Thursday, December 22, 2016

I'm So Tolerant, I Continue To Read Things Which Confirm My Worst Instincts About My Adversaries!

The Hill presents a poll showing that, after losing this election, Democrats are more likely to "unfriend" someone due to their political posts than Republicans. Several thoughts on this:
    • What counts as "politics"? For example, if someone makes an unfriending decision because someone posts something nakedly anti-Semitic, is that decision "political"?
    • I've never unfriended someone because of their political posts. I have thought about it. But typically, when I do, my conscious mind gives me a sober lecture on the importance of not isolating myself from competing points of view and listening even when it's difficult. But there's another part of me that secretly wonders if the real reason I do it is to confirm all of my worst instincts about what Republicans are really like. Put simply, the people I think about unfriending are not my lucid Republican friends. They are histrionic trolls of the worst order. Making sure the seven daily posts about how Barack Obama is about to implement his Secret Muslim Plan (just you wait) or how Hillary Clinton's emails are the greatest treason our nation has seen since the Civil War stay on my Facebook feed doesn't "challenge" me in any reasonable respect, it just reaffirms my instinct that the opposing side has been taken over by lunatics. For all the "if only we talked, we'd see how much we really have in common", well -- not always.
    • I wonder how much work "Democrat" versus "losing this election" is doing. I've always been a proponent of "listen to your adversaries, take seriously challenging points of view" (my Intro to American Politics students got that lecture so often they probably can recite it from memory). But I'll confess it was an easier instinct when I assumed my side was going to come out on top, and listening was a beneficent gift I'd bestow on the electoral losers. At Berkeley, to urge one to listen to conservatives is to urge someone to listen to an utterly powerless minority. It's easy to do because they present no immediate threat. Power doesn't require one to listen to others (obviously), but it does make it easier to do so magnanimously. Marginalization often does force one to listen to others (obviously), but the compulsion tends to make it happen without much good cheer.
    In related news, an interesting study finds that much of the biased partisan divergence in factual assessments of the world dissipates if you give people a small monetary incentive to be honest (whether that means "giving the true answer" or "admitting you don't know the true answer"). It's an intriguing add-on to the well-known phenomenon whereby partisans will interpret facts to suit their own agenda (so liberals will say that the economy faltered in conservative administrations regardless of whether it did, conservatives will do so for liberal administrations). The study suggests that persons are doing this not because they "actually" labor under these mistaken beliefs, but simply as a rooting mechanism for their preferred team.

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