Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Short Posts, 9/6/17. On Political Tribalism, Gendered Workers and Geniuses

1.  I have nothing exciting or different to say about Trump kissing the butt of his white male supremacist base by deciding to phase out DACA, or about where the next hurricanes might make landfall.  Indeed, the cyberspace is full of both data, chatter and fake news on those topics.

It is, however,  worth saying a few words about Rush Limbaugh's arguments when he mentions the political uses of the hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose, not because old Rush would matter (except in the sense of being a bottle of the most condensed racism, misogyny and plain nastiness), but because there's a wider point I wish to make.

Here's Rush, from yesterday:

RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): The reason that I am leery of forecasts this far out, folks, is because I see how the system works. Now, I don’t mean this to be a personal attack on anybody, but the one thing that’s undeniable throughout our culture is that everything has been politicized. And in that sense, much of our public information system, including from the government, from the drive-by media, has been corrupted. It has been corrupted by the individual biases and whatever present bigotry of the people who hold these positions. You can see it in the way the deep state deals with Trump. You can see it with the way the intelligence community and the Washington establishment deal with Trump.


But it doesn’t matter because the bias is built in. So there is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it. You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic. You don’t even need a hurricane to hit anywhere. All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent, and bigger, and more dangerous, and you create the panic, and it’s mission accomplished, agenda advanced.

Preposterous, isn't it?  Rush has his head well covered by the tinfoil hat, talking about the deep state and the media as Trump's enemy and so on.  Anyone reading this blog would agree on that.  Well, anyone who has read and thought of these issues. 

But how would you react if the story was not about hurricanes and climate change, but about a terrorist attack somewhere and Islamic terrorism?  If the fear and panic that was created came from the assumed other side in politics, and the write-up was by someone on this side?

I am not arguing that "both sides do it," and I am not arguing that what Rush says would be exactly the same as what someone might say about Islamic terrorism and bigotry against Muslims as its consequence.  Rush's speech is much closer to the wartime slogan about loose lips sinking ships, because he is implying that evacuation orders and preparation for hurricane Irma should not be taken that seriously as they are politically and financially motivated.

Still, what I think I see in politics more and more are the deleterious effects of political tribalism, the unconscious assumption that if the other side is for some idea or some group, then we better be against it, without actually analyzing the evidence at all.

That's what makes for those odd bedfellows in politics, the odd impulse to have everything match in politics*, the kind of world where suddenly, after decades of being treated as Public Enemy Number One, the Russians are now the Best Friends Forever of American right-wingers, and also the kind of world where feminists today may defend the extremely misogynistic rules of sharia, simply because the conservatives oppose them.

2.  Scott Courtney, from the Service Employees International Union, has written a good opinion piece in the Washington Post, about the need for the Democratic Party to become the workers' party.  I support the ideas in the article itself**, but was somewhat struck by the picture the newspaper chose to go with it.  Here it is:

If someone says the word "worker," what first comes to your mind?  It could well be something very much like the picture above, if you live in the US or Europe:  a white blue-collar guy shown in an industrial setting.  That's why the Obama initiatives to get the economy going focused on "shovel-ready" projects, and that's why Trump promised infrastructure projects in his campaign speeches.

Yet Courtney, the writer, represents a service workers' union:

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a labor union representing almost 1.9 million workers[2] in over 100 occupations in the United States and Canada.[1] SEIU is focused on organizing workers in three sectors: health care (over half of members work in the health care field), including hospital, home care and nursing home workers; public services (local and state government employees); and property services (including janitors, security officers and food service workers).

I was unable to find the gender split in the SEIU membership, but given the occupations it represents, I'd think that women are a considerable chunk of its membership.  In short, women, too, are workers, but the way we talk about the working class is almost always focused on men.  That can have real consequences when government support and money for jobs comes up.

3.  I watched the Beautiful Mind last night.  I had avoided the film earlier, probably because I knew its plot and John Nash's work, but found it an enjoyable experience, despite the almost complete lack of women in anything but emotional and sexual roles and despite the way the film portrayed research as all about being a weird guy genius.

That's not how most findings happen.  Rather, the guy coming out with some finding is usually the first one of at least a handful, and got there by standing on the shoulders of a vast number of other guys.  And gals***, now that gals are not locked out or written out of history.

The depiction of Nash's mental illness was quite masterful.  It allowed us to participate in his hallucinations and thus got closer to showing us what mental illness tastes like than anything else I can think of.

*  It's as if the drapes must match the carpet and the cushions in the political living-rooms.  It also hints at one reason why the debates within, say, the Democratic Party's online supporters are so bloody and vicious, how the Hillary people hate the Bernie people and vice versa, and why an ally is just one poorly picked word away from becoming an enemy.  If tribalism is the base for our political activism, disagreement becomes destructive and compromise essentially impossible.

This, by the way, is not the same thing as having non-negotiable values.  Most of the examples I have about the effects of tribalism are really about the reverse:  giving up on values in order to be able to stay within the tribe.

**  Always assuming that this does not mean only white guy workers, and also assuming that human rights are not tossed into the crapper.

***  Earlier I came across this story about a young woman who — we are told — might be the next Einstein.  If we set aside the whole question what a genius might be and if Einstein counted as one, the coverage is interesting, especially in the light of the common view among MRAs that only men can be geniuses.

It also matters from another angle:  Men are often judged based on their promise and women based on their actual achievements.  As it's promise which gives young scientists grants and jobs, and as achievement takes time and resources, the problem in that judging becomes circular:  If women are not seen as having promise, they won't get the support for later achievements, either.