Saturday, October 1, 2016

A Few from the Fire Hose

The interweb and social media, particularly, have been likened to trying to drink from a fire hose. It's a constant spew of information (if you can call it that, when you never have time to process or assimilate it) that mostly leaves you overwhelmed instead of informed.

But here are a few things I've read over the last few days, mostly about the election, of course, that I think will stick with me.

If it sometimes seems as though the anti-Hillary crowd is immune to facts or logic, that's because they (on average) are, according to this: fact-checking is largely irrelevant because deceit is not what’s causing moral outrage, Clinton’s gender is. It's not so much the general claim of sexism that I found interesting in the piece; it's the description of research that's been done about implicit biases against women (emphasis added).

A six-study project released last month by researchers at the University of California-Irvine showed that people assess the risk of danger to children to be higher when they deem a parent’s reasons for leaving a child to be socially offensive. The researchers had 1,200 people rate their sense of how much danger children were in, on a scale of one to ten. They then varied the reason children were left by themselves. In one case a mother was injured, subjects were told she’d been hit by a car and was unable to get back to the child, but others, she was working or having an affair. The scenario scored as the least dangerous was the one in which the mother had been hit by a car. The one deemed the most dangerous was when she’d left to meet a lover. When the mother was working, people felt the child was in more danger than when she was unconscious, less that when she was having sex. In other words, people’s fear and risk responses are tied to how they judged the women for either confirming or violating their expectations. It had virtually nothing to do with the fact of the child’s unchanging and relatively harmless situation.

The study also looked at how people responded when fathers did the same things. When fathers left children to work they were assessed in the same way as when the reasons they left children were out of their control and unplanned. People decided that children in these scenarios faced the least danger.

This implicit bias, the one that says working women are penalized in ways that working men aren’t has been demonstrated in other scenarios. Although long debunked, is the same one that shapes many voter’s belief that a “powerful woman” is not only an oxymoron but a serious danger to the nation.
And 2013, a survey of managers in the United States revealed that they overwhelmingly don’t believe women who request flextime compared to men who do the same. As with leaving children alone in cars, working women are, by definition, morally suspect for having left their children in a way that men are not. In another setting, courtrooms, the connection between gender expectations and perceived competence is also clear. Studies of juror confidence in courtroom experts have found that the more complex an issue a case is the less likely a jury is to believe a woman expert. Women, expected to not have well-developed expertise in matters of public concern, are more effective in what people categorize as “low complexity” scenarios.

Gender role expectations such as these define disgust as well as how people impute morality and guilt. Disgust, the emotion that most people who say they viscerally dislike Clinton, express, is actually one of the strongest predictors of moral outrage. In courtrooms, these dynamics linking moral prejudice and moral outrage, are well understood. Rape cases are the perfect example of this. A woman’s violation of gender norms, if she was drinking or exhibited interest in sex, are used to rationalize gender biases that jurors feel. According to extensive media studies conducted by Columbia University journalism professor Helen Benedict, a rape victim, usually a woman, is most likely to be rigorously personally investigated and publicly vilified when she and the perpetrator share class, race and ethnicity. In other words, when gender is the only clear difference and allegations of rape threaten historical male sexual entitlements. In these instances, rape myth acceptance, for example, the idea that a woman victim is lying, is highest and evidence is often disregarded.

As in rape considerations, people who feel disgust over what they perceive to be moral transgressions are more likely to find a person guilty (e.g. Clinton’s email scandal and Benghazi) and deserving of punishment (e.g. displays of Clinton jailed and brutalized). Believing that a person is morally corrupt, lying or deserving of punishment is a socially tolerable and palliative form of systems justification.
This connection to disgust is key. As Jonathan Haidt demonstrates in The Righteous Mind, that's one of the six innate human emotional reactions, and it's particularly strong among conservatives. Donald Trump's favorite word appears to be "disgusting," in case you haven't noticed. It's not a coincidence.

Then there's this from a Tumblr called Black Sentai:
White dudes have this thing where they believe your best friend in the world can have opposing political ideas. You’re supposed to be able to have healthy debate and disagreeing shouldn’t harm your friendship.

That’s gross and stupid. It’s really easy to say that when all your disagreements are theoretical. It’s easy to say when none of the laws passed actually affect your life. Fighting with your best friend about corporate regulations, school charters, educational funding, abortion, health care, voting restrictions, drug laws, taxes and all sorts of stuff is cool and lively because none of it is going to actually leave you in a bad spot.

It's different for the rest of us. I can’t be friends with you if you think I shouldn’t be allowed to vote. We can’t be friends if you think my friends shouldn’t have the ability to designate whatever gender they want and have that be legally recognized. We can’t be friends if you think I don’t deserve health care. Or if you think native children should be ripped away from their cultures and people. We can’t be friends if you think closing down health care clinics in an attempt to end safe legal abortions is a good thing.

All these theoretical political ideas and lively debates affect real people, and I won’t be friends with someone who disagrees with me on them. Because disagreement means you don’t see me or a whole bunch of my friends and family as human beings worthy of rights and respect.
And finally, this from a Facebook post by writer Rebecca Solnit. She wrote it when recommending a New Yorker article on Trump and climate change by Elizabeth Kolbert (author of The Sixth Extinction):
Don't imagine that Trump will be some joke we can sort of override or that the people in charge of carrying out his orders revolt against them. Remember that government workers rounded up Japanese-Americans when ordered to do so, under a president most people are inclined to admire, and that the loss of rights and possessions still traumatizes survivors and their children 75 years later. Remember that few besides Daniel Ellsberg revealed the lies behind the Vietnam War (one of his colleagues told Ellsberg he would, but then he couldn't send his kid to Groton, weighing prep school against hundreds of thousands of deaths and coming down in favor of the former), remember that Snowden was virtually alone in revealing what tens of thousands of NSA employees and contractors knew about the violation of our privacy.

Don't count on the revolt or the resistance. It's too iffy, and it depends on a kind of mass disobedience we've never seen, from people sworn to obedience. Remember that evil is often carried out by stages, and many people adjust stage by stage, rationalize, conform. That's how rational, obedient people exterminated my father's relations in Europe 75 years ago.

This is not to say that there is nothing to fight under a Clinton administration, just that some things—reproductive rights, attacks on Muslims in the U.S.—won't be on the table, and there are things we can fight and win, just as we fought Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline and won. On climate we can push for the agenda we need, and her climate proposals are inadequate but have many positive things. With Trump, we finish the destruction of the planet that advanced so far under eight disastrous oil-soaked years of Bush.
If you have time, I also recommend watching this seven-minute interview with Wall Street Journal (!) editorial writer Dorothy Rabinowitz on why she wrote a column endorsing Hillary Clinton. The Journal hasn't endorsed a candidate wince 1982, and Rabinowitz's column doesn't count as an editorial either, but it's highly unusual.

1 comment:

Gina said...

I think Rebecca Solnit is right and it terrifies me. What if Trump is elected? What if he realizes that Congress won't bow down and worship him? Will he attempt to disband Congress and create a dictatorship? That's what really scares me.