Pharyngula

Some guy named Gerard Alexander has an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled “Why are liberals so condescending?” I will say one thing in its favor: it gets to its point quickly and clearly in the first few sentences.

Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration.

Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. He does demonstrate nicely that many liberals do categorize many conservatives as idiots, but he doesn’t seem capable of addressing the question of why they think that. It’s mostly a lot of waa-waa about the tone and how this attitude is an obstacle to politics.

He doesn’t consider the obvious explanation that many conservatives are amazing idiots pursuing idiotic policies.

Seriously. Sarah Palin.
Conservatives defending Palin’s stupidities. Republican candidates for the presidency who are certain that the earth is only 6000 years old. A Republican party dominated by the religious right.

Years ago, I would have considered Alexander to have a good point: that on some policies, such as economics, conservatives had something to contribute. But then they elected Reagan and Bush and the crowd of clowns in congress, and any claim to being a serious political party went out the window. They are the silly party now, and where they do the most damage is when pompous wankers demand that we treat them seriously simply because they are the conservative party we’ve got. No, we shouldn’t: we should laugh them out of office until they come up with candidates who aren’t stupid shills.

So I’m divided on the poll accompanying the article.

Who is more condescending?

They’re both impossible 12%
Conservatives 22%
Liberals 66%

It’s really just an attempt to tar liberals with another insult — ironic for an article that is so condescendingly disparaging liberal tone — but it’s also true. We are more condescending. Because most conservatives are so deserving of condescension.

Comments

  1. #1 Free Lunch
    February 8, 2010

    I don’t mind ignorance. I am ignorant in any number of areas and try to remedy that when it matters. What I do mind is that there are people who are proud of their ignorance. I do not understand that.

  2. #2 patrick.rubbs.regan
    February 8, 2010

    I’ve found the Conservatives to be just as condescending. Just look at Beck, Hannity, and friends to see what I’m talking about.

  3. #3 Bill Dauphin, OM
    February 8, 2010

    &ltComicSans>But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration.</ComicSans>1

    Well, IIRC, it was one T. Jefferson who first declared some of liberals’ most cherished views “self evident.” But leaving that aside, the implicit suggestion of this passage that liberals are dogmatic and monolithic is transparently obviously bogus: If we were all marching in ideological lockstep, we would’ve gotten more done toward enacting all those “socialist” initiatives that conservatives are so scared of, and that roughly 2/3 of the population actually support (or did, before the teabagger disinformation campaign got turned up to 11). OTOH, there’s plenty of evidence that conservatives are in lockstep (maybe not so ideological — there’s lots of strange bedfellows on the right — but “movement” lockstep in any case): How else could they be thwarting the will of a much larger center-left majority?

    1 Could someone please initiate me into the level of HTML-fu that includes modifying typefaces, so I can do real Comic Sans instead of mock tags?

  4. #4 Brain Hertz
    February 8, 2010

    It takes a particularly impressive lack of self-awareness to write an article dripping with condescension, starting with the title, whose subject is how horribly condescending some other group of people are…

    …and for bonus points:

    Many Democrats describe their troubles simply as a PR challenge…

    a sentiment, never, ever expressed by any conservative politicians or pundits.

  5. #5 RamblinDude
    February 8, 2010

    I don?t think it?s true at all. It just seems that liberals are more condescending because most of them have a bigger vocabulary.

  6. #6 Matt Penfold
    February 8, 2010

    Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. He does demonstrate nicely that many liberals do categorize many conservatives as idiots, but he doesn’t seem capable of addressing the question of why they think that. It’s mostly a lot of waa-waa about the tone and how this attitude is an obstacle to politics.

    If I did not know better I would say Mooney died and is now being channelled by Gerard Alexander.

  7. #7 TGAP Dad
    February 8, 2010

    The neocon equivalent to the “when did you stop beating your wife?” trap.

    That’s the trouble with opinion pieces. Opinions are like a**holes – everybody’s got one, and I probably don’t want to look at yours.

  8. #8 cehegarty
    February 8, 2010

    Q: Why are liberals so “condescending”?
    A: Conservatives.

    That just about sums up my thoughts, and likely the thoughts of liberals everywhere. It’s ridiculous that conservatives expect liberals to take them seriously when conservatives fail to understand the simplest things about decency, equality, science, or economics.

    Blegh.

  9. #9 steve
    February 8, 2010

    If by condescending, you mean someone who’s tired of other people shoving their imaginary friends and their collections of shepherd’s tales down everyone’s throats, and trying to get the book of tales taught as fact despite the tremendous evidence that invariably tends to go against what’s said in the shepherd’s tale book, and who isn’t afraid to stand up and say so, yeah I guess you can call many people outside the religious right condescending. If being condescending, as I defined, upsets you, let me play the world’s smallest violin for you.

  10. #10 Bill Dauphin, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Brain Hertz (@4):

    It takes a particularly impressive lack of self-awareness to write an article dripping with condescension, starting with the title, whose subject is how horribly condescending some other group of people are…

    I think it’s a fundamental law of nature that complaining in “print” about how condescending someone else is invariably marks the complainer as even more condescending.

  11. #11 Matt Penfold
    February 8, 2010

    I think it’s a fundamental law of nature that complaining in “print” about how condescending someone else is invariably marks the complainer as even more condescending.

    Isn’t that Mooney’s law ?

  12. #12 https://me.yahoo.com/thomasjwebb#913d8
    February 8, 2010

    I’m skeptical of the notion that Palin actually thinks what she says she thinks. She came from Idaho and moved to Alaska, two places that are very, very conservative but unlike the bible belt, pretty Godless also. Not all atheists are fancy liberals. Some are hillbillies who are just too simpleminded to believe something preposterous.

  13. #13 True Bob
    February 8, 2010

    There’s a few things I enjoyed about the article, and the local yokels who highlighted it on our local newspaper’s forum.

    First is the delicious irony of very condescending folks whinging about someone else’s supposed condescension. You should see some of the sig lines.

    Second is that behind this column/whinge is a plea that liberals talk more politely to conservatives. This cracks me up, because if anyone rails against the boundaries of political correctness, it’s conservatives. And here they are, demanding liberals adhere to some measure of political correctness. WATBs got their feelings hurt by those mean old treehugging socialist fascists.

  14. #14 Knockgoats
    February 8, 2010

    I’m skeptical of the notion that Palin actually thinks… – thomasjwebb

    Just stop right there, the rest is superfluous.

  15. #15 Levi in NY
    February 8, 2010

    If you ask me, the “liberals” in Washington aren’t being condescending enough. Every day they allow conservatives to twist their arms so much that every piece of legislation gets watered down to the point of being ineffective, and then the conservatives don’t even vote for any of it just because there are liberals who like it.

    When was the last time any prominent conservative took any liberal idea seriously? When was the last time any prominent conservative used the word “liberal” in a sentence that wasn’t condescending to liberals? Go to some heavily conservative area like Alabama or Oklahoma and proudly proclaim your liberalism, see what kind of non-condescending engaging dialog about bipartisan solutions you get.

  16. #16 dsmccoy
    February 8, 2010

    One definition of condescending (from Wiktionary)

    “To assume a tone of superiority when it is unjustified;”

    So the answer to the poll is clear to me.

  17. #17 Jim Purdy
    February 8, 2010

    QUOTE:
    “He doesn’t consider the obvious explanation that many conservatives are amazing idiots pursuing idiotic policies.”

    LOL! I think you nailed it.

    Another explanation might be that they are aliens from an alternate Fox Universe where the President is a Muslim/Radical Christian/atheist who was born in Kenya and wants to destroy America.

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  18. #18 realinterrobang
    February 8, 2010

    I’ll believe liberals are condescending when conservatives stop sounding like they shower every morning in Liquid Smug™.

  19. #19 kangahoo
    February 8, 2010

    This is my first post here, but I just had to respond in this forum to the Alexander piece. He was a graduate professor of mine. Let’s just say that him criticizing anyone for being condescending is more than a tad hilarious.

    As for the piece as a whole, I do think there is a small point, but a different one than he makes. Liberals consistently underestimate the intelligence of the leadership of the Republican party. There are intellectual Republicans, and they continually create winning political strategies. That is a different than achieving policy objectives. The two should not be equated.

  20. #20 mas528
    February 8, 2010

    Bill Dauphin, OM @#3

    Someone on scienceblogs made a css class expressly for this purpose.
    Just use the class=”creationist” in your tag this way:
    [blockquote class="creationist"]

    Conservative idiocy here

    [blockquote]
    Of course, substitute the symbols for “less than” and “greater than” for the the respective brackets.

  21. #21 chgo_liz
    February 8, 2010

    Over at PZ’s link to the Canadian Cynic, they quote some idiot named Jeff Cosford:

    Yup gotta agree with Kate if you can go out and speak at a major speaking engagement like this one and do it with a few notes on your hand my hats off to you.

    The heat of the lights, the terror when speaking in front of crowd that is so focused on every word a laser couldn’t get more focused.

    Now that is gravitas.

    Gravitas?

    *double face palm*

  22. #22 chgo_liz
    February 8, 2010

    Kinesthetic learner here….must try mas528′s tutorial now:

    Sarah Palin is not smarter than a 5th grader.

  23. #23 chgo_liz
    February 8, 2010

    mas?? What happened to my Comic Sans/

  24. #24 Knockgoats
    February 8, 2010

    mean old treehugging socialist fascists – True Bob

    I just have to deconstruct this supposed insult a bit. OK, “mean” and “fascist” I’d certainly regard as insults; “old” – well, at 55 I don’t feel old, but I do now qualify for the first tranche of minor advantages for the more mature, and globally, I’d guess I’m in the oldest 10% – so fair enough. I’m a proud socialist, and while I don’t actually hug trees, I have been known to give their trunks a friendly pat as I pass!

  25. #25 thomas.c.galvin
    February 8, 2010

    Condescension is the only appropriate response at this point. When we try to seriously debate the notion of death panels, or the idea that the commander in chief wants the terrorists to win, or any of the other crap the right trots out on a daily basis, we just give them the air of credibility. Pointing and laughing is precisely the correct response.

    And if the right wants us to stop pointing and laughing? Stop doing laughable things.

  26. #26 tsg
    February 8, 2010

    Pointing and laughing is precisely the correct response.

    Yes. Ridicule is not an inappropriate response to the ridiculous.

  27. #27 Moggie
    February 8, 2010

    #21:

    Gravitas?

    *double face palm*

    Why do you have “lift Americans” written backwards on your forehead?

  28. #28 Q.E.D
    February 8, 2010

    What tone does Mr. Alexander propose is appropriate for liberals to take toward Republicans? This party has had rational perspectives worthy of consideration in the past but is now utterly beholden to its creationist fundie base. Its last batch of Presidential candidates included 3 (Huckabee, Brownback and Tancredo) who raised their hands on national television claiming to be creationists. This is the same political party who nominated another “cretinist” as Vice Presidential candiate. There are some ideas that do not deserve any respect. Creationism is fully deserving of scorn because its proponents are either willfully, stubbornly ignorant or they are cynical liars pandering to the “cretinist” masses in their bid for power.

  29. #29 Something Arbitrary
    February 8, 2010

    Just a minor point of order: Conservative != Republican. PZ is pretty much right in his criticism of Republicans, but there are an awful lot of conservatives who don’t go in for that sort of theocratic nuttiness, and either vote for Blue Dog Democrats or don’t vote at all. And Gerard Alexander’s point does have some merit in that regard: the broad-brush dismissal of all conservatives as idiots does tend to drive the good ones out of public debate, so all we’re left with is the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

  30. #30 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlJWpTNvwEdfIQpUtfJ7GSr-qCqjBiDfOM
    February 8, 2010

    I think this about sums it up. Completely agree with the OMG Palin comment and why the hell do some American politicians think Earth is 6k years old? They’re supposed to be educated…

    Also, nice use of the word “wanker”, good English English :)

  31. #31 Nineveh
    February 8, 2010

    Because we use facts to argue. They call that “elitism”.

  32. #32 Alteredstory
    February 8, 2010

    To me it seems like the ultimate condescension for rich, educated republicans to say to the country “you’re ignorant and aggressive, and that’s right where you should be”. More and more, it seems that the general rule of thumb is that the right wing of this country is guilty of almost all the accusations they make against the left.

  33. #33 cody.cameron
    February 8, 2010

    Okay, on the one hand, yes, we’re pretty condescending, it’s hard not to be when you are arguing with people who don’t seem to know anything or think about what they are saying or hearing.

    On the other hand, the neoconservative movement is built on the principle that different classes of people should be given different “truths” (narratives) for the benefit of the society. What could possibly be more condescending than that?

    In the words of the neoconserative “godfather”:

    There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn’t work. -Irving Kristol

    Kind of funny considering how few “highly educated adults” seem to be neocons.

  34. #34 Knockgoats
    February 8, 2010

    the broad-brush dismissal of all conservatives as idiots does tend to drive the good ones out of public debate – Something Arbitrary

    Why? Are they all such delicate blossoms as that? I can think of prominent European conservatives who are both intelligent, and no more dishonest than the average politician of any ideology, but surely you can name some specific names in the USA?

  35. #35 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    “Not all conservatives are stupid people, but most stupid people are conservatives.”

    -John Stuart Mill

  36. #36 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    More and more, it seems that the general rule of thumb is that the right wing of this country is guilty of almost all the accusations they make against the left.

    it’s a strategy that has worked very well for them.

  37. #37 olivenyc
    February 8, 2010

    If anyone thinks liberals are more condescending than conservatives, just watch Bill O’Reilly interviewing Jon Stewart.

  38. #38 Bill Dauphin, OM
    February 8, 2010

    Something Arbitrary (@29):

    Just a minor point of order: Conservative != Republican. PZ is pretty much right in his criticism of Republicans, but there are an awful lot of conservatives who don’t go in for that sort of theocratic nuttiness, and either vote for Blue Dog Democrats or don’t vote at all.

    “An awful lot”? Really? I’m mindful of the fact that anecdote is not evidence, but in my experience, most people who self-identify as “conservative” are either Republican or to the right of Republicans (e.g., tea party folks); people who are center-right (on the American political “number line,” I mean) more often call themselves “independent” or “moderate,” or hedge their conservatism with some limiting modifier: “Well, I’m a fiscal conservative, but….”

  39. #39 UrCardiac
    February 8, 2010

    This posting immediately reminded me of a BBC News article I’d read a week or so ago on why people vote against their own interests (http://goo.gl/zBjO).

    From the article:

    They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.
    There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.
    As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing. And that makes anything as complex or as messy as healthcare reform a very hard sell.
    The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronising liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking.

    I think it boils down to that there are a lot of undereducated people who don’t fully understand the issues and resent being told what to do. Somehow we need to figure out a way to explain the issues without sounding condescending. If we don’t, the Republicans will win.

  40. #40 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    unpossible.

    why?

    because of this point you noted:

    “As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing.”

    moreover, it isn’t at all that the explanations themselves have actually been condescending, it’s that rethuglicans are happy and eager to paint them that way to their base, who seem happy and eager to lap that shit up.

    It’s exactly why i moved out of the US after 44 years.

    It’s a cycle that cannot be broken in less than 2 generations, imo.

  41. #41 Ichthyic
    February 8, 2010

    I just realized…

    The reason the republican base is so retarded is that the conservative media and politicians have been using lead paint to mischaracterize their opponents in the last 40 years.

    I mean, I would have brain damage too if I lapped up all that paint.

  42. #42 Bill Dauphin, OM
    February 8, 2010

    UrCardiac (@39):

    Somehow we need to figure out a way to explain the issues without sounding condescending. If we don’t, the Republicans will win.

    I don’t think it’s quite that simple: If you turn down the right-wing commentary track about how Obama is an Ivy League egghead elitist and just listen to what he actually says (e.g., in speeches, press conferences, etc.), I think it’s really hard to say he condescends to people. Certainly, Bill “Bubba” Clinton didn’t talk down to “regular folks”! I think it’s less about liberals actually condescending than it is about a conscious effort on the part of anti-liberals to say we do… and that, in turn, is part of a larger effort to promote the meme that liberals are broadly out of touch with reality.

  43. #43 irarosofsky
    February 8, 2010

    I want to know what happened to those old time conservatives who had no problem believing in evolution. They were even able to use it to justify elitism and the ruling class.

  44. #44 dsmccoy
    February 8, 2010

    Hmm,
    the poll results don’t seem to reflect what one would expect from a poll which has been brought to the attention of PZ’s minions.

  45. #45 Mike B FFW
    February 8, 2010

    It looks like this editorial was an attempt by the Washington Post to become more “fair and balanced:”

    http://mediamatters.org/blog/201002080023

    Yikes.

  46. #46 pixelfish
    February 8, 2010

    Both sides get pretty preachy, but conservatives are the ones I find truly condescending. After all, many of them seem to find me in dire need of their guidance merely by virtue of my double-x nature.

    This rampant application of the label “condescending” reminds me of how misogynists claim that feminists hate men, while all the while the misogynists are perpetuating a vision of males as brutish, controlled by their gonads, ready to take advantage of women, arrogant, unintellectual, unnurturing, and unemotional. Who really hates men in that picture? Similarly, I get suspicious of a conservative claiming that liberals are just too condescending, while promoting an agenda that infantilises women and conveniently painting tea parties as “concerned citizens” instead of “nutbags using racist dog whistles.”

    That said, there can be heaps of condescension on the liberal front. One of my favourite Todd Barry bits has him telling people about doing a show in Alabama. Their voices get hushed as they ask, “So, what was that like?” Todd: “Oh, you know, you stand up in front of a mic….oh. Right. I know what you want. Well, I flew into Birmingham and the grand dragon of the local Klan drove me into town on the back of a mule. I did my set over shouts of Jewboy-go-home, and then they paid me in pork rinds. What do you think it was like, you fake liberal fuck?” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.)

  47. #47 MadScientist
    February 8, 2010

    Are the “liberals” really any better? I don’t think so. Perhaps they don’t have as many whackaloons in their group, but modern liberals are way right of many “conservatives” of 80 years ago.

  48. #48 tsg
    February 8, 2010

    Are the “liberals” really any better? I don’t think so. Perhaps they don’t have as many whackaloons in their group, but modern liberals are way right of many “conservatives” of 80 years ago.

    What is your point? Having a different position from 80 years ago is somehow a weakness?

  49. #49 ilgreven
    February 8, 2010

    He wants to know why liberals are so “condescending”?

    It’s because conservatives think they’re mentally deranged and treasonous.

  50. #50 Walton
    February 8, 2010

    Re “conservative”, it is very much a culturally determined term. Conservatives here in the UK have never had the vehement anti-intellectual streak, or the intolerant religious fervour, that seems to have become the norm in the Republican Party of today. So I don’t disagree with the consensus above insofar as it relates to “conservatives” in the American context, but be careful not to judge those of us who identify (broadly) as British or European “conservatives” in the same light.

  51. #51 bubbabubba666
    February 8, 2010

    So let me see if I have this straight. People who believe that…

    1. Gays are immoral and going to burn in hell forever.
    2. Atheists are on the side of satan and are going to burn in hell forever.
    3. There view is right no matter what the facts in the world are (the US has the best healthcare, the earth is 6000 years old)
    4. Liberals have no real “morality”
    5. ad infinitum

    …are not condescending?

    I am not saying all conservatives believe those things but the majority of conservatives I know can easily give liberals a run for their money on this subject any day.

  52. #52 Glenn G
    February 8, 2010

    I disagree, modern liberal ideology is better described as being based on empathy

  53. #53 lagunatic
    February 8, 2010

    I’m not condescending…I’m just right.

  54. #54 csrster
    February 9, 2010

    So, to summarise, he’s saying that people who think that certain things are true, tend to hold to the opinion that the things they think are true are, in fact true, and that contrary views are false. Well I’ll be damned.

    Actually, this is the definition of a militant atheist – someone who not only doesn’t believe that God exists but also believes it is incorrect to believe that God does exist.

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