Observing your own culture with a detached eye helps one recognize the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. I’ve written about some of these traps before, those parts of American culture that we all take for granted but might not actually make sense.
In this third edition, I’m going to look at some things that might be emerging trends in America that are both really stupid and really dangerous, many culled from my own experiences and observations.
Some of these might not be uniquely American. They may just be human nature. But when I see my countrymen and women (whatever the hell that means anymore) act like scary monsters, I can’t help but see these tendencies shaded in red, white, and blue.
Opposing one thing automatically means liking the other.
Are you against the death penalty? Then you clearly want to open all the prisons and are super-soft on crime.
…or maybe you’re just against the death penalty.
Perhaps you oppose partial-birth abortion. You obviously want women at risk of death die from birth complications to die.
…or maybe you’re just against partial-birth abortion.
This might be more of a logical fallacy than a cognitive trap, but it is still (a) everywhere l, and (b) dumb.
Unintelligent people think like this, or liars. I’m sorry if that sounds mean, but it’s true. One is either incapable of seeing this trap, or is wielding it as a rhetorical club.
If the former, you can learn. If the latter, its effective, sure, but it really doesn’t move the needle in any direction. It does something that could arguably be another entry on this list, which is assuming ill intent on the part of the other. Rhetorically, it’s a weapon. But it weakens your own position and makes you look silly. You risk losing credibility, which in a debate–akin to a trial–is the kiss of death.
Disproportionality and overreaction, aka hysteria.
Debating is an art that requires practice and preparation. It also requires an understanding of the rules of a particular interaction, such as whether the relationship with your opponent will be ongoing, whether you’re trying to change the other’s mind, or whether you’re trying to illustrate a point to your observers. But either way, you want to make your points using reason, logic, and evidence.
Of course, what really changes hearts and minds is emotion. So use rhetoric where applicable. It’s very effective, and for some people, whether you call them midwits or IYIs (“intellectuals, yet idiots,” per Nassim Nicholas Taleb), that’s all they understand.
This trap dovetails nicely with the first, but it’s distinguished by what I call default nuclear.
Many people’s first instinct is to go for the balls immediately. In a war, this might be the best tactic, especially if your enemy has already shown their willingness to, say, use mustard gas, or target civilians.
The doctrine of mutually assured destruction may ring a bell here.
That said, sometimes “going nuclear” can end things before they get worse. This was part of the calculus that lead to the U.S. dropping two nuclear bombs on Japan during World War II.
In your personal life and interactions with others, this isn’t usually the best tactic. Although, I do have mixed feelings about this since we do seem to be in a non-shooting civil war right now. This bears further meditation.
Equating the future with progress towards something good.
America has an optimism about it. We believe that things can always get better and be improved. But it’s turned really nasty as of late.
Just because the current time is the farthest humanity has made it so far (until the next second passes…) doesn’t mean we’re better than what came before us, or that whatever happens next will necessarily be better than now.
You’ve got to work for it.
And yet, here we are. Current Year is the best thing ever, everyone born before us was an idiot, and everything is bending towards some mythically karmic and oh-so just “right side of history.”
The word narcissism comes to mind here. It’s a sadly universal trait, but we seem to be taking it to new heights here as of late. Rule by whom. “It’s all about me!”
There’s also an unhealthy dose of millenarianism in this, the belief in some huge change that’s right around the corner that’ll shake up society and change it for the better; all t needs is a little push.
Coincidentally, those makong this push believe that they’ll in positions of power when the revolution is over. Wow! Who ever could have seen that coming?!
Belief in this is, quite frankly, the province of the arrogant and delusional. This is why I can’t stand progressivism, or the very concept embodied in its name.
Things can always get worse. Ask the Jews who were dispossessed or exterminated under the murderous Nazi regime. How about the Ukrainians who died during the Holodomor famine? Maybe see what the Armenians and Greeks who died as the Turks drove them from Asia Minor in order to create the modern state of Turkey as it exists today. Or Yemenis and Syrians caught in the current brutal internecine wars.
Oh you can’t, because they’re dead. Sucks to be on the wrong side of history.
Here’s the thing: No one thinks that they are evil. Everyone who does anything believes that it’s for the good. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it.
It takes a stunning lack of self-awareness coupled with unfathomable arrogance to believe one is on the “right side of history,” whatever that is.
Look at what’s going on now in America referring race and gender issues. There are legitimate calls for a return to segregation…and its not all coming from white supremacists. From wanting black or “people of color” only dorms in colleges, to women-only spaces–while forcing men-only spaces to open their doors, naturally–Plessy v. Ferguson seems poised for an ugly comeback.
See the Evergreen State fiasco.
Religion is a battleground too. Special accommodations always seem to be made for one particular faith that can’t play nicely with others…
It starts small, with things like dorms, grades, and movie screenings. But it will snowball. It usually does.
My rule of thumb is this: Look at the young. See what they believe. That is your future.
And it’ll be an ugly future, because it’s proponents believe they’re on the right side of history. They have a sense of mission worse than the most fervent missionary–indeed, it’s on the level of a jihadist. And they won’t back down. Even when they’re undoing decades of hard-fought actual progress.
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