Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brothers in Arms

I was at a family event in Chicago recently, and so naturally had a couple of run-ins with my wingnut brother, the one who not only reads Ann Coulter but hangs out with her. In other words, he lives in a moral/political reality as opposite as possible to mine. I don՚t think we planned it that way, but as an outcome it is almost tiresomely cliched, like those old movies where one brother becomes a cop and the other a gangster.

It doesn՚t take much to set us off. Since he was in town for his step-son՚s graduation from Northwestern, I quite innocently asked him about the commencement speaker, which led us by some inexorable process to the closest current wingnut political brainworm, namely being outraged that several such speeches by Republican types had been cancelled due to the Stalinist fervor of the politically correct. Condoleeza Rice, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Christian Lagarde (head of the IMF) all have had their right to free speech gravely trampled on.

Natually I thought this was high-order bullshit, if only because people like that have absolutely no problem getting their views into the public sphere, whether or not a particular speaking gig is interfered with. Doesn՚t matter, because there is an infinite stock of equally lame reasons for frothing available to a member of the Fox News Borg. Soon after we had exhausted that topic, we somehow were onto how it was the fault of labor unions that the US economy was a basket case.

Later, a few minutes of Googling was enough to show that his whole spiel was even more bullshity than I had previously thought. Rice and Lagarde withdrew from speaking because they were faced with protests (that is, other people exercising their free speech rights). Ali՚s offer to be presented honorary degree at Brandeis was withdrawn when her remarks calling Islam “a nihilistic cult of death” came to light, but in the process of doing so the university extended her an offer to come be a speaker at any time, which was entirely proper, given that a commencement speech is an honor – universities should provide a place for controversial speakers to be heard, but not necessarily be granting them honoray degrees.

Well, despite severe temptation I didn՚t restart the argument when I saw him next. I didn՚t want to be the one to make a family gathering into a shouting match, and we managed to be relatively pleasant to each other for the rest of the trip. I don՚t regret that, but I do kind of regret not initiating the meta-conversation that might actually be interesting to me, if not him: how is that we have built for ourselves such entirely separate worlds of discourse? How is it that two people with the same background should fasten on such different understandings of how things are? This is what I wanted to say; and perhaps it would at least create a shared feeling of mutual incomprehension; allowing us to find common ground in our lack of common ground.

That did not happen, sadly. So I continue to think of him as a slave to crappy ideas that nobody with an ounce of an intelligence should take seriously, and he continues to think I՚m a boring member of (what he considers as) the establishment who doesn՚t have the courage to break with the mainstream. Our lives don't intersect very often, which may be for the best, since I can't imagine any way to reconcile our points of view.

16 comments:

Crawfurdmuir said...

Just curious - which of you is the elder brother?

mtraven said...

I'm older, which is consistent with him being the rebellious one I suppose.

Crawfurdmuir said...

That is interesting - according to one study I have seen, eldest sons are more likely to be politically conservative. But you are red-diaper babies, are you not? So perhaps in such a case the older brother is more likely to follow in the family tradition.

jlredford said...

As I recall, your brother works in finance in New York City, both of which reward being strongly opinionated, and both of which come in for a lot of grief. So yes, he's proud of having unpopular opinions because he's right, goddam it, and you all are just too weak to see it. And if you're so smart, why aren't you as rich as him? Or so he might think.

Actually this last was a major point made by John Lanchester in his study on the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, "IOU". People in finance have only one metric for success, how much they make, and by that metric they were doing great. In no other field are consequences as clearcut. That metric led them to ruin because there was no way to balance short and long-term gains. However, since there have been only weak regulatory penalties for their behavior, their risk-taking turns out to have been justified after all. By their lights.

Hal Morris said...

MT wrote "I do kind of regret not initiating the meta-conversation that might actually be interesting to me, if not him: how is that we have built for ourselves such entirely separate worlds of discourse? How is it that two people with the same background should fasten on such different understandings of how things are?"

Every day I think about that meta-conversation. My wife is a hard core libertarian who is being drawn into the Tea Party klatch, who thinks Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg are just great. We married in 1986(7?) and it only started getting painful when the war on Bill Clinton got fully up and running -- that's because I can avoid inflamatory topics more easily than she can. The GWB years were a bit of a respite for the same reason ... she had less reason for complaint. But since 2008/9 it's often been very painful.

In the hard core NY libertarian circles she used to meet Koch brothers. At the time she told me that, I hadn't heard of them. Her first husband ran for Gov. of NY on the Libertarian ticket, and she was the business coordinator of the (I think 1976) Libertarian presidential convention.

So, this has sort of become my life's calling. On the other hand, she taught herself Spanish and the "love of her life" is teaching English to Spanish speakers from Columbia, Mexico, Peru, ..., and also tutoring their children who sort of learn English quickly at school or earlier but take a lot longer to pick up all the cultural baggage.

Hal Morris said...

So, I wonder what Crawfurdmuir thinks of Ann Coulter. Any possible common ground there?

Crawfurdmuir said...

Ann Coulter is amusing because she irritates leftists. She is not a deep thinker - she is an entertainer, playing to a sympathetic audience at the expense of the targets of her jibes. Rush Limbaugh is a comparable figure. Such performers may give emotional gratification to some on the right, but are not particularly edifying.

The left of course has its counterparts to such people, and the same characterisations apply to them.

Hal Morris said...

So much for that hope.

mtraven said...

@Hal -- wow, that is some serious intrafamily political stuff you have going on there. My brother lives on the opposite coast from me and we don't interact that much; I'm trying to imagine living with that kind of craziness. Guess a sense of humor would help.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"So much for that hope."

What hope might that be?

Hal Morris said...

http://therealtruthproject.blogspot.com/2014/07/planning-for-65000-uaccompanied-minor.html

is my response to one of the more recent bits of misinformation/panic-mongering to the effect that in the extreme version, the recent border crisis is a a "Cloward-Piven strategy" -- which apparently means the point is to cause general chaos so the "Regime" can declare a state of emergency and take over.

I don't know about you but I've noticed the right being abuzz over Cloward and Piven since Obama appeared on the national scene.

It is somewhat useful to Google{Cloward Piven} selecting for BOOKS only and get a somewhat coherent picture of the myth-making that has been done over these two. I was doing that to an extent but I need to take a "making a living" break.

It seems that with a black guy who's kind of from academia PLUS "community organizing" at target, and amazing structure of myth has been constructed. I kind of wonder if right wing "opposition research" was working to pin Sol Alinsky on Hillary who wrote some master's thesis on him, and they just said. Well hey, we can use this to build an extreme picture of what community organizers are like and pin that on Obama.

Some interesting work has been done mining twitter and the like to find more or less the conversation in which the label "climategate" took shape, and I had a front-row seat of the right frantically trying to spin the Gabby Giffords shooting - "Oh I think the shooter's actually a liberal", and Giffords isn't left enough for some people... (the result in a nutshell: "Liberals are shamelessly playing politics with this tragedy to demonize Sarah Palin and find excuses to seize our guns")

W.r.t. my starting topic, some such methodology as what your friend Warren Sack was up to 20 years ago with the graphical analysis of usenet might be promising, but I have to say it looked pretty primitive similar to techniques discussed in AI classes even back when I was studying Computer Science around 1980. And Sack seems to have gone on to quite different things. If you ever run across anything promising, please let me know.

Crawfurdmuir said...

Hal Morris wrote: ' I had a front-row seat of the right frantically trying to spin the Gabby Giffords shooting - "Oh I think the shooter's actually a liberal", and Giffords isn't left enough for some people... '

If this happened, it was not until after numerous figures in the media establishment tried to attribute the shooting to the rise of right- wing populism as exemplified by the Tea Party. Of course the assassin, Jared Loughner, turned out to be a paranoid schizophrenic whose thinking, if it could be called that, had no evident political slant, either to the right or to the left.

A similar spin was attempted after the Colorado theatre shooting, when on George Stephanopoulos's ABC television program, it was breathlessly announced that someone named Jim Holmes was on record as having been a member of the Colorado Tea Party. The trouble was that this Jim Holmes - along several others sharing that name in the Denver area - were not the same Jim Holmes as the culprit, who was another psychotic individual without discernable political motivation.

Then we may recall the columnist who, in the immediate aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing, expressed his hope that the perpetrator would turn out to be an "angry white male."

So, any efforts to spin the Giffords shooting from the right were amply balanced by efforts to spin it, and other similar episodes, from the left. No doubt we are all shocked -shocked! - that there are cynical propagandists on either side that are willing to try to turn such tragedies to partisan advantage.

'one of the more recent bits of misinformation/panic-mongering to the effect that in the extreme version, the recent border crisis is a a "Cloward-Piven strategy" '

I am an agnostic on this point - it was a wise man who observed that one should not attribute to malice what might equally well be explained by incompetence. The facts remain that a scene from "The Camp of the Saints" is being enacted on this country's southern border - the national debt now stands above $17 trillion, having increased by about 70% during the five years of Obama's presidency - U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles in both hemispheres - gross domestic product shrank by 2.9% in the first quarter of 2014 - and while the unemployment rate (after excluding discouraged workers) has fallen, the labor force participation rate is at nearly a 40-year low. More people are on food stamps or are recipients of some other sort of Federal social-welfare benefit than at any time in the history of these programs. Does it really matter that much whether these circumstances were created intentionally or unintentionally? Neither conclusion reflects well on the policies this administration has pursued, and if there were ever a time when it could credibly blame its predecessors or its opposition for them, that time is now long past.

TGGP said...

Too bad I hadn't known you were in Chicago, we could have met up!

Crawfordmuir, my recollection from "The Nurture Assumption" is that there is no evidence for such birth order effects.

mtraven said...

@TGGP: That would have been fun...sorry, haven't heard from you in awhile and forgot you were around those parts.

Hal Morris said...

Hal Morris wrote: ' I had a front-row seat of the right frantically trying to spin the Gabby Giffords shooting - "Oh I think the shooter's actually a liberal", and Giffords isn't left enough for some people... '

ONE RESPONSE: If this happened, it was not until after numerous figures in the media establishment tried to attribute the shooting to the rise of right- wing populism as exemplified by the Tea Party.

CORRECTION: This was hours after the shooting. The right wing twitterrers were already firing up their "Oh My God, see how liberals are making politics out of this tragedy!!" campaign (part of their own standard way of making politics out of such tragedies), identifying obscure liberal bloggers who said some stupid thing or other.

Crawfurdmuir said...

Mr. Morris, major network news announcers and syndicated newspaper op-ed writers are not "obscure bloggers."

The claims made by such persons about Mrs. Palin's "target" ads or conservative/Tea Party rhetoric about "taking back our country" being provocative of violence ignore the facts that target metaphors in electoral politics and oratory about "taking back" have a long history of use on both the left and the right. Furthermore, none of the violence in question, be it the Giffords shooting, the Colorado theatre shooting, or the Boston bombing, had anything to do with the Tea Party or right-wing populism.

There was a conscious attempt to smear the populist right by association with these events. For people that constantly whine about "McCarthyism" and "guilt by association," the left in this country seems to be quite ready to apply tactics of guilt by association to further its own ends.