Fear vs. the White Male Effect

There was a story in the news a little while ago about a Democrat or two fearing that impeaching our criminal president again would cause more division in our beleaguered nation. So I decided to do a small, very unscientific study of a possible difference between Democrats and Republicans. My hypothesis was that Democrats are often said to be afraid of something, while Republicans rarely are. Here are the results (which may be hard to see, so I’ll summarize them below):

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Google came back with 483,000 results for “democrats fear” but only 184,000 results for “republicans fear”. That’s an impressive difference.

To rule out the possibility that Google simply has more results about Democrats, I did another search. I compared “democrats refuse” and “republicans refuse” (simply because Republicans seem to say “no” a lot).

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As you may be able to see, there were equally striking results. There were 86,000 results for “democrats refuse” and 314,000 for “republicans refuse”. 

What does this tell us about the two parties? I’m not sure. Maybe Democrats are more concerned about consequences than Republicans are. They probably worry more. They are certainly more open to compromise, i.e. less likely to refuse. 

This brings me to two relevant articles. The first describes a significant difference between White men and everybody else. It’s called “The Science That Explains Trump’s Grip on White Males”:

Cognitive scientists long ago coined a term for the psychological forces that have given rise to the gendered and racialized political divide that we’re seeing today. That research, and decades of subsequent scholarly work, suggest that if you want to understand the Txxxx phenomenon, you’d do well to first understand the science of risk perception.

[In 1994] a group of researchers . . .  published a study that asked about 1,500 Americans across the country how they perceived different kinds of risks, notably environmental health risks. [They] found that White males differed from White women and non-White men and women in how they perceived risks. For every category of threat, White men saw risk as much smaller and much more acceptable than did other demographic groups. This is what they dubbed “the White male effect”. They also found that White women perceived risks, across the board, to be much higher than White men did, but this was not true of non-White women and men, who perceived risk at pretty much the same levels. . .  Eventually, expansions of this study would include a wide range of risks including handguns, abortionnuclear threat, and capital punishment.

The perception of risk, of course, relates to fear. Where there is no risk, there is nothing to fear. There is scientific evidence, therefore, that Republicans (who tend to be White men) are less fearful than Democrats (who tend to be women and non-White).

The second article is “The Democrats’ Stark, Historic Choice”. The author argues that Democrats need to rise above their fears if we’re going to preserve (what remains of) our democracy:

For all the cant we’ll soon be drowned in about the soul of the nation and healing, the Democratic Party and the country now face what is ultimately a problem of public policy. Today, less than half our population controls 82 percent of the Senate’s seats. By 2040, given current demographic trends, the most conservative third of the country alone will control nearly 70 percent of its seats. All of this amounts to a permanent and growing advantage for a party whose leaders greeted the president with applause at its winter meeting after Wednesday’s attack.

The Democrats will soon have the presidency. They will have the House of Representatives. By the skin on the skin of their teeth, they will have the Senate. They will, in sum, be entering into an alignment of power in Washington that we have every reason to believe is becoming exceptionally rare. And every actor within that trifecta will have a choice to make. Should a party that mounted a crusade against a legitimate election and the democratic process—a party whose rhetoric has killed—continue to accrue structural power? Or should the Democratic Party work to curb it? 

The author goes on to argue that Democrats need to overcome their fear of institutional change and take aggressive advantage of their fragile Congressional majority. The legislative filibuster should be eliminated in order to pass a full restoration of the Voting Rights Act, expand the franchise, grant statehood to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and reform the Supreme Court.

As always, the Republicans will refuse to accept small-“d” democratic reforms. The Democrats shouldn’t fear doing whatever they can to achieve them.

They Merely Want To Protect Themselves and What’s Theirs

This is by an NBC News reporter, Ben Collins, who jokes that he works the “dystopia beat”:

What people say on Facebook and in comments sections is what they actually mean. The comments section may be our id, but social media networks exclusively target our id with a nonstop barrage of fear and hatred. . . .

I did this story over the summer about two women who became minor celebrities because of viral QAnon tirades. . . . Before the pandemic, they weren’t particularly political. By the summer, they were throwing masks on the ground at Target or calling their county commissioners pedophiles who needed to be executed.

. . . During the pandemic, some people lost their jobs. Others lost their ritualized social lives, real-life brunches or bowling leagues or church. . . So with the time they used to spend at work or church or with their family, they filled it with Instagram and Facebook. Extremist movements from QAnon to anti-vaxxers had been waiting for this precise moment for years and they pounced.

Algorithms catered to our worst fears, and “otherized” anyone who didn’t look and think exactly like you to the point of literal demonization. By demonization, I mean your newsfeed was telling you that Democrats are literal, child-eating Satanists.

In turn, social media created a world you could control: Bad guys were creating the pandemic, shutting down the economy, and you had secret knowledge that could stop it. It fed you autonomy and identity . . .

It was extremely alluring to so many people, and people in power winked at it for months. [Many of us] know someone who overtly believes this stuff. Many other entertained it, or believe pieces or variations of it. They brought it to the ballot box with them.

The QAnon Karen who destroyed [a display of masks at] Target realizes she was a victim of social media brainwashing, and she’s trying to stop it. But . . . she had a multi-million person intervention on Twitter. As our parents or friends or siblings get radicalized in less public ways, there’s no one there to step in.

I’m inundated with people asking for help, saying their family members need resources for someone in their life who has recently become divorced from reality and militant because of extraordinarily comforting lies on social media.

They want to know why people aren’t taking this more seriously and why we can’t quantify these things. Well, we can’t quantify these things because social media networks don’t want people to know how bad this problem is . . .

There are so many people out there earnestly struggling right now . . . They are being fed lies for power and profit. Its no wonder they believe them. . . . We need to take their emotions as seriously as the people manipulating them have been for the last ten years.

Unquote.

Of course, there are millions of people struggling who aren’t tempted by bizarre right-wing conspiracy theories, or conspiracy theories at all. What might distinguish the people who are?

John Hibbing, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska, published a book this year called The Securitarian Personality: What Really Motivates Txxxx’s Base. This is from the publisher’s site:

The Authoritarian Personality, . . . published by Theordor Adorno and a set of colleagues in the 1950s, was the first broad-based empirical attempt to explain why certain individuals are attracted to the authoritarian, even fascist, leaders that dominated the political scene in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, the concept has been applied to leaders ranging from Txxxx to Viktor Orban to Rodrigo Duterte. But is it really accurate to label Txxxx supporters as authoritarians?

In The Securitarian Personality, John R. Hibbing argues that an intense desire for authority is not central to those constituting Txxxx’s base. Drawing from participant observation, focus groups, and especially an original, nationwide survey of the American public that included over 1,000 ardent Txxxx supporters, Hibbing demonstrates that what Txxxx’s base really craves is actually a specific form of security.

His supporters do not strive for security in the face of all threats, such as climate change, Covid-19, and economic inequality, but rather only from those threats they perceive to be emanating from human outsiders, defined broadly to include welfare cheats, unpatriotic athletes, norm violators, non-English speakers, religious and racial minorities, and certainly people from other countries. The central objective of these “securitarians” is to strive for protection for themselves, their families, and their dominant cultural group from these embodied outsider threats.

Unquote.

The publisher could have said they strive for protection from outsider threats, real or imaginary. The point is that they feel threatened by those they view as outsiders, those who have been “otherized” (using the NBC reporter’s term). And once you view your fellow citizens as outsiders, it’s easy to mistrust everything they say and do. The standard Democratic rhetoric about us all being in this together and providing opportunity for everybody sounds like an attack to them.

Thus, we hear from an older couple who live in Mason, Texas, 50 miles east of Austin. They’re deeply concerned about immigrants and protesters, as if their isolated town with a population of 2,000 is on the frontlines of the culture wars:

Ms. Smith, 67, and her husband, Dennis, 69, tied their unequivocal support for the president — even in defeat — to larger cultural concerns.

Like Mr. Biden and his supporters, the Smiths saw this election as a battle for the country’s soul. To unify with Mr. Biden would be an admission that the battle is lost, and that the multicultural tide powering his victory will continue its ascension.

“Everything I worked for, Biden wants to give to the immigrants to help them live, when they don’t do nothing but sit on their butts,” Mr. Smith said.

“And if those protesters come here, if they go tearing up stuff, I guarantee you they won’t be in this town very long,” he added. “We’ll string them up and send them out of here . . . 

They Really Are Different From Us, Part 2

What should a humble blogger do when there is only one subject that seems worth writing about, but it feels like there’s nothing new to say?

I could call attention to the latest offenses, but don’t we already know enough to realize how important it is to vote against Republicans at every opportunity? And that giving Democrats some control over Congress next year is crucial?

Does it do any good to remind ourselves that a meager 70,000 votes in three states gave that terrible person an Electoral College victory, and that to win he needed an illegal Russian social media campaign, the illegal Russian hacking of the Clinton campaign and the improper (and probably illegal) efforts of Cambridge Analytica to poison the internet, as well as the FBI’s seriously improper intervention in the election? Will it help to know more about the millions of dollars that appear to have been illegally donated to the National Rifle Association by a Russian oligarch so that the NRA could spend more than they ever had before in support of a presidential candidate?

Do we really need to be reminded, in the words of the Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, that our president “hates criticism; must continually pummel his opponents; never bothers to learn about subjects on which he expounds; thinks everyone in government owes their personal loyalty to him; means what he says for only a fleeting instant; confounds allies with policy zigzags; bullies and blusters; lies continually; and, despite his bravado, cannot take on those to whom he apparently owes his presidency (e.g., the National Rifle Association, the Kremlin)”?

Will it make a difference if we learn more about the Trump family’s corruption, his cabinet’s misbehavior, the continuing crisis in Puerto Rico or how many more civilians we’re killing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria? At this point, it shouldn’t make any difference at all to the support we give Democratic candidates.

So this humble blogger doesn’t see the point in writing about our political situation, even though our political situation feels like the only thing worth writing about. I mean, if you’re falling from the roof of a very tall building, is there any point in calling for help? If there isn’t, is there another topic that deserves your attention?

For now, therefore, I’ll leave you with a followup to last month’s “They Really Are Different From the Rest of Us”. It’s been shown in various studies that conservatives are more fearful than liberals. This is from an article in the Washington Post last year:

… Over a decade now of research in political psychology consistently shows that how physically threatened or fearful a person feels is a key factor — although clearly not the only one — in whether he or she holds conservative or liberal attitudes.

Conservatives, it turns out, react more strongly to physical threat than liberals do. In fact, their greater concern with physical safety seems to be determined early in life: In one University of California study, the more fear a 4-year-old showed in a laboratory situation, the more conservative his or her political attitudes were found to be 20 years later. Brain imaging studies have even shown that the fear center of the brain, the amygdala, is actually larger in conservatives than in liberals.

This helps explain why conservatives who live in small towns in almost empty places are more worried about terrorist attacks and immigration than liberals who live in big cities that have actually experienced terrorist attacks and are filled with immigrants.

The author of the article, a Yale psychologist, goes on:

And many other laboratory studies have found that when adult liberals experienced physical threat, their political and social attitudes became more conservative (temporarily, of course). But no one had ever turned conservatives into liberals.

Until we did.

These psychologists at Yale had groups of Republicans and Democrats answer survey questions about political topics like immigration:

But before they answered the survey questions, we had them engage in an intense imagination exercise. They were asked to close their eyes and richly imagine being visited by a genie who granted them a superpower. For half of our participants, this superpower was to be able to fly, under one’s own power. For the other half, it was to be completely physically safe, invulnerable to any harm.

If they had just imagined being able to fly, their responses to the social attitude survey showed the usual clear difference between Republicans and Democrats — the former endorsed more conservative positions on social issues and were also more resistant to social change in general.

But if they had instead just imagined being completely physically safe, the Republicans became significantly more liberal — their positions on social attitudes were much more like the Democratic respondents. And on the issue of social change in general, the Republicans’ attitudes were now indistinguishable from the Democrats. Imagining being completely safe from physical harm had done what no experiment had done before — it had turned conservatives into liberals.

The article mentions other demonstrations of this phenomenon. And I assume that any changes made to the conservatives’ thinking were temporary. But understanding the fundamental fearfulness of our right-wing friends helps explain how strangely they behave. It also helps explain why right-wing media is awash in stories meant to terrify. To conservatives, the world outside their control and filled with strangers is a scary place, full of danger and disruption, so politicians who tell them how bad everything is but promise to protect them (“Only I can protect you”) win their support. I don’t know if it’s possible to make these people less fearful, except temporarily. Eventually some will get used to new realities and older people tend to die off. Meanwhile, we all have to vote every chance we get.

Ulysses S. Grant on Fear

Ulysses S. Grant, having been appointed to his first military command shortly after the Civil War began, was nervous. He was leading his troops toward what he believed to be the encampment of “Tom Harris and his 1200 secessionists”:

As we approached the brow of the hill from which it was expected we could see Harris’ camp, and possibly find his men ready formed to meet us, my heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt to me as though it was in my throat. I would have given anything then to have been back in Illinois, but I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do; I kept right on.

Then, at last being able to look into the valley, he saw signs that there had been a large camp below, but the secessionists had departed:

My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt more or less anxiety. I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his.

I really like this guy. I’m glad he was on our side.

After a Major Event, Life Goes On, But Surreptitiously

gnote1A major event? Yes, finally replacing my aging but handy Blackberry with a new Android smartphone (good-bye, Verizon, you bloodsuckers!).

Some might say it’s only a phone. It feels more like a lifestyle. You can’t do that anymore. Do this now. How do I do that? Guess! Or download an app. Which app? That app! Wait, what did I just do? I must have touched something. Oh, no!

Come on, why do you zoom in on Google Maps by pinching your fingers together instead of spreading them apart? Isn’t spreading them apart a more expansive gesture? And why can’t I spread my fingers apart in the prescribed way? It’s probably a genetic defect. Those of us who can easily carry out the correct two-finger spreading motion are now better-suited to getting around and finding mates. The rest of us will tend to stay put and die alone. If only I could remember the Alternate Zoom Technique:

In addition to pinching the screen to zoom, you can also double-tap on your map, hold, and then scroll down to zoom in, or scroll up to zoom out.

Coincidentally, the New York Times reported more from the Snowden Files today:

When a smartphone user opens Angry Birds, the popular game application, and starts slinging birds at chortling green pigs, spy agencies have plotted how to lurk in the background to snatch data revealing the player’s location, age, sex and other personal information, according to secret British intelligence documents.

In their globe-spanning surveillance for terrorism suspects and other targets, the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have been trying to exploit a basic byproduct of modern telecommunications: With each new generation of mobile phone technology, ever greater amounts of personal data pour onto networks where spies can pick it up….

[Among] the most valuable of those unintended intelligence tools are so-called leaky apps that spew everything from users’ smartphone identification codes to where they have been that day.

Fortunately, I don’t play with angry birds. But Google Maps is said to be one of the best sources of information for the intelligence agencies. The Times quotes a secret report from Britain’s G.C.H.Q. suggesting that “anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a G.C.H.Q. system”. Thank you. No problem.

We know that corporations collect whatever information they can about us. Now we know that the NSA and GCHQ are doing the same.

But assuming that we don’t want to stop using our phones or the internet and we can’t get our governments to stop this spying, we can take some solace in the fact that these people are collecting so much data, they don’t know what to do with it. Most of us will never stand out in the crowd.

However, if you happen to be planning a terrorist attack, or want to tell the President he or she is a jerk, you should definitely avoid Angry Birds. Or communicate the old-fashioned way:

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