Mike the Mad Biologist

But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. Loughner’s ideas are a ludicrous hodge-podge of conspiracy theory, libertarianism, and anti-government sentiment, but what’s striking about them is how incoherent they are. This incoherency isn’t limited to Loughner either:

…the strange thing is that so much of this furious opposition to activist government appears to be make-believe. The American Enterprise Institute did a poll of self-identified conservatives and found that “only 3 percent of respondents favored reforming Social Security and Medicare.” The 2010 elections put a lot of new conservative governors in office, and I’m guessing that exactly zero of them will abolish mandatory minimum parking requirements in their states. Nor do I expect to see Rep Frank Lewis slash farm subsidies.

It’s a bit puzzling. The gap is really not just between conservatives and non-conservatives, but between conservatives’ self-image and the reality of their program. Paul Ryan, for example, can’t quite seem to decide if he wants to slow the growth of Medicare while maintaining a credible safety net for elderly Americans (in which case his “roadmap” proposal is the starting point of a discussion) or if he’s an Ayn Rand devotée who’s trying to liberate America from enslavement at the hands of the welfare state. Indeed, he doesn’t really even seem to see that these are different ideas!

One educator witnesses this regularly:

Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, however, holding muddled political views does not in and of itself necessarily make Loughner mentally ill, unstable, crazy, or even particularly unusual. It makes him American and peculiarly so. In the college classroom, at political events and in grassroots organizing meetings, it does not take long to find many young (and not so young) people who hold what many of us consider to be an oddly contradictory collection of political views.

And an explanation (italics mine):

Like Loughner, a significant portion of young people are, for very good reasons, profoundly anti-establishment, distrustful of anything they hear from the government or mainstream media. But this does not make them crazy anymore than it automatically leads them toward a coherent critique of the political system. Rather, in a world where fragments of information come from so many sources, it often leads them to the odd place where any explanation of the world is as good as any other, where there is no conceptual rudder for judging one theory or idea against another. Hence, they draw from wildly opposing political ideologies and are attracted to conspiracy theories. And it often leaves them in a frustrated place where public figures cannot be trusted, and to the conclusion that nothing can be done to change the world (except perhaps something chaotic and dramatic). Hence, the tendency toward apathy and (after a philosophy class or two) nihilism.

How the hell could we expect otherwise?
It is bit ridiculous to ask why so few Americans are politically literate, much less hold politically coherent ideas, after we have gutted public education, turned schools into learning prisons and told young people over and over again they are consumers and not citizens. Political literacy, we learn, is no longer even a requirement for seeking political office, but is in fact seen as a drawback. And an important source of such political guidance, the left, has all but disappeared from mainstream life.

Within this context, it is amazing that any person in their twenties is able to develop anything resembling a coherent political framework for understanding the world, let alone acquire the tools to decipher between news and entertainment, to critically evaluate the fragments of information flying at them 24 hours a day from their TVs, computers and smart phones.

Or to put this another way, our news media are driving us crazy (in a colloquial sense).

One thing I try to do on this blog is hammer home the point that so much of what passes for news reporting is actually the regurgitation of misinformation. As of July 2010, 36% of seniors believed that Obama/Romneycare would have death panels. That is a failure of epic proportion, one that, by definition, can not be laid at the feet of teachers unions (AAAIIEEE!!!). Corporate news media have a lot more to answer for than they’re willing to admit.

Comments

  1. #1 dma
    January 23, 2011

    Dear Shermer… I spoke with God yesterday…. Do you want to know what he told me?

    CLOBBERING TIME

    dawkins – got you…

    who’s the WINGNUT?

    richarddawkins.net/videos/579240-the-truth-about-the-lunatic-religious-right-in-america?page=1

    THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION – JAN 1, 2011

    OMENS OF DEATH:

    starseedshaman.info/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/redwing.jpg

    an example and warning of the fate of those who try to divide people….

    freethought-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=24191

  2. #2 darwinsdog
    January 23, 2011

    Why not just give Loughner his Glock back & send him to Afghanistan? If he’d shot up a Pashtun or Hazara village where suspected Taliban activity goes on, instead of a staged political event in a Safeway parking lot, it would have been a good thing, right?

  3. #3 Katharine
    January 23, 2011

    I’ve always kind of liked the idea of redistributing wealth by wordsum score on the GSS questionnaire.

  4. #4 Katharine
    January 23, 2011

    Also, Mabus the Wuss (dma), go fuck yourself with an angry porcupine. I’ve seen pictures of you from the various meetings you’ve invaded and you’re a fucking ugly shit who needs to go to jail for your insanity.

  5. #5 Clam
    January 24, 2011

    BTW have you thought that Loughner’s name is capable of many pronunciations? Like rhyming with lochner, looner, luffner, laowner or the one I like loner.

  6. #6 Phil Hand
    January 24, 2011

    Bloody Americans. Think you invented the world, you do. Democracy, ooh, that’s so American. Freedom, brought to the world by America! Stupidity, the American invention.
    Well listen here, and listen good. We’ve got some dumbasses over here in the UK that could give your most incoherent youth more than a run for their money. British people not only spout incoherent shit, we do it in accents you can’t even understand.
    If you want to observe British dumbasses in the wild, please, observe the Daily Mail. It won’t be fun, but at least you’ll realise that you have no monopoly on logical failure. Oh, and we’ve been thick since long before your precious America even existed. So there!

  7. #7 Birger Johansson
    January 24, 2011

    We have some stupid and/or bigoted people in Sweden, but they have not established any media “window” for uncritical reporting/propaganda. The xenophobes are shunned, and the far left are sooo discredited.

    …”so much of what passes for news reporting is actually the regurgitation of misinformation. As of July 2010, 36% of seniors “…..
    In other words, the US media function the way they are intended.

  8. #8 Nescio
    January 24, 2011

    You may have noticed my take on journalism, and yes I am a cynic: http://contusio-cordis.blogspot.com/2011/01/facts-are-overrated-anyway.html

    Cheers

  9. #9 Alex Besogonov
    January 24, 2011

    “Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, however, holding muddled political views does not in and of itself necessarily make Loughner mentally ill, unstable, crazy, or even particularly unusual.”

    Duh. That’s just a result of your two-party politics. For example, if one supports unions and socialized medicine but doesn’t like illegal immigrants what party should one support then?

    And trying to fit a nuanced worldview into a simple “good-or-evil” model quickly results in cognitive dissonance.

  10. #10 MacTurk
    January 24, 2011

    Thanks to Phil Hand(no 6). Say it loud and say it proud; “We were stupid LOOOOOOOONG before you were, so we’re better at it…” Or perhaps not…?

    There is indeed a great deal of commonality between the readers of “The Daily Mail”(DM) and the average teabagger. These are, in no particular order;

    a) Incoherent rage about everything that has happened since 1945, 1960, or any other random date.

    b) Fixation with the idea that “uncontrolled immigration” means that “They” are swamping us. And don’t you try and tell me facts, I know this!

    c) Young people are particularly evil.

    d) Society is going to the dogs/hell/European Union(DM) in general.

    e) Everything is a conspiracy by elites, and I hates all elite.

    The problem is that they vote as well.

  11. #11 I. Snarlalot
    January 25, 2011

    Here’s one for those histrionic trolls who enjoy Gish galloping around squirting great geysers of Glenn Beck tears in all directions regarding their counterfeit victimhood, their spotlight fallacies, their confirmation biases, and projecting their innermost shame onto “liberals” (i.e., anyone who isn’t a far right, corporately funded, astroturf extremist):

    Violence on the right: more evidence
    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-schaller-20110124,0,7607990.column

    “In my previous column I argued that radical, even violent rhetoric coming from the political right is more incendiary and aggressive than that coming from the left. I received a lot of angry e-mails claiming both sides deserved equal scorn.

    “Really? Well then, let’s move beyond mere rhetoric to action — from talking the talk, to walking the walk. Before proceeding, again let me clarify that the overwhelming majority of conservatives neither engage in nor incite violence. However, it is almost always conservatives who use violence, even murder, to express political anger.”

    etc.

    There are left wing nuts to be sure, although eventually the worst of them seem move to the right like Michael Savage, but violence is not a plank either espoused or condoned by the leadership.

    Enough with the false balance crap.