Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Eve Blues

Today we Americans go to the polls to determine whether the Clinton crime spree continues, or whether orange will be the new black.

There have been predictions that civil unrest (or even civil war) will break out, whoever wins. The idea is that should Trump win, then Black Lives Matter and other groups on the Left would burn down their local CVSes and loot Walmarts for everything but work boots, birth control, and Father’s Day cards. If Clinton should win, then the Klan is going to reenact “Birth of a Nation” – the D. W. Griffith version, not the Nate Parker one.

Predictions of civil unrest would ordinarily be dismissed as bravado or sensationalism, but there are two conditions that should give one pause.

First is the cultural divide we’ve been witnessing for the past few decades. This divide isn’t “rural vs urban” or a race issue. Rather it is individualism vs collectivism.

On one side, there’s the treatment of Americans by the Obama administration and by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Both are contemptuous of the American people and, by extension, America itself. It isn’t just their characterization of us as “bitter clingers” or “basket of deplorables” – it is the smugness that leads them to those characterizations. They believe they are entitled to our tax money, our lives, and our culture of individualism because they have “evolved”. They cannot expect this to go unaddressed.

On the opposite side is the Left’s incredible sense of entitlement. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s call for reparations for the riches made off of “his stolen black body” may seem extreme, but rather it is the norm. Any call for “economic justice” or “social justice” is based upon the same “reasoning”, the same collectivist yearning for the fruits of other people’s labor, that makes reparations open for debate. By this “logic” the only ones not deserving reparations are the owners of the burned-out CVSes and looted Walmarts. We cannot expect that sense of entitlement to go away.

Individualists and collectivists both have been wronged by the government, and we all maintain (consciously or subconsciously) a list of the ways our lives have been diminished by its bureaucracies and actions. One of the differences between the collectivists and the individualists is that those wrongs are front and center for the individualists, whereas the collectivists are blind to those wrongs, or they excuse those wrongs, or they forgive those wrongs. "Use us," the collectivists say, while they throw not only themselves into the bottomless pit that is the Administrative State, but everybody else too.

A cultural divide and the resulting mistrust are not sufficient to make civil unrest inevitable. That brings us to the second condition: the difficulty that the sides have communicating with each other and the resulting “echo chambers”.

Conflicts are not possible among rational individuals, but that assumes that individuals have a common language and a common frame of reference. Do we still have those?

There used to be a commonality of language, but not anymore. This is beyond regional dialects and idioms - terms have now been twisted to the point where they either lack definition completely, or the definition depends on your camp. Further, terms and phrases are now "value laden": people have an automatic emotional response attached to them. You see this whenever someone is “triggered” when they hear phrases like “illegal alien” or “anchor baby”.

Further, you have people giving higher value to feelings than to facts. Because of this, not only are terms and phrases value laden, but so are facts. This is blatantly on display whenever one claims that the appropriate bathroom to use should depend on the gender that one self-identifies with at the moment.

There goes the common frame of reference.

Once value-laden facts become acceptable, then things like “racist facts” become acceptable, too – and then it becomes acceptable to reject any factual statement not because it is false, but because it is “racist”. Thus, any Obama-esque “national conversation about race” becomes impossible.

The institution that should help make communication possible, and therefore smooth-over cultural divides, is now broken. That institution is the press. Journalists used to investigate stories, now they spin them. Once reporters began to view themselves as important as the stories they covered, it wasn’t too far of a stretch for them to believe that their job was not to report the news but to make it. The already thin line between reporting and editorializing has been erased, which makes journalists into propagandists colluding with the candidates as opposed to watching the candidates. That’s why sources that "old school" journalists would kill for, like WikiLeaks, have been ignored by contemporary “journalists”.

Oh, and logic? That excellent instrument by which we come to know anything? Logic is the key: value-laden facts and value-laden phrases lose their “triggeryness” once they are examined through logic. Trouble is, logic hasn’t been taught as a tool for knowledge for over a century.

By sabotaging logic, the common frame of reference, and the common language, we have removed a "safety valve" that allows cultural divides to be resolved.

At the end of the Vice-Presidential Debate held on October 4th, the moderator asked the following question: should their ticket win, “what specifically are you going to do to unify the country and reassure the people who voted against you?”

Kaine’s answer was that Hillary Clinton would “work across the aisle”, tacitly assuming that all our problems (election-related or otherwise) can be cured by a bipartisan Kum Ba Yah from the federal government. At least he didn’t propose truth and reconciliation commissions.

Pence’s answer was more elegant: as Trump makes America great again, people are “going to see that real change can happen after decades of just talking about it. And when that happens, the American people are going to stand tall, stand together, and we'll have the kind of unity that's been missing for way too long.”

Does either candidate intend to unify the country? Does either one believe that to be desirable – either for their administration or for the country as a whole?

Should the winner indeed try to unify the county, it is not clear whether he or she knows what are the root causes of our division.

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