A Matter of Human Development?
A close family member votes Republican. Now I understand why. The core isn’t bigotry. It’s worse.
By JShCD15, Saturday June 08, 2019 · 12:32 PM PDT
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(Interjection: This relatively long piece supports previous articles I have seen, written by independent psychologists, articles that I can’t find now that basically says much the same thing this (unnamed) author has just realized: One article dealt with the analysis that Trump followers are basically cult followers (with no feeling of self-empowerment and looking outside of themselves for leadership), but the other article reasoned that, like this author just realized, what distinguishes many of them is a limited world-view… if they are not directly and immediately affected by an attribute (i.e., a Trump character or intellectual problem) or event, then the implications of that attribute or event “doesn’t matter.” And this author is correct that “it’s worse” than simple bigotry… it’s denying the compassion and caring that many identify as essentially basic humanity and ignoring the adverse impacts on others.
A personal example: I am putting a bit of money and energy into transforming a small urban side yard into a tree-filled meditation garden. An older – obviously Republican – neighbor asked me why I’m doing this since I, at 81 YOA, probably won’t witness the fruition. My response, “but somebody will” and he wandered off home shaking his head in puzzlement.
Regardless, this article is worth reading …
The original article begins – ~ Don Chapin)
A long while ago, I’ve forgotten how long, I wrote a few diaries here about my family and the area I live in. I deleted them for various reasons, but I keep mentally coming back to them. Something has kept scratching at my brain. I needed to know why I couldn’t understand their behavior, despite everything I’ve learned since 2016 about bigotry and authoritarianism and supremacy and tribalism.
Yesterday, by accident, I discovered what it is. It’s been subconsciously hovering in my mind for the past few months, and has come out in what I’ve written in recent diaries and comments. But it didn’t become conscious because I still couldn’t fully believe and accept that it applied to the person who I thought was the “most normal” in the circle of people I interact with on a daily basis.
Then, she said it to me herself, plainly, when I asked a question.
After she had spent about an hour complaining about a situation that she was stuck in, and I held back pointing out all of the parallels in which she’s putting other people, including me, in that same situation, I eventually couldn’t keep quiet about it anymore. In the latter part of a conversation, I eventually asked (with a manner that was entirely curious and not at all aggressive or frustrated, which I think was important):
“If you knew someone else at work was in the exact situation that you’re in, and you weren’t in this situation, would you feel like you had to do something about it? Someone you don’t really know on a personal level, but whose situation you knew all the details of?”
Her answer was “No, because it wouldn’t directly affect me.”
I responded, “I wouldn’t be able to let that go. I’d have to do something about it.”
She was blown away. Bewildered. Her mind couldn’t make sense of what she’d heard, much less what it might mean about reality. (embolding by Don Chapin)
Then I filled in some of the blanks by saying, “That’s how everything is for me. It doesn’t stop affecting me, eating away at me. It doesn’t matter if it directly affects me or not.”
That thought had never occurred to her. After a few moments of wide-eyed, stunned comments, she said “You must feel so much…” — and she couldn’t put a word to it.
I finished the sentence, “Responsibility. I feel responsible to try to stop bad things from happening to people.”
She was, again, stunned.
After a few more elucidating exchanges, she said, “The only things that eat at me are things I need to do to keep things in order around me. Like cleaning, work responsibilities, and appointments being set. Things around the house. Daily stuff.”
I don’t think this is the difference between Democrats and Republicans. I used to vote Republican, and I’m sure that many Democrats are like her, but they’re just surrounded by different social norms than the horrible place that I live in.
But this does explain why so many Repugnant voters are so comfortable with horrible things, which they acknowledge are horrible, happening. Why they don’t try to change things for the better, and why they accept horrible things coming from a person or thing that they think directly benefits themselves personally (like a politician, preacher, family member, or friend).
The scope of their world of thought and of care, of responsibility, is tiny.
After all, she does things that constantly make my life harder in order to make hers easier, without even thinking beforehand about how it affects me, or having much remorse after the fact. And she’s the family member I see almost every day.
And she sees nothing wrong with how she thinks and feels. In fact, she said, “Don’t you think that’s a bad thing? That you feel so strongly about those things?”
Even if they weren’t surrounded by disinformation from their “news” sources and bigotry-promoting people, this carelessness toward the world outside of themselves drives so much of the suffering of human existence. (embolding by Don Chapin)
Her response also cleared up one thing I’ve found logically hard to reconcile: Her saying that she recognizes the wrongness of the plight of women seeking abortion, or the plight of children who were forced (one way or another) into the world, and yet her seeming disinterest in doing anything about it — and her decision to vote for Repugnants (and she specifically said this about Trump) so that access to safe abortion services would be banned. (Side note, that’s what we should be saying: Republicans aren’t trying to ban abortion. They’re trying to ban access to safe abortion services. The abortions are going to happen either way.)
To her, the suffering of women is wrong, but not something that really stays in her mind or affects her emotionally. And she, through the air of propaganda and religious groupthink that she breathes, has had it set in her mind that any violation of “human life at conception” is immoral. And the emotional and mental weight of the people around her telling her that “not standing up against abortion is wrong” is greater than the emotional and mental weight she feels from the suffering of people that is caused by bans on access to safe abortion procedures.
It’s not a sense of morality that’s driving her. It was my mistake to think that it was. And, honestly, it was my mistake to think that it was a sense of morality that was driving me. The reality is that what we feel most deeply emotionally entangled with is what drives us to act. I feel entangled with the suffering of other people, often more than my own suffering. She feels entangled in the emotional suffering she thinks she’ll experience if she rejects what the propaganda machines are constantly drilling into her, and she doesn’t feel entangled with the suffering of other people.
It’s that simple. The difference is that fundamental.
And on a related note, I think that our political losses in various places are probably mostly due to the fact that we simply don’t have enough people like her breathing air that drills into people the right messages: of human commonality rather than bigotry, of communal health instead of individual supremacy, of reverence for the scientific process and the hard work of scientists instead of reverence for individuals who have a lot of power (money, celebrity, power, “religious authority”, or whatever form of power appeals to the person), and so on.
I really think that the wins and the losses in most parts of the U.S. simply come down to what messages have long been circulating in those areas — which means that winning there is mostly a matter of winning the social messaging (and therefore acceptability) war. That’s a horrible realization to have, as someone who strongly believed in the power of empathy, morality, and critical thinking (which I saw as, essentially, all pieces of the same thing).
One last note about the bigotry: When I saw myself as a Republican, I was drowning in anti-gay, anti-non-Christian, anti-non-white bullshit, but it was usually subtle — more of a flavor added to most of the food, rather than a dish in and of itself. I didn’t listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Fox. The messages still flooded my existence. I felt disgust at people who were gay or black. I felt that anyone who was black was out to do me harm. My mental image of a black person was “violent thief” — and that was without anyone explicitly shouting that kind of bullshit bigotry from a preacher’s podium. And that bigotry survived through a family member marrying a black woman.
And it’s important to say that I didn’t think that I was a bigot. After I came out of all of that, I used to think that the reason I didn’t think I was a bigot was because I was logically convinced, due to my terrible sources of information, that I was on the right side of things, and because I didn’t harbor any personal animosity toward anyone I stood against just because they were gay, black, or (inset aspect). I felt that my opposition was totally disconnected from an emotive stance against them as people, and I didn’t feel that my conclusions were incorrect. Someone calling me a bigot seemed like an attempt to say that what I wanted was driven either by deep hatred or by being wrong about what was true — as so far as I could tell I wasn’t full of hatred or wrong. And so, it seemed like slander. Most white people and trump supporters say the same things today.
To me, my emotional attachment to my opposition against marriage equality seemed the same as my opposition to someone saying that video games caused kids to become anti-social and violent (when my life experiences were quite different: kids that society at large rejected and who were thrust into violent situations sought comfort in video games). For example, I saw “marriage equality” as simply an attempt to deny what was “divinely set and biologically factual.” I saw “video games don’t cause violence” as similarly factual and obvious to anyone who’d think about it. And I thought that it was the “if anyone had this information and thought about it” aspect of my beliefs that drove my feelings. I saw moral conclusions and logical conclusions as the same thing, and causing the same degree of motivation.
But now, looking back, I can see that I didn’t think I was a bigot because I didn’t feel that I was a bigot, and that the real reason I didn’t feel that I was a bigot was because I still cared about people even when I was opposed to them — even when my opposition was causing them pain. It was a very twisted “I hurt you because I love you” — parent, condescending, belittling, minimizing, horrible way to be, to justify myself, and to hurt other people without feeling much pain while doing so. It helped to deaden the entanglement I felt with their suffering.
And for people who don’t have that feeling of entanglement with other people’s suffering, I can easily see them feeling that they aren’t bigots simply because they don’t feel that they care much about how other people feel: in regard to hurting them or helping them. “Hate” and “bigotry” in their minds, might be solely associated with deep personal loathing — not the consequences of their actions, or the things that they believe or say. If “bigotry” means an internal feeling to them, then they don’t believe that they are bigots. Well, except for the ones who do, and who relish it.
Because of my personal experiences, I think that the air you breathe determines how you behave (and vote) far more than real facts or brain habits. In my case, growing up with a brain that habitually focused on empathy led me to not actively want anyone unlike me to be hurt, despite the swarm of people where I lived who did want to do harm to them, and who wished for “God’s vengeance” and “eternal torment” on people who weren’t like themselves. And my desire for truth in service of making the most correct (morally and logically) decisions eventually led me into actual science and a more factual view of what was going on in the world. But those things didn’t stop me from being a Republican in the first place (just like apathy toward what does or doesn’t happen to other people doesn’t stop some people from endorsing and promoting things that hurt those people even when there’s no personal benefit), and didn’t make me suddenly switch from Republican to Progressive. It was a journey that took many years.
Anyone who wants to try to appeal to “Independents” or “people who might not vote for Trump if incentivized to vote for someone else” are either playing to people who have no real interest in helping anyone but themselves, or are mistaken in thinking that anyone who breathes air full of bigotry and anti-science and anti-unionism (or whatever else) can be convinced within a year (much less a month or two) even if that person is actually open to being convinced that they think differently than they have up until now.
As far as I see things now, we don’t have a realistic path to reshaping the air that most of of the non-city population breathes in the next year, so that’s a wash. Right now, I think we need to be reaching the people who do care about what happens to people other than themselves, or who aren’t mired in air that prevents them from being able to care most about what they can do for others or for their own interests. People who haven’t paid much attention to politics so far, or who stopped paying attention because they’ve felt too much despair about the possibility of anything getting better.
I haven’t written this diary as well as I could have, but I haven’t eaten since I woke up, and this is all still fresh in my brain. But I felt that I needed to get this out before any of it slipped from my mind, or the ineffectiveness and despair and helplessness I feel often these days (including in online spaces full of Democrats) dissuaded me from writing anything.