Dueling dogma isn’t dialogue

Another part of my complaint about “debates” like the one we discussed yesterday (on “The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion“) is that I think such point-scoring face-offs wind up replacing the conversations that ought to be happening instead.

Such debates are framed as having something to do with persuasion, but there’s little reason to think that really has anything to do with what’s going on in such forums. No skeptic has ever left such a stage saying, “Gee, an uncaused cause — I’d never thought of that.” And no religious believer has ever been brought up short, saying, “Why, yes, an impersonal, not-at-all transcendent tea kettle in space also can’t be disproved and thus is a perfect analogy for belief in God. How silly I’ve been.”

A debate forum, in other words, tends to produce the opposite of what people with radically different perspectives need from each other, which is a mutual openness to learning what might be seen from the perspective of another.

Again, a main reason I’m committed to pluralism is because I think it’s necessary to protect freedom of conscience and to prevent coercion. A duel of dogmas suggests that one dogma will, or could, “win” and thus, triumphant, become the reigning dogma. I don’t want there to be a reigning dogma. The idea of such a thing prompts a viscerally Reynoldsian response from me (“I aim to misbehave”).

But I’m also committed to a robust pluralism for what might be called epistemic reasons. Old fish swims past the young fish, says, “Hey, kids, hows the water?” Young fish says, “What’s water?” I do not wish to be the young fish, blind to the very thing I’m swimming in.

The way to avoid that is to regularly engage with others who do not share my own perspectives, others who view the world differently, from a different place — be that religious, political, ideological, cultural, power-wise, etc. And I need to be able to engage them with openness, honesty, vulnerability, empathy and imagination — the very traits that the polemic duel of a debate doesn’t encourage. So when it comes to a question like the value of religion in the world, I have no desire to get on a stage somewhere and rehash my differences with someone like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens in a “debate.” But I would jump at the chance to sit and talk with either of them over a meal or the beverage of their choice.

That’s why I read, and value, the views and insights of people like PZ Myers and Ed Brayton and many others in the skeptical blogosphere.

And that’s also, in a different arena of difference, why I find Fox News so frustrating. I’m a liberal. That’s the political water I swim in. If there existed a conservative news outlet providing a conservative perspective in good faith, I would value that and benefit from it. It would be, for me, a helpful and necessary way of seeing the world from an alternative perspective.

The problem with Fox is that one can’t view the world through another’s eyes if their eyes are clamped shut. I could tune in to Fox News, for example, and learn that Justice Elena Kagan must recuse herself from important cases because of “Article 28, Section 144″ of the U.S. Constitution. And I might then initially think, “Ah, my conservative neighbors are making a constitutional argument that we liberals seem to have overlooked. I shall have to give that some thought.”

But then it turns out that there is no “Article 28, Section 144″ of the Constitution. Fox is just making stuff up rather than arguing an actual perspective in good faith. That’s of no use to me. It’s not an alternative perspective, just partisan propaganda designed to score points in a duel of dogmas. I learn nothing about an actual, good-faith conservative perspective watching Fox, and thus gain no insight into my own liberal perspective either.

Engaging in a “debate” with those who are not honest and who are not acting in good faith is useless and pointless. And that’s one more reason that staged debates bore and depress me. They tend to attract people like Dinesh D’Souza or David Barton or Ken Ham — people who cannot be trusted to act in good faith or to tell the truth.

 

  • Mosharn

    There doesn’t seem to be any need to impute motives to cable new: They can be ruled out at the level of mere *competence*.

    Hence “U.S. Constitution Article 28, Section 44″. Or the “Shibuyaeggman” debacle (Google it). Or the “Abraham Lincoln-Frederick Douglas” debate (Google it). Or any number of geography graphic fuckups.
     
    This is how the world ends
    This is how the world ends
    This is how the world ends
    Not with a bang but at the hands of undersupervised Communications interns

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    I might say that comparing science to religion as dueling dogmas is a similarly false equivalency.  But then, I do agree that there isn’t a lot to be gained by such a debate.

  • Jason Creighton

    In fairness, the passage that Fox News cites does exist, but it’s Title 28, Section 455 of the US Code:

    http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/28/I/21/455

    Reading it in-context, it’s still unclear to me whether it has the meaning that Fox is implying it does, but I know next to nothing about legal matters.

  • Lori

     Reading it in-context, it’s still unclear to me whether it has the meaning that Fox is implying it does, but I know next to nothing about legal matters.  

    People whose job it is to think about such things say that it does not mean what Fox says it means. I’m inclined to believe them over Fox. 

    http://mediamatters.org/blog/201111150024

  • Lori

     I might say that comparing science to religion as dueling dogmas is a similarly false equivalency.  

    I really don’t think Fred is saying that science is a dogma. The kind of thinking that goes into the “pro” side of debates like “The World Would be Better Off Without Religion” usually is though. 

  • http://johnm55.wordpress.com/ johnm55

    Debates, when you are at High School are good fun and also a good way to encourage critical and logical thinking.
    My English teacher, when she knew which side of the motion you would prefer to argue, made you argue for the other side. A good way of forcing you to look at the opposition arguments honestly.
    In adult life they are a waste of time, including, maybe especially, leaders debates at election time. (I exclude the current Republican Presidential “hopefuls” from this, but that is because they come under a different category, reality TV or comedy or something like that.)
    Winning a debate generally proves nothing, save that you are the better rhetorician, or that you stuffed the audience with your supporters.

  • Anonymous

    These are the same people who think the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” is in the Bible.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I might say that comparing science to religion as dueling dogmas is a similarly false equivalency.  But then, I do agree that there isn’t a lot to be gained by such a debate.

    Lori beat me too it, but I do not think that Fred is referring to science as a side in that debate.  It is the “Would the world be better off without religion?” debate with the sides of “Better off without religion” and “Better off with religion”.  It is a debate that cannot be won by either side because neither side can be demonstrated to be more “right” and few people on either side would be convinced by the arguments of the other.  

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    Yeah, I agree– I mean, any way you slice it, I’m for pluralism for the reasons enumerated above– but I feel like it is worth pointing it out just to be clear.

  • Anonymous

    TheFaithfulStone: These are the same people who think the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” is in the Bible.

    If it hasn’t already been done, someone really needs to make a pastiche Bible book containing all the stuff people think (or pretend) is in the Bible but really isn’t. 

  • Lori

    I totally understand, and I agree. I just didn’t want it to seem like Fred was calling science itself a dogma. That’s an error that so many anti-science folks love to make and that’s not Fred. 

  • Anonymous

    ‘No skeptic has ever left such a stage saying, “Gee, an uncaused cause — I’d never thought of that.”’

    Sounds like a Jack Chick tract.  It’s sad that people think conversion is that simple.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    No skeptic has ever left such a stage saying, “Gee, an uncaused cause — I’d never thought
    of that.” And no religious believer has ever been brought up short,
    saying, “Why, yes, an impersonal, not-at-all transcendent tea kettle in
    space also can’t be disproved and thus is a perfect analogy for belief
    in God. How silly I’ve been.”

    Interestingly, PZ Myers now refuses to debate creationists on exactly these same grounds.  One of the reasons he cites is that no one changes their minds and the “winner” is the one who is the better debater, as opposed to the one who has better information.  That’s how we get notoriously disingenuous scumbags like William Lane Craig, who just run around debating with the same tired, disproven points and coming out the winner.

  • Anonymous

     If there existed a conservative news outlet providing a conservative perspective in good faith, I would value that and benefit from it. It would be, for me, a helpful and necessary way of seeing the world from an alternative perspective.

    This is also why I find our conserva-trolls so frustrating. I really do want to see a conservative argument in good faith, partly because it would illustrate weaknesses in my own positions and partly because I was raised conservative and would like to think my younger self wasn’t completely crazy.

  • Worthless Beast

    I think perhaps the biggest problem in such debates lies in the fact that if one voices a worldview that “The world would be better (even by increment) if Certain People didn’t exist” or “The world will be better (even by a small increment) once Certain People stop existing,” or even “The world would be better if Certain Thing that makes Certain People who they are didn’t exist,” they expect to “win.”  What? its expected that Certain People are going to roll over and say “Hey, you’re right! We shouldn’t exist?”  No, they’re going to assert their right to be.
     
    It doesn’t even matter if you’re *right* in this matter, those Certain People who exist (at least most of them, the ones that aren’t suicidal or at point where they’re already thinking of joining your club) are going to want to continue to exist.  

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure if I agree or not.  I do think that debates like the ones described are pretty useless except as entertainment and aren’t likely to actually change minds.  But things that look an awful lot like those debates can be very valuable.  The problem with debates is that they’re (public) competitions, and the goal is to win.  This was my big problem with high school debate too – I get that the system is instrumentally useful in that it does get kids to think about the issues, but it gets them to think about the issues primarily as lawyers rather than as truth-seekers.

    On the other hand, discussions that look a lot like these debates but in which the participants come to the table ready to acknowledge good points that the other side makes and with the mutual goal of seeking truth can have real effects on beliefs and are very valuable.  A guy in my office was an ultra-libertarian a few years ago and is much more of a liberal today as a direct result of lots and lots of political/moral discussions people in the office have had.

    The most valuable thing a person can bring to a discussion like that is a sense of humility – you have to understand that you’re not uniquely capable of figuring out how things are, and if otherwise reasonable seeming people disagree with you then there’s probably at least some merit to their position.  But you can’t really have that in a public debate because to admit that your opponent is being reasonable or, god forbid, has taught you something is to lose.

  • UnknownTheFirst

    I wonder if debates on the internet tend to the same depressing place as live public debates. I remember getting involved in a long, dispiriting debate on Pharyngula, where at least part of the problem was that the thread was open to so many people, that it got dragged down to the level of the most short tempered person there (meaning I short tempered too, after a while.) I would like to think that in person, things would have gone differently. 

    But I remember dorm room debates that got pretty heated in my college days, so maybe not.

  • Hey Nony

    If there existed a conservative news outlet providing a conservative perspective in good faith…

    There’s Andrew Sullivan. Not exactly News of the Day… but he’s willing to publish & respond to dissenting opinion.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5OPDTGMVEFDYDKHEXSNNWOFNWY Jim

    The quality of an online discussion is so conditional on the market it happens in that it’s really difficult to gauge their usefulness. I tend to lurk in a place for a long while before I post, just to get an idea for how the place works and what kinds of discussion can be useful there.

    I will say that another Internet forum, over at neilgaiman.com, of all places, is one of the reasons that I am no longer a creationist or premillennial dispensationalist, so they can have some effect. I don’t think any hard opinion changes because of a single influence, though.

  • Anonymous

    This is also why I find our conserva-trolls so frustrating. I really do want to see a conservative argument in good faith, partly because it would illustrate weaknesses in my own positions and partly because I was raised conservative and would like to think my younger self wasn’t completely crazy.

    I think that’s because it is increasingly impossible to have both good faith and be conservative at the same time. Particularly the new crazy redefinition of “conservative.” Conservatives had six years of complete control over all three branches of government, and during that time they ruined the economy, got us in two unwinable wars, and trampled all over civil rights. In a larger context, they’ve had control over our government since Reagan was elected. Their ideas have failed. Completely, utterly, totally. Which means they have to argue in bad faith or, like David Frum they must concede they were wrong.

  • Anonymous

    I remember one time back in grad school where one of my roommates had a DVD of such a debate and asked if I wanted to watch it too.  I told him that it would be pointless because the parties involved didn’t share any premises and therefore the winner would be the party that was able to put the burden of proof on the other.  He looked at me like I was from another planet.

  • ChrisH

    High school debate can be a positive learning experience or a negative drag depending on how it is implemented.  This brings up some old personal biases from high school :p

    I did LD debate in a public school without much of a budget and were restricted to Texas interscholastic competitions (UIL)  Some private schools nearby and affluent schools in Dallas had the money to work in the National Forensic League (NFL)

    I cannot speak to the NFL as a whole but the Dallas area seemed very focused on lawyerly structure and opponents whose cases seemed to be made of tissue paper would get wins with judges who graduated from that same style of thinking.  This was so stark that during a finals round with 3 judges it became a ‘party line’ 2-1 decision against the UIL competitor.

    The desire to win is perfectly useful for learning good faith argumentation because you have to debate both sides of every issue and you try to make the strongest case possible.  It is just as easy to try to find the most bad faith arguments for either side too.  The biggest benefit is you get a very good sense when someone is arguing in bad faith.

    The experience leads to a lot of future frustration though.  Becoming accustomed to analyzing arguments on the fly makes you realize how bad modern discourse is today  I liked listening to intelligence squared from NPR for a while but often found the topics and the debaters extremely banal with shallow arguments which were never properly delved into.  Two sides using similar words while implicitly defining them differently is far too common.  We called that two ships passing in the night.

  • Anonymous

    “like David Frum they must concede they were wrong.”

    Whilst being as careful as possible to avoid drawing attention to who was right all along…
    (Hint… it was liberals)

  • Tonio

    I can see Fred’s point that debating a question like “Is religion good or bad” comes down to irreconcilable dogmas, because ultimately it’s a question of value. But a question like “Do gods exist or not” is by definition outside dogma since it has only one correct answer, although one unknown to any humans.

    Also, calling Fox News and the radio commentators “conservative” does a disservice to the whole concept of political philosophy. Even labeling them as authoritarian is problematic even though it may be technically accurate. These outlets have no real political ideology, just a demagoguery targeted at whites and males and Christians fearful of losing their social status. In fact, even using the label “conservative” implicitly endorses the culture-war mentality of their audiences.

  • Tonio

    Their ideas have failed. Completely, utterly, totally. Which means they
    have to argue in bad faith or, like David Frum they must concede they
    were wrong.

    Failed as achieving a more just society with more equality of opportunity, yes. But according to my theory, but that was never their goal in the first place. They’re not interested in governance as we understand the term. They seem to view life as a competition among individuals, and they already see society as just.

  • Izzy

    I was raised conservative and would like to think my younger self wasn’t completely crazy.

    Oh, see, I always go on the assumption that my younger self was a total idiot.

    I mean, Younger Self owned Celine Dion CDs. The prosecution rests. ;)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    For me, it’s similar. I’m astonished at some of the silly-ass things I “knew” when I was younger when it was more of a case of extremely limited life experience. I feel like I had freakin’ blinders on or something when I was younger. (O_O)

  • ako

    All of the best discussions I’ve had on why people believe what they do have happened when the conversation gets away from the “I will prove you wrong, and win, which means you will be forced to adopt my position instead!” aspect that debates tend to have.  It’s easier to listen and consider an idea when the person who’s talking isn’t trying to defeat you in any way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    My younger self was also an idiot. Well, except for the part where I bought all the original line of Lego Pirates sets.

  • Tonio

    I agree, and I’m the one who sees myself as the skeptical challenger. Not that I’m trying to convert anyone to my position, since I have no position on whether the supernatural exists. Instead I’m trying to show why I shouldn’t automatically accept another’s position as fact. This goes for people who insist as fact that the supernatural doesn’t exist. I suppose I’m trying to act as a juror or a journalist, and I hope that doesn’t sound horribly messianic.

  • arc

    You speak as though there’s a group of people called ‘conservatives’ who all believe the same thing.  This isn’t true of ‘liberals’, and I suspect it’s even less true of conservatives.

    There’s all sorts of reasons why people vote for the Republican party, here are a few:

    *) self-interest
    *) belief in the free market
    *) scepticism of government (there are plenty of valid reasons for this scepticism, especially in the States
    *) desire for a more strongly hetereonormative/white dominated society
    *) tribalism – your family has always voted Republican. Or you and everyone you know works for the Republican party.

    ‘self-interest’ probably covers a lot – there’s a lot of people who are mainly concerned with their take-home pay.

    To the extent the Republican party has a coherent policy which is set by people with the same outlook as one another, I suspect that it’s more self-interest of the worst sort than anything else – they expect to profit rather directly in the short term as a result of the policies (it’ll really please their campaign donors, they’ll actually pay less tax, or they have interests in a company that’ll profit from the next war).  Views on how society works and what’s ‘fair’ don’t really come into it.

  • arc

    I agree, and I’m the one who sees myself as the skeptical challenger.
    Not that I’m trying to convert anyone to my position, since I have no
    position on whether the supernatural exists. Instead I’m trying to show
    why I shouldn’t automatically accept another’s position as fact. This
    goes for people who insist as fact that the supernatural doesn’t exist. I
    suppose I’m trying to act as a juror or a journalist, and I hope that
    doesn’t sound horribly messianic.

    That’s actually the classical definition of scepticism.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You speak as though there’s a group of people called ‘conservatives’ who
    all believe the same thing.  This isn’t true of ‘liberals’…

    Especially given that many, if not most, ‘liberals’ don’t actually support liberalism…

    ‘self-interest’ probably covers a lot

    To be fair, that’s not limited to the right wing. Here, for example, the left and centre-left parties get the majority of support from the following groups: poor people, immigrants, working class employees, young people, and professionals in the “public intelligentsia” (for want of a better term – I’m referring to educators, academics and people working in publicly funded arts and media).

    All of these groups are better off under social democratic governments than centre-right ones. You see more right wing voting patterns when people in these groups transition out (for example, when young people age and acquire property they tend to become less concerned about enhancing social mobility and more concerned about protecting their personal assets), or when you look at subfactions within the group that have more to gain from right wing policies (for example, here the immigrant communities that are least likely to vote left are also the those that have high rates of business ownership).

    I’d be interested in finding out what percentage of people, on either wing, habitually vote against their own self-interest for the good of others. They certainly exist, but I suspect they’re a minority – certainly seem to be in our system, where voting is compulsory.

    tl;dr   I don’t disagree with your analysis, but I’d point out that any suggestion that “they” are largely self-interested whereas “we” are largely altruistic doesn’t stack up.

  • arc

    My main point was that there’s a plurality of reasons for voting Republican. I’m very much trying not to make the mistake of saying “they” are largely anything, or, on the flip side, there’s a “we” that’s largely anything either.

    And sure, a lot of people who vote left belong to groups that stand to benefit from the policies enacted by the left wing parties.  While we’re on the topic, we could also point out that what I’ve called ‘tribalism’ also counts for a lot on the left – maybe moreso,

    However, what I was intending by ‘self-interest’ was something quite narrow, i.e. ‘how can I personally maximise my net worth over the next period’.  I think that many of the people in the groups you mention aren’t wholly and only concerned with their own prosperity, but e.g. think education is a good thing for society, are in education partly for that reason, and think that funding it better won’t just give them an easier ride but would be better for society.  The closest equivalent to this that I mentioned earlier would be honest believers in the free market, but an even closer right-wing equivalent would be someone who is honestly committed to the industry they’re in.

    In principle it’s easy to tell if they’re narrowly self-interested or not – engineer a situation where over the next electoral period they’ll personally do better if they vote against whom they normally vote for.  There are plenty of people who will take such a deal without hesitation.

    I doubt that people’s changing voting patterns is entirely or even mainly due to their rational perception of what’s in their best interest, though.  Most people are strongly influenced by their peers, and one’s peers also change as a result of changing circumstances.

  • Tonio

    Of course there are different reasons people vote Republican. I wasn’t talking about all GOP voters or even all conservatives (which aren’t necessarily the same thing). I was talking more about the trend in both blocs over the past two decades. Thomas Frank has noted that large numbers of voters support the GOP even though it goes against their economic self-interest. But it aligns with their emotional self-interest. Looking at all the reasons you cited, increasingly the party is dominated by people who use a Just World argument as a basis for those reasons or as a rationalization of them.

    Since the 1960s, skepticism of government in the US has been driven largely by resentment at government’s attempts to reduce social privilege. Campaigners who don’t necessarily share those resentments have seen the value of spinning a small-government message to appeal to those resentments. Those feelings are directed at not just minorities but any other group that doesn’t know its “place”, such as smarty-pants intellectuals and scientists and fancy-pants entertainers. That’s a huge reason the National Endowment for the Arts shows up on the Tea Party’s grievance list, long after the agency originally became controversial.

    The Palinization of the GOP

    The e-mail rumor mill is run by conservatives

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You know what the latest sad attempt by birthers is to “prove” the long form cert isn’t valid? They’re claiming that no 1950s-era typewriter could have kerned the text, and that the PDF was created from multiple layer Photoshopping.

  • arc

    OK, but that sounds quite different to what you were saying before :]

    Someone who is motivated by resentment at smarty-pants and fancy-pants and minorities doesn’t see society as already just – they think other people are getting things they don’t deserve, hence it’s unjust.  They might suppose it was just back in some halycon era where men were real men and women real women and one could expect to address some adult men as ‘boy’ and expect a ‘sir’ back.

    They also probably don’t really see society as consisting of individuals in competition with each other.  That’s not really compatible with being upset at successful entertainers and scientists, who have apparently competed quite well.   What you’re describing seems to me to require an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, which does entail there be an ‘us’.

    The other thing I’d point out is that a lot of Republicans actually do believe in community, they just don’t think it’s the Government’s place to promote it or underpin it.

    Somewhere in these parts, could have been Slactivist but maybe it was on the Slactiverse or Confessions of a Former Conservative, I saw a link to a ‘family values’ (i.e. conservative Christian) review of the Smurfs movie.  They gave it a minus for being insufficiently supportive of capitalism, but a plus for promoting the values of sharing and cooperation.  The poster thought this was inconsistent, but I think it kind of is consistent – you can believe in capitalism as being how to run your economy but also believe that individuals ought to cooperate and share on an individual basis.

    Although I agree there’s probably a certain amount of confusion here, and I don’t think people in general, and in particular the sort of people you’re talking about, necessarily have very consistent views.  But to the extent that they are motivated by resentment, this is a very different motivation to those who are primarily motivated by the thought that society is already just and that it consists of competing individuals.

    By the way, you’ve got two links to the same webpage.  I think your second link was intended to be:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/when-it-comes-to-e-mailed-political-rumors-conservatives-beat-liberals/2011/11/17/gIQAyycZWN_story.html?hpid=z2

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think you may have been referring to CAPAlert?

    http://www.capalert.com/

  • Tonio

    Thanks for correcting the link.

    Part of my point about belief in a just world involves a distinction between economic status and what is inaccurately called “social” status. This belief refuses to accept the role that circumstance plays in the former, and is far too quick to assume that poverty is the result of laziness. There’s a hell of a lot of ethnic bigotry involved in that position, as the Southern Strategy proved, and a great deal of us-versus-them thinking, as you noted, but that’s not the only thing driving that idea.

    I’m trying to get a handle on why this mentality praises Herman Cain but detests Obama. Cain doesn’t offend the ethnic pecking order because he achieved his status through the “acceptable” route of entrepreneurship and because he shares the disdain for intellectualism, even though he has a college education.

    Some months back, a poster here insisted that Frederick Douglass’ language sounded “pompous,” and it was obvious this was a euphemism for “uppity.” Why should people like that be offended when an educated person sounds educated, particularly if the person isn’t white? It’s tempting to speculate that they’re simply ashamed of their own lack of education, but that’s too simple. I’m suggesting that they perceive people who don’t hide their education as not just uppity but as pretenders to authority. Maybe they never outgrew the stage of childhood development where Mommy and Daddy knew everything, and to them an educated person seems like a tyrannical older sibling. The rhetoric of someone like Palin sounds like a more articulate version of “You’re not the boss of me!” and “You’re not so smart!”

  • arc

    I think the answer may be that Obama-detesting Republicans aren’t as uniformly racist as you think they are :]

    Really overtly racist people – people who think the Klan may ‘have a point’ – presumably don’t like Cain either.  But there aren’t that many of those.  People who hold a more ‘genteel’ form of racism, who claim not to be racist one minute (and may well honestly believe that) and tell a racist joke or generalize about a large proportion of the population a minute later may well be inclined to assume a lot of things about black people in general but are also happy to admit exceptions – they might like Bill Cosby, for example, and if they like Cain they’ll say “the country needs more blacks like him”.

    People are inclined to demonize the leader of the party they don’t like anyway, and in Obama’s case the right-wing noise-machine has gone to a lot of efforts to make him seem as alien as possible – he’s not just an educated black man who got to be president, he’s an illegal immigrant secretly muslim  east coast liberal crypto-marxist anti-Christian facist black radical black man with a Messiah complex.  Cain is just a regular educated black man.

    Also, Obama’s probably has in fact broken the back or at least stretched the envelope as far as the acceptability of blacks in power goes – I actually don’t get the impression that his blackness is the problem it was at the start of his term -  and Cain will never have the noise-machine hysteria directed at him.  Plus it’s an excellent opportunity for republicans to show they’re ‘not racist’ by enthusiastically embracing Cain.

    Cain does have a kind of down-homey sort of appeal about him, and he does mildly indulge some black stereotypes, so they can also feel they’ve got the ‘real black candidate’ (and they say this!)

    I’d also go further with your point about anti-intellectualism. I think that’s a more consistent theme than racism amongst republicans these days- they also hated this about Gore and Kerry.  Although remember still there’s a huge marketing campaign keeping this all going, which won’t be directed at Newt Gringich.  in the absence of that marketing campaign, it’s interesting to speculate what the attitudes to intellectuals would be.

  • Tonio

    I think the answer may be that Obama-detesting Republicans aren’t as uniformly racist as you think they are :]

    I never said they were. I wasn’t talking about all Republicans or even all the ones who detest Obama. In fact, some of the more intellectual conservative commentators (mostly the ones in print) seem to be trying to sound more strongly anti-Obama, perhaps fearing that they’re becoming irrelevant in the era of Limbaugh and Fox News and the Tea Party. To put it simply and perhaps not completely accurately, I’m talking about Palin supporters versus the Palin detractors in her own party.

    Part of that “genteel” racism that you mentioned (good term) is not being offended when the non-white person is perceived to be in an economically or socially lower position, or when the person is perceived as having the same values. In a workplace, it would be the difference between a black person as a secretary and one as a supervisor or vice president. The same thing happens when women achieve the latter positions, where many man and even some women regard her as an interloper.

    Obviously the right-wing noise machine is demonizing Obama as much as possible using the terms that you mentioned. They’re appealing to a particular group that uses the terms as euphemisms. I remember an interview where the person kept changing her reason for opposing him and finally resorted to some version of “He’s not one of us.” The noise machine’s tactic is simply an updated Southern Strategy, and commentators don’t have to believe any of those things about Obama in order to use the tactic.

    Yes, anti-intellectualism did drive a lot of the opposition to Gore and Kerry. I’m saying that when an intellectual-seeming person in a position of authority isn’t white, this pushes an even larger button for many people. This isn’t all Republicans and it isn’t even exclusively Republican.

  • http://twitter.com/Will_Dees Will Dees

    This is why I, as a Wiccan, read this blog. I’m a recovering Evangelical Christian, and this blog provides a familiar (though without the reality-denying, hate-filled, utterly illogical) perspective….I come for the Left Behind (because I devoured those as a young evangelical) and stay for everything else :D I find unity in diversity–if everyone believed exactly as I did, my life would be incredibly boring, and I’d never learn or do anything new.