Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Divided States Of America

Sooner or later we are going to have to acknowledge the fact that America is deeply divided between the conservatives and the liberals. I'm going to look at how that happened and what we can do about it. This is more about cleaning up the mess than looking for people to blame. Ultimately, though, we're going to have to assign it where it belongs so we can work out who to pay attention to and who to avoid.

How Big Business Broke Up The Nation And Why Americans Helped Them Do It

I've been writing about the loons and narcissism in the Republican Party, but haven't written much about why people have been so willing to agree with them and consent to be ruled by them even though it's against their interests. There are five reasons for this:

  • Lack of education

  • Media preferences

  • Social pressures

  • Historical revisionism

  • A culture of skepticism

Much of the material I glean for my blog posts comes from conversations and shared links on Google Plus. Plussers, as we call ourselves, often wonder why I know so much about their country and politics. Sometimes it actually annoys them. I have to point out that what I know comes from them, the links they share, and the things they say. Most of the people I associate with there are American and most of those are moderates and Liberal or Libertarian. One or two are Republican. This is because I find it easier to associate with reasonable people who are open to questioning their positions on the issues. I don't get along with closed minded people but I can agree to disagree.

Lack of education

At the moment there's an election on in America. Voting has already begun for early voters but the actual election day is 7th November. I have a keen interest in this because American politics affects us in Britain and as a result I'm promoting the idea of discussing a new form of conservatism that doesn't scare the hell out of me. This would be easier if people who identify as conservatives were willing to discuss their ideology with a view to changing the way they think about certain issues. At this point, the lack of education comes into play as I discuss the reasons why I'd rather have Barack Obama have a second term.

While most of the people I've spoken to are well-versed in the history of their own nation and can rattle off the important dates with ease, ask them about the rest of the world and the impact of American policy there and they draw a blank. Recent history is a matter of opinion and is shaped by their personal experiences, depending on their ages. I'm friendly with a Vietnam veteran who hates Monsanto and a recent war veteran who hates Obama and spouts Republican talking points. They're both in need of help with their health issues but the older guy thinks for himself. Critical thinking is an essential component in education. The older guy can do it. The younger guy won't. Now there's a push to break up the education system and put kids in Charter schools, which have been criticised for teaching kids to pass tests. They don't actually learn anything.

Media preferences

The American media is mostly owned by big business. The most popular media outlets for conservative-leaning audiences are run by Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News and self-identifies as Libertarian. He also owns the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, and the New York Post via NewsCorp. Fox is notorious for its promotion of a conservative agenda that swings far to the right of traditional conservatism. A handful of corporate conglomerates, Disney, CBS Corporation, News Corporation, TimeWarner, and General Electric, own the majority of mass media outlets in the United States. These people also own and influence popular blogs and think tanks and this in turn influences the people who read the material posted online or watch or listen to as broadcast media or read in the newspapers.

Preference is the key; media groups encourage member loyalty and identification and often demonise personalities or publications from rival groups. I've seen Fox demonized repeatedly in the liberal media for broadcasting egregious falsehoods. This serves to entrench positions. I've never seen a convinced Republican admit that statements bashing Obama were wrong when they were demonstrably wrong.

Social pressures

Republicans and hard right-wingers use shaming to enforce conformity. I've been subject to threats to kick me out of the conservative club over and over again, a matter I've raised in other blog posts. They also double down on and repeat slogans and talking points endlessly, taking particular pleasure in racist or offensive images and comments, which they excuse as freedom of speech. I just blocked and reported one who posted an image portraying an image suggesting bestiality between a Muslim at prayer and a goat with the caption, "Muslim prayer answered." When confronted with such an image you are forced to decide between acceptance and rejection. There is no middle ground, they don't compromise. Rather than have that person troll my posts, I got rid of him.

There have been ugly incidents where people haven't conformed. When a pizza parlour manager refused to let Mitt Romney use his business for a campaign stop, he got death threats. Now imagine these people are your neighbours. That's the problem.

Historical revisionism

Conservapedia is a joke on Google Plus, except to those who take it seriously. I've got links to share about Republicans who don't like reality much who are advocating the most alarming nonsense about family life, science, history, sex, religious people who agree with them and those who don't, and healthcare, not to mention economics, and this is the mainstream! When you complain about them, Republicans will dismiss them as outliers on the fringes of Republican thought until it's deemed safe to welcome them back.

I've seen Republicans demonstrate a hitherto unseen capacity for cognitive dissonance that actually frightens me, as if they believe that all the world and everything they do is a game, so they can just reset the board whenever they want to. This explains how they can post disgusting images and videos online that insult Islam, then complain about the resulting furore as an attack on freedom of speech, completely forgetting that RIGHT NOW they're attacking people with drones and have been engaged in actual and proxy wars in the Middle East for years. They just don't want to fully acknowledge the enormity of what they do. The result of this thinking is that, when a nominal ally like me complains about the impact of their actions on me, they send me on my way.

They're celebrating Columbus Day today, forgetting what Columbus was actually responsible for doing to the native people he discovered. Historical revisionism is big business; much of the material taught in Charter schools run by religious groups carries material from authors who have been widely condemned for rewriting history and producing junk science textbooks based on religious dogma.

A culture of skepticism

One of the funniest things I've seen about Americans is that they often pride themselves on being skeptical, but this is about those things that don't suit their personal prejudices. It's more pronounced on the Republican side of the aisle, probably because we're always laughing at them. What is no laughing matter, though, is that the Republicans are unmoved by facts. I've got into arguments and outright fights with people on both sides of the aisle and can confirm from experience that if you present a liberal with a checkable fact, they'll accept it, however reluctantly.

Republicans don't give way no matter what, the reason being that they're skeptical about facts. When facts are a matter of opinion and facts can be dismissed as a partisan invention, they're not obliged to accept them. I've corrected liberals any number of times over the claims that Mitt Romney gained a $77,000 tax break for his horse. That's not true, he put in for that amount as a deduction for a loss, but only received $50. This lie keeps coming back up in my stream and I keep correcting it because it's not true. This is the fun part: they don't complain or contadict me over the corrections, even if I don't post a link to prove I'm right.

Correcting a Republican error, however, is another thing altogether. They will wiggle, whine, and try to shame me into accepting their version of events but admit to being wrong? I've rarely seen it.  This culture of skepticism is what fuels the conspiracy theories they're so fond of. Apparently, it's the sign of an open mind to be willing to accept that President Obama is a Muslim terrorist with a Marxist agenda who was married to a man, whom he later killed off to keep his sordid secret. 'Course it is... Conspiracy websites and shock jocks who set out to offend are very popular, and they tend to push extremist views, reinforcing existing prejudices in communities built on fear, hate, and paranoid self-interest.

How it all fits together

The corporate interests driving all of this actually need it to happen. If people started to think for themselves and let precedent guide their decisions like they used to, they'd reject the voodoo economics being sold to them by the Romney/Ryan ticket.

The results have been unfortunate. Since they no longer speak in the language of social order, Republicans have very little to offer the less educated half of this country... Republicans repeat formulas — government support equals dependency — that make sense according to free-market ideology, but oversimplify the real world. Republicans like Romney often rely on an economic language that seems corporate and alien to people who do not define themselves in economic terms. - David Brooks, New York Times.

The new Republican plan to maintain public order and personal discipline is to push an old-fashioned, extreme religious agenda designed to push up the birth rate while refusing to provide financial assistance to the resulting people. To make this socially acceptable, they demonize the poor, the old, and the infirm, and advocate charity as a solution. I've been getting into fights over this because if charity could meet the needs it would have done so by now. That's why we need social programs provided by the government. Anyway, they intend to sweep the wealth upwards so that all the workers produce for low wages unsupplemented by assistance or services, the middle class is taxed to the bone, and the super rich lord it over the rest of us, calling us spongers and freeloaders while they clink champagne glasses and laugh at how stupid we are to believe them. We're not obliged to go along with that, and I urge all Americans who love their country to love their fellow citizens and learn to work together to find and implement solutions instead of fighting with each other. Ultimately, we're all in the same boat.

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