Two points that bear repeating

  1. We could have elected Hitler and it wouldn’t have turned out significantly worse than if Clinton had won.
  2. The left and right aren’t speaking the same language, and whoever fails to take the first step (which is to not blame the other side) shares the larger share of the blame.

I just listened to the post election episode of the excellent series, The United States of Anxiety. Two interviews stand out: the Trump supporter who fails (I think) to understand the genuine (albeit overblown) fear of a black teenager, and the Trump opponent who fails to understand that trump supporter. (There was also a notably boring interview with another Trump opponent, some hand wringing by the hosts, and some genuinely insightful commentary from Chris Arnade stuffed into the back corner of the episode.)

Maybe I’m in a privileged position because I used to see myself as part of the right and now see myself as part of the left (what’s left of it). Many people on the left are being sore losers about this election and they’re making things worse. I’m talking about humans, not (necessarily) politicians. That’s what’s really disappointing.

To be fair, it’s a common pool problem. We each get social capital brownie points for being angry (“10 reasons you should be angry” gets more Internet points than “difficult social science that requires you to do things you don’t like“), and we don’t get the same rewards for sober reflection (or maybe NOL is a sensible echo chamber? Agree with me in the comments.).

The fact remains that in-group signalling trumps ideological inclusion. The result could mean wild swings of power between the right and the left with due process (and the blessings of civilization… like tolerance, economic growth, freedom, and social mobility) being steamrolled in the process.

It’s fun to blame Facebook, the media, politicians, or anyone else but ourselves. The truth is, consumer sovereignty is far stronger a force than is commonly accepted. We aren’t the victims, we’re the perpetrators. It feels good to have an ideologically tight-knit Internet cocoon and so we spend more time listening to our podcasts (talk radio) while driving our Priuses (pickups) past the coast (vast ocean of farms).

And we’ll always have some of that, but we’ve got important disagreements that we have to resolve… not permanently, but for the next generation or so. All sides (libertarians have to participate too; I don’t think we’re to blame, but some people do) have to eat some humble pie and try to genuinely understand what the others are talking about. They aren’t all morons (and we aren’t all geniuses).

What really struck me in those interviews (mostly the second, longer, better quality one by the well spoken liberal academic) was that they weren’t speaking as though they were really trying to convince their intellectual opponents. Patty (Trump supporter) was happy and felt like she was finally part of the decision making process in DC (whether that’s true is another issue). He was speaking to a liberal

Both sides need to try to adopt the language of the other side. You should be trying to convince them! Why should you expect any degree of success when you say shit like “just look at the evidence [you big dummy!]” as though they don’t think they’ve been looking at legitimate evidence. You’re both falling for confirmation bias.

The way forward is intellectual humility. Will that happen? Not a chance, but that’s all the more reason for me to shout into the void. Culture changes slowly.

People will always disagree, and always should. Ideologies have blind spots and need to depend on critics from the other ideologies to account for them. The policy we get reflects the desires of those who might do something about it. Even dictators have to walk a thin line to stay in power. What seems to be at issue here is meta-policy (Buchananian constitutional issues… not the literal constitution, but informal shared understandings about how government wields power). Right now the position from the two big camps is “to the victor go the spoils.” That’s happening because each camp has closed themselves off to the other. It’s similar to what Bastiat said; when we don’t get gains from ideological trade and cooperation, we get political strife.

Everything will be fine

Eight years ago I identified more with the right. Obama represented a charismatic leader with scary ideologies and an uncertain background. (McCain represented a very old man who didn’t seem to care much about freedom.) Obama had a cult of personality and looked ready to dismantle society.

What do I think now? I think he’s handled his position gracefully (though I haven’t been following too closely… gov’t is ~1/5 of the economy and I intend to keep it <1/5 of my life), and he’s done a good deal of harm (further entrenching the role of insurance in health care finance, drone strikes, etc.). But I don’t think he did any more harm than a Republican candidate in his position. The world didn’t end, and despite a big recession, freedom ultimately proved to be a hearty weed rather than a delicate flower.

I think Trump will follow a similar trajectory. He’ll make things worse, but the outcome won’t be dramatically different (overall) than if Clinton had won. Different special interests will be rewarded, and different special interest groups will suffer. But overall, four years from now we’ll be a little less free, a bit more rich (though probably going through a recession… that would have happened under either candidate), and ready for some more political change.

Bill Burr’s got it right: nothing’s going to change. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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5 thoughts on “Two points that bear repeating

  1. […] By the way, I’m enjoying the crap out of John Oliver’s righteous indignation, but the truth is he’s probably doing more harm than good. Oliver panders to his dedicated fan base. Jon Stewart held his audience to a higher standard. He was biased, but he didn’t let his side get away with sloppy thinking. […]

  2. How much do you think we should be willing to sacrifice when trying to talk to the other side? I find that when talking to either the right or left I need to give up a few points in order to be allowed to discuss with them. For example, in matters of migration I need to use “illegal aliens” among conservatives and “undocumented migrants/workers/students” with progressives.

    • I think minds are changed incrementally, so I’m happy to “give up” a lot. If you’re trying to take someone to the HB section of the library, you’ll do better to meet them in the lobby than tell them to follow your (shouting) voice.

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