Why are conservatives marching into death & misery?

For answers to this question listen to a great interview with Rebecca Solnit by Chris Hayes for the podcast: Why Is This Happening? Finding solidarity in a disaster with Rebecca Solnit: podcast and transcript

I recommend people listen to this not just to understand why conservatives are acting this way, but also because she describes all the good ways ordinary people in communities normally respond to disasters vs how movies and media portray them.

She uses her research into the 1906 earthquake and then talking about the flooding from levy failure after Katrina for the book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. (5:00)

Rebecca Solnit. Author of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

REBECCA SOLNIT: …the hundredth anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake and fire was coming up in 2006, around 2004, I got involved in a few projects to think about what had happened, started looking really closely at what happened, and then realized that the earthquake didn’t do that much damage. Institutional authorities, treating the public as an enemy to be controlled, and making bad decisions was actually the most destructive force. And in the meantime, ordinary people were, as you note, remarkable, altruistic, creative, innovative, generous, putting the conditions of survival in a ruined city together.

She describes some of the bad decisions made by institutional authorities after the earthquake, (7:24)

Some people died, fire started. But the U.S. military, headed by General Funston, who had been a war criminal in the war in the Philippines, immediately assumed ordinary people would behave badly. And a lot of authorities assume what happens in disaster is that things are out of control. They see the fact that they are no longer in control as terribly dangerous because they assume the only thing that keeps ordinary people behaving well is the power of institutional authority with its threat of violence. So, the mayor issued a shoot to kill order for potential looting, which is the disaster moment for petty theft.

Then they get into a discussion on who is pushing the rush to return to normal, why they are doing it and and how those people define normal. (36:22)

CHRIS HAYES: And I think that the idea about the return to normal and how loaded that is along various lines of societal division is so at the forefront right now because you have this near, this insane situation of a vocal group of people, largely wealthy people, and they’re sort of propagandists, and Stooges wanting to march the country into untold death, destruction and misery because normalcy to them is so important.

REBECCA SOLNIT: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, and it’s not really just returning to the status quo, it’s returning to profitability, specifically to being back in business and propping up the markets. And I feel like, in a way, I never quite recognized before, these are people for whom dead things like money are alive and beloved in a tenderhearted way, and living beings are dead to them in some way.

I mean, who was it who said the other day that we should send America’s kids back to school and that whatever it was like a 3% casualty was an acceptable rate and it’s like, “Dude, you just said you’re willing to let a few million children die.”

Then yesterday I read an article in Vox by Ezra Kline, “Why are liberals more afraid of the coronavirus than conservatives? Covid-19 and the complex politics of fear.”

He asked political psychology researchers why are conservatives dismissing the danger, opening states and counties prematurely, refusing to wear masks and waving off the deaths of older people as a small price to pay? Their explanations don’t totally fit with how their research would predict how conservatives would act. Klein gives his opinion why he thinks conservatives are dismissing the danger:

But once a politician captures a party, other dynamics take over. For one thing, partisans trust their leaders and allied institutions. Very few of us have personally run experiments on the coronavirus, or gone around the world gathering surface temperature readings over the course of decades. We have to choose whom to believe, and once we do, we’re inclined to take their word when describing contested or faraway events.

For another, we all fall prey to motivated reasoning, in which we shape evidence, arguments, and values to align with our incentives. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

I just read a column by Bob Altermeyer from August 23, 2018 that adds more understanding of conservative minds.

Why Do Trump’s Supporters Stand by Him, No Matter What?

People today think, “Surely NOW they will abandon Trump!” He explains why they won’t.

When you don’t know why your beliefs are true, you can’t defend them very well when other people or events confront them. Once you’ve run out of whatever counter-arguments your authorities have loaded into you, you’re done. But being flabbergasted doesn’t mean you change your beliefs. You can keep on believing as much as before if you want. You can even pat yourself on the back for believing when it seems clear you are wrong. Some people do this, and you know who taught them to.

That is dogmatism, and experiments show that authoritarian followers have two or three times the normal amount of it because they believe many things strongly, but don’t know why. When the evidence and arguments against their beliefs becomes irrefutable, they simply shut down.

 When they hear bad news about Trump, they tell each other the explanation that the president gave, and that is good enough. It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense or contradicts earlier things he said or promised. The important thing is they are hearing it from a fellow believer and it is their job to believe it and say it too. Research shows that authoritarian followers value group cohesiveness much more than other people do, and strongly condemn persons who stop believing what the group believes.

Read the whole Altermeyer piece, it’s useful for understanding Trump’s followers. My next piece is, “How we can save conservative lives against their will.”

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