Political Metastasis

RepublicratJulian Sanchez writes on his blog:

Browsing a conservative news site the other day, I was struck by the sheer oddness of that familiar genre of political commentary that treats liberals and conservatives, not just as groups of people with systematic disagreements on policy questions, but as something like distinct subspecies of humanity. The piece that triggered this was something along the lines of “Five Reasons Liberals Are Awful People,” and it had almost nothing to do with any concrete policy question, or ultimately even the broad-brush contours of liberal political thought: It was a string of assertions about broad types of character flaws purportedly shared by liberals, of which their policy views were only a symptom. The same day, I chanced across a piece by Chris Mooney—based on his new book The Republican Brain—making a similar sort of argument from the other side by drawing on recent social science. Then just yesterday, my friend Conor Friedersdorf tweeted a request for good summaries of the liberal view of the right to privacy, and I was again struck by how odd it sounded: Scholars have advanced a whole array of views on the question, and while certainly liberals and conservatives would tend to find different ones more congenial, it seemed like an unhelpful way to map the terrain or illuminate the key points on which various thinkers diverge.

Without denying that political and policy differences are likely to track deeper differences in temperament—differences that shape our preferences and behavior across many domains—it’s worth recalling that the binary nature of our political discourse, featuring two main parties with corresponding ideologies, is a highly contingent feature of our electoral rules. As libertarians never tire of pointing out, there is no particularly compelling philosophical reason that one’s views on abortion, foreign military intervention, environmental regulation, tax policy, and criminal justice should cluster in the particular pattern we find among Republican and Democratic partisans. So we ought to be awfully skeptical about the (growing?) tendency to treat this binary divide as reflecting some essential fact about human nature, or as providing a frame within which to understand all intellectual or cultural life…

Read more here.

13 Comments on "Political Metastasis"

  1. m1kesa1m0ns | Apr 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm |

    We’re still fighting our civil war in America. I wouldn’t exactly call it cold or hot at the moment. There are no troops or formal declaration, but it’s fought everyday on the streets, in schools and in the courtrooms. And lives are lost.

    There’s not just one borderline anymore- instead a bunch of little ones. but they definitely exist.

  2. There is a false equivalency in your first paragraph. You place one story based on stereotypes in the same group as another story based on scientific studies. How is that even close to “a similar sort of argument from the other side?”

    I also disagree with your second paragraph, because there are many reasons that viewpoints on different topics tend to cluster.

    I do agree that this shouldn’t be used as a frame to define issues.

  3. Lifobryan | Apr 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm |

    I blame Siskel & Ebert for our current polarization. They taught us to reduce all argument to a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” from opposite sides of an aisle, discounting any nuance, complexity, or areas of agreement. Probably a fine method for reviewing “The Goonies” on TV – but a troubling one when adopted as our primary mode of political discourse. 

  4. Liam_McGonagle | Apr 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm |

    I’m gradually learning to loathe fellow Americans of all political stripes, so I regard this as a huge step forward.

    Yes, the exercise does entail a certain amount of self-righteous arrogance.  But that’s the nature of individuality for you.  As the Chinese used to say, “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.”  Being the object of such widespread suspicion and hatred really focuses the mind.

  5. Irish Potato Gun | Apr 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm |

    They are the complementary wings that allow corporate facism to fly in this country to manipulate laws and justice to it own selfish ends.

  6. Bill Hicks:
    “I’ll show you politics in America.
    Here it is, right here.
    ‘I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.’
    ‘I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.’
    ‘Hey, wait a minute, there’s one guy holding out both puppets!’”

    Amerikan politics is like professional wrestling
    only faker.

  7. IMO, the division researchers should be tracking are the neurological differences between authoritarian followers (see The Authoritarians – http://bit.ly/9vm7cV , normal people, and authoritarian leaders. Authoritarian / nonauthoritarian have far more to do with political goals / outcomes than nominal political ideology. 

    The reason why research is misdirected is that researchers have naive outlooks on politics based on the largely meaningless conventional political spectrum, the one that gives us a choice between “left” centrists and “right” centrists, each group of politicians aiming at a different market demographic, but each with the real goal of transferring wealth upwards to themselves (they ARE the 1%) and their < 0.001% campaign donors.

  8. Drive_like_a_demon | Apr 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm |

    >As libertarians never tire of pointing out, there is no particularly compelling philosophical
    reason that one’s views on abortion, foreign military intervention,
    environmental regulation, tax policy, and criminal justice should
    cluster in the particular pattern we find among Republican and
    Democratic partisans.

    huh? the author is either disingenuous or woefully uninformed. the economist thomas sowell, a strong voice in libertarianism, has written a masterful book explaning the precise philosophical roots of the contemporary political schism. He terms the philosophies the “constrained vision” and the “unconstrained vision.”

    Very broadly speaking, the unconstrained vision is associated with leftist/progressive/socialist politics, while the constrained vision is associated with libertarian/right-wing politics.

    To quote from the wiki page for Sowell’s book “A Conflict of Visions”

    >The Unconstrained Vision

    >Sowell argues that the unconstrained vision relies heavily on the belief that human nature
    is essentially good. Those with an unconstrained vision distrust
    decentralized processes and are impatient with large institutions and
    systemic processes that constrain human action. They believe there is an
    ideal solution to every problem, and that compromise is never
    acceptable. Collateral damage is merely the price of moving forward on
    the road to perfection. Sowell often refers to them as “the self
    anointed.” Ultimately they believe that man is morally perfectible.
    Because of this, there must be some people who are further along the
    path of moral development and are therefore able to put aside
    self-interest and make decisions for the benefit and good of all.

    >The Constrained Vision

    >Sowell argues that the constrained vision relies heavily on belief
    that man is inherently and iredeemably selfish, regardless of the best
    intentions. Those with a constrained vision prefer the systematic
    processes of the rule of law and experience of tradition. Compromise is
    essential because there is no ideal solution and those with a
    constrained vision favor solid empirical evidence and time-tested
    structures and processes over innovation and personal experience.
    Ultimately, the constrained vision demands checks and balances and
    refuses to accept that any one person could put aside their innate

    When these two views are considered as a philosophical premise most of
    the political conclusions that people embrace follow quite logically
    from the starting point (e.g., leftists like Obama says that everyone needs a college degree, based on premise that people can be educated into wisdom,  moral behavior, and wealth; a right-winger, in contrast, might accept that some people are intrinsically smarter and/or harder working than others, and believes that a traditional college education can be a huge waste of time and money for many students who’d be better off in vocational school learning a practical trade.)

    • First, CerebralCaustic, libertarians do frequently point out that there’s no compelling philosophical reason we have the political clustering we do.  Sowell’s classifications are biased, simplistic, slipshod, speculative, and hardly masterful or compelling.

      Second, Obama never said that everyone needs a college degree.  Claiming so suggests you are the one who’s disingenuous or woefully uninformed.  Which would make sense considering you believe Sowell.

      For a three dimensional political taxonomy that is based on more than one partisan hack’s opinion: http://disinfo.com/2010/09/notes-toward-a-new-political-taxonomy/

  9. “The only intelligent way to discuss politics is on all fours,”

    • Lifobryan | Apr 5, 2012 at 11:09 pm |

      Ha ha! Wonderful words of wisdom from Timothy Leary & Robert Anton Wilson. RAW’s observation that all mammalian territory (ie political points of view) are marked by excretions (ie excretion-themed epithets) is particularly pertinent to this topic. Thanks!

  10. The article skips the one most important part, the divide amongst the right, the distinct division in pseudo conservative politics, the two castes of Republicans.
    Those that control, have the power and are the ‘deciders’ and the vast majority of right wingers, the fearful gullible sheep, the ones who have little control, have little power and decide nothing. The ones who have been led by a deceitful mass media to the shearing shed where their rights, their future, their wealth and systematically been shorn and the benefits of that shearing the 1% are the 1% that actually control the Republicans.
    When social democrats talk about Republicans they talk about two types of Republicans the exploiters doing the shearing and the sheep.
    The accurate disparaging descriptions, the charges of corruption and exploitation, the distinct psychopathics criminal nature and all for the 1% of the far right that control political parties like the Republicans and the only derision for the 99% of pseudo conservatives is for their being sheep.

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