Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Not the Same

Yesterday, Paul Krugman had some interesting commentary on the launch of Ezra Klein's new media venture, Vox. Klein kicked off the site with a long piece on the ways politics seems to make us dumber, or at least less likely to consider evidence that doesn't fit in with our pre-conceived political notions.

Krugman takes Klein to task for falling into the "both sides do it" trap; a trap that is familiar to anyone who has watched media outlets compare, oh for example, the Obama administration's responsibility for the events in Benghazi to the Bush administration's responsibility for events in Iraq. Basically, a lot of media outlets are far too ready to sacrifice truth in the name of "balance".

Klein, Krugman argues, sets up a false equivalence in the ways liberals and conservatives each harden themselves into their preferred ideological positions:
What Ezra does is cite research showing that people understand the world in ways that suit their tribal identities: in controlled experiments both conservatives and liberals systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. And more information doesn’t help: people screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview. Politics, as he says, makes us stupid.
But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives. Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans? I don’t mean liberals taking positions you personally disagree with — I mean examples of overwhelming rejection of something that shouldn’t even be in dispute.
In other words, it matters whether the positions you are hardening into are actually real or are just figments of an ideologically-driven imagination.

I have had so many frustrating conversations with relatives who pride themselves on being smart, logical people, who have had successful careers, but who consistently vote for a party whose members and media organs lie to them on a regular basis (or, which may be worse, are too ignorant and incurious to know that what they are saying is a lie).

How can you vote for people, I would ask, who don't deal in reality when making policy decisions that have effects in reality? We know, for instance, that abstinence-only education leads to far worse outcomes than comprehensive sex education, and yet your party uniformly crafts policy that disregards this evidence. We know that global warming is happening and is accelerating, and yet the Republicans deny that evidence and "drill baby, drill". We know that unemployment insurance and food stamps not only provide humanitarian relief to poor people, but they are also far better at stimulating the economy than tax cuts; the GOP, however, disregards all evidence that shows tax cuts aren't the solution to everything. And these are just a few examples off the top of my head.

It is amazing to me that the party that bitched and moaned about postmodernism divorcing language from meaning and making everything relative (rather than believing that there are knowable truths out there) has completely embraced this philosophy of meaning. And with great efficacy, they are using it (and the dupes who will carry the water of "both sides do it") to enact an agenda that benefits a very small group of powerful elites, and will lead to disastrous consequences for the majority of people around the world.

Eventually reality wins out. And it is going to be an awfully rude reality-check that hits us if we don't start electing people who base policy on reality rather than right-wing fevered dreams.

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