Archive for the ‘#culturaldivide’ Tag

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.

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.

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.

Price of False Witness   2 comments

I don’t know who is lying and it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to point out what God has to say on the subject.

Related imageYou shall not give (answer as in a court of law) false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16

The faithful witness tells what is right, but a false witness speaks deceit. Speaking recklessly (rashly) is like the thrusts of a sword, but the words of the wise bring healing. The one who tells the truth will endure forever, but the one who lies will last only for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.  Proverbs 12:17-20

A false witness (a witness of lies) will not go unpunishedand the one who spouts out (breaths out lies) lies will not escape punishment. Proverbs 19:5

(Jesus said) “I tell you that on the day of judgmentpeople will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justifiedand by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:26-27

Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoraland the murderersand the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood! Revelations 22:14-15

So, whoever is lying — and they know which they are — might want to pay close attention to what real judgment on their behavior will look like because God promises there is punishment not just for lying, but for the disruptions caused by lying.

Posted October 7, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in cultural divide, Uncategorized

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Why Not Talk Together?   2 comments

Coffee Table TalkWelcome to the Land of Extremes! The US (indeed most of the Western world) is rapidly splitting into two political extremes that each see the other as the enemy in a potential fomenting war. If you’re in the middle … or a libertarian … they want to force you to choose a side and, it seems likely, if one side wins, it will try to eliminate the other point of view and probably yours as well.

You can blame it on a lot of factors. I try not to jump on President Trump’s every childish tweet because I am trying hard not to take sides. It can’t be easy to be a Trump supporter these days, but they are right that there’s been no solid evidence produced against Trump himself for anything that would have gotten the slightest notice during the Obama and Clinton era. Meanwhile, the news outlets have discredited themselves with their respective mudslinging and cheerleading.

Those are symptoms of our conditions that make it extremely difficult to find reliable, unbiased information about anything political. Almost everyone has taken a side. CNN is an unrelenting wall of anti-Trump semi-news every day all day. Fox News bangs the drum for Trump unless he makes a huge error and they try to minimize those. Facebook, Google et al show a clear bias to the the left and appear to be stifling some conservative viewpoints. Interesting, the folks I talk to on both sides of the divide insist the media outlets they prefer are just telling “the truth” while all the others are biased.

For the record … I think they’re all biased. Some are more biased than others.

Watching from the outside and largely trying to stay out of the political battles, I’ve seen hostilities escalating to where people truly view the other party as evil, prompting Jordan Peterson (a Canadian centrist with some libertarian views) to ask what American liberals think should happen to Trump supporters when the liberals overthrow the elected government. Speaking of Peterson … violent protests break out over invitations to even moderately conservative speakers … in effect limited college campus viewpoints to liberal only.

The days of the compassionate, tolerant liberal are over, replaced with an “us or them” mentality that labels libertarians and nonpartisans as “the enemy” because you can only “be with the correct side” or you’re most assuredly with the wrong side. And being on the “wrong side” increasing means it’s okay to encourage violence against conservatives, justified because they’re supposedly racist, sexist, homophobic, “intolerant” Nazis. If a conservative wants to reduce welfare or even just eliminate waste and fraud in the program, they “hate the poor” and minorities and are therefore racist. If a person of faith feels that homosexuality is not a faithful lifestyle, they are “homophobic”. Either way, they’re Nazis and, since Nazis are the worst kind of people, violence against them is deemed perfectly acceptable. No other solutions are reasonable anymore. You couldn’t simply use your free speech to disprove their point of view or fund alternative organizations to influence the political process and there’s no time to write convincing articles showing why they’re wrong — no, you must physically assault them, then have them jailed for refusing to stand still while you beat them to death.

For decades, the conservative response to being labeled racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., was to withdraw from the debate. Tufts University research shows “conservatives are more fearful than liberals of discussing politics with people with whom they disagree, because they dread being called a bigot. When asked how they feel about talking politics, every single conservative respondent raised the issue of being called racist.” Liberals expressed no comparable fear.” That indicates that conservatives are not allowed by liberals to value certain polices over others for responsible reasons. If bringing up valid reasons to, for example, support welfare reform, immediately brings charges of racism, it shifts the discussion to whether you’re a racist and away from the valid reasons for supporting welfare reform.

This is not a one-sided battle. Polarization has motivated both sides to force one another to comply with its worldview. Conservatives tried for yours to force their morality on the public by trying to completely outlaw abortion. You once couldn’t get a divorce in this country and there are Republicans in my home state of Alaska who still fight for marijuana prohibition.

But Democrats aren’t blameless. They’re actively working to punish free speech and religious beliefs, to make it illegal to have anything other than the liberal point of view about how to behalf in society. They are quite comfortable with using public intimidating to suppress ideas they disagree with.

Last week, I suggested we are headed toward a war and I had people angrily tell me I was wrong. I don’t see where I am. We are no longer the United States of America. We have become blue versus red, us versus them, and we’re all engaged in a fight for the survival of our beliefs and values. The fight contradicts everything America was founded on — freedom of speech, of differing idea, of the right to believe (or not believe) in religion. If either side wins this war, trends suggest they will force us all to bow to their ideology.

We all lose when that happens.

There’s a solution and it lies in refusing to see those who disagree with us as the enemy. Open your mind to the possibility that you’re not right about everything. Republicans/Democrats are not the vanguard of a crusade against the forces of evil. We can stop the war from happening if we simply start being reasonable, calm our emotions and lay aside our prejudices, and be willing to listen and learn from each other.

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