Monday, November 12, 2007
Moderation...to the extreme! Time for a quick object lesson on why Atrios matters and is awesome. Okay, read this post on TPM Cafe by legal scholar Cass Sunstein. Now read this post by Atrios. Never mind, don't bother, I will quote it in full: "Extremism: I do not think that word means what Cass Sunstein thinks it means." In single sentence Atrios has put his finger directly upon why the Sunstein post is so wrong-headed, and why that matters. I will now try to accomplish the same thing in fifteen sentences or so:
Sunstein writes about an experiment wherein small groups of politically like-minded people are polled about political issues both before and after a group discussion. The results indicate that these discussions tend to reinforce the strength of common opinion among the group. For example, a group of liberals who polled as mildly in favor of affirmative action, or the U.S. signing and abiding by the Kyoto protocols, etc., prior to a group discussion with like-minded peers will poll as strongly in favor of these things after the discussion. Conservatives who are mildly against, say, civil unions for gays are strongly against them in the wake of a group discussion with other conservatives. The lesson that Sunstein draws is that "self-sorting into groups of like-minded types will often produce greater extremism."
But this is, of course, completely wrong. "Self-sorting into groups of like-minded types" may produce greater agreement regarding a given position, but that does not render the position agreed upon any more or less extreme. "Affirmative action is a good idea" is not an extreme position, and neither (sadly) is "gays should not have legally protected partnership rights." Nor are those people who hold such positions "extremists." The fact that talking with people who agree with you tends to reinforce your opinion does not really strike me as surprising, nor does it say anything valuable about either political extremism or the role of "self-selected groups" in the spread thereof.
People like Sunstein operate from a core belief that there exists some blessed state of "moderateness" that means, I guess, that you can be talked out of any position or principle you happen to have. Under Sunstein's argument, the more strongly you believe in something, the more "extreme" (and by definition farther out of the mainstream) you are. The less confident you are in your beliefs, the more subject to the prevailing winds, the more mainstream you must be. Surely, Sunstein would characterize this pliable state of grace as open-mindedness, and praise those who are willing to take a clear look at new proposals on their own merits, rather than interpreting them through the lockstep dogma of one "extreme" wing or another of the dominant ideologies. And that would sound very nice.
But it's bullshit. No amount of talking is going to convince me that gays shouldn't be able to get married. Why? Because I believe that the law shouldn’t discriminate against inherent traits, regardless of whether a bunch of bible-thumpers think those traits are sinful. I'm a Democrat because I believe that the Democratic positions on these issues are, in fact, correct, and the Republican/conservative positions are, in fact, wrong. 55% of the country thinks civil unions (at a minimum) should be provided for in the law. Obviously, then, a full 45% of Americans think they shouldn't be. These are just not extreme positions, no matter how vehemently they are held.
So, in the end, I believe in some stuff. That doesn’t make me an extremist - in fact, lots and lots of people agree with me on some of that stuff. Sometimes we even get together, and when we talk politics, we (gasp!) agree with each other. If we have had a few drinks, sometimes we even say "goddamn right!" or some such expression of our emphatic agreement. Stop the fucking presses! It's a veritable beer hall putsch of extremism!
Whatever. Atrios is right to continually point out that too many mainstream commentators seem to believe that the defining characteristic of a healthy body politic is a reflexive willingness to concede core principles in order to achieve harmony and "centrism," as if there is just something . . . unseemly about conviction.
Friday, November 09, 2007
In the Short Hope Unfiltered tradition of passing along incredible beer ads (remember this?) we hope you enjoy this (click the image to watch the video).
Plus, in a related vein, this, which is just awesome.
And this, which is longer, and on a smaller scale, and also very awesome.
When the devil met the devil. Ah, cynicism. It exudes a reek like a breath of sweet acrid brimstone wafting over our national discourse. And here we have a 72-day dry aged prime cut of the stuff from whence a mighty stench is emanatin'.
In the background, the sigil of Regent University (formerly Christian Broadcasting Network University), spawning creche of a new generation of noxious right-wing political operatives.
On the left, the aspirant, the blessee, his face tugged into a slight grimace, with the typical Giuliani exasperation with being forced to do anything..."Oh, god, let this be over with and let me get out of this dirtwater burg so I can finally get the fucking jesus freaks in my corner..."
On the right, the aging batshit gladhander, the blessor, managing to keep the babbling crazies from pouring out of his mouth for the few minutes he has to spend in the sanitized national spotlight before he can go back to his oddly unexamined private mediasphere where he can burble undisturbed about how he can leg-press 2000 pounds through the power of prayer and a patented energy shake, and how fags and commies caused god to "lift his protection" from America and allow the planes to crash into the WTC..."Oh, this horrible little New York jew...he's a jew right? Oh, no, wait, he's a Catholic, they're just as bad...but gotta keep those satanist Clintons out of the White House...they performed human sacrifices in the basements there, don't you know..."
Made for each other.