Freiman: Why Not Purge Them?
Thanksgiving is upon us, and the next election is less than a year away. Upshot: You are about to get another big chance to purge family members for political reasons. Should you take the plunge? Philosopher Chris Freiman humbly tries to dissuade you in his forthcoming Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics. Freiman speaks:
Only about a third of partisans think that members of the opposing party “have their heart in the right place but just come to different conclusions about what is best.” So here’s an objection: we should disown out-party members because their politics expose their manifestly horrible character. You wouldn’t keep Stalin on your Christmas card list, would you?
In reply, I’ll first mention that our beliefs about people on the other side of the political aisle tend to be uninformed (a finding that should be unsurprising in light of the increasing social distance between the parties). Although people are misinformed about their own party, their misperceptions of the other side are worse. For instance, Republicans estimate that over one third of Democrats are atheist or agnostic, but the right number is under one tenth. Democrats think that 44 percent of Republicans earn at least 250 thousand dollars per year. The right number is 2.2 percent.
On policy matters, we think that there are enormous differences between our views and the views of the other side. However, it turns out that the gap is smaller than we think—a phenomenon called “false polarization.” On issues like taxes and immigration, the perceived divide between Democrats and Republicans is larger than the actual divide. You should at least have accurate beliefs about members of the other party before you disown them.
Nov 27 2019 at 11:28am
Other points of interest:
-Donald Trump only won 44.9% of the Republican primary. The majority of republicans voted againstTrump during their primary election.
-If you write down a list of the major points of disagreement between the two parties and then a list of major points of disagreement between other large groups of people (ex: Americans vs Chinese, Saudi Arabians vs. the French, etc.), then you will quickly notice that the Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly agree with one another on the vast majority political issues across the board. Their disagreements are strong on a tiny number of small issues. (Small compared to issues like “Is democracy a good idea or not?” and “Should it be illegal for women to drive cars?”)
-Thanksgiving is specifically an anti-homogeneous holiday. It’s mythological origins are based around sharing a feast while setting aside differences of race, culture, philosophies, and many other extreme differences. The only requirements for joining the feast are enjoying food and not currently wanting to literally murder other people at the table.
It isn’t Christmas or Valentine’s day.
Nov 27 2019 at 5:49pm
People should eat with chopsticks rather than knives and forks so that they won’t be tempted to kill each other.
Nov 29 2019 at 1:02pm
As a Democrat, watching current events with dismay, it is in fact not so clear to me anymore that I can take for granted that Republicans believe democracy is a good idea. Perhaps a majority of Republicans did not vote for Trump in the primaries. Nevertheless, he seems to be in thrall to the leader of another country, one who has proclaimed that liberal democracy is obsolete. And he seems to be willing to use the power of his office to undermine the fair and free elections that are at the heart of democracy. Republican politicians seem to be circling the wagons around him as this happens, even if most of them wouldn’t be sorry to see him go. And a large percentage of the party rank and file seems to be doing so as well.
Perhaps a Republican would say (or will say) that Democrats don’t think that democracy is a good idea, inasmuch as impeachment aims to “overturn the election.” I don’t understand that phrase; if Trump is impeached then Pence (who was elected) becomes president, not Clinton (who wasn’t). Still, I acknowledge that at some level of abstraction both sides can throw this charge at each other, although I maintain that once you look at the facts only one side can do so in good faith.
Nov 29 2019 at 4:29pm
I think Republicans would (correctly) regard the notion that Trump is in the thrall of Putin as being as fantastical as the notion that impeachment of him would be an affront to democracy (which is I think is probably a similarly fantastical claim at this point).
Dec 3 2019 at 8:42am
I’ve never heard a Democrat say that we should impeach Trump because he’s a criminal who should be replaced by Pence. Democrats clearly want to impeach Trump to make him look bad shortly before the next election.
Nov 27 2019 at 2:40pm
This also reveals how little people know basic economic statistics such income distribution.
Nov 28 2019 at 2:19pm
I think people’s own opinions can be unstable and shift lots over time too. My 18-year-old self might be disappointed by some of my current views, but would hopefully respect me, as I respect but do not agree with him.
Since we change our views but perhaps not character or values much over time, it might be good to treat people we disagree with like our future selves.
Nov 29 2019 at 4:56pm
The implication here is that if people better understood each other would despise each other less. But I’m not sure about this. Exaggerated and ignorant beliefs about other people’s faults may follow antipathy (as a post hoc rationalization) rather than precipitate it. If you dislike someone because he’s a bad tipper, I think you’re more likely to suspect him of also not paying his taxes and cheating on his wife. But it’s not really antipathy borne of ignorance but willful ignorance borne of antipathy, and even you could present proof that the guy is a faithful husband and pays his taxes, you may be tempted to say, “so what, he’s still a lousy tipper.”
People may just tend to be rather spiteful and petty or crave adversarial narratives as ends in themselves, especially when there’s no personal cost to such attitudes. A pessimistic view, but not entirely unwarranted, given the long history of people hating their own neighbors for reasons too farfetched to be dismissed as due to mere ignorance.
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