Shades of gray

I read something yesterday that me think. It was about the illusion of asymmetrical insight. This psychological phenomenon means that we, in spite of our beliefs to the contrary, are driven to create groups of “us” v/s “them” based on norms and values that are largely arbitrary. Moreover, the “illusion of asymmetrical insight clouds your ability to see the people you disagree with as nuanced and complex. You tend to see your self and the groups you belong to in shades of gray, but others and their groups as solid and defined primary colors lacking nuance or complexity.” A lot (but not all) of the separation of “us” v/s “them” is pure bullshit, and “them” are as complex as “us”.

Being human, I do this too, of course. But I am also an Aspie and an anthropologist, so I can see a lot (not all!) of the bullshit. It makes patriotism sketchy and excludes jingoism, I can tell you that.  This does not mean that I don’t want to form groups with others who are “like me”. Nope. I am picky as hell about my friends and I am convinced that they are all special and wonderful because they share my values. But I have been trained to think of all groups as incredibly complex and teeming with socio-cultural justification/rationales for each belief and action.

However, I do think some values are virtues.  Racism, misogyny, homophobia – those are things I reject and things my friends reject or we aren’t friends. I file them under “things asshats believe/do/say” and prance away with my posse of good humans. But there are other, non-essential things I have in common with people and that also determines my friends within the larger group of good humans. That is doubtlessly built primarily on illusion. I am as guilty as anyone else in thinking my group is better, obviously. Nevertheless, I also think that any group who embraces the ideal of human equality is inherently superior to some groups like the KKK or their ilk. However, I know that within the KKK the socio-cultural norms are as complex and nuanced as any other group. For one thing, I’ve read the ethnography.

One of the examples used to illustrate the illusion of asymmetrical insight was political beliefs. To wit:  “ In a political debate you feel like the other side just doesn’t get your point of view, and if they could only see things with your clarity, they would understand and fall naturally in line with what you believe. They must not understand, because if they did they wouldn’t think the things they think. By contrast, you believe you totally get their point of view and you reject it. You see it in all its detail and understand it for what it is – stupid. You don’t need to hear them elaborate. So, each side believes they understand the other side better than the other side understands both their opponents and themselves.”

I think that depends on the political group in question. For example, I have friends who are Republicans. I know they are smart. They have rationales for their beliefs that are not deliberately grounded in anything repellent, like racism or misogyny. However, I do think they are not aware of a lot of facts, which helps codify their beliefs. I think that they are aware that 50% of Americans pay no income taxes, but are largely unaware that many of the 50% not paying income tax are in the bottom 50% , who only have 2.5% of the wealth. Thus, I am willing to give moderate (normal) GOP members the benefit of the doubt. (I’ll blog more about that tomorrow, I think.)

Then there are the Tea Baggers and far-right jackholes, whom I admit I dislike intensely and feel extreme animus towards. They, as only few other groups do, represent the “asshat other” to me. Part of it is the fact that racism infests that group like the Ebola virus. I know, on a rational basis, that they are not ALL openly (or even knowingly) racist, but I also know that they are more racist than average, so I just paint them with a broad brush. Then there is the fact I think they are, as a group, ignorant dipshits, because they post signs that say, “Keep Government out of my Medicare”. Or they the fact many of them seem to think destroying the government is “patriotic”. People that dumb scare me, frankly.

I know, as an anthropologist, that the Tea Baggers are not completely homogenous. I know they are scared (rightly so) of the fact the American middle class is disappearing because wages have stagnated or declined (for everyone but CEOs and Congress) while the cost of living has gone up 67% since 1990. It’s just that they blame this on non-whites, or the poorest Americans who need help desperately, or government regulations and taxes, all while symbolically beating anyone who disagrees with them with a crucifix. This makes me view them as non-nuanced asshats who don’t know or understand that the median wealth of whites is 20 times that of blacks doesn’t mean blacks are lazy, it means there is systemic racism in play. They blame the cost of welfare without knowing (or caring) that “welfare” like unemployment, housing assistance, and monetary aid that keeps children from starving is only 13% of federal spending, while the defense budget (which benefits the Daddy Warbucks profiteers like Halliburton) is almost twice that. They cry out their taxes are too high without knowing the wealthy Americans pay the least PECENTAGE of tax on their income, thanks to loopholes.

Is it really an illusion if your opponents really are stupid asshats?

About Betty Fokker

I'm a stay-at-home feminist mom.
This entry was posted in I've been thinking too much, shit I think y'all should know. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Shades of gray

  1. Sweet Babou says:

    And this tendency to divide people into “us” and “them” has been used to great effect by the political strategists. The fact that the two primary political parties are effectively divided in the collective conscious of america as “Democratic Baby Killers and Tax-and-spenders” and “Republican Fundamentalist Big-Business lovers who want to abolish welfare” means that the majority of voters are voting based primarily on emotion. Then we feel like we have to defend our position when the people we vote for turn out to be asshats, because if we were wrong that means that maybe the other guy isn’t a “baby-killing tax-and-spender” or a “fundamentalist welfare abolisher”.

  2. I’m with you, 100 percent. And while I like to think my logic and reasoning play the biggest roles in my political views, I’m aware of the emotional core that leads me to vote the way I do, etc. I see no contradiction (of course, I wouldn’t), because it just isn’t logical/rational to me to vote against my own interests (economic, social, environmental, philosophical) because I’m afraid of change or of “the evil other that seeks to destroy the very foundations of civilization and, yea, even existence.”

    Asshats, indeed. And it’s not lost on me that to be an asshat implies that can see nothing but one’s own shit. Must be why I keep wanting to tell them to pull their heads out and look at the real world, while there’s still time.

  3. Nancy says:

    Fokker, you are awesome.

  4. I had a very insular issue with this in college when we had to debate the NEA vs. the AFT (teacher unions) and the professor came down heavily on the NEA side because it touts itself as a “professional organization” not a union and thus limits the us/them sensibility of teachers vs. board and administrators.

    My argument was, is it really such a terrible divisive thing to be IN a union of management is truly trying to screw you? As an NEA member (all we have around here) who signed a contract at a three year pay freeze, I can say that i would welcome the AFT with a colorful banner if they rolled into town.

  5. CatScott says:

    Thought provoking as usual, Fokker! Quite a few of my conservative friends try to “rationalize” with me. They acknowledge my level of intelligence, my upbringing, my education levels, my Catholic background, even my preference for cotton briefs(!), but they still can not understand why I can not see “reason”. It’s an interesting and frustrating situation.

    BTW – Thought you might enjoy this article.

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