Monday, November 12, 2012

The Son of Milo Minderbinder

Here's a good question:
Is the guy in rural Nebraska “elitist” and “insular” if 95 percent of the people he knows are voting for Mitt Romney?
Or as I've asked before, Why is it only Americans who are accused of having cultural baggage when they encounter different constructions of same-sex desire?  True, those Americans usually are provincial, but so are the colorful natives they encounter.  Very likely everybody is provincial in some part of their life.

A small digression: numerous liberal friends of mine who heap scorn on stupid Bible-thumping creationists still manage to disseminate memes featuring noble Native Americans spouting religious bullshit, including the notion that the Human Beings emerged from the earth, which was given to them by the Creator Spirit.

What got me started on this post, though, was the latest in a series of articles by the Atlantic's James Fallows, inspired by someone he calls The Atlas Shrugged Guy.  ASG e-mailed Fallows, presenting himself as a successful entrepreneur who was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it anymore if Obama won the election:
I will tell you what happens, I close my business of 10 years and lay off my employees. I am done. Thats what happens. You might consider me one of those know nothings but I am highly educated, run a high technology company with several very high paying positions and am very much steeped in US History and am a stalwart in the notion of individual liberty and self reliance.  Freedom and liberty built this nation, not parasites like Obama and ilk. Obama has never produce anything in his life. Nothing, zero. Yet he is qualified to lead? Really? I have worked for leaders and he is no leader.
Fallows got several columns of goodies out of this, quoting some of the many responses to ASG he'd received, and some of ASG's responses to his critics.  On election night, ASG crowed that "Atlas is indeed going to shrug.  Enjoy poverty."  There's some hubris there, since while a business with a half-million dollar annual payroll is a successful enterprise, it doesn't qualify the guy as Atlas; more of a Mini-Me.  Fallows promises more "from our understandably somewhat-taken-aback small businessman, with his second-thought reactions about the controversy he has provoked."  So who's insular here, the people who voted for Obama, or guys like ASG who were surprised that Romney didn't clean his clock, and who was "somewhat-taken-aback" to find that a lot of people -- including other business people -- disagreed with him?  Again, I'd say Both, though with some qualifications.

Today Fallows shared e-mail from someone he knew, who asked:
Brief thought: is it possible that the 16 metric tons of piling on by semi-bewildered Obama supporters evinces a left-wing information bubble, somewhat in parallel to the right-wing bubble you reference in point 8 of your latest post?

That is to say, many, if not most, Obama supporters are unable to understand why any sane and rational individual could have possibly been against Obama in this past election in no small part because they themselves are in a self-segregated bubble of their own? Instant reactions upon hearing someone would dare support the GOP from my lefty friends usually range from "must be racist" to "must be stupid" with very little (perhaps only "must be ignorant") in between.
With all due respect to Fallows's correspondent, who allows that "this lefty bubble is mildly more porous than its righty counterpart," he seems to have misread the "16 metric tons of piling on."  Most of the responses Fallows quoted that I read weren't even semi-bewildered.  Most of them were self-identified businesspeople with expertise of their own, hardly "left-wing" as this correspondent says.  I'm not a business person myself, so I can't evaluate everything they said; and some made incorrect assumptions about ASG (that he was a government contractor, for example, though he isn't one now), but mostly they made arguments; they didn't merely "pile on," though I know from long observation that any disagreement with right-wing opinions will be labeled piling-on.

I also know from observing this year's election campaign that Obama supporters in general are not much more in touch with reality than Romney supporters are.  Many of them still believe that Obama is a progressive, or at least a liberal, that he wants to end the wars, that he doesn't want to cut Social Security or Medicare, that his economic policies are worlds apart from those of the Rethugs.  They're delusional, in other words, only their delusions are different from the Right's delusions.  But I'm not talking about Obama supporters in general here, I'm talking about the people who tried to rebut ASG's claims.  (He didn't really make any arguments.)  They were not necessarily unable to grasp that a "sane and rational person could possibly have been against Obama"; they just didn't agree that ASG was sane and rational.  And they gave reasons why they thought so.  Fallows's correspondent, academic though he be (or maybe because he's an academic) ignored this.  Maybe he didn't actually bother to read the responses Fallows quoted -- or even ASG's own manifesto.  It looks to me like he simply pulled a facile generalization about his own lefty friends (in his own bubble?) out of his ass.  Well, it's a free country.

The same thing happened with my own friends during the campaign.  In general, the right-wingers were battier, like the ones who threatened to move to Canada if Obama was re-elected, to escape Obamacare.  None that I saw ever had any answer when it was pointed out to them that Canada has actual socialized medicine.  There was also the entertaining spectacle of an American teenager who tweeted that she was "moving to Australia, because their president is a Christian and actually supports what he says."  As hordes of Obama supporters and Australians gleefully pointed out, Australia's prime minister (not a president) is an atheist, and a woman at that, who lives with a man she's not married to.  The HuffPost called this a "backlash," which isn't really the right word, any more than "dogpile."  "Not one word of that sentence is true," ABCnewsIntern tweeted in reply, "I'm not even angry, I'm impressed."  Me too.  Australia also has socialized healthcare.  Maybe I should move to Canada or Australia.

But most of the people I knew who were saying ridiculous things about the election weren't teenagers, they were adults.  And partisans of both candidates were apt to get all spitty with irrational irrelevancies when their views were challenged with facts and arguments.  The right-wingers were more outrageous and entertaining, but I'm not sure that the liberals were any less delusional.  Or even some of my fellow lefties, like those who were sure that if Romney was elected the Progressives and Liberals would rise up en masse to block his initiatives, which they'd never do against Obama.  (Given the contempt in which these lefty writers hold Libs and Pwogs, this expectation seems inconsistent and disingenuous.)  That's not how I remember the Bush II era: at first most Dems collapsed in a big wet heap of defeatism, as James Wolcott also recalls, and though they rallied somewhat when Bush gave them wars to protest, their protests didn't block the wars, and many of them jumped on board the War and Torture Train.  Even after the Democrats regained control of Congress, they collaborated far too much with Bush, including Obama himself.  That's what liberals generally do: they are shocked and deeply saddened, they sign petitions, they may go so far as to march with clever signs.  But only a self-discrediting radical, a purist, would actually do anything.

When people get up on electronic virtual soapboxes and demonstrate to all and sundry that they are ignorant, misinformed, and irrational, it's not unfair to point out that they are ignorant, misinformed, and irrational.  Especially when they're deriding others for being supposedly ignorant, misinformed, and irrational: that puts their own performance on the table.  Maybe we should just join hands and admit that knowledge, facts, and reason have no place in the American public sphere today; maybe I'm the one who's out of touch.  No doubt there are liberals who live in bubbles that leave them ignorant of the existence of dissenting views; some of them even brag about it.  But that doesn't seem to be the case with ASG's critics quoted by James Fallows.  They weren't making assumptions about ASG, they were responding to what he said.  They didn't assume that he was irrational because they'd heard that he opposed Obama, as Fallows's academic correspondent insinuated, they explained why they thought his expressed ideas and intentions showed him to be irrational.  And it's worth stressing that Fallows's correspondent didn't even try to show why they were wrong: he merely insinuated that they too might be in a big bubble; which is not an argument or a rebuttal, let alone a refutation.

I'm looking forward to see Atlas Shrugged Guys' answer to his critics, though.  Here's hoping Fallows shares it with us soon.