Sunday, April 19

Rebuilding the Bridge Across the Ideological Divide

A few days ago I wrote an open letter to the Tea Partiers in an attempt to - just for a moment - speak to them seriously, without derision, snark or insult, simply because it seemed to me we were losing our ability to have rational discussions of public policy across the ideological chasm.

I'll admit I had low expectations, and most initial comments were similarly pessemistic - but then something (almost) amazing happened. A Conversation Started Up.

So today I'd like to keep that meager little conversation going a bit longer.


I think our country needs it. I think we need it. I don't think we can afford to continue to angrily throw word bombs at each other, demonize each other, and not even make an attempt to understand where each other is coming from. We may not agree, in fact I'm sure we won't, but at least having an ACCURATE view of each others point of view might help stem the tide of fear and vitriol that seems to be increasing to dangerous levels.

It might be fun to toss "Wingnut" and "Moonbat" back and forth across at each - sure, it's cathartic - but it's not always productive. We need to change, because if we don't, it won't just be angry words we're throwing at each other.

Exhibit A: From Countdown Last Week featuring Janeane Garafalo (I know this will be tough and difficult for Tea Partiers to watch and hear, but please bare with me and try and listen to it, what occurred here is Important and has to be addressed)

In this segment I think Janeane seriously over-steps and over-states her case against the Partiers. And I'm not the only one who feels that way coming from the Center/Left side of the aisle.

On Dailkos you had: Keith and Janeane Garofalo - Becoming what you hate...

Tonight I got home late from work and flipped to Countdown with Keith Olbermann. What I saw was disappointing, to say the least.

It was more tea bagging double entendres and cheap jokes. Now I'm with everyone in else in having a good time with these protests, but there is a limit, and I think we're approaching it. At the end of the day, however laughable the claims of these protesters may be, they are still Americans practicing a great American tradition.

But I can look passed the jokes and the mockery. What I couldn't stand was what came after - Janeane Garofalo.

Chatting in a "I know I'm being controversial and I think that's awesome" kind-of tone she said that everyone protesting yesterday were strictly racists. She claimed they were all idiots. And she went on to claim that they had a mental disorder.

The point made in this diary was that Janeane statements were identical to those we've seen all-too-often coming from prominent conservatives.

Namely Ann Coulter.

And Michael Savage.

This kind of argument has been going on so long, used by the likes of Limbaugh, that the idea of Liberalism as a Disease or Disorder has even been picked up by actual, licensed psychiatrists.

"The roots of liberalism – and its associated madness – can be clearly identified by understanding how children develop from infancy to adulthood and how distorted development produces the irrational beliefs of the liberal mind," he says. "When the modern liberal mind whines about imaginary victims, rages against imaginary villains and seeks above all else to run the lives of persons competent to run their own lives, the neurosis of the liberal mind becomes painfully obvious."

Let's also recall that Charles Krauthhammer has infamously called it "Bush Derangement Syndrome".

Clearly the "Crazy Train" accusations run down both sides of the tracks as another Dkos poster wrote an Open Letter to Olbermann to Complain about Garafalo.

Dear Mr. Olbermann,

I'm writing to complain about the appearance by Janeane Garofalo on your program Countdown on April 16, 2009. I write not as a conservative or tea tax protester. I am a liberal and supporter of Barack Obama. I am also a fan of your show and watch it online at on a near daily basis. The reason I am a fan of your show is because, while it is opinion driven, you make great arguments in your Special Comment section. It was your passionate defense of gay marriage, sent to me by a friend via StumbleUpon, that got me into watching your show.

My complaint with Ms. Garofalo's appearance is that her argument against the Teabaggers was way below the standards I believe your show to have. You often critique Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh for making irrational, illogical, and patently false accusations against groups or individuals that oppose their point of view. Ms. Garofalo's statements regarding the teabaggers as uniformily racist and driven by their "limbic system" rather than their frontal lobe smack of the same ignorance that you have opposed in right wing media. Ms. Garafolo fails the most basic rules of rhetoric, logic and debate. She never back up claims of racism, either with video of protesters saying or implying racist ideas. Despite her love for saying "limbic system", she cites no credentials for her to argue psychology. While it's certainly more politically correct to use "limbic system" than using the word 'retarded’, the meaning and use in her argument is the same. Ms. Garofalo cited no studies to confirm whether those protesters were more 'limbic" than "frontal lobe" in their thinking. Her analysis has as much basis as Bill Frist's analysis of Teri Shiavo as being aware based on a few seconds of video. Frist, as a medical doctor, at least had some credentials to make an assessment.

I will openly admit it that I've made arguments similar to both Garafalo's and Kruathhammer's in the past, when I wrote that Conservatism is a Sociapathic Disease. In that discussion I stated:

It's been my feeling that the modern day conservative cult that thrives in America is fueled by a low-grade form of anti-social pathology and compulsive-addictive disorder. They're like Hate-Junkies. And the number one thing they hate are Liberals.

My point here is really just to say that we all need to take a step back.

Tea Partiers argue that their concerns aren't partisan, they're angry at both parties equally, and without getting into the inconsistencies around their actions contrasted to this sentiment I want to state that at the core they are correct. But also in a way, so are Garafalo and Coulter and Savage - up to a point.

The most dangerous problems facing this nation aren't particularly political, they aren't because too much liberalism or too much conservatism, it's because of too much denial and self-delusion.

Holding a particular set of beliefs isn't where we're failing, it's when we choose to Cling (Yes, I said it) CLING DESPERATELY to those previously held beliefs rather than honestly assess the facts in front of us accurately.

All of these people are seeing the same problem, the inability of many people to function rationally and use fact and reason to reach a conclusion because doing so CONFLICTS with their deep seated beliefs. In short, what we think we know is preventing us from learning anything new.

We are learning through neurological scientific study how experiences are turned into memories in the hippocampus, and then later re-imprinted on the frontal lobe. The transfer of this information from one portion of the brain to another is most likely to speed retrieval during critical decision making and having the data already stored in the frontal lobe facilitates that.

The problem arises when our critical minds attempts to keep things "Neat and Tidy". We start to eliminate and reject thoughts or ideas which don't neatly fit into our existing thought-system. Rather than analyze the conflict and come to a resolution, we just throw it out and consider it "bad data".

This natural human tendency, which is a function of our neurology and physiology not a Mental Disability has been long called the Paradigm Paralysis.

In the late 1940s a man walked into a laboratory of a major photographic manufacturer in America to demonstrate a new photographic process. But he didn't bring along a camera or film. He brought along a red box with a shiny steel plate, a charging device, a light bulb and a container of black powder. The picture he created was faint but discernible.

"But where's the film?" they asked. "Where's the developer? Where's the darkroom? Why, that's not really photography!" And so the company passed up an opportunity to acquire the process for electrostatic photography, or xerography...a process that has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry.

Why did they pass up such a great opportunity? Because the people who saw the process were suffering from PARADIGM PARALYSIS.

What is paradigm paralysis? Or more basically, what is a paradigm?

As you probably know, a paradigm is a model or a pattern. It's a shared set of assumptions that have to do with how we perceive the world. Paradigms are very helpful because they allow us to develop expectations about what will probably occur based on these assumptions. But when data falls outside our paradigm, we find it hard to see and accept. This is called the PARADIGM EFFECT. And when the paradigm effect is so strong that we are prevented from actually seeing what is under our very noses,
we are said to be suffering from paradigm paralysis.

Perfectly smart people can and will say completely ridiculous, easily disprovable- things largely because of this paralysis.

And that's exactly what we have going on in our country today - A Paralysis.

This becomes even more intense when it goes beyond an individual opinion, and becomes a tribalistic doctrine of a larger group. We are all familiar with the loss of inhibition against unsociable behaviors that a group dynamic can create. What might seem irrational or unreasonable action to take as an individual, can become far easier and far more consequential when done as a group. We're all familiar with this in terms of Sports Team Rivalries, but it affects all types of rival groups, particularly political factions.

What I'm talking about here is the Mob Mentality.

The term “mob mentality” is used to refer to unique behavioral characteristics which emerge when people are in large groups. It is sometimes used disparagingly, as the term “mob” typically conjures up an image of a disorganized, aggressive, panicked group of people. Social psychologists who study group behavior tend to prefer terms like “herd behavior” or “crowd hysteria.” The study of mob mentality is quite fascinating, and it is used to analyze situations which range from evacuations gone awry to the moment when demonstrations turn violent.

It's when things get this level, where the Partisan Paradigm is re-enforced in order to maintain and enhance a social, political, economic or cultural power-base that some real and permanent damage can be done. This is where our society stops productively functioning, instead we spend our time any energy simply trying to "BEAT THE OTHER GUYS" rather than doing what's right and best for all of us.

From opposite sides of this political spectrum the other side just looks *CRAZY*, insane, fanatical - dangerous! While the Left is making what seems to them like perfectly cogent logical arguments to improve our country and improve the world, the Right doesn't hear them. Then the Right rails in frustration about the "Crazy Liberals" who can't seem to understand... and on and on it goes.

And the worse and worse it gets.

THIS is what the Tea Parties represent to me. A near complete collapse of our ability to work across the political chasm and work together for the greater good. Both sides have some valid points and valid arguments, but all of that is getting lost in all the Cheap Shots, the Sturm and Drang. It's all heat, no light, all carrier, no signal.

As I've stated everyone once in awhile, I'm a centrist - I don't cling to either left or right ideology - and have long felt they both had their benefits as well as their dangers. Government isn't hopelessly evil and flawed, and neither is Industry. Either can be dangerous and either can be beneficial. When we're too busy being locked into a rigid view, we can't get to the more important issue of identifying where either of these entities has truly gone wrong and what we really need to do to clean up the mess - we're too busy hurling "SOCIALISM", "FASCISM", "RACISM" accusations at each other.

We need to calm the hell down, and not look at a fact based on who said it - but whether the fact in and of itself IS VALID OR NOT. If it is, we have to embrace the Paradigm Shift, and incorporate that truth into our belief system, rather than reject it out of hand - or construct some elaborate dodge to explain it away.

The reason this is important is because if we only speak and communicate with those who Already Agree with Us, those only within our own political/social "tribe", the likelihood of making those kind of breakthroughs is limited. The likelihood of discovered NEW truths is stunted.

None of us knows everything, and if we aren't willing to constantly challenge and test our own beliefs, to UPGRADE our knowledge and facts, we fall into stagnation, then irrelevance, then frustration, then rage and eventually - violence.

It can be challenging, even annoying to have your every thought or word disputed. It gets worse when derision and ridicule is thrown on top of it. I don't know that this point itself won't be rejected out of hand, but it's better to at least make the attempt than walk away from the conversation (as so many of us have) in disgust and anger - looking for "revenge" and way to hurt each other in more and more cruel and ways.

We need to do better than this. We need to start building bridges and stop tearing them all down - Really we do - or else what Tim McVeigh attempted to start on this very day, April 19th, so many years ago and what Rick Perry and Tom Delay have hinted at this very week, Secession, a full-on Red-State/Blue-State Separation and a New American Civil War won't just be a memory.

It just might become our reality in the very near future, and I think - I hope - that none of us truly wants that.


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