Archive for the ‘cultural divide’ Category

Interesting Take on Society   Leave a comment

Have you seen the latest Joker movie? I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. There’s the money – about $18 a ticket here in Fairbanks — but Brad convinced me to go since it isn’t yet cold enough to worry about needing to warm our car mid-movie. (Yes, Alaska – a very challenging place). Brad knows me, though. I love to analyze films, to figure out what they’re trying to say to their viewers. So Friday night date, movie. And while in the line to buy tickets, we ran into our son and his girlfriend who were going to see the same movie.

Image result for image of joker

The reviewers of the movie all seemed to cite it as “dangerous,” fearing it might inspire insurrection groups to identify the character as a hero and imitate him. Others condemned the film’s “willful unpleasantness” and “rare, numbing emptiness” (we call that nihilism). Still others draw a connection between Joaquin Phoenix’s depiction of the character and the validation of “white male resentment” seen on the political right.

As an observer of social psychology, however, I saw Joker’s commentary on the phenomenon of collectivism (what another commentator called “de-individuation.”) The film’s true evil (the Big Bad, if you will) is a broken, frustrated society that latches onto random, almost purposeless acts of violence, imbues them with deeper meaning, and uses them as justification for mass violence and brutality. On the way to the car, Brad asked me “What was the political message?” and I didn’t find Joker to be a political movie. It’s a psychological one, showing the dangers of group action and the power of group narratives. Our son’s girlfriend was so impressed with my answer that the young folk asked the old folk to hang out and discuss it. This is a synopsis of about three hours of drinking coffee and three thinkers and a construction worker psycho-analyzing a fictional character.

In Joker, Gotham City is broken, but no one class or group shoulders the blame for the dysfunction. Arthur Fleck is failed by every level of society – mugged and beaten by a street gang, brutalized by rich young bankers, abandoned amid the de-funding of the public mental health care system, and permanently scarred by his own family. Lots of blame to go around. And yet, every class in Joker seeks to shift the blame for society’s woes. The rich denigrate the working class and the working class dehumanize the wealthy. A TV host (played by, ironically, Robert DeNiro) mercilessly teases Arthur, and all classes share the same glee at his televised failures.

In their desperate need to find someone else to blame, the masses of Gotham condemn “them” (I think they were “the one percent”). Society then elevates Arthur’s purposeless act of murder into kind of social rebellion. The populace knows zero significant details about the killing — no motive, circumstances or even the identity of the perpetrator — but imbues it with shared meaning. They’ve already constructed their narrative and will fit a random event to match it, and thus declare Joker a hero.

When Arthur’s identity is revealed in the movie’s climax, hordes of protesters are already ready to revolt. Another purposeless murder by Arthur sparks riots. On the brink of public suicide (akin to suicide by cop in mass shootings, perhaps), Arthur issues a rambling rant where he blames the elites for the state of Gotham, claims credit for the earlier killing, and decides to enjoy one last bit of senseless violence.

From a psychological perspective, Joker is an incredibly realistic and damning depiction of group dynamics. Unlike previous versions of the Joker by Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker has no plans, no real motives, and no overarching point to make. He’s a victim of both circumstances and his own impotent rage. He doesn’t manipulate or use other people to achieve his ends, probably because he has no actual ends to achieve. In this version of Gotham, everyone is awful to everyone, and it is society that makes Joker what he is, not by their treatment of him, but through their mythologizing and romanticizing of his purposeless actions.

De-individuation is a phenomenon where crowds assume a collective identity and become willing to commit even the most heinous acts, as seen in the Stanford Prison Experiment, but also Nazi Germany, Communist China, the old Soviet Bloc states, and Southern slave plantations. De-individuation is seen when crowds assume a collective identity, diffuse individual responsibility among themselves, and become willing to commit mass riots and lynch mobs because they come to believe that simple numbers equate to moral action. The collective identities of de-individuated groups result in biased recollections and interpretations of events that devolve into horrifying violence.

This is exactly what happens in Joker. All Arthur Fleck does is commit relatively aimless murders and issue a relatively incoherent angry rant on television. The true villain of the movie is the broader society that latches onto these actions and words and imbues them with nonexistent meaning to justify their own crimes.

As a novelist, I recognize that fiction reflects reality. In the search for meaning amid an increasingly polarized and hostile political climate, groups come together and lionize monsters. While the mass murderers Che Guevara and Mao Zedong are praised by many on the political left, their self-aggrandizing brutality ignored in favor of the mythologized virtues of socialism and communism, the nationalist ideologies responsible for mass tragedy in the past are lauded by those on the political right. Feelings of disenfranchisement and resentment produce violent mobs on both ends of the political spectrum, hence Antifa and the Proud Boys.

Brad walked away from the film with a deep sense of discomfort. Call him “Everyman”. Like most American moviegoers, he prefers simple, somewhat cartoonish evil villains who he can assume are “the other” because they don’t prompt any self-reflection. None of us want to identify with the villain. We prefer to see a message against our ideological opponents rather than our own potential for immoral behavior. Brad served as our “normal” control as Keirnan, his girlfriend and I analyzed the movie at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant afterward.

We agreed that like the hordes of Gotham, we seek to villainize those who disagree with us while excusing the behavior of our in-groups. Such circumstances make instances of mass violence and de-individuation all the more likely.

Joker is not about Trump and the alt-right any more than it is about Antifa and the radical left. It is about the apolitical dangers of group de-individuation. We need such examples outside the psychology classroom because otherwise, the examples will be on the news. We’ve already seen it in the Antifa riots and Charlottesville. We need uncomfortable films like Joker to show us the dangers of grouping up and allowing apolitical psychological forces dictate our interactions with our fellow humans and, heaven forbid, our government policies.

She’s No Hamilton   Leave a comment

by Randal OToole 02/15/2019

http://www.newgeography.com/content/006224-she-s-no-alexander-hamilton

The Antiplanner might be behind the times, but has anyone else noticed that it is the Democrats who are playing the role of Alexander Hamilton — the conservative who wanted to centralize government and concentrate power in New York banks — while the Republicans are playing the role of Thomas Jefferson — the civil libertarian who wanted to keep economic and political power decentralized? I always wondered why Lin-Manuel Miranda picked such a conservative historical figure to be the hero of his left-leaning musical.

Now we know. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is going to cost tens of trillions of dollars, but she just blithely says we’ll pay for it “the same way we paid for World War II”: “The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments and new public banks can be created to extend credit.”

The complete article is available at the link above.

Posted February 15, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in cultural divide

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Pyrrhic Victory   4 comments

There’s a young man who attends our church (a student at the University of Alaska) who fled Malaysia after his parents were killed by a mob who insisted his mother had cast sorcery spells on a man who died in their village. After seeing his parents machetied to death, Daniel (yes, the name his Malaysian Christian parents gave him) had to flee Malaysia to save his own life.

Image result for image of violent Kavanaugh protestersThat’s just an example of the mob violence Western civilization crawled free of through the establishment of principles like the presumption of innocence.

To millions of Americans, Brett Kavanaugh seems just as guilty as Daniel’s family seemed to their accusers. They sincerely believe that Kavanaugh has all the signs of a abusive male — afterall, he’s an affluent, white, elite Catholic school attendee, conservative and nominated by the “serial rapist” Donald Trump. Millions of people have repeated this so often that it feels deeply true and who can deny the “corroborating” accusations? And, thus you see the power of groupthink on the human mind. It is possible they’re right and Kavanaugh is guilty as charged, but it is equally possible they are wrong and are unfairly attacking a man who is being lied about. Without corroboration of Ford’s statements, there’s really no way of knowing … but his children will grow up thinking Daddy’s might be a sex offender, regardless.

Daniel’s parents met the profile of “witches”, according to their accusers. When a missionary couple who came to Daniel’s aid went to the authorities, they were told charges of sorcery are fairly common against Christians in Malaysia and may seem absurd to third-party observers, but it is a near-universal belief in that part of Malaysia. Sorcery has power there because people believe it has power and so the accusation of sorcery is likely to result in death by machete-wielding mobs…especially if you’re so foolish as to call yourself a Christian.

Western society fought a long battle with ourselves to establish personhood. It’s a relatively new idea that an individual person has a right to their own life and liberty regardless of the passions of the collective. For most of history, the individual accused by a crowd or community had no ability to escape its destructive path.

When Potiphar’s wife accused her Hebrew slave Joseph of trying to rape her (it was she who tried to seduce him), Joseph was thrown into prison without any need for corroboration beyond the shirt she’d ripped off him.

“Believe our women!” was the slogan of lynching organizers during Jim Crow. The “justice” crowd felt as sure about their scapegoats’ guilt as new partisan crowds do about their conservative targets. To mobs, a person’s wealth (or poverty) or race, religion, gender or whatever makes them other is sufficient reason to ignore their humanity and cast shame or even kill. There’s a zeal that posses the minds of people who think that dressing out of fashion, having opposing political opinions, or bearing a “guilty” skin color makes one suspect for non-corroborated accusations.

Image result for image of a pyrrhic victoryVictim-garbed political stunts are growing. Yes, we should take the survivors of assault seriously, but allowing them to be used as props for political power is not how we go about that.

Daniel knows the dangerous of witch hunts because he’s a survivor of a witch hunt. Had he and his parents been afforded the presumption of innocents, his parents might still be alive and he might not have such horrific memories. The presumption of innocence should be a cultural norm practiced outside of the courts because winning in a court of law (or the Senate), but losing the court of public opinion is a Pyrrhic victory.

What Is Wrong With Us?   1 comment

This is Lela. The book is going well and I’m emerging from the writer’s cave. And, I’ve been thinking.

Incivility 1We’ve arrived at a point in our history where gangs of hecklers chase politicians from restaurants and Senate hearings lack all semblance of decorum. Perhaps it’s not surprising that family members and friends part ways over politics.

Is there something in the water? New examples of incivility and violence toward dissenters appear every day. Last week, when I needed a break from editing, I casually browsed several sites online. There was a professor advocating castration for white Republicans; celebrities mocking Kanye West (a black man) for praising the president; strangers leaving death threats on the phones of politicians, judges, and their families; anonymous University of Washington students publishing false accusations of rape; and some wicked soul mailing the poison ricin to government officials.

Only a quarter of a century ago this ongoing malevolence would have shocked most Americans. Sure, conservatives and liberals debated each other, but those disagreements resemble a dialogue in Plato’s Academy compared to the scream-fests of 2018.

 So, I identified five possible reasons for this devolution in civility.

Twenty-five years ago, the Internet and cell phones were in their infancy. Twitter was a noise made by sparrows in the yard. These devices are wonderful but allow every bozo with an opinion—including myself—to shoot that opinion into cyberspace instantaneously and often anonymously. From school bullying to Supreme Court nominations, our technology gives us the power to destroy a fellow human being with threats and insults.

Remember when many people, liberals and conservatives alike, poked fun at political correctness on campus? It stopped being funny a while ago. PC remains rampant in our educational institutions, but now graduates of the liberal universities that popularized trigger warnings have injected PC into the world of business and government. In our public universities, we have long tolerated professors calling for radical changes to American society. The former students of these professors are now agents of this transformation sitting in boardrooms and on government committees.

Google “Americans ignorant about history.” Magazines as different as The AtlanticAmerican Heritage, and National Review feature articles lamenting this lack of knowledge about our past. In 2011, for example, a majority of adults didn’t know that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. Others can’t identify the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, or the reason for celebrating Independence Day.

“Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana famously remarked. He actually was being optimistic. Instead of repeating history, we may instead descend into a dystopia we never imagined. Fifty years of steering away from courses in basic civics and denigrating American achievements have produced a bumper crop of malice against history.

Many Americans have taken politics for their religion, fanatical as any Reformation Calvinists or Catholics. We make gods of our politicians and demons of our opponents and their leaders. We are on the side of the angels, and they conspire with devils.

“Follow the money” is a journalistic axiom. So, let’s follow some money. Of the 25 richest counties in the United States, 11 are located in the area surrounding DC. The Capitol also hosts administrators and employees of government, think tanks, lobbying groups, and private businesses involved in federal endeavors. Do you think poison becomes less dangerous when it is combined? Of course not. The source of our conflict is not Austin, Boise or Minneapolis, but Washington D.C.

Incivility 2We’ve been in a slowly developing “cold civil war” for about two decades now, but it has a feel to it that suggests it may become a hot civil war with very little encouragement. And that’s bad because the blue religionists just spent the last month gathering verbal stones to exterminate their chosen target. Hillary Clinton is calling for an escalation of hostilities. There’s no reason to suppose the left would hold back if the vitriol increases. They don’t even seem to be intimidated by the knowledge that red America is much better armed than they are. Perhaps because their leaders know that whoever starts shooting first will be the loser … which is what almost always happened in similar situations in history. So is the next step for the blues to start building guillotines so they can lop off the heads of their opponents? It certainly seems like they wouldn’t find that unacceptable any longer.

I can’t offer any grand solutions, but I have one small suggest. Let’s talk and ask each other questions without all the cacophony of the mainstream media and the politicians. Let’s actually listen to one another and calm the heck down so we can find a way lay aside our differences and return to being a country that isn’t on the verse of a civil war..

Posted October 23, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in cultural divide, Uncategorized

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Do You See the Matrix?   Leave a comment

I don’t generally watch TED Talks. They just seem slick and superficial to me. I prefer to read and the only visual media I really interact with is long-form discussions similar to what Jordan Peterson, Dave Ruben and Joe Rogan do. But Brad enjoys visual media, so sometimes I’m in the room when he’s consuming them.

Thus, I watched this TED Talk by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who has researched morality and culture for 30-odd years. He’s spent a large pat of his career trying to understand and explain the foundations of human morality. Not too surprisingly, he’s noticed that humans often struggle to agree on what morality is. It’s to his credit that he hasn’t thrown up his hands in disgust and walked away from the topic.

During a TED Talk that I think is a few years old, Haidt shared his discovery that human beings don’t begin as a blank slate. I know … that’s contrary to common mythology, which Haidt calls “the worst idea in all psychology.” According to Haidt, humans are born with a “first draft” of moral knowledge, possessed of innate but malleable sets of values “organized in advance of experience.”

If the slate isn’t blank, then something is on it. What?

These are not new concepts to Christians. The Bible has asserted for time immemorial that mankind is created in the image of God. Since God is a Spirit and doesn’t have a body, this is not a physical image, but a spiritual or moral one. So, this Ted Talk didn’t surprise me in the least, though it may have come as news to Haidt and his team.

To find out what is on our moral template, Haidt and a colleague read the most current literature on anthropology, cultural variations, and evolutionary psychology to identify cross-cultural matches. They found five primary categories that serve as our moral foundation:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and community. (As a Christian, I suspect it’s part of the innate code God gave us before the Fall).
2) Fairness/reciprocity: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, when Haidt reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, his team emphasized proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives.
3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
4) Authority/subversion: According to Haidt, this foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions and it underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions. (I attribute it to our original relationship with God, now damaged by the Fall.)
5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions…just ask vegetarians and athletes).

Haidt found that both conservatives and liberals recognize the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity values. Liberal-minded people, however, tend to reject the three remaining foundational values—Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation—while conservatives accept them.

I was so stunned by overhearing that as I wrote in the living room while Brad listened to the video, that I watched it again — twice. That’s a striking difference, which helps explain why many liberals and conservatives in America think “the other side” is delusional.

Now, a lot of liberals will contend that the three extra values are not proper morals at all but base human traits responsible for xenophobia and religious oppression. Haidt rejects this thesis. Through a series of historical illustrations, psychological studies, and cross-cultural references, he explains that many liberals often fail to appreciate a timeless truth that conservatives usually accept: order tends to decay. (If that sounds familiar, google the Second Law of Thermodynamics.)

Haidt isn’t suggesting conservatives are superior to liberals. He’s actually pointing out that conservatives tend to value order even at the cost of those at the bottom of society, which can result in morally dubious social implications (or, as Brad pointed out, more robust church charity programs). In contrast, liberals often desire change even at the risk of chaos and the associated damage that accrues from it. A friend I shared the chart with pointed out that it makes conservatives look like the more open-minded ones, which is an interesting take on the usual condemnation.

If your head is exploding, you might want to reach for the duct tape. You can certainly refuse to accept Haidt’s explanation of moral reality. The human inclination is to believe in one’s own understanding of morality, and many people will live their entire lives without seriously attempting to understand their ideological counterparts, but of course Haidt (and I) don’t recommend living in reality bubbles.

“If you think that half of America votes Republican because they’re blinded… then my message to you is you’re trapped in a moral matrix,” Haidt said. “You can either take the blue pill and stick to your comforting delusions. Or you can take the red pill, learn some moral psychology, and step outside your moral matrix.”

So what to make of all this? I found Haidt’s explanations pretty insightful, but I already knew it. He was just catching up to writings from Francis Schaefer I read 30+ years ago or with the Bible itself which was written millennia ago. But for those who like their cultural and philosophical analysis to be more timely, it certainly helps explain America’s  current contentious culture. Intelligent and reasonable people will have a difficult time agreeing on anything if they view the moral underpinnings of society through vastly divergent lenses and it is no stretch to contend that American liberals have largely abandoned the latter three values (exceptions exist, of course), or that conservatives are highly influenced by them.

If you really hate this theory, it may just be evidence that you’re living in a moral matrix of either stripe and you might need to take the red pill to wake up and see your neighbor as he truly is rather than in the role your worldview has cast him into. And, maybe, having done that, we can sit down to coffee and have a pleasant conversation in which we discover that we can find common ground if we’ll just stop totally rejecting what the other person sees and believes about reality.

Candace Owens: Voice of a Generation   Leave a comment

I apologize for the boring white dude at the beginning, but if you get through that, it’s well worth listening to Candace’s speech. Lela rolled her eyes at the Trump endorsement at the end, but the rest of it is an extremely important message that anyone who wants to understand the world as it is today ought to at least listen to before they reject the message out of hand. Brad

Is it Time for the Great Dissolution?   Leave a comment

Image result for image of national secession as a divorceHello. This is Brad. Lela is editing a book preparatory to launching in November. After spending the last few weeks watching Americans scream at each other, I received this funny in my email, sent to me by a friend with an odd sense of human. We don’t know where it comes from, but it’s funny and it makes a point that maybe needs making in these days of hate and rage.

Dear American liberals, leftists, statists, social progressives, socialists, Marxists and Obama supporters, etc:

We have stuck together since the late 1950’s for the sake of the kids, but this latest election has made me realize that we should get a divorce. I know we tolerated each other for many years for the sake of future generations, but sadly, this relationship has clearly run its course.

Our two ideological sides of America cannot and will not ever agree on what is right for us all, so let’s just end it on friendly terms. We can smile and chalk it up to irreconcilable differences and go our own way.

Here is a model separation agreement:

–Our two groups can equitably divide up the country by landmass each taking an appropriate portion. We’re happy to give you New England and the West Coast. The good people of New Hampshire obviously will need some time to pack up and move to flyover country, and we’ll give the tenured professors in university towns ample time to relocate in your share of the country.

–We don’t like redistributive taxes and the IRS, so you can keep them.

–You are welcome to the left-wing judges and the ACLU.

–Since you hate guns and war, we’ll take our firearms, the cops, the NRA and the military.

–We’ll take the nasty, smelly oil industry and you can go with wind, solar and biodiesel.

–You can keep Oprah, Michael Moore and Rosie O’Donnell. You are, however,  responsible for finding a bio-diesel vehicle big enough to move all three of them.

–We’ll keep capitalism, greedy corporations, pharmaceutical companies, Wal-Mart and Wall Street.

–You can have your beloved welfare grubbers, food stamp recipients, homeless, hippies, druggies, and illegal aliens.

–We’ll keep the hot Alaskan hockey moms, greedy CEO’s, and rednecks.

–We’ll keep the Bibles and give you the networks and Hollywood.

–You can make nice with Iran and Palestine and we’ll retain the right to invade and hammer places that threaten us.

–You can have the peaceniks and war protesters. When our allies or our way of life are under assault, we’ll help provide them security.

–We’ll keep our Judeo-Christian values.

–You are welcome to Islam, Scientology, Humanism, political correctness and Shirley McClaine. You can also have the U.N. but we will no longer be paying the bill.

–We’ll keep the SUV’s, pickup trucks, and full-sized luxury cars. You can take every Subaru, Volvo, and Prius you can find.

–You can give everyone healthcare if you can find any practicing doctors.

–We’ll continue to believe healthcare is a product of the marketplace and not a right.

–We’ll keep “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The National Anthem.”

–I’m sure you’ll be happy to substitute “Imagine”, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, “Kum Ba Ya” or “We Are the World”.

–We’ll practice trickle down economics and you can continue to give trickle up poverty your best shot.

–Since it often so offends you, we’ll keep our history, our name and our flag.

I’m from New Hampshire. I grew up there. So I’m going to argue for it to remain with the red states. And, I think Alaskans will demand visitation rights with the Subarus. But otherwise — yeah, it’s about right.

When a marriage devolves to this much vitriol, it really is time to consider dissolution before and as an alternative to a murder-suicide.

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