Doublethink doubleplusungood

The news that Republican members of the Wyoming Legislature wanted the state to investigate buying an aircraft carrier[1] as insurance against a possible collapse of the US seems as good an occasion as any to signify the final descent of the party into irredeemable loopiness. Add to that the revival of birtherism, the inability to deal with Rush Limbaugh, and the absence of any coherent economic policy except tax cuts for the rich and you have a party that has seriously lost touch with reality.

As I observed a couple of years ago during the epistemic closure memetime, reality-denial mechanisms have some major political benefits, particularly in mobilising resistance against policy innovations, and tribal solidarity against outsiders of all kinds. But it seems clear at this point that the costs I mentioned then are now bigger than the benefits for the Repubs.

On any standard political calculus, they ought to be cruising towards a clean sweep in November – the economy is still in poor shape, and enthusiasm for Obama has declined massively as a result of policies in areas like civil liberties[2]. Instead, Republican pundits are already giving up on the Presidential election, and even on the Senate, and are starting to focus on whether they can even retain control of the House.[3]

Why is reality-denial turning out so badly, after working so well for so long. There are at several related factors at work here.

First, the parallel universe created by Fox News, the rightwing thinktanks and so on has turned out to be unstable and uncontrollable. Once released, viruses like birtherism cannot easily be recalled, and can mutate into new forms.

Second, there’s what might be called “cafeteria craziness”.  Although no-one on the Repub side of politics can afford to be openly sane on all issues (even Jon Huntsman vacillated on global warming when he thought he had a chance in NH),  only a minority are consistently crazy, and even they don’t all agree. So, it’s easy to get into trouble by saying something crazy that might, in other circumstances get a free pass, or even become a requirement for orthodoxy. This happened to Michelle Bachmann when she pushed the anti-vaccination button, and to Newt Gingrich with his lunar colony.

Third, there’s the requirement for doublethink, most obvious on issues like evolution. Creationists don’t wnat their kids to be told the Bible is wrong, but most are uninterested in changing university-level science courses and would be horrified if Exxon started using flood geology to locate oil. The problem is that there can’t be any honest communication about which parts of the orthodoxy are occasions for doublethink and which are actually supposed to be true. So, when true believers in the base discover that their representatives are merely mouthing shibboleths, there is potential for all kinds of trouble.




fn1. Presumably, this would have provided a basis for demanding a corridor to the Pacific, along with other territorial demands on neighboring states without the foresight to prepare for war. And to forestall killjoy commenters, please don’t bother pointing out that the aircraft carrier was an amendment added as a joke.

fn2. I know that polls show majority support for Obama’s appalling policies, even amomg Dems. But those who are most appalled are precisely those who provided the most enthusiastic support in 2008.

fn3. Of course, anything could happen. But it’s a bad sign when that’s the most promising aspect of the outlook.

62 thoughts on “Doublethink doubleplusungood

  1. The question is will it survive to 2020? There is no question about whether it will survive to 2050; it won’t. Enough different factions are involved in Federal government and as a unified force it is so dysfunctional that Federal assets will go to a variety of different groups. Lets face it. They fell to bits once already. This time there are many more fracture lines than North/South.

  2. @Freelander: Don’t be ridiculous. The US is far more integrated in 2012 than it was in 1861. The chance of it breaking up by 2020 is zero. The chance of it breaking up 2050 is pretty damn close to zero as well. As was the case in the 1800s, there’s absolutely no provision in the US Constitution for any state to withdraw, or for the entire thing being broken up into its current constituent states (none of which have been independent countries for well over 100 years). If energy issues become important enough it could split because the various resources are not evenly distributed. But it’s still less likely to fracture than countries with long-standing ethno-linguistic divisions (Belgium, Spain, Russia, Italy).

  3. Cohesion has only ever been achieved in the US through the prospect of booty through the expansion of empire or through the confecting of external threats. As they increasingly become an inconsequential power the reality that these external threats are illusory will dawn on the manipulated masses and nothing will constrain them from turning on each other. A prospect preferably viewed from a distant planet.

    Hopefully I’m wrong!

  4. dear guys
    maybe joel garreau’s 1981 nine nations of north america thesis will finally get a real world test run. with rises in motor car & aircraft fuel prices, continental distances will bite as never before. free fantasy economy & worsening weather will stretch federal ability to respond adequately to disasters. regions could be increasingly forced to turn within & rely on their own resources for disaster relief & soup kitchens, even. in that scenario, it just takes one yahoo, in a state legislature, to defy a federal gov’t order, requiring federal intervention in response, and its on for young and old, militias private & state. the soviet union fell from a lower baseline. and its citizenry were conditioned to service & privation. the usa citizenry/consumer pool are conditioned to a sense of entitlement to instant gratification & would start the fall from a higher standard of living on the whole. i think american “resentement” would be great & would feed a centrifugal individualism/regionalism that would be hard to contain, let alone reverse, once it got going. then again, i may just be thinking aloud in the open. and, actually, the last time they didn’t fall to bits, their union was preserved, which was a very good thing for canada, mexico & the caribbean at the time.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  5. Indeed. My eyes are already tearing up in contemplation of the horror this inevitable collapse.

  6. @Freelander

    ‘As they increasingly become an inconsequential power…’

    I can’t see the most economically powerful country on the planet, with by far the most formidable military in the world including a nuclear arsenal, becoming ‘inconsequential’ any time soon, even if they become the second- or third-most economically powerful.

    Increasingly dysfunctional: maybe, probably even – but then again no-one’s going to have a smooth ride over the next forty years. Inconsequential: definitely not. Split up by 2050: vanishingly unlikely.

  7. @Charles

    Prof Q attitude to politics at the moment seem to be; the boat isn’t going to go exactly where I want it; so lets sink the thing.

    Hardly. That would describe Tony Abbott, but not PrQ. You’ll need at least one example of this if you’re not to be dismissed as trolling.

    @Fran Barlow

    Oh I can give two; no vote for Labor Queensland, and a bit of a slagging of against Gillard. But I’m happy to be dismissed as trolling.

  8. Soon all that fancy hardware will sit untended, unloved, and unguarded, awaiting tenders for scrap. Overreach in many dimensions accelerating arrival at their manifest destiny. Oh the horror!

  9. @Romanoz
    You can Google my ARC Federation Fellowship grant for the research I’m funded to do, on uncertainty and adaptation to climate change in the Murray-Darling Basin*. RePeC (Google that too if you need to) lists my scholarly research output on these and related topics.

    Pointing out that Republicans, and their Australian hangers-on, are either liars or loons is something I do in my spare time, mostly for fun. Lately, though, I’ve been doing pretty well on the book sales front, as you are kind enough to observe (not to the tune of 16K a chapter, as you suggest, but doing well all the same). Feel free to help me along by buying the Australian edition of Zombie Economics, which will be coming out soon.

    * As the magic code word “adaptation” should indicate, this was a research priority of the Howard government, under which I received my funding.

  10. The Democrats need to lift their game as well:

    “Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has proposed a 2012-2013 budget that includes heavy cuts to some key departments while giving a $43 million tax break to a massive creationist theme park.

    In his plan, Beshear calls for a 6.4 percent cut to Kentucky’s higher education department, a 2.2 percent cut to the State Police force and sizable cuts to other agencies in what he calls an effort to cut the budget to the bone.”

    America is an odd place.

  11. Kentucky particularly so. Remember that in very recent history plenty of Southern Democrats were out-and-out racists.

  12. Freelander :
    Deleted – read the footnotes, for heaven’s sake

    Read your own footnote for heaven’s sake!

    Your footnote accepts that the idea that “”that Republican members of the Wyoming Legislature wanted the state to investigate buying an aircraft carrier as insurance against a possible collapse of the US” is complete nonsense, a misrepresentation, so provides no support to the loopiness claim. Much as I enjoy bashing Republicans lets be fair!

  13. @David Allen

    also, seriously Fran Barlow, are you in a relationship with JQ or are you just an acolyte?

    Hardly. I just disagreed sharply with him on CSG, for example. I don’t share his view on the potential for nuclear power in industrial scale energy systems (he is much more sceptical). He once said he’d vote tactically for the “B-team” in QLD (i.e. the LNP) — I’d never do that. He takes a rather more benign view of the Obama administration than do I.

  14. @Charles

    Oh I can give two; no vote for Labor Queensland, and a bit of a slagging of against Gillard. But I’m happy to be dismissed as trolling.

    Neither of these view amount to:

    the boat isn’t going to go exactly where I want it; so lets sink the thing.

    The QLD ALP voted to steer itself onto the figurative political rocks by privatising public assets and turning on its support base in the labour movement. It was and is sinking itself without PrQ’s help. All he was saying was that they would not be doing that with his endorsement. Voting for “the B-Team” is not something I’d do, (AIUI he’s not voting for either now) but his disinclination to put his name to such a stupid move is entirely defensible.

    Even less is “slagging off Gillard” a case of trying “to sink the ship”. Gillard has been an egregious figure. Her pandering to the right and venom towards the left have been the biggest things the Federal Coalition have going for them. It seems entirely plausible that she will lead the ALP to a rout in 2013, again without PrQ’s assistance. She has earned being “slagged off”. Given that she is pitching at the right, it seems quite likely that having left-of-centre folk express their dismay at her regime is something she sees as a good thing. PrQ may actually be doing her a favour, at least in her opinion.

    It seems to me that PrQ is pitching at turning the ship away from a Costa Concordia-style disaster in favour of one in which we all sail off into serene and pleasant waters.

  15. @Mel There is a difference with the example of Kentucky – the investment is to show a commercial not ideological return.

  16. FB, I could sense Quiggins jaws drop when you finally revealed, “hardly” as to the relationship.
    Please reconsider. A man flush with the proceeds of a Howard research grant would make a fine sugar daddy.
    As to Gillard being the Tories best ally, isn’t this countered by the fact of Tony Abbott and asbestos-constructed Bishop “leading” them?
    What an astonishing opportunity they scotched with the last week, by lazily sitting on their arses waiting for Labor to implode, instead of seizing the moment to forward their own credentials!
    Their inability to mole whack a myxamitosis-paralytic ALP from six centimetres really raises the question of whether they could run a chook raffle at the local, let alone the country.

  17. @Jim Birch
    …hmmm… yeah… I suppose if psychologists ever needed irrefutable empirical evidence that “some mothers do have em”, then yup, the republican movement could be considered their smoking gun.
    However, alas, the democrats are (in my opinion) more corrupt.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s