States; it’s based on imaginary threats to the United States (or in the case of the neocons, on threats to Israel, both real and imaginary). Conservative policy on business regulation is not based on the actual effects of business regulations, it’s based on the imaginary effects of business regulations.

    Whether or not conservatism ever was based on reality, it certainly is not based on it now.

  123. 123
    DougJ says:

    @Johnny Pez:

    Which is another way of saying that liberal policies aren’t based on them.

    True enough!

  124. 124
    Johnny Pez says:

    What’s more, it’s reached the point where conservatives are now deliberately creating myths to justify their policies — witness the way they ginned up an imaginary problem of voter fraud to justify their draconian voter ID policies, or they way they ginned up imaginary WMD to justify invading Iraq, or the way they ginned up death panels to justify opposing health care reform.

  125. 125

    Conservatives know full well that when you ask most Americans about this or that actual policy that unfailingly a sizable majority favors the democrats solutions. This has been true at least since FDR. So remaining electorally viable they have had to develop myths (lies), exaggerations, and deflections from what they really believe, which is what we seen with goopers given the reigns of power, mostly ,for the last 30 years. And lo and behold, conservative theory has been defeated by history.

    Now the string is running out and all they have to rely on is inducing primal fear in voters mind, whether it be with terrorists, black exotic presnits, soshulism, and the always potent men in black (government) coming to take what’s theirs.

    They have used these base fear tactics in the past, but now it is about all they have, with a base that will not accept a pennies worth of progressive thinking, even when it’s plugged into basic conservative philosophy. And that is their only way out of the box of failure history has delivered. So it’s all crazy all the time, hoping to scare the masses one more time into voting for them. And when the majority finally says no way, till you stop drooling and talking shit we no longer believe, then the fun really starts with possible politics by other means for the rage virus 28 percenters, incapable of moderation or change. We liberals don’t need myths to win, reality will become our myth.

    I love talking about this area of politics. Don’t have a clue, but it is fun to babble about.

  126. 126
    Ecks says:

    @Liberty60(Veteran, Great war of Yankee Aggression): I can haz an amen?

    @Johnny Pez: True now, but has not always been thus.

    What’s really depressing is watching all this in Canada. Traditionally the conservative and liberal parties held power by fighting over the middle. Both sides knew the other was wrong, but they were both as much competent technocrats as anything.

    Of late Right wing American ideas have invaded via Alberta. While they’ve had to yield somewhat to Canadian political reality (muttering about introducing private alternatives to universal health care is so virulently unpopular they’ve never been able to push that one too hard – people don’t want to let go of health care once they have it), they’ve started having republican consultants teaching them political strategy lessons like “don’t respond to the substance of an attack on your policies, respond with ad-hominem attacks and glib ideological statements instead”… and sadly it’s somewhat working. And the liberals, technocrats that they are, find themselves perpetually flat-footed in response.

    The thing that bugs me, is given that this corrosive bullshit works in yielding short-term political power, is there a way to undo it and return government to the days of two parties of technocrats fighting over execution of basically sensible ideas? I just don’t know.

  127. 127
    dopealope says:

    I’m late to the party, but this was an excellent post …

  128. 128
    tc125231 says:

    Conservatives will always be tempted to move from the empirical arena to the philosophical one….

    Movement conservatives aren’t interested in philosophy. They are interested in ideology. That’s why listening to their conversations is like listening to people quote “The Sayings of Chairman Mao.”

    Pathetic.

  129. 129
    priscianus jr says:

    “Maybe liberals would do the same if there were a simplistic, closed liberal mythology/belief system that had a solid political track record. But there isn’t one.” — I don’t even think this is what is needed. What is needed is a genuine, powerful vision of this country based on its traditions. The less ideology, the more truth. The left may not be as shrill as the right, but it can often give them a good run for their money in that department. The modern right delivers a narrative falsification and trivialization of American tradition (very bad poetry of course), and the left simply does not think in narrative and has no concept, or only a negative concept, of tradition.
    Just remember, the deep south is where rock and roll came from.
    I think Obama is doing a great job under the circumstances, but what about the rest of us?

  130. 130
    Little Dreamer says:

    @General Egali Tarian Stuck:

    Conservatives know full well that when you ask most Americans about this or that actual policy that unfailingly a sizable majority favors the democrats solutions. This has been true at least since FDR.

    True enough, but, they didn’t have a news station or four willing to call these myths truth. Fox News (and the tendency of other stations to try to ape their “success”) changed that.

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