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Truthiness: or why making some thoughts unthinkable makes the unthinkable thinkable

vastleft's picture

Merriam-Webster:

Truthiness (noun)

1 : "truth that comes from the gut, not books" (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," October 2005)

2 : "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006)

For a brief period, when many Americans had tired of the utter mendacity of the Bush administration and its media lapdogs, Stephen Colbert's coinage — "truthiness" — gained national currency.

Nowadays, invoking that term is an uncool as singing "Who Let the Dogs Out?" Or saying "nowadays."

Worse than just a fad past its shelf-life, it's — in the Age of Obama — an untimely dig at those who blissfully believe what they want to believe. People with hope and faith. Don't you support our hopers and faithers?

In the present environment, any and all criticism of Obama is treated by the supposed Democratic base as illegitimate.

Can you build a progressive discourse on ducking the tough questions — like whether continuing and expanding America's murderous misadventures constitutes a war crime?

Yes we can give truthiness a chance. And as a necessary byproduct of that endeavor, one of the finest writers in the blogosphere, Arthur Silber, is demeaned as a "poo flinger" on Daily Kos (h/t, Chris Floyd).

It just wouldn't do to consider whether Obama doing the same things that made Bush a vile killer in our eyes puts the 43rd president in the same league.

After all, as one commenter responds with the intellectual rigor that only all-caps can convey: "OBAMA IS PRESIDENT OF THE US AND IS NO WAR CRIMINAL!!"

This is differentiable from "WHEN THE PRESIDENT DOES IT, THAT MEANS IT IS NOT ILLEGAL" how, exactly? No matter. That was Nixon, and he was baaaaad, unlike our Youthful Hero.

This recalls the Credibility Gap's "Lance Learns to Box" sketch, where Lance explains his father's blanket innocence: "He's the Chief of Police. They never molest."

This kind of sacred-cow thinking kills people.

Unlike Mr. Bush, I can't reliably look into people's souls, but I would bet that when the likes of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and John Kerry voted for the AUMF, they found it literally unimaginable that the good ol' United States, whom they authorized to start bombing Iraq if it damn well felt like it, would do so without legitimate justification. Perhaps I'm wrong, and those three all had a hard-on for war in Iraq equal to Joe Biden's. But I can see how the aura of prestige and American Exceptionalism could lead people who are something short of sociopaths to trust in the infallibility of the enterprise they've risen to high positions in.

Similarly, despite the obvious untruthfulness of religion, even Al Gore's thoughtful ode to rationality, The Assault on Reason, cut a little slack to that venerable font of truthiness. It's just too damn gauche to prick some bubbles.

Well, fuck sacredness. Fuck the sacredness of the office, and fuck the sacredness of the Democratic Party. If the office and party are used for good, good. If they're used for evil, it's fucking evil. And pointing that out and holding the government that acts in our name to account doesn't make one a flinger of poo.

Well, apparently in the Age of Obama, it does. So be sure to stay on the good side of your appointed Hope Officer.

The group-enforced refusal to entertain certain questions and assertions manifests itself whenever or wherever one asks an inconveniently germane question.

For example, I asked Chris Floyd, at his place, if he thought that any form of preemptive action by the United States would be appropriate to mitigate risks that arguably could ensue if Pakistan's political instability hits the fan. That got me a considered reply from Chris ... and tons of vitriolic comments accusing me of cheering on the murder of Afghan innocents.

Whether it's kicking the tires on the two-minutes hate about Caroline Kennedy's "candidacy" for Senate, or the left's biases on I/P, or the cult of The One, there are questions and observations that are as off-the-table as impeachment and single-payer. All enforced by a culture that makes damned sure you feel like you kicked a hornet's nest if you "go there," for any "there" that your tribe considers off-limits.

Perhaps one disagrees with Arthur and concludes that Obama's actions are justified or fall short of "war crimes" (as one may legitimately disagree with me on any and all issues). The Kos poster, "Eternal Hope," does, in fact, put forth some arguments.

But Mr. or Ms. Hope's real business is not debate. It's, quelle surprise, the flinging of poo. Why else is the post peppered with excretory imagery, which makes it clear that questioning or passing judgment on the Af/Pak surge, or any aspect of the Obama presidency, is to become the epitome of foulness.

Thankfully, the beloved Masters of War are immune from such judgments. So it goes.

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coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

juvenile. I'm sure I gave that up by the age of three. But then, isn't that the average age of today's Kossacks?

Anyone who actually read Arthur's post would see past the need to fling poo. The article is, IMHO, dead on.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm a male primate, and ya know, there's some times when the only thing that brings satisfaction is flinging poo (along with thumping my chest and making loud noises).

I also understand the temptation to work on the juvenility of it all, and I've indulged in it myself (though not to excess, I hope) but be careful. I sure don't like it when it's done to me. So I try not to do it any more.

Then again, some people give me the creeps.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Regarding the discussion of Arthur Silber's post, which of the following is not like the others?

  1. Caroline Kennedy's "candidacy" for Senate
  2. the left's biases on I/P
  3. the cult of The One

I was more sure of the answer to this question when I had the idea to ask it than I am after seeing it laid out like this.

For example, each one is put forth as some truism. Making each equally legitimate, i.e. "truthy". Are all of these issues in the same league?

For example, (in my former htvidentity, which for professional reaons I had to abandon) I scoffed hearitily at the so-called "left bias" on I/P. I'm sure there was a "left bias" on the Bush administration as well, also a supposedly legitimately elected government of a 'moral' democracy. Should we be upset about that bias too? And the Caroline Kennedy hate, it seemed pretty ambivalent to me. I don't rightly remember caring that much, was that just me? It seems she ultimately imploded, and in a town like New York, it's been known to happen (and in this case did)....

But the biggie is the Cult of the One. On the first two, legitimate differences are often expressed across the non-right ("non-right" is that a better formulation?) with varying degrees of pushback but rarely claims of illegitimacy or "trolling". On the third topic, only total (preferably silent) support for Obama is tolerable. Initially, abject support was required, now plain non-obstruction/silent acquiesence is 'acceptable'.

Improvement of sorts?

Oh, but the bottom line is that anything that increases Arthur Silber's hits, including his blog archives where he has shared more meaningful and important insights than a phalanx of DK commentors, then it is all for the (mixed) good. Maybe more will send him kibble.

BTW - I imagine Arthur is also 'impervious'.

zuzu's picture
Submitted by zuzu on

There was more than the "town like New York" involved in Caroline Kennedy's implosion. The NYC establishment liked her, but it was her utterly dismal performance upstate, where she literally ran away from the freakin' upstate press -- on camera, no less -- rather than answer their softball questions about why she wanted the job that sealed her doom. And given that the junior Senator from New York serves *all* of New York State, and not just Manhattan, that was rather a big faux pas.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

If you can make it there.....

It applies to the state as well as just the city, yes, I remembered.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

If any one of the three isn't like the other I personally found it to be I/P where folks were literally banned and intimidated into silence, here. Somehow, it's always been alright to call someone on their truthiness or to even call them a liar, outright, but when it came to that the powers that be demanded specific justification and in a timely manner, or else.

I guess it all depends on which issue any one person found him or herself most present in, and where they were most active in the blogosphere. The Cult of The One is a given, but it is hardly the only sacred cow across this medium.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

What's in common with those three topics is the behavior I've seen first-hand when one broaches opinions or facts that are contrary to the prevailing wisdom (in the neighborhoods I frequent).

I'm not going to try to re-litigate those topics here, which would be a distraction from the point at hand. What's relevant were the behaviors in those debates, which were palpably different from the average blogosphere discussion:

* Hostility, and I mean hostility, about the effrontery to have a particular opinion or make an particular observation -- up to and including vilification and threats
* Frequent misstatements of what had been said and meant in the very same thread
* A prevailing attitude not that one's merely wrong, but that one couldn't have been right in such an observation

To be truthy or groupthinking, one doesn't necessary have to be wrong. One can simply be operating from a perspective that refuses intellectual rigor, that rejects certain ideas not because they aren't true but because they musn't be true.

Arthur wasn't being slammed because of some flaw in his case about Obama being a war criminal. He was slammed for daring to consider Obama being a war criminal.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... it's especially striking to see what happens when one touches a third-rail topic even without bringing in a particular agenda.

Other than making sure I wouldn't be a hypocrite if I joined the anti-Caroline chorus, I had no dog in that hunt. I simply wasn't invested in Caroline or not-Caroline.

And when I asked Chris Floyd if he thought there were any appropriate preemptive steps re: Pakistan and its nukes, several commenters constructed and clung to a fantasy that I was advocating military action, when that's the furthest thing from the truth. I thought he might possibly suggest some kind of peaceful action or make (as he did) a definitive statement akin to Arthur's "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?"

When topics grow, as it were, radioactive, there is a familiar Manichean imperative: you're with us or you're agin' us. If one asks an open-ended question or ventures a strong opinion, the questioner and the question — or the critic and the criticism — must be flushed out of the conversation, and pronto!

Just like in the TV-cliché Southern town: "Listen mister, we don't like people comin' 'round, askin' a lot of questions...."

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Is it always wrong to be tribal or engage in groupthink? Even when you are right? Even on matters of enormous moral impact? Is outrage never justified?

"To be truthy or groupthinking, one doesn't necessary have to be wrong. One can simply be operating from a perspective that refuses intellectual rigor, that rejects certain ideas not because they aren't true but because they musn't be true."

If someone is going to rigorously, intellectually defend torture (and I'm sure Dick Cheney, et. al. feel it is intellectually justified on the theory that a suitcase nuclear-bombed American city and millions of dead is worse than a handful of tortured people and worth the suspension of our values), I'm going to reject that certain idea whether or not it is "true" in any sense whatsoever. I will reject any "intellectual rigor" on that question vigorously and even violently. Thankfully, even intellectual giants like Jesse Ventura know it isn't effective, so we have "truth" on our side, but the equivalent moralization argument is repellent.

Not wanting to get bogged down in the I/P thing, but still, the "equivalent moralization" argument of somehow minimizing or seeking to understand Israeli government and military killings of Palestinian civilians as an understandable reaction to Palestinian terrorist killings of Israeli civilians is also repellent, even if there is some "intellectual rigor" behind it. Not that anyone here was trying to do that, but I'm fine with not wanting to go anywhere near that, and I'm fine with people pushing back on that just as strongly, just as "tribally". It is outrage based on a (hopefully) shared outlook that there is no justification for the imposition of mass suffering of innocent people, that there are some things in this world that reason cannot be used to justify.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Bush/Obama is the simplest illustration.

Bush = all things bad, Obama = all things good.

Bush was a shitty enough president that assuming the worst about him at every turn didn't pose any major problems. But the atrophied thinking and the tribalism took root in many other ways: Obama messianism, vilification of anyone who stood in Obama's way, the acceptance and propagation of sexism and ageism, all stemming from a Manichean PoV that began with Bush being the font of all evil and Obama being the font of all good.

One of the classic hop-skip-jumps on I/P is that to expect all legitimate grievances to be hearable and heard is to claim equivalence. It's a neat trick, the result of which is that one must never, ever in conservative circles mention a Palestinian grievance / Israeli sin -- since you're equating whatever with whatever to bring it up -- and one must never, ever in lefty circles mention an Israeli grievance / Palestinian sin. Because to even note facts that don't favor the home team is tantamount to "equivalent moralization."

Thus our discourse gets dumber and dumber.

And thus it was that to defend She Who Was in The Way of Obama, even against the most outrageous baseless attacks, was sign of every bad thing you could name: party treason, racism, hating hope and young people, and *shudder* being a PUMA, still the trump card in a scary number of places on the internets.

Oh, and if we can't debate against torture, we're not very good debaters.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Several of your points are well-taken, in fact, this thread is well taken. But I still haven't heard the response to "what if you are right", is there no justification for dismissing out of hand an intellectualization of the morally indefensible?

For example, what if I was to change around your vehicle above:

"One of the classic hop-skip-jumps on I/P GWOT/Terrorists is that to expect all legitimate grievances to be hearable and heard is to claim equivalence. It's a neat trick, the result of which is that one must never, ever in conservative circles mention a Palestinian grievance / Israeli sin Islamist grievance/US sin -- since you're equating whatever with whatever to bring it up -- and one must never, ever in lefty circles mention an Israeli grievance / Palestinian sin US grievance / Islamist sin. Because to even note facts that don't favor the home team is tantamount to "equivalent moralization.""

Sorry, but I think if in the middle of a discussion of how morally wrong it is to torture Ramzi bin al-Shib, that someone started listing the evils that he personally has done (and he did indeed do evil things), it would be a hop-skip-trick to equivalate and deflect from the topic at hand. If in the middle of an Israeli campaign to bomb civilians (as well as "evil-doers') in Gaza into the stone-age, it is a hop-skip-trick to equivalate by enumerating the many legitimate grievances Israelis have. Context determines whether something is legitimate or a red herring, and people can be legitimately dismissive of a lack of context and bringing in red herrings.

Is there a slippery slope? Sure, but there is already plenty of stuff that is not even on that slope, it is fully in the cesspool. And happy to be there.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

And of action/reaction are better if we don't refuse to put certain fact-cards on the table. It's perfectly OK and sane to cull out facts that are irrelevant or insignificant. But to treat certain facts as too divisive or something to put in our heads, that I stand against.

Submitted by lambert on

And I don't mean to minimize. But, discourse is not stateless but stateful. We do not, because we cannot, restate lists of facts every time a point is made. And so we invent shorthands, and things that are givens in communities. But those same tendencies also make us vulnerable to truthiness properly packaged. (The PUMA accusation so often hurled in our highly non-schismatic blogosphere is one instance of such.)

I don't know what the answer is, except to take evidence and reasoning as the baseline requirements, always be prepared to back up the shorthand with it, always be ready to question, retract/self-examine when shown to be wrong, and watch for when the discourse begins to give off an Orwellian stink (this being a leading indicator). These are all questions of method, of course. I'm not sure there is "truth" that is knowable, but I think there is "more truthful," and that is knowable.

NOTE And, of course, don't fuck with the moderator.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

My argument isn't that every stray fact should be bandied about at every moment of a debate, it's that discourse that routinely screens out relevant facts and opinions that challenge a tribe's orthodoxy tends to be untrustworthy.

The major example at hand, considering the legal and moral implications of continuing and expanding Bush's wars is hardly one of nitpicking. It's challenging us to consider how truly wrong the policy is.

Submitted by lambert on

What I tried to say is that the normal mechanisms we use to manage discourse can also be gamed. I then suggest some ways to weed out the games and the gamers. Not reductive at all, IMNSHO.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

The question that you were responding to focused on red herrings in debates, which I think is something of a red herring here.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

No, I know what I wrote and it didn't only focus on "red herrings in a debate". It was seeking to remove a red herring from the debate.

Initial question(s) (still unanswered):

Is it always wrong to be tribal or engage in groupthink? Even when you are right? Even on matters of enormous moral impact? Is outrage never justified?

I am troubled by your description of "stray facts". Is it a "stray fact" that we torture? That al Qaeda killed thousands of people on 9/11? That Palestinian terrorists have killed thousands of Israeli civilians? That the Israeli government has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians? That we have killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq/Afghanistan? I would submit these aren't "stray facts", and it is offensive to describe them as such. I'm sure you agree. One party's "stray fact" is another party's raison d'etre. But I would argue that when we are discussing the illigitimacy of one, we don't need to enumerate all of the others. I'm more in line with Lambert's formulation (and yes, don't fuck with the moderators, I know), we know it when we see it. When debating we need to make sure we have the ability to cash the checks (the bottom line), but even if we can intellectually cash some checks, aren't there some issues that can't be rationalized?

The whole point is that none of these "stray facts" is a legitimate greivance for perpetrating or excusing another "stray fact". If we want to argue against truthiness, it would be best to not use truthy arguments in the endeavor. Implying that I/P (at least as conducted here) was "tribal, truthy, groupthink" is not accurate. It's kind of like the Obama teleprompter posts. Memes which have a vein of truth, but are designed for a completely different purpose.

I know exactly what transpired in the earlier I/P discussion, and that is where it was coming down in terms of perceived "balance". Non stray facts were being required to balance other non-stray facts. In the context, red herrings, in their own context, completely legitimate. There was a big pushback. Rightly.

I'm not trying to be harsh on this because I don't want to pretend I have the answers: I want to continue this discussion. It is adult. It is serious. It is important. I am interested to hear your viewpoint (I'm steeling for it actually).

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... specific questions you'd like me to answer?

I'm in a pretty busy phase, so perhaps I've missed some important nuances in your posts upthread. I'm happy to engage but I can't deconstruct/reconstruct this whole thread in order to do so. So, what would you like to know?

Submitted by lambert on

Up top:

Is it always wrong to be tribal or engage in groupthink? Even when you are right? Even on matters of enormous moral impact? Is outrage never justified?

Or even:

Is it always wrong to be tribal or engage in groupthink?

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Is it wrong to be tribal when you are right?

A tribe stands for something presumably, is bound by a set of beliefs or understandings. I would even say that being part of a tribe is a natural, human state. Let's face it, Corrente is a tribe. That isn't to say a tribe necessarily has to dumb down discourse or even engage in groupthink. Groupthink is obviously a perjorative. A tribe can be bound by the set of beliefs or understandings that groupthink can and should be challenged.

Submitted by lambert on

Can you know that you're right when you're tribal? I'm very dubious. Read your 1984, for example.

I don't think that Corrente is a tribe. Late for me, but somebody really needs to get back to bedwork of Arthur's work on that. If somebody can show me we're a tribe by his definition, I'd like to see it. And then put checks and balances in.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

"Can you know that you're right when you're tribal?" It's like the broken clock. It's right twice a day but has no way to know when.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Do we* really need to get wrapped up with obfuscations to know that torture is wrong? That theft by bankster swindle is wrong? We don't need to pull the threads that unravel the sweater of existence to know the sweater is made of yarn and agree that is a given.

The concept of 'tribalism' is a very interesting and powerful one; we deride it out of hand to our detriment. I would argue that it isn't always wrong to be tribal. Unions are the quintescence of a tribe. How well did destroying them work? There is strength in numbers, there is no need to waste time following through all of the Descartian assumptions to our conversations. We have a shorthand, we have a common worldview, we are a tribe in that sense.

I think we have to agree we here at Corrente have a certain set of core beliefs which are givens, we can back them up with logic and evidence and reason if needed but they have a commonality (not verbalized because it hasn't needed to be). The Cheney's of the world have a different set of core beliefs, they can also back them up with logic and evidence and reason, those beliefs (like ours) have a set of common premises. Those premises I think we would find threatening and repellent, just as they would find our common premesis threatening and maybe naive.

They are wrong, we are right. I have no problem making that judgement call, because it is based on an understanding of both sets of premises.

*and when I say "we" I mean Corrente.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I seem to be in a minority on this, but I think it's perfectly good and healthy to do a gut-and-mind check about how wrong torture is.

If torture is wrong, there must be a reason why it's wrong -- and part of that reason is our visceral revulsion toward cruelty. There are other more-cerebral reasons, including the pragmatics of not wanting us and ours to face such treatment in retaliation (or because we live in a torture-friendly society), as well as the virtues of staying on the right side of international law. If we orient ourselves so that torture is wrong just because so-and-so says it is, we're orienting ourselves so that torture, or something else heinous, can be right because so-and-so says it is.

Also, asking why torture is beyond the pale might cause us to ask some important questions about why war and "tactical" violence are considered not beyond the pale.

It's flattering to think that Corrente is a hotbed of truthtellers, and that's certainly a key aspiration. But it can be realized only if we reliably put truth over team.

The subject of "being right" is a tricky one. There's the old conundrum of "you always think you're right" being an insult, when of course anyone but a liar strives to be right and thinks s/he is.

One can be proven right in predictions and interpretations, and there's a certain credibility in that (not that Cassandras are particularly prized in this society). And one of the ways to have a good batting average is to allow for good debate that allows for one being wrong, and to qualify assertions you can't be certain of.

One of the major frustrations of dealing with both Republicans and Obama fans is that their discourse was reliably terrible -- illogical, petulant, and ultimately relying on authoritarian clout. After a while, one couldn't help but conclude that "they got nuthin'." It's easy to be right in the face of that, but it's easy from there to fall into any of several traps, such as the "any stick to beat a dog" mentality and overrating your preferred players.

So, sure, I fancy myself a reliable truth teller. If I fail, it's not for want of trying. But the day I assume I'm right because I'm in a good tribe is the day my batting average makes Mendoza look good.

Submitted by lambert on

1. The subject line is "you can know you are right." But my question was: Can you know that you're right when you're tribal?

2. Every "we" is not a tribe. Eh?

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Maybe every "we" is a tribe of sort, though in many cases a very weak-binding one.

Being part of a "we" doesn't necessarily mean that one puts the tribe over truth, empathy, etc. But I suppose it always begins with a "we." And a "they."

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

So I'm asking questions. In my original comment, and subsequently. I don't have the answers to those questions, except that I believe that it is very difficult to avoid being 'tribal' and not always a good thing to avoid it 100%. My feeling is not every tribal belief necessarily is evil or blinding to another outlook.

For example, the banksters are people too. They have to put food on the table. Same thing with health care parasites. Why are we mean and call them bad names. Don't we understand they both perform a vital service (in their eyes)?

I'm perfectly fine with not caring about their feelings, their rationalizations, or their intellectual rigor, because at the base of it they are only protecting their right to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of "us". So now I'm only protecting my own right to not be ripped off or shat on. How selfish of ME.

Regarding torture, I agree with you completely, I also (like Don Corleone) have selfish reasons. I don't want to live in, or be associated with a society that tortures. I've been on the no-fly list (name like another name), maybe they will come and torture me? Is it too paranoid to think that when they have had innocent people locked up (still) in Gitmo? I worry that it creates a slippery slope where police can use their tasers to elicit confessions (but that would never happen). But all the people who support its use (people I have no problem calling assholes), I suppose they are legitimately afraid
of what may happen if we don't "get that important intelligence", put criminals and terrorists behind bars, whatever it takes. Fuck them. Fuck their rationalizations and intellectual rigor.

In a new post, people are gun "nuts". How impolite and uncaring of their rights! It's not like they've shot you or anything!

The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the constantly examined life can sure be exhausting.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

belonging to tribes of some sort is a virtually necessary part of our lives, no?

Tribal beliefs are evil and blinding when they help rationalize evil and untruth. We're either wary of that possibility or we aren't.

Intellectual and moral rigor are very much needed in the circumstances you describe. Without them, we can just lose our heads... and kick in yours. After all, there's a war on!

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

1. You can know you are right when you are tribal when the premise is what is right for your 'tribe' or the core principles that bind your 'tribe' together. Don't those union members understand that the scab is only doing what is right for them? Why does the union member not care about that? How can he know that he is right? Sometimes what is 'right' depends on whose ox is being gored.

2. True. Every "we" is not a tribe, but I'm not sure it is possible to avoid being in some tribe or another because our demands for collective or individual rights (not to mention food, water, energy, etc.) often infringes on other's rights or ability to sustain or protect themselves. And that is regardless of whether we are altruistically working for another group's interests.

I appreciate the discussion. I hope we aren't talking past each other. I'm sure you know that truthiness and lack of critical thinking, examination or honest argument aren't what I'm advocating, and that I have always been against that. I try not to let it infest me, but not always successfully.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... can recognize that unions have both advantages and disadvantages. The tribal solidarity provides strength against exploitation. It also creates rigidity and the opportunity for corruption.

One can conclude that unions are a net positive without whitewashing their downsides.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

There is a difference between unfair and dishonest, unfair and unjust. I could never say that it is "fair" that the scab and his family should be deprived work and food in order that the union member can improve his job situation. In that sense it isn't "right". Furthermore, although the scab is not excluded from joining the union (tribe), that doesn't mean that if the union is successful that he will get a job. How fair is that? For him it's a lose/lose, and it is designed that way on purpose. But it also wouldn't be just or "right" to allow the scab to undermine people united to better their lot in life, to undermine the effort to improve the vast majority's lot in life to better his own.

However, what would be dishonest would be promising someone a job should the union win, even knowing that likely won't be the case, in order to keep them from being a scab. That would be "any stick to beat a dog" territory.

In the overall, the tribalism is better (in the long run) for both the "scab" and the union member, because it generally improves the lot of the entire working class. So in the larger sense, it is "right" that it is tribal. But if it uses dishonest means to achieve it, then that is not "right". In the short run however, the "scab" is getting his ox gored, and "unfairly".

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

"Do we* really need to get wrapped up with obfuscations to know that torture is wrong?"

The premise of the original post was that certain ideas are taken off the table, not because they are wrong or irrelevant, but because we insist they could not be right: "OBAMA IS PRESIDENT OF THE US AND IS NO WAR CRIMINAL!!"

Yet, for some reason you reframe this discussion -- about the willful exclusion of inconvenient facts and judgments -- into a debate about dignifying "obfuscations"?

This strikes these ears as an argument in favor of tribalism for me but not for thee.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

I thought I was clear on that. I mainly objected to your saying in comments (and I paraphrase) "regardless of whether right or wrong". My point is that whether you are right or wrong means all the difference in the world, and the definition of what is "right" is often found in the needs or view of one particular tribe over another.

Mine is not an argument for truthiness or "any stick to beat a dog" and I have said that several times. It also isn't an argument in favor of tribalism for me but not for thee. My argument is acknowledging that tribes exist, they often exist for a reason, that like it or not, I am a member of at least one "tribe" if not several, and that my view (and "our view" and "your view") of what we define as "right" is shaped by those tribal affiliations just as surely as members of other "tribes".

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

why the insistence on reframing the issue into red-herring scenarios, where the inconvenient content is "obfuscation"?

The whole point of the discussion is that legitimate arguments and facts are excluded by the truthy and the tribal. Where does it sound like I'm arguing for irrelevancies and repugnant arguments to be respected?

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

And also, Corrente-as-tribe.

1. As I suggested earlier, the tribe of Bush-is-what's-wrong-with-America is a fine example of right-thinking tribalism going wrong. Very fundamental questions about what's wrong with the country were bypassed, and the Democrats were granted a level of trust (and protected by a level of non-criticism) that proved totally unwarranted. To a considerable extent, I plead guilty to this. I regret none of my criticism of Republicans but I regret not being more scathing about the Democrats. There are still some I hold in high-to-decent regard -- and sometimes the Dems put up a good show with a few members voting decently on the losing side of a bill -- but as an institution, it's a bona fide co-conspirator in the crap we railed against Bush for. Likewise, the left-blogosphere looked a whole let better than it was, when the litmus test was simply opposing the Worst President Ever. The truthiness and groupthink festered because it was so easy to gain approval, something that Somerby has masterfully detailed in his series about the comfort food that msnbc's "progressives" keep feeding us rubes.

2. We're pretty untribal as tribes go. Two of us were constantly pressured by members and ex-members of the tribe to "behave," and we've refused to. This remains a sticking point to this very day.

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Submitted by vastleft on

Like being "accused" of being a Muslim or gay, the implication that belonging to said group is a thing of shame shouldn't be accepted.

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Submitted by okanogen on

You have been a tough warrior the last year (I'm sure going back further).

It is exactly as you describe, you get accused of something that you aren't, but if you disagree with the characterization, it somehow means you are diminishing/admonishing others who ARE in those groups.

A no win.

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Submitted by vastleft on

It's probably close to impossible to be fully untribal, to live without any sorts of affiliations. I imagine that not very many of us would choose to live that way.

But when tribalism perverts our thinking and our sense of fairness, it deserves to be called out.

The "enormous moral impact" scenario smacks, to me, of the ticking time bomb scenario. Sure, there are some topics like the abuse of children that don't merit a lot of "yes, but" arguments. But, as a matter of course, the refusal to think the thinkable is a road to irrationality and unfairness.

The Iraq War is an example for the ages of "enormous moral impact" used as a cudgel to prevent rational thought. Don't you support our troops? Will you be worrying about what the French think when Saddam nukes NYC? Etc., etc. I say, beware demands to short-circuit your thinking.

Submitted by lambert on

.... to think (or feel) any way at all.

If I'm asked to give a litmus test, that's as close as I can come.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm not seeing a lot of analysis on what a "tribe" might be. Up here in Zone 5b, we have tribes, but they're sovreign, so presumably that's not meant. Japan has bosozoku ("running tribes") but presumably that is not meant. If unions are tribes, and Corrente is a tribe, then I think the concept is getting a little bit stretched, eh? RL calls me, but perhaps somebody could return to the first principles from Silber on this? If everything is a tribe, then nothing is a tribe.

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Submitted by vastleft on

Perhaps Arthur will tackle it or previously has.

In the meantime, to argue for the maximal case, consider if we were discussing "group dynamics." Would one be worried that the definition of "group" was absurdly inclusive if it were held to pertain to groups of, say, two-or-more or three-or-more?

Submitted by lambert on

... that the behavior of, say, meetings is different from the behavior or crowds or mobs. Or have evidence.

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Submitted by vastleft on

http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/200...

I'd say that on this count, Corrente fails to fit the definition of a tribe:

"The major mechanism by which any tribe creates and maintains tribal identity and cohesiveness is obedience: the requirement that each member of the tribe conform his thinking and behavior in accordance with the major elements of the tribe's belief system."

Well, the GBCWs/hit-and-run attacks/disappearing acts from some Senior Fellows past and present, over a couple of us Oblaspheming, represented an attempt at same, but it didn't take.

I suppose disgruntled fellows could say we're enforcing such obedience, but our frequent begging for those with dissenting opinions to post and to stand and debate might fairly be considered a refutation of that idea. Not that fairness is in style, mind you....

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Submitted by okanogen on

By that definition unionism is clearly a tribe (Solidarnosc) which, though with fault, has clear greater good. So it isn't the tribalism that is definitively bad, it is the tools used in it's service (which comes right back to your and Lambert's points regarding method).

So I guess in general I would be more inclined to deride the groupthink than the tribalism. Groupthinking is a method (or laziness?) used in the service of the tribe. The obedience shown or demonstrated is the adoption of the groupthink, dishonesty and "any stick to beat a dog", i.e. methods in its service. The tribe (or tribalism) is not necessarily bad, the methods used in its service can be.

I would even say that reading Silber's description you really could conclude that Corrente is a tribe. Demanding obedience to honesty, not propogating RW memes, not employing obfuscation in debate, etc.. [VL edit: example names removed. I can explain when not typing via damn phone.] Not that there is anything wrong with it, but obedience of conforming to these principles is required for membership.

I'm fine with that.

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Submitted by okanogen on

I don't think it stretches the limit to say that unions, or maybe larger, the union movement is a tribe. Certainly we would look at PB1.0, or finance democrats, or Republicans, or corporate fat cats, or individual religionists as "tribes". Is PUMA a tribe? GLBT? At a certain level the distinction breaks down in utility.

I wouldn't call Corrente a "tribe" by itself, but there is a particular viewpoint here which is part of a larger viewpoint (the not FITH crowd) that (I believe) is tribal. And I'm not describing it as that as a perjorative.

This is the main point I was getting at, at what point does our "tribalness" inform our understanding of what is right or wrong? It's the exact opposite of asking "how do we know we are right if we are tribal?". Candidly, this is not exactly what the original post was about, so maybe it is offtopic, but it is still a good discussion.

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Submitted by vastleft on

Anything duprass or larger could be a tribe, IMHO.

Tribalness can provide a "sense of community," particularly reassuring for those who are under-the-bus and told they have no place to go. What goes on in that tribe varies a lot, but there is an innate risk that the tribe will put consensus, tradition, or groupthoughts above legitimate ideas, knowledge, or humane values like empathy. Whether that risk manifests itself is another matter. Traditions, as Lambert recently noted, of transparency and accountability go a long way toward keeping the tribe from being truthy and mean.