Over on the Orb Bit, Miwi Mowgewevsky in Bwoot Weason writes the title "Yes, We Did Fail to Empathize with Conservatives" followed by e.g. "not really, ha-ha, but we need to understand how these subhumans think so we can better fix their damaged minds" for over 2500 agonizing words. http://archive.is/DeiQL
My main take-away: Her 14-year-old brother is a Trump backer and this gives her a sad but is no longer trying to correct him.
Miri fails psychology and sociology 101, part I:
Empathy means understanding what someone thinks and feels from their perspective. It doesn’t mean feeling bad for them–it’s not the same thing as sympathy. It doesn’t mean patiently debating life-or-death issues with them. It doesn’t mean coddling them or doing what they want you to. It doesn’t even mean accepting their distortions of sociopolitical reality as fact.
Outraged emphasis aside, this isn't entirely false. What Miri is referring to is cognitive empathy, i.e. the ability to understand what others think. There are other meanings of empathy that include emotional content, like emotional empathy (feeling what someone else feels on an emotional level) and somatic empathy (feeling what another person feels at a corporeal level). Miri, as someone who has studied psychology and is a therapist (I think?) should have been more clear, but this paragraph is more or less an adequate start. Let's see if Miri truly can get into the mind of the Conservative Monster.
Overwhelmingly, white Americans–at least the ones who voted for Trump–think that people of color are the cause of their economic problems, and they feel afraid of them. They think that LGBTQ people are sinful and a threat to the proper order of things, and they feel disgusted by them. They think that women are asking for more than they deserve and that women are inherently deceitful and untrustworthy, and they feel threatened by them.
Apparently not so much. This is an over-generalization, which doesn't explain why white non college-educated women voted for Trump in droves, or why people in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania voted for Obama twice but then switched to Trump, or why a non insignificant percentage of minorities voted for Trump, too. Are we supposed to think that those women and minorities all hate themselves? Are we supposed to think that a white woman like Clinton is seen as more threatening than a black man like Obama?
And when I put myself in the headspace of a white conservative, and run a simulation in my mind of their beliefs and values, their support for Trump and other Republicans makes complete sense to me. There is nothing hypocritical about it at all. There’s little evidence that they voted “against their interests,” because as much of a failure as Trump will be at improving their economic circumstances, that wasn’t the only interest they had. They were also very interested in reducing the number of people of color (especially Muslims) in the United States, maintaining Christianity as the dominant American value system, making sure that women don’t take what isn’t theirs, and preventing LGBTQ people from further corrupting American culture. They accomplished all of this and more by electing Trump.
While there are some people who voted Trump for those reasons this analysis looks incredibly superficial. It is also a massive over-generalization and over-simplification, but since Miri seems to be all about making sweeping statements and doesn't provide evidence or analyze more nuanced patters I'll let that slide.
Anyway even as a sweeping generalization it is pretty inaccurate. Trump isn't especially religious and didn't campaign on an anti-LGBTQ message. Yes, he chose Pence (notoriously very religious and anti-LGTBQ) as a running mate, but the core of Trump's appeal was on other messages (the Wall, muslim ban, anti-Hillary and anti-establishment, protectionism and isolationism).
Ignoring the economic and anti-establishment motivations of Trump voters completely only to focus on racial bias is a serious lack of cognitive empathy on Miri's part.
And sure, there are a lot more factors in this election outcome than just the specific beliefs I listed as examples. Those are some major ones, but there are others, such as “government-run programs are wasteful and harmful in general and should be reduced or eliminated” and “climate change is a hoax” and “I admire Donald Trump’s business successes and would want someone with those skills as president.” Yes, you can be a Trump supporter without being primarily concerned with, say, reducing the number and influence of people of color in America. But as others have pointed out, every Trump supporter has heard his rhetoric about people of color and women and decided that that is acceptable on some level. So yes, you’re all racist and sexist. Every last one of you.
Again you'd expect that isolationism, anti-establishment messages and protectionism would get at least a cursory mention. But clearly Miri isn't interested in really understanding the conservative mind more than she is interested in assigning collective blame.
A clinical, detached analysis of mental states can't be all about repeating how horrible the person(s) you're trying to analyze is/are. Even psychiatrists who have to understand real criminals like serial killers or rapists (and not just people with different political opinions) have to at least momentarily abandon a moral judgment in a clinical assessment in order to really understand what makes them tick. Miri seems to be terrible at that, I wouldn't recommend her as a therapist.
So how do we stop misunderstanding and underestimating right-wingers? How do we have actual empathy towards them?
Let's see. How?
1. We take them seriously.
When someone tells you who they are, believe them. Trump has been telling us who he is for decades and people still won’t believe him. “Oh, he didn’t really mean that about grabbing those women.” “He didn’t literally mean that Mexican immigrants are rapists, just that there are probably some rapists among them, like any other group.” “He’ll probably surround himself with good people once he gets to the White House.” We’re now seeing how that’s turning out.
Same with Trump’s supporters. When they say that their jobs have been taken by immigrants, they mean that that’s what they believe. You are not going to win them over unless you either manage to convince them that this deeply-held, socioculturally-reinforced belief is false (good luck with that), or you tell them that you’re going to kick all the immigrants out so they can have their jobs back.
Many–not all–Trump voters have real economic concerns. But they have chosen a fundamentally racist way of explaining the origins of those problems, and they will not accept a solution that doesn’t get at what they see as the problem.
Does this include taking those people seriously if they claim to be motivated by other reasons, like concerns about crime or about industries relocating abroad? Does this include taking Trump seriously when he chooses Nikki Haley and Elaine Cho (two non-white women) as part of his staff? Does this include taking Trump seriously when saying that he loves Mexicans? No, that's (respectively) irrelevant, tokenism and face-saving.
2. We learn to read and listen critically.
On the other hand, we can’t take people’s statements so literally and interpret them so shallowly that we fail to understand what they actually mean. When Trump supporters said that they want to get rid of all the elites in the federal government, they didn’t mean that they wanted the next president to be someone who grew up in a Rust Belt town with ordinary non-politician parents, built their own small business from the ground up, and knows what it’s like to struggle financially. When right-wingers use words like “elites,” what they typically mean is urban liberals and/or Jews. So nobody should be surprised that most Trump voters seem totally okay with his own elite status and that of the people he’s filling his administration with.
So we should take people at their word when they say bigoted things, but always try to figure out their hidden bigoted motives when they express other concerns. This isn't empathy, this is projection your own interpretation of your political rivals onto them.
If a therapist disgusted by their patient projects their feelings of disgust in the therapy the therapy will be very inefficient. If you let your biases color your sociological research will be heavily flawed. This is Psychology101 and Sociology101. Miri seems to be determined not to question her biased assumptions and to even reinforce them.
3. We understand the powerful role of tribalism and identity.
Identity politics did cost Clinton this election. Specifically, identity politics won the election for Trump. This election was won by conservative white identity politics.
For white conservatives, things like opposing immigration (of non-white people), fearing Muslims, distrusting women, being disgusted by homosexuality, and believing that government programs and other institutions unfairly favor people of color aren’t just isolated opinions, like preferring summer to winter or liking a particular brand of frozen pizza.
Rather, those are strong markers of group identity. Even when presented with strong contrary evidence, you can’t just abandon them because then you’d be like Them, not like Us. And being like Them is unspeakably awful.
I’m not saying liberals don’t have their own versions of this, by the way. They sure do. But the point is that they underestimate the role this plays in our current political situation at their peril.
When it’s a matter of group identity, that changes. Conservatives don’t simply believe that climate change is a hoax; they really, really need to believe that climate change is a hoax. If they stop believing that climate change is a hoax, they will lose part of their sense of who they are, not to mention cause conflict with their friends and family and also start fearing that we’re all literally going to die. That’s some powerful motivation to keep believing that climate change is a hoax. Avoiding cognitive dissonance is a much stronger drive than your calm and reasoned arguments can possibly provide.
So close, and yet so far. Of all the examples that Miri could have chosen climate change is probably the one less tied to traditional conservatives values and identities. It's a recent issue and it's not tied to religious or ethnic concerns. And she's both overplaying identity issues among Trump voters (generalizing all of them as racist/sexist/bigoted) and downplaying identity issues among "leftists" (which only get a cursory mention).
Anyway she also provides some advice on how to win elections:
1. Galvanize the left-wing base so that they turn the fuck up at the polls next time.
Stop with the “voting doesn’t really matter” fucking bullshit. We’re about to find out exactly how much it mattered. This is my main aim when I write and share things about Trump, about racism, about fascism, and so on. I’m not trying to convince conservatives. I’m trying to get progressives who can vote to get the fuck out there and vote. I fucking promise you there are progressives in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and literally every other red and swing state who could have voted in this election and chose not to.
Because I don’t believe that we can convince conservatives to stop supporting Trump (or other relatively less awful but still awful politicians), I believe that our best option is to strengthen our own base so that it can defeat conservatives in elections. And not just elections, of course.
I’ve just started hosting monthly letter-writing parties to get my friends and myself to write letters to our representatives and senators. Progressives need to start doing all of this kind of shit in much greater numbers and defeat conservatives with brute strength, not, ironically, brute reason.
How can I put this...does Miri really think that everyone in the Democratic Party thought that voting didn't matter? Does she realize all the things that the Dems did to get people out to vote? Does she ask herself why
many people who voted for Obama in Pennsylvania or Michigan or Wisconsin didn't get out to vote for Clinton? No, no and no. Writing letters to representatives and senators is enough.
2. Do our best to educate young people.
Of course, brute strength isn’t a perfect or sustainable solution. As I said, we could’ve avoided a Trump presidency and prevented a lot of harm that way, but the shitty ideas would still be out there, ready to strike at any time. Kinda like Obama being president didn’t end racism.
We need to keep trying to reach young people before they develop a strong tribal conservative identity. That’s very hard to do, because these identities can form early. My 14-year-old brother is a passionate Trump supporter and there’s nothing any of us can do to talk him out of it now. Maybe there could’ve been years ago. Maybe I should’ve tried. But I had no idea this was coming. Now I know exactly what can happen, and how quickly.
(Yeah, yeah, he might “grow out of it” or whatever. But that’s not going to happen through arguments with me. I already tried that.)
I have a lingering suspicion that if Miri acted the way she does when she writes her posts her behavior and arguments may have actually driven her brother to sympathize with Trump voters.
does she suppose that progressives can "get'em when they're young"? If people at 14 are already too old to be convinced to change their mind, when is the progressive indoctrination supposed to take place? Junior high? Grade school? Infancy? I see a boatloads of problems with that.
Too much of the commentary about this election has been focused on whether or not Trump supporters are _____-ist, or whether or not you can support Trump without being _____-ist, or how it makes Trump supporters feel to be called _____-ist. For the purposes of this discussion, it doesn’t matter what you call them. They have made their opinions very clear. Are we going to listen?
So the conclusion is to think that all Trump voters are completely irredeemable, abandon all hope and damn all the
non-progressives to hell. Wow, brilliant "analysis" Miri! I'm so
surprised you're not writing for the New York Times!