Saturday, April 23, 2005

Turtles all the way down

Well holy crap. This makes sense.

For those of you who don't compulsively click on the first link in a post, I'll explain, summarize, and, of course, propagandize.

Doug Muder is a mathematician and author. included among his sterling works is that timeless classic, The Internet For Dummies. I'm sure you've all read it. Update: Oops. Doug posts a correction, which immediately brands me as a poor fact-checker. He didn't write the Internet For Dummies, but has co-authored several other "for dummies" books on Internet-related topics.

In addition to being good at explaining things, Doug Muder is a Unitarian Universalist and political liberal. He also reads a lot. And all of these qualities probably figure into his excellent essay, Red Family, Blue Family: Making sense of the values issue.

[click ... scroll scroll scroll scroll ... click back]

Hmm? That looks pretty long compared to most of the stuff you read on the Internets? Too true! There've gotta be at least a couple thousand words in there.

Boring? Not so! This piece is one of the most interesting things I've read in a while. It's actually a commentary that juxtaposes two books: Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think by George Lakoff, and Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church by James Ault. It pulls in a little cognitive psychology, a little religion, a little politics, and the result is fairly fascinating:
Lakoff’s general approach, which he developed long before he started writing about politics, is to recognize that the human mind works in metaphors: Life is a struggle; business is a game; time is money - stuff like that. The mind casts every abstract idea in terms of more immediate experiences. Struggles, games, and money, in turn, have their own metaphoric interpretations, and (to make a long story short) it’s turtles all the way down. There’s no ground floor where we think of things as exactly what they are.

Using the stuff from Ault, Muder fine-tunes Lakoff's explanation of the split in the American psyche. He then makes some suggestions (I love this guy!) about how progressives should change their rhetoric, and maybe win an election or two.

So read it already!

(And please note: Much love and many kisses go to Philocrites for publicizing Mulder's article.)


Paul said...

Funny, I'd been thinking just the other day that I really didn't understand what held far right ideas together. They look to me like a misc. laundry list. The contrasting conservative/liberal family metaphor is interesting, and does tie things together.

I've also wondered if there aren't factors involving individual psychology, but haven't thought about it enough.

In any case, I do think it's important for liberals and conservatives to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and assume the other side isn't just being stupid or perverse. Otherwise, as the article mentions, talk turns into no more than debate - trying to score points at the others' expense - rather than a mutual search for truth.

jeshua said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jeshua said...

Oh yes, very good indeed. And I love that this dude is an internet guy and uses VERY LITTLE html! Thanks for the heads-up. (I deleted my last comment because of a typo. :)

life_of_bryan said...

There's a little bias bleeding through, which one has to expect, and the writer freely admits. I consider myself a moderate (doesn't everyone), so it's ok for me to say these things. Maybe I'm over-reacting, or reading things that aren't there, but I get the impression of an underlying tone of condescension. Maybe I'm just paranoid, or maybe it's that inferiority complex acting up again. It just seems like he equates conservatives with fundamentalism and ignorance, while at the same time equating liberals with affluence, higher education, and awareness. It's always fun when you get to critique your own film isn't it? Be a little less obvious if you hope to win a few over to the other side.
The following quote in particular was interestingly misleading (perhaps informed by bias?)
"But Inherited Obligation families are not doing nearly so well. Blue states consistently lead red states in statistical measures of familial success - low divorce rate, low drop-out rate, low violent crime, low teen pregnancy. Divorce rates in particular seem to vary inversely to liberalism: conservative Baptist marriages fail far more often than those from more liberal Christian denominations."
In actuality, divorce stats tend to relate more closely with income than anything else (religion and/or political ideals). Similarly, drop-out rates, violent crime, and teen pregnancy share the same correlation with income over religious/political affiliation. Maybe I totally missed his point, but it came across as ignorance to me. Is the supposition that one's politics are to blame for their annual income (which leads to those other problems/symptoms)? I don't see the direct causation.

Just pointing out a couple observations...although it was an interesting read with many insightful points & new perspectives to me. Of course I realize that my random thoughts are useless since it's practically impossible to be totally objective about a subject such as this, and my scattered mind can't read anything over two paragraphs with any clarity of thought.

Matthew said...

Bryan, I was bothered by that paragraph too. Not because I think it's inaccurate - I would expect the church's teachings about sex and marriage to actually contribute to a higher divorce rate. In particular, I mean that the church often teaches marriage as a means to an end (sex), which can't make for good marriages.

Instead, that paragraph bothers me because the author doesn't give any source for his statistics. As far as I know, he's just pulling them out of his butt. So if you find some published statistics from a reputable source, let us know. Otherwise, I think I'm going to just let my mind bleep out that paragraph.

(Speaking of bleeping things out, I'm ready to see what's coming down the shute.)

Doug Muder said...

Thanks for all the comments.

One thing to fix: I didn't actually write "The Internet for Dummies". I've co-authored a couple of other (extremely) less popular Dummies books, and I think a few pages I wrote for some other book may have gotten pulled into one edition of IFD. But the real powers behind IFD are the brother-and-sister team of John Levine and Margy Levine Young.

Matthew is dead-on that I should reference the statistics. Some of them come from the American Prospect article I do reference, but not all. I'm putting together a follow-up article to the UU World piece, and I'm going to be much more careful about the claims I'm making and what they mean. (The main point is just that fundamentalist communities are not islands of stability watching the rest of society go down the toilet; they're responding to their own moral breakdown.)

The class bias life_of_brian notices in my article comes from trying to shift seamlessly from Lakoff to Ault. Lakoff is trying to talk about conservatives in general, while Ault is talking about one particular fundamentalist church made up of working-class folks. I probably should have commented more explicitly on this.

The one thing I'll plead not-guilty on is that I associated conservativism with ignorance. I tried very hard not to do that.

p.s. I created a Blogger account just to post this message, so don't expect to see anything on my Blog. I'm still thinking about how to upgrade my webpage.