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The Minitrue Party

Having nationalized two of the largest mortgage lenders in the country, the US government declared that there would be no more nationalizations. So I don't know which amuses me more about the nationalization of AIG, the largest insurance company in the US: that the Bush administration broke their word in less than 24 hours, or that the Bush administration is nationalizing big chunks of our economy at a pace that would make Hugo Chavez jealous. And the juxtaposition of those two thoughts made me realize something, gave me my own answer to the question recently debated on edge.org's "Third Culture" blog in a long, but very entertaining and readable, exchange entitled "Why Do People Vote Republican?" And my answer is closest to the one given by retired Yale professor Robert Schank at the bottom of the 2nd page: "Republicans do not try to change voter's beliefs. They go with them. Democrats appeal to reason. Big mistake." My competing, but similar, hypothesis, is this: the Republicans are the party of people who want to be lied to.

Some of you are old enough to remember the Bush (the Elder)/Dukakis debates, when they were both asked if they would be willing to raise taxes in order to cut the deficit. Governor Dukakis said, "We're both going to raise taxes, the only difference between us is that he'll lie about it." Vice President Bush famously said, "Read. My. Lips: No! New! Taxes!" And then, exactly as predicted, went on to sign into law one of the three largest packages of tax-increase legislation in American history. It may even have ended up being bigger than anything Michael Dukakis would have approved. And yes, some cranky people held it against the first President Bush that he broke his word, but the fact that remains is this. The American people are even more cynical about their politicians than the facts warrant; they had no reason to doubt that George H.W. Bush was lying to them about his intention to not raise their taxes. But that was okay with them: they wanted to be lied to.

I think that maybe the American people know for a fact that government budgets at every level of government are so out of whack that taxes are going to have to go up. But that doesn't change the fact that they want someone to promise them that it won't happen. I think that maybe the American people understand, deep down, that the fossil record shows flat-out that the Biblical account of creation just isn't true. But that doesn't change the fact that they want to be told otherwise, and even more so they react to the idea of schools telling children the Bible is wrong the way they would react if schools made it a policy to tell kids the truth about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I think that maybe the American people know that cops and financial institutions systematically screw over black American families in ways that they don't screw over white American families, but they still want to be told that there is no racism in America, that race is problem we solved a generation ago. I'm almost completely certain that vast majorities of the American public know full well that a ban on abortion won't stop abortions, and that abstinence-only education is why America has the highest out-of-wedlock birth rate and the highest teen pregnancy rate in all of western civilization, but they still want to be told that abortion can be stopped and that telling teenagers not to have sex is all we need to do. I think they know, they can't not know, that our health care system is a wreck, even if they don't know the actual ranking (19th in the world); they still want to be told that the American health care system is the #1 best in the world.

And, come to think of it, I already know why, too.

See, I long ago got my nose rubbed in the fact that there are two competing views in American society of what a code of morality means. For a while, I thought it was a crazy vs. sane thing. When I found out otherwise, I suspected it was a social-class based thing. When I found out I was wrong about that, I concluded that no, it's just a cultural thing, something that runs in families, just as some families are shouters and some are deeply afraid of open displays of anger. Anyway, the divide is this. Some people believe that when you adopt, and state, a code of morality that that code is a sacred promise that you are making to yourself, to your family, to society. They believe that if you fall short of your sworn code of morality, it may be a sin that God can forgive, but it is a sin against yourself that you should never forgive. They (we) believe that you should hold it against yourself for the rest of your life that you knew better, promised better, and did whatever it was anyway. On the other hand, there are people who believe that no matter how high or low you set your moral standards, you're going to break them some of the time. To them, a moral code is not so much a set of promises as a set of aspirations. Which means that to them, it's not really fair to judge someone by how often they fail to live up to their own moral code (or society's). Why not? Because they sincerely believe that everybody breaks their own moral code roughly equally often, that the only thing that conceals this fact is that some people are just lucky enough or sneaky enough to hide it better when they do. Believing this, they judge people, morally, by what they promise to do, by what they say that they're going to do. Why? Because they believe that the people who promise more are the ones who will try harder.

Not that I have the slightest idea what to do with this, tactically or strategically. I just find it interesting.


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Sep. 17th, 2008 06:27 am (UTC)
> Not that I have the slightest idea what to do with this

How about we convince all those moral people who have betrayed their moral stance that the only righteous thing to do would be for them to commit suppuku. Then the rest of us can be reasonable.
Sep. 17th, 2008 09:11 am (UTC)
I don't recall him stating that the ironbound code types were a majority in either party...
You seem to confuse "firm personal code" with "head up ass". I'm one of the first types. It doesn't make me a better person per se. I have plenty of flaws and I'll admit for many situations, if you want someone distinguished in doing well, don't pick me. However, I've seen how the lessons in life which I learn really _stick_ compared to the "we all make mistakes" crowd. All the biggest lessons in my life took root because I was striving my utmost to not have to face the reality of doing a bad thing again. Only by deeply, passionately caring about the difference between good and bad was I able to keep that focus.

Am I fast on this process ? Have I learned every lesson that needs to be learned ? Am I a strong, vigorous person able to do anything in any manner? Hell no. All the same, I've gotten tons of help from friends and even strangers because something about me convinces them I deserve aid. Given that I have autism and I'm not exactly a charmer and I'm not particularly good looking, I'm presuming what they're responding to is my intentness to do the best things as much as I can.

Maybe I don't succeed often enough. But I think most people dislike the mercuriality of the average person. Even someone mercurial isn't pleased with their own variability, if they're honest with themselves. As far as I can see, Christianity succeeded as well as it did by emphasizing that everyone's absolutely awful. So while its nice if you do X Y and Z, it really doesn't matter. Because G*d loves you as long as you love G*d. Handy shortcut around having to try and actually act in a given way. Great way of saying there's nothing _really_ wrong with you...because Original Sin is so big and immutable, you can't change, and because of G*d's forgiveness, you don't NEED to change.

Are _all_ Christians like that? No. But a lot are. Just like the Republicans don't have a monopoly on people who want to be lied to. And I think the point you're missing isn't that you become immune to failure by being more than a bit obsessed about your behaviour. Its that the more complicated and unsupervised society gets the more we have to watch ourselves since others aren't going to do it for us. And when the very idea of the validity of this need is brought into question or undermined by social trends...well, that's bad. And so Brad's calling it like he sees it.
Well said - tahkhleet - Sep. 18th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Well said - vee_ecks - Sep. 18th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - polydad - Sep. 17th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morgaath - Sep. 18th, 2008 03:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 17th, 2008 06:49 am (UTC)
There's a user on Metafilter named "konolia"; she's one of the token Republican types that posts there. In a recent enormous thread about Sarah Palin, we got around to the abortion issue, and a bunch of us basically ganged up on her, interrogating her about her views on abortion. We hit her with the harms caused by banning abortion, and by the harm reduction caused by having it be legal. Finally she admitted that what she wants isn't a reduction in abortions, or in deaths, but for American law to condemn abortion, because she believes that "God judges nations" and that abortion being legal will cause/is causing God to curse the United States.

I don't know how prevalent this derangement is within the pro-"life" movement, but given my discussions with pro-"life"rs, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it's a popular.
Sep. 17th, 2008 07:39 am (UTC)
It's actually an incredibly widespread thing in the pro-life movement. I'm doing research that was inspired by a YouTube video done by an Internet journalist, where he interviewed several abortion protesters at a clinic in Libertyville (and I think it was in Kentucky). Without exception, none of these women could come up with an answer to "If abortion is made illegal, what should the criminal penalty be for having had an abortion?"

That's because many of these folks simply don't think about law as a statement of penalties for transgression or deviance. They think about it, as you said, as a statement of values. It's a very compartmentalized way of thinking - see Bob Altemeyer's online book The Authoritarians for more information on how compartmentalized these folks can become, if given the chance.
(no subject) - anfalicious - Sep. 17th, 2008 08:29 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - vee_ecks - Sep. 17th, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - drewkitty - Sep. 18th, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
My cyncism is trumped by my amusement. - the_geoffrey - Sep. 17th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: My cyncism is trumped by my amusement. - (Anonymous) - Sep. 18th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 17th, 2008 07:20 am (UTC)
So what happens to society when over all surviellence starts to show that the assumption that everyone breaks moral codes roughly the same amount, don't? That there is in fact serious differences in rates of moral rule breakage?

In effect, I'm asking what happens when people find out that the random variable that they are assuming is a normal distribution in fact turns out to be some power law?
Sep. 17th, 2008 07:59 am (UTC)
The same thing that already happens when they are confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs: They will ignore it.
(no subject) - domesticmouse - Sep. 17th, 2008 08:05 am (UTC) - Expand
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Sep. 17th, 2008 08:26 am (UTC)
Interesting thesis. This is something I realised a long time ago. I have two sets of moral codes now, the real and the aspirational. I have things I expect of myself and others, and things I demand of myself an others. If the first is broken, it's an admission of humanity, and can be forgiven with repentance, but the second takes some real work.
Sep. 17th, 2008 10:35 am (UTC)
It seems to me that it's not so much a case of people wanting to be lied to, but that it's human nature to believe things you want to be true. While in politics you have to be staggeringly naive to automaticly believe things said by either side, that presumes you think about these things.

Party politics would seem to show that those of a conservative or religious background will tend to question less. Perhaps they're conditioned to that line of thought. Automaticly believe it because you want it to be like that, and when it doesn't work out, it must be someones elses fault. Because that's also what they want to believe.
And conversely, more liberal politics seems to encourage independent and decentralised investigation and personal liability. A lot less comfortable to be responsible for your own actions and choices, and having to admit that some things in the future may not be very comfortable.

There are arguments both for being mindful of the future and not panicking the population. It's a tricky problem of balance perhaps.
Sep. 17th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)
I don't know that either of your moral paradigms completely applies to me, in that I think it's important to forgive myself when I fall short, but I also think it's galling to lie or be lied to on a regular basis.

For me, the bigger issue isn't how well you conform to your initial moral code (because situations and people change and so one's moral code in theory could too); but that it's hugely irresponsible, and immoral, to (repeatedly) promise things that you have no intention of delivering.

I'm a parent, and breaking a promise to my kid is just something that I try to avoid at all costs. It damages trust. I wish that political servants had roughly the same mindset. Not that the electorate should be treated like children (even though they/we often are in the negative sense) but that we should be respected.
Sep. 17th, 2008 12:13 pm (UTC)
The link WAS an entertaining pastiche. Thanks.

BTW, a reasoned case could be made that the two mortgage lenders were nationalized , in fact, by the Democrats in the '90s, but I'll leave it at that.

As to your broader point... doesn't the ethos of America encompass such a broad spectrum that there's a risk in focusing so narrowly?

It's the old 'can't see the forest for the trees' thing yet again.

Aside: My personal moral code revolves around The Golden Rule, although perhaps with a bit of a John Wayne bent: I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I expect the same from them.
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
a reasoned case could be made that the two mortgage lenders were nationalized , in fact, by the Democrats in the '90s, but I'll leave it at that.

I'd like to hear it, because, point of fact, they weren't then, but are now being paid-for and controlled by the US Government, in a totally literal way. I'm pretty sure that the investors getting soaked would really enjoy hearing your theory as well.
(no subject) - ponsdorf - Sep. 18th, 2008 10:02 am (UTC) - Expand
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Sep. 17th, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC)
Huh. I must admit, I never before looked at things from this perspective.

The notion that people will accept, and indeed even SEEK, lies because they think empty promises are worth more than honor or truth (as they are so cynical they don't think anyone is honorable or truthful anymore) stuns me. But it makes sense, too. The notion that the more inflated the lies, the harder someone is trying is also quite shocking. But it, too, makes a sick sort of sense.

Wow. I think I'll be reeling from this for a few days...
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:33 pm (UTC)
I don't know that things are really as black/white as that, but we both seem to have come from similar places (albeit you came out of the Bible-studying classical fundies and I came out of fundie/charismatic hybrid churches that emphasize experience over learning) and gone through similar enough experiences and thoughts on our early lives.

My personal take is slightly different than yours, and something I touched on earlier in one of my responses about pro-lifers. The difference, to me, incorporates public and private morality: the standards you hold for yourself and the ones you hold for everybody else. Where the morality of the fundamentalist churches I went to is way off, in my opinion, is in its holding a very harsh set of standards for everybody who isn't "saved" that true believers skate on, since they're covered by Christ's atoning sacrifice. Everybody else, you can view in simplistic terms, as just damning themselves all day by their every action - even the good things they do are an affront to God, since they're doing them for their own glory. Or maybe Satan's, even. Who knows? At any rate, you get to take a more nuanced and charitable view of your own failings and those of your fellow believers, since you're all "covered by the blood."

This is, perhaps not coincidentally, how clinical narcissists who become religious tend to view their religion, no matter which religion they pick: they give themselves lots of slack as human beings, prone to failure, but the whole reason they became religious in the first place is because they naturally regard themselves as superior to everyone else, so everybody outside the religion - and anybody inside they judge as not quite as devoted as they - is held to the harshest standard the religion allows.

Personally, I've arrived at, I guess, the predictable opposite: my own view of morality is that you should be as harsh and unyielding with yourself as possible, and as generous as you can be toward others, regarding their own failings.
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:48 pm (UTC)
My thoughts on both our major political parties is that both of them have the same goals - a happy, healthy, secure populace that has options in thier lives - but the parties differ in how they attempt to get to that goal.

I don't find either party evil, nor do I find members of either party stupid. I don't believe that either party has all the answers, but I think that it is the tension between the two methods that make for better solutions than either party could generally come up with on their own.

Silly me for thinking that!


About the moral code - I can go along with your idea that there are two kinds of people - My word is my bond-kind, and My word is what I'll try to shoot for-kind. However....I disagree that the second group judges people by what they promise to do since that means they will try harder. I think the second group is the type that appy one set of standards to themselves (if I try, that's good enough) and another set to others (OMG! That horrid person didn't live up to their word!)

As to your example of Bush...I remember that very, very clearly. When he went back on his sworn word it was a shock that went through the nation. An absolute shock. That bit of him saying "Read my lips.." was played over and over and over. That cost him re-election, he knew it, we as a nation knew it. So I would say that the example you picked actually showed the opposite of your premise - a bald faced lie pisses voters off and they won't stand for it.
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
I'd argue that the reason it pissed off the base as hard as it did was because never raising taxes is just about the only unforgivable sin in Republican politics. You can be guilty of anything just so long as you don't raise taxes.
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Sep. 17th, 2008 02:06 pm (UTC)
SO, does that mean Republicans (in office) think that lying is something they do to:

A) sooth the masses
B) Stay in office for the sake of staying in office
C) Pretend to be a moral beacon, do what we say, not what we do. or don't notice what we do because we care about YOU!
D) Don't actually give a crap one way or the other, and just like to mess with everyone.
E) they actually believe what they spout, disregarding the fact that everything is available on the internet, and willfully ignore that they might actually be wrong about something.

Is there a motivation for lying besides the seeking of more power?
Sep. 17th, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
Bluntly, many political types are in the business simply because they want more power. It's no accident that they tend to be kinky SOBs with severe issues, too.

To quote one of my favorite California machine politicians from the 19th century: "If you can't take their money, drink their booze, screw their women, and look them in the eye and say 'No' you have no business being in this town." (Sacramento)

The Republicans consider hypocrisy a virtue. Since everyone is evil (to their lights), the virtue lies in hiding your own evil so that you are a good example to others. Admitting your sins is the ultimate crime -- thus the rage over Clinton's adultery, a minor peccadillo but one that was played out IN PUBLIC. The ultimate sin to a Republican.
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC)
Moral Politics
Have you read Moral Politics, by George Lakoff> It talks at length about two moral codes, and how they affect political discussion. While it uses very different terms than you (it presents them in terms of parenting styles), your view seems pretty compatible with his.

It also discusses "what to do with this", tactically and strategically.

Regardless, if you haven't read it, and even if you ultimately disagree with it, I think you'd find it an interesting read.
Sep. 17th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
This actually reminds me of Albion's Seed by David Fischer. Depressingly, I haven't finished it, but it touches on just such points of cultural difference and speculates about their origins. Have you had a go at that one ?
Sep. 18th, 2008 04:53 am (UTC)
Krinndnz --- Sara Robinson, over at Orcinus started to write a series explaining Albion's Seed. She wrote about three of the four groups, but hasn't finished it. If you would like to read a well-written but shorter version of the concepts, look for it at Orcinus:
Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Sep. 17th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)
Since I have never, ever heard either a Republican or Democratic candidate or office holder appeal to reason, I am curious as to what exactly you seem to think reason is if you are seriously proposing that Democrats appeal to it.
Sep. 17th, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC)
Didn't he give an example in the post? I admit I don't recall Dukakis that well. But just the other day we had Obama pointing out how conservative privatization 'philosophy' does not fit the facts.
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Sep. 17th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
Regarding attitudes to the truth... They passed a law in New York where chain restaurants have to publicly display the number of calories in their products (stick with me, I promise it's related).

Based on the article I read, the responses from people to this change were threefold. Some people changed their eating habits because of the new information (which is what the law was intended to do). Their response was: "600 calories in that muffin, give me the wheat toast!" The second group of people were indifferent to the information and had a more staunch response: "I'm not changing the way I eat because of this, bring on the gravy!" The third, and most interesting, group were angry that they'd been given the information. Their response was typically: "I didn't want to know that, how dare you tell me that!"

None one seemed to be claiming that information wasn't true. But the responses to the truth were very different. Some people change their positions and views based on new information. Some stick with what they know no matter what. And some actually get pissed that you dared insert facts into their worldview.

I'm not sure that these divisions run along party or ideological lines though. I've seen pagans and liberals just as angry that you passed on facts they don't agree with. However I also believe that reality has a liberal bias (Colbert) so conservative views might be at odds with the facts more frequently.
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