How analogue progressives frustrate binary neocons

June 22, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Analog: any variable signal continuous in both time and amplitude. It differs from a digital signal in that small fluctuations in the signal are meaningful.

Binary: compounded or consisting of or marked by two things or parts.

You know that feeling of resentment that wells up inside when someone enters your space and dumps chores on you?  It breeds a lot of resentment.  That’s how neo-conservatives feel about progressives. Neo-cons hiss and spit when they speak of progressives because progressives try to dump lots of extra work on neo-cons. 

What kind of work, you ask?  The work of actually having to get to know people before judging them.  It’s a lot of work.  No wonder conservatives express such animosity toward progressives!

For the next minute, step inside the collective mind of the neocon . . .

We had to retaliate against Iraqis when people from Saudi Arabia attacked us.  Sometimes you need to show those people who’s in charge.

I check in with conservative talk radio quite often.  In the privacy of my SUV, my radio reminds me that all unmarried mothers are failures.  All welfare recipients are trash, of course.  All drug addicts should be thrown in prison for a lonngg time.  Well, except for Rush.  All immigrants should be kept out of the U.S.A.  Who the hell do they think they are, trying to get what we have. 

Homosexuals?  They are clearly immoral.  Criminals, actually. . . guilty of something.  Do I actually know any gay people?  No, not really.  Don’t need to.  Why bother?

And then there are those people who get behind the president no matter what he says or does (unless he’s Clinton, that is)? I’m tired of hearing them jaw-jacking while we fight their wars.  The French?  Forget them all.  Hugo Chavez?  An obviously bad guy—he said that the U.S. is militarily aggressive and that we waste oil.  Anyone who talks like that should be punished.  Tony Blair?  He’s a good guy.  Why?  Because he stands behind his—I mean “our”—president. 

Environmentalists?  They’re tolerable as long as we re-write their scientific reports for them.  That way, the conclusions don’t upset people so much.  I don’t like people who upset other people, especially with numbers. And what are we going to do about that global warming stuff anyway?  Are you telling me I’ve got to put a frickin windmill on the roof and be the laughing stock of my buddies?

Government employees?  If they are loyal to their president (“heck of a job, Brownie), they’re OK.  That’s why we didn’t need a 9/11 commission: because our people did what they had to do and they stood behind the president.  Department of Education?  Fire them all.  Useless organization.  They are all wasting our tax-dollars.

Let’s not forget those people who don’t believe in God.  They all want to be God.  They think they are better than God.  How do I know? I talk to the one true God and He’s my close friend.  He and I discuss what he’s going to do to those heathens when they die.  It’s ultimately an up or down proposition.  All the heathens go down.  How do I know any of this.  I read the Bible.  It’s all true.  How do I know this?  Just because.  Now, let’s move along.

Blacks? I’ve learned to like some of those guys.  Our people fight alongside many of them in our military, and we respect that, even though we don’t live in the same neighborhoods—come to think of it, we kind of like it that way out here in the suburbs.

We like soldiers.  Even when they shoot civilians, it’s still probably not their fault.  Hell, it’s sometimes hard to tell 3-year old children from the bad guys.  But when those soldiers come home and start mouthing off against the president, I have no use for any of that.  I do like police officers.  Good people, you know.  Even if they get a bit rough on the relatives of those black soldiers.  Gotta keep filling up the prisons with those relatives of those back soldiers or else the suburbs won’t be safe.

We conservatives are people of action.  Motion is progress.  Innocent people should try to stay out of our way.  At least we’re doing the work!  How dare those liberals come in and suggest that we need to do even more work!  We’re fighting wars to keep those liberals safe.  Each bad guy killed over in Iraq tells those people not to mess with America.

Who else do you need to know about? 

To summarize, have you noticed how easy it is for neocons to speak about “they.” 

I’m not suggesting that all neocons use all of the above sterotypes.  After all, I don’t want to be guilty of the same sin of which I accuse them.  It does seem, though, that the on/off mindset and their willingness to permanently paint huge groups of people with one color is something we see far more in neocons that in progressives.  It is this binary mindset that enables the confident strutting and the quick decision-making commonly displayed by neocons. It makes them appear like they really know what they are doing.  This ostensible display of confidence (whether or not they are working with accurate models of the world) causes many voters to choose them as political leaders.  

There are some nuanced conservatives out there, but nuanced thought doesn’t make headlines.  Certainly, today’s political dialogue has become polarized by the binary rhetoric of those currently in power.  “Binary” soundbites, largely because they tend to be provocative (because they are inaccurate) are especially interesting to the media.  Because this binary simplistic dialogue is so often elevated into headlines, the resulting national dialogue, then, uses the same simplistic caricatures promulgated by the neocons.

To make sense of our world, we all need to generalize, but some of us feel the need to make categorizations that are finer than the stereotypes used by neocons.  We thus drill deeper and longer for evidence.  Some of us feel the need to be self-critical, to attack our own belief-systems and question our own evidence.  We sense that only evidence thus tested is reliable. 

True, there is a price to pay for being more detail-oriented, more nuanced.  We who seek more details are sometimes slower to make decisions. Because our world is hydraulic, analogue, it takes more effort to understand it. Even when we speak with apparent certitude, we are often less certain.  Sometimes we change our minds—we “flip flop.” But because our world is able to change with the changing world, is far more often accurate

The binary world of neocons is a cartoon world that only sometimes bears a resemblance to the real world.  Unchecked by the difficult work of assimilating real data, the neocon world-view is locked onto its pre-plotted course while the detail-rich real world inevitably and chaotically drifts away.  I’m not speaking of chaos in the sense of confusion.  I’m speaking of chaotic systems such as the complex adaptive system in which we live.  Chaotic systems show a heightened sensitivity to initial conditions (popularly referred to as the butterfly effect). 

Whereas evidence-based people work hard to make subtle adjustments, Neocons don’t. Their one-bit cartoons are drawn in concrete.  That’s why our soldiers are still in Iraq.  That’s why they tolerate the current round of corruption in Washington.  That’s why they don’t believe, can’t believe, global warming and evolutionary theory.   That’s why they attacked John Kerry’s protests of the Vietnam War, as though the current peace in Vietnam is due to a huge continued American military presence in Vietnam.

Yes, neocons look sure-footed.  They offer quick answers to difficult questions.  People who are terrified prefer those sorts of people and answers, which sets up a vicious circle.

Analogue folks need to make a better case regarding the power of skepticism and the importance of recognizing human vulnerability to locked-down cartoon-thinking.

In the meantime, we must continue to work hard to hold neocons’ feet to the fire.  How? We need to work hard to make neocons look with their eyes rather than with their preconceptions.  We need to do our best to teach them that there are numerous differences in the world, where they see none.  We need to point to the world they have created to show them that it’s often worthwhile to work with shades of gray.


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Category: American Culture, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    We can often summarize the neocon worldview this way: "shoot first, ask questions later…or not at all (because we might be too busy 'shooting first' someplace else)."

    What I've never understood is why neocons apparently need to see "enemies" around every corner. "Communists," "liberals," "terrorists," "homosexuals," "athiests," "immigrants," "secular humanists," "evolutionists,"…the list of "enemies" seems endless. As soon as one target (e.g., communists) drops off the neocon radar, the radar isn't shut off, it is merely shifted to focus on some other target(s). Who will the "enemy" be after "terrorists" are "defeated?" Who knows, but I'm sure the neocons will find one.

    Obviously, the common theme that ties all of their "enemies" together is not something common to all of their "enemies," it is something common to all of the neocons: hatred, bigotry, paranoia…take your pick.

    Thus, what threatens the necon is not communists, liberals, terrorists, homosexuals, athiests, etc. (because individual neocons are unlikely to ever meet one); what threatens the neocon is the *possibility* that the world is not binary. Indeed, neocons don't actually fight their "enemies," they fight to defend their distorted worldview, lest it be overrun by reality.

    That's why they equate "staying the course" in Iraq with "fighting the war on terrorism." Despite no evidence that "staying the course" in Iraq is doing anything positive in the "war on terrorism," the neocon *must* stay in Iraq, because to "cut and run" would be to admit that Iraq really wasn't the threat it was portrayed to be…and THAT REALITY is the real threat that the neocon is fighting in Iraq. That's why the neocons in the Whitehouse are keeping American troops in Iraq, and why the neocons in Congress rejected the Democrat's proposals this week to bring them home. Neocons aren't fighting to defend America from terrorists; they're fighting to defend their binary mindset from the truth.

    For more discussion about such cognitive dissonance, read the comments to Erich's post about "Why gay people simply must go to hell":

  2. Edgar Montrose says:

    There is an old saying, "The devil is where you find him."

    I think that's wrong. It should be, "The devil is where you LOOK FOR him."

    People who are predisposed to find evil will find it wherever they look. If they don't actually find it, they'll redefine evil to be whatever they found.

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