Thursday, March 13, 2008

More on Mamet's Conversions Experience

I earlier linked to Chet Scoville's excellent piece criticizing David Mamet's confession letter about how he came to see the truth and stopped being a brain-dead liberal who listens to the National Palestine Radio (NPR, which I usually call Nice, Polite Republicans), how he now instead believes that Free Markets will set us free.

What struck me about Mamet's ideas is something I have noticed many times before in people who skip from one end of the political spectrum to the other: They go and erect straw-ideologies (like strawmen) and then they kick them apart, easily and effortlessly, to show the reason for their conversion experience.

Thus, for Mamet all liberals think that people are good, that government is good and that business is bad. It's easy to point out exceptions to these rules. If you live in a dualistic world full of only extreme alternatives, then those exceptions will force you to choose the opposite choices: people are bad, the government is bad and business is good.

The snag in this way of thinking is an obvious one: Now it would be equally easy to point out exceptions to that latter triad. Would Mamet then decide that he is, after all, a brain-dead liberal?

Probably not, because he appears to have decided to look at only those pieces of evidence that support his current thesis (well, probably his thesis all along as I doubt he has been much of a liberal for at least twenty years). Thus, the fact that people can be swine in extreme situations proves that people are swine always. That not all government policies have been successful proves that they always end in sorrow. And so on.

It's an interesting phenomenon, this desire to see the world in extremes. I suspect that talking about it makes no difference, because it's most likely a personality quirk and not amenable to logical arguments. Rather, those arguments themselves will be turned into additional support structures for the emotions. I've seen this happen a lot recently, in the context of the primary campaign, too.