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[politics] The absolute privileging of ideological conviction

My online friend [info]chris_gerrib was riffing on irrational thinking, drawing an analogy between SFWA’s current issues, and the very consistent rural conservative misperception of tax burdens and budget allocations. I made this comment:

It’s a common trope among rural and exurban conservatives that the big cities are bleeding them dry with taxes. That’s flatly counterfactual, and evidence to the contrary is widely available, but the entire conservative project of the post-Nixon era can be summed up as an effort to absolutely privilege ideological conviction at the expense of evidence-based reality. Hence everything from evolution denial to birtherism. Why should awareness of the tax structure be exempt from carefully fostered wholesale willful ignorance?

This is precisely why I argue so hard and bitterly against evolution denial as a conservative social trope. To my view of recent political history, Republicans fostered that issue among southern religious conservatives to split the old Democratic coalition. One of several culture wars and race/class issues that were deliberate inflamed for reasons of GOP electoral gains as an extension of Nixon’s Southern Strategy. But in privileging evolution denial as a legitimate viewpoint subject to legal and regulatory support, conservatives opened (or more accurately, re-opened) the door to an entire culture of proudly anti-intellectual denialism.

This explicit endorsement that an individual’s beliefs, ideological conviction and personal judgment were more valuable, more truthful, more American than any objective proof to the contrary is one of the deep and abiding poisons afflicting our current society. (See, for example, the 2012 Texas Republican Party platform plank against the teaching of critical thinking in schools, because such intellectual skills can result in “challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority”.) It insulates the believer from any responsibility for trying to understand changing conditions or correct simple misapprehensions of fact. Such as, in the case under discussion on [info]chris_gerrib’s LiveJournal, tax policy in states with a deep urban/rural divide. But also everything from gay marriage to supply side economics to foreign policy.

Likewise, that explicit endorsement of ideology over objective reality insulates the believer from even having to account for contrary evidence. That’s the whole point of FOX News, which conceptually originated as a political tactic in the Nixon White House. (This has has been well documented.) Dismissing insufficiently conservative information sources as biased or distorted means never having to pay attention to the information they provide. Hence the also well-documented phenomenon of conservative epistemic closure.

As a result, we don’t have political and cultural debates on mutually understood terms about issues where progressive and conservatives rightly have different views. Things like tax policy, defense, unemployment, healthcare, where our political philosophies ought to compete on the merits of their position and the value of their goals in terms of the republic as a whole. Instead we have a progressive and centrist view that tries to articulate from an evidence-based position and seek middle ground, and we have a conservative view that demonstrably has been increasingly dominated by radical denialism and ideological insularity. So we get conservative voters who honestly believe that the duly elected president of the United States is a radical socialist working to undermine this country, and Republican congressmen who do things such as engage politely over the suggestion that the president should be executed as an enemy combatant.

This is not a basis of reasonable political disagreement. This is open lunacy. Knowingly enabled and fostered in order to keep conservative voters coming to the polls.

That politics of resentment, that divide-and-conquer strategy, has bought the GOP a lot of votes over the past decades. It stands at the core of the Republican party’s self-articulated “generate more angry white guys” strategy. But it does the country no good, and ultimately does the conservative movement no good either. We’ve allowed one political party to act upon an overt goal of making half our country ill-informed and angry in order to troll for votes.

That is uncivil in the most literal sense of the term, not to mention profoundly destructive to our national fabric and unpatriotic as hell.

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