Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dime store political psychology on Bumpergate

I know that I said I was done with Bumpergate but there is a residual point that are banging around my head and I need to it out of there so I can spend the rest of the preparing for next semester's Civil Procedure class and reading theology in connection with some scholarship that I am working on. Both require a mind freed of distractions.

Why was this the source of so much bloggy excitement? I posted twice about it even though I said that I wouldn't put the original sticker or the parody on my car. (The only thing on my car is a Marquette parking sticker and they made me put that there.)

There are cynical explanations. One is that the thing started with Charlie Sykes who serves as both a foil and a leader in Wisconsin's Blog World. Another is that it gave an opportunity for both sides to put on the silk of moral high dudgeon and that feels so good against the skin.

But I also think it touched on some of the fundamental differences that we have. My view is that the difference between liberals and conservatives is the emphasis they place on competing goods. We believe, at core, in much the same things but we assign them different values, often because of different assessments of empirical matters.

What follows is blog-abbreviated and thus oversimplified. Still I think that it is instructive.

One of the goods that left liberals place a high value on is the need to be solicitous of certain (but not all) minorities who they believe that the mainstream culture has treated or is likely to treat unfairly. They saw McMahon's parody as offending that value.

It's not that conservatives don't value that good, but they generally don't think that, in our time and place, it is quite as salient as a guiding principle for public action as their friends on the left. They are more interested in active (and personal) virtues (by this I mean something other than tolerance or voting for what are perceived to be morally superior social policies). They are more likely to see these virtues as rooted in distinctive faith and cultural traditions and more likely to see external threats to the culture in which they are rooted as something that must opposed rather than accommodated. Liberals don't reject these active virtues as much as they see them as less salient in resolving public controversies. That some of them seem to revolve around sex and marriage underscores their perception of conservatives as hostile to the "other."

Knowing all of this, conservatives were more likely to see the original bumper sticker as denying the existence of these transcendent values and as tolerating the intolerable. They were more likely to see the parody as an attack on the original bumper sticker than as a general indictment of Islam.

I think this is one of the reasons that people were drawn to the controversy. One might have thought that an appropriate reaction was to pronounce a pox on both the sticker and the parody. The sticker is hopelessly devoid of content (so much so that it needed a footnote) and the parody had too much (and, therefore, also needed a footnote that it wasn't saying that all Muslims are like Nazis). But we all got past that because the issue seemed to be saying something about a difference that we feel is important.

26 comments:

3rd way said...

To commemorate "Bumpersticker-gate" I have placed both bumperstickers on my car (of course one on the left side and the other on the right side) each with an appropriate footnote below it.

I suspect I will cause an accident before the new year.

tommcmahon said...

I feel a bit like Conrad Dobler in the old Miller Lite commercials. And this controversy confirms my belief that the feeling of Righteous Indignation is the highest point on Life's Satisfaction-O-Meter.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

I think you're about right.

"One might have thought that an appropriate reaction was to pronounce a pox on both the sticker and the parody."

That's basically what I did.

For me, the big issue was Charlie Sykes and company being huge hypocrites. This was a case when Sykes's hypocrisy was extremely obvious and not even arguable (if everyone were being honest). All I wanted was for just one "conservative" blogger to admit that his guy was a hypocrite in this instance. And none would.

That's the thing that I don't get about all you partisan dudes. I routinely admit when I'm wrong or when someone that I otherwise support says something I don't agree with. I just don't get how so many people can twist their values to meet the party line rather than twisting their party line to meet their values.

Rick Esenberg said...

JesusIsJust

I haven't done that because I don't think he has been a hypocrite. I think he reads the parody as making fun of what it parodies and not as making some type of demeaning statement about Islam in general.

I wasn't all that lathered about the Miller/Last Supper issue.

Mike Plaisted said...

Rick:

Nice try, but I don't think even dime stores would be buying this one.

I think the most shocking thing about all this, as you and others flock to defend McMahon's un-funny little joke, is the complete rejection of decades of "coexist" sentiment and efforts by all of the mainstream religions. For all the right-wing squawks about their religious convictions and supposed values, in this case, they outright reject the teachings of their supposed leaders in the interest of driving the Islam-is-evil political point. It puts the lie to their piety; the sermons they pretend to hear every Sunday go in one ear and out, well, another orifice.

I've read this post several times and it's hard to tell, but I think your point is that we simply prioritize things differently. Of the right-wing, you say: 'They are more likely to see these vitues (sic) as rooted in distinctive faith and cultureal (sic) traditions and more likely to see external threats to the culture in which they are rooted as something that must opposed rather than accommodated." If that's the case -- if we are really dealing with cultural warriors -- then they are rejecting the advice of their mainstream pastors, reverends and rabbis.

That's not different prioritzation -- it's rejection. Stop kidding yourself and argue for the culture war, if you want. And be prepared to lose, because nobody is changing and not enough of "them" can be eliminated.

The last gasp of the angry white man continues against the gathering hordes. Deal with it (i.e.: coexist) or get out of the way.

Rick Esenberg said...

Mike

One can make a credible but I think ultimately unsatisfying argument that Christianity requires pacificism. I don't think that you can argue that it requires indifference to questions of values. If you believe that people are having radical relativism preached at them on Sunday, you either haven't been at church or, maybe you have and it was a United Church of Christ congregation.

Your placement of this in the context of "angry white men" (really, don't you get tired of that?) is a function of your time and place. But think of the Netherlands. They thought they had a tolerant and happening little country. Very gay friendly and tolerant of different lifestyles. Now they've got a country where gay political candidates get assassinated, filmakers get murdered and legislators require around the clock bodyguards. It turned out that coexistence wasn't so simple.

We are talking at a rather high level of abstaction here. If by coexist you mean the idea that I can't persuade you (I intend, of course, the generic and hypothetical second person) to my way of thinking, of course we must coexist. If it means that I can no longer assert distinctive values because they make you uncomfortable, I think you are asking for too much. If it means I have to stand by while you stack bodies, there are some rather difficult moral and pragmatic questions still to be discussed. If it means that I have to somehow mollify you so that you won't want to cut my throat, I am afraid that we aren't going to get along.

Mike Plaisted said...

Rick:

I grew up Catholic and, even back in the 60s, there was no question about the emphasis on tolerance and acceptance of differences, religious and otherwise, from the pulpit. I have attended other types of services through the years and that message was always the same. Although I'm not religious now, I always thought this message was one of the saving graces (so to speak) of mainstream religious activity.

The emphasis on coexistence, in fact, appears to be one of the primary "values" taught by the various religions. That value in no way conflicts with law enforcement or with each religion insisting on its own mores, from "thou shalt not steal" to not cutting your beard.

Interesting about the Netherlands -- I'm not sure what kook-right literature you're getting that from, but the supposed crisis doesn't show up in the front pages on a Google search. I know writers like Mark Steyn are making a career decrying and warning Americans about the browning of Europe and they are as racist and hysterical as they sound.

As with the various anecdotal horrors that affect your view of Muslims generally, you believe what you want to believe. If you are looking for horror stories within a religion or in an integrated country, you'll find them. If you want to use those stories to cast aspersions on the Muslim faith or Muslim immigrants in Europe, you'll do so. Or you can work with leaders of the various faiths to solve problems that they all share.

Sorry you are sick of the "angry white man" designation, but that's really what the right-wing's strange rejection of the coexistence sentiment is all about. Without the ignorance and fear that permeates right-wing talk about Muslims, immigration and, I guess, the Netherlands, this country and the world will move on to our real future, an increasingly diverse community, racially and religiously. To truly understand other cultures and faiths is to undercut the ignorant fear that the right-wing fosters to extend its last-stand.

The angry white man will go to his grave muttering about what could have been if only we could have had the guts to stop the swelling hordes of diverse people that he has to deal with when he goes to the supermarket. Oh, for the peace of people who look like ourselves; for the day when we don't need to coexist with Others! That's a box you can't get out of in a situation that you cannot change.

Dad29 said...

there was no question about the emphasis on tolerance and acceptance of differences, religious and otherwise, from the pulpit

Which is NOT the same as syncretism, as you acknowledge:

in no way conflicts with law enforcement or with each religion insisting on its own mores, from "thou shalt not steal" to not cutting your beard.

As Rick (and you) point out, 'co-existence' is not only possible, but a requirement in society. We all aim for that--my RC training corresponds with that, too.

But it is fatuous to state that 'co-existence' is the same as 'ignoring reality.' As the UW-M speaker will demonstrate soon, there ARE a number of Islamists in this country who are actively training for jihad against this country.

That's not exactly "co-existish," is it, Mike?

And now we get back to syncretism. It is impossible to overlook the Koran's insistence on subjugation of dhimmi. No such charge exists in either the Old Testament nor the New.

To pretend that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are "the same" is, on its face, unsustainable.

"Angry white men"? A characterization which is wrong on a number of counts, and a bumper-sticker in its own right.

Better formulation might be "Concerned adults who have families to protect." It fits better, and (by the way) includes Lefties, women, and OTHER people of color who are worried about, you know, Milwaukee looking like Paris.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"I haven't done that because I don't think he has been a hypocrite. I think he reads the parody as making fun of what it parodies and not as making some type of demeaning statement about Islam in general."

Two things:

First, I see absolutely no distinction there. None at all. I'm actually baffled that you do. The Last Supper parody is making fun of The Last Supper. It's basically a group of people being ironic with an image that is a symbol for people that they believe oppress them. McMahon's Coexist bumper sticker is parody of a symbol if an idea that we can all live in harmony and sing kumbaya or whatever. They're both making fun of the ideas that the creators of the respective parodies see as see as the ideas that the original painting/sticker express. Aren't they?

Second, who gives a crap how "he reads it"? Charlie stated this:

"As for your being offended: I am also frequently offended by things I read and hear. (I’m offended, for instance, by the offensive ignorance of your letter. I am also offended by the fact that with the all of this community’s problems you could not find anything more important to write about.) But I know that is the price I pay to live in a country where we have a vigorous exchange of ideas. My being offended does not give me license to demand that voices I find “offensive” be silenced, or images be removed.

"Too often political correctness has been used to stifle free speech and the expression of controversial ideas; too often the media and academia have been bullied by the perpetually offended who trump up outrage over bogus charges or misunderstandings. I’m drawing the line here. The answer is no."

It never says that this only applies when the intention was something other than to offend. Even if the designer of the Folsom poster meant to offend, this is still "a country where we have a vigorous exchange of ideas." And "religion is gay" [or whatever]is an idea that some people might want to kick around.

He states that his being offended DOES NOT GIVE HIM LICENSE TO DEMAND THAT VOICES HE FINDS OFFENSIVE BE SILENCES, OR IMAGES BE REMOVED. He does not qualify this statement AT ALL. HE does not say, "unless the intention was to make fun of a painting."

Seriously, if you won't admit that this is hypocrisy, please explain to me why it isn't. Charlie dodges the accusation. Owen Sabers dodged the question. You're a smart guy, please explain it to me. What is the material difference here?

Mike Plaisted said...

dad:

I love people who throw around foreign concepts they don't understand like they understand it. "syncretism", "subjugation of dhimmi" - whew. It's enough to make your Wiki spin. All religions have a special version of hell reserved for non-believers, some even in this life. So what makes Islam any different?

And I also love your re-defining of your angry white guy demographic --"concerned adults who have families to protect" -- hilarious. I'm sure that how they would like to see themselves, those bold family-protectors, you and us against the world, right. You can almost see them in the former fallout shelter, stocking up canned goods for the revolution against the Gathering Hoards. Keep cowering in your paranoid holes -- that just means there's more of the diverse real world for the rest of us to enjoy.

Are there extremists here in-country planning violent acts? Probably. Some are jihadists, self-styled and otherwise, no doubt. You'd never know if from the small- and non-fry who have been prosecuted by the government so far. And let's not forget those white militia guys, like McVeigh. Oh, right. No need to worry about them, right?

JIJAWM:

Don't hold your breath waiting for any of the McMahon excusers to give you a straight answer about how equating Islam with Naziism is different than the Last Supper nonsense. The only difference is that they had a convenient target to attack there and have a fellow traveller to protect here. Logical consistency is for wimps.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Mike,
I DON'T think McMahon (or Sykes) was trying to equate Nazism with Islam. I think he was trying to mock the simplistic, hippy ideal of coexistance. But I think that the ICGM is free to suggest that the effect of the parody sticker is to equate the two. And I don't find their interpretation unreasonable. My only gripe is that Charlie Sykes et al are holding them to a different standard than they hold themselves.

Dad29 said...

Mikie, I understand syncretism very well. It's the concept that 'all religions are equally true and good.'

It's false, period, and that falsehood is ONE of the meanings of the original sticker.

You can look up "dhimmi" on the Web.

Flash your Intellectualoid creds where somebody gives a damn.

Dad29 said...

And, Mikie, MY re-work of "Angry White Males" is just as legitimate as the original bumper sticker.

Your mileage may vary.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"It's false, period, and that falsehood is ONE of the meanings of the original sticker."

Well, no. At least not that you know. The odds are that they're all equally true, which is to say not true at all. [And to discuss the meaning of the universe or anything that goes beyond what we can see and measure in terms other than "odds" is really really stupid. To come to any conclusions is even more stupid].

But I would say that although they are all negative forces in the world, all religions are not equally "good" [or "bad" rather]. I think Christianity in it's current manifestation is less dangerous than Islam.

For example, Dad29 appears to be about as militant, angry and close-minded as Christians get, and I don't think he'd kill me right now even though I'm mocking him. Our religious zealots are more funny than dangerous. BOCTAOE

Mike Plaisted said...

The dangerousness of religious zealots more so with Islam than with Christians, huh? Well, certainly not historically true and there are some very scared abortion providers who might take issue with you. But who cares about them, right, Dad? Can't wait for the rationalizing comeback on that one.

Jeez, why don't you think McMahon was equating Islam with Nazis? Of course he was. The whole tone of the defense of McMahon by the wing-nuts is that if you want to coexist with Islam, you would want to do the same with Nazis. I'm not letting them off the hook on that. That's what he meant.

Back to Mr. Big Words: So syncretism stands for concept that all religions are equally true and good, huh? Well, I think they are all equally whack. Does that count?

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"Well, certainly not historically true"

As I noted. I was referring to Christianity in its current manifestation.

"Jeez, why don't you think McMahon was equating Islam with Nazis?"

Well, I suppose he was, in a sense. I just think his overall point was that not all groups can coexist together very well, and that Naziism and Communism are examples of groups that we westerners don't get along well with. Actually, I thought he was comparing them with Islam AND Chrisianity. (I had never visited McMahon's site prior to "bumpergate").

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Rick,
Now I'm letting myself get swept up in this side-debate, but I really would love it if you would be so kind as to try and answer my 3:31 question.

Anonymous said...

Aethiest sitting in judgment of what they don't accept or understand...thereby trying to lump everyone together to make it easy for them to understand and attack...

Lets not forget that its aethiest that have done the most horrifying acts this world has ever known...100,000,000 plus of there own people...murdered because they didn't accept the party line.

Rick Esenberg said...

J-JAR

First, I generally don't call people hypocrites unless I know that they are intentionally using a double standard. If it's not intentional, they're just wrong.

Second, I think Charlie is saying that the parody is aimed at the original bumper sticker. This bumper sticker is not on cars in the West Bank or Teheran. (Such a car would not last long.) It is obviously aimed at a western audience. As such, it's point is that we ought to change our attitude toward Islam.

But, Charlie would say (and I would agree), that there really isn't much oppression of Islam in the US, so the message is even more narrow. It's that we ought to dial down our concern about the Islamic roots of terrorism. It's that we ought to make peace with radical Islam.

The parody is aimed at that assertion and not at Islam generally.

I have said since the start of this that I understand that not everyone who sports the original bumper sticker means to say what I describe. I have said that I understand that not everyone sees the parody in the way that I describe.

But that is how I see it and I think that is what Tom and Charlie intended.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Yes, I agree with you %100. That says nothing of Charlie's double standard though. Charlie is, in my view, totally correct when he says:

"But I know that is the price I pay to live in a country where we have a vigorous exchange of ideas."

He is correct whether we're talking about parodies of bumper stickers or parodies of paintigs of religious subject matter. I think he's totally wrong with the next bit though:

"My being offended does not give me license to demand that voices I find “offensive” be silenced, or images be removed."

Of course we all have the right to demand that something we find offensive be silenced. However, the party we're making demands too has no obligation to listen. This is true if we're talking about parody bumper stickers or parody paintings.

If you truly believe that Charlie's hypocrisy is unintentional, that's one thing (but I've never heard of "intent" being an element of "hypocrisy." Who would intentionally be a hypocrite?). But wouldn't you at least agree that Charlie's positions on these two issues is inconsistent?

Rick Esenberg said...

I think of hypocrisy as feigning beliefs, feelings or virtues" that one does not hold, so it pretty much has to be intentional.

I don't remember exactly what Charlie Sykes said about Miller Brewing. Maybe he is being inconsistent, but I don't know that being a champion of free speech 1) means that you can't ever criticize someone's speech as offensive or in bad taste or 2)that taking the position that people should bear some offense means that there is nothing that is sufficiently offensive to affect your decision to patronize something. In other words, I don't know that all messages are equal. That's why I think there is a difference between making fun of a political statement and making fun of someone's religion.

Having said that, I think I recall saying that we ought to try very hard not to be offended by things and that I wasn't all that exercised about the Last Supper picture.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

"I think of hypocrisy as feigning beliefs, feelings or virtues" that one does not hold, so it pretty much has to be intentional."

I guess I don't think that means that you need to intend to be a hypocrite. I think it just means you have think something even though you know it's inconsistent with something else you think.

"but I don't know that being a champion of free speech 1) means that you can't ever criticize someone's speech as offensive or in bad taste"

I don't think that either. I think a champion of free speech should criticize speech he doesn't like. But Charlie Sykes DISAGREES. Or at least he said he did. To him, being offended DOES NOT GIVE YOU LICENSE TO DEMAND THAT THE IMAGE BE TAKEN DOWN. I only want to hold Charlie up to the standard he defined.

"or 2)that taking the position that people should bear some offense means that there is nothing that is sufficiently offensive to affect your decision to patronize something."

Not at all. But that's what the ICGM did. They told Charlie's station, a business, that they were offended by an image teh business displayed.

"That's why I think there is a difference between making fun of a political statement and making fun of someone's religion."

I think there's a difference too. I think it is very important to mock religion. Religion is dangerous and its time has passed. We should mock it in the same way that we mock astrology, bigfoot hunters and 911 conspiracy theorists. You probably disagree. So would Charlie Sykes. But you guys don't get to decide what I can or can't ridicule.

"Having said that, I think I recall saying that we ought to try very hard not to be offended by things and that I wasn't all that exercised about the Last Supper picture."

And I realize that. I'm mostly talking about Charlie Sykes's hypocrisy and I never meant to suggest that you were being a hypocrite on these two issues. I don't mean to single you out. I just want one conservative to be honest about this and say that Sykes is being a hypocrite here.

Dad29 said...

The dangerousness of religious zealots more so with Islam than with Christians, huh? Well, certainly not historically true

Mikie, doesn't a law degree presume some knowledge of history?

The Saracens forcibly took Jerusalem, Alexandria, half of Spain, Greece, (etc., etc.)

Not to regain "homelands," but to gain territory and/or expel or subjugate Jews and Christians.

It's not uncommon for people to resist such aggression, sometimes taking that resistance right back into the homeland of the original aggressors (perhaps you DID learn about the Allies' march into Berlin, e.g.)

Anonymous said...

Buy [url=http://buy-cialis.icr38.net/Actoplus-Met]actoplus met online[/url] now - Unprecedented Chance diamox online now - Ultimate Chance

Anonymous said...

vUeOzu kemadrin 10mg KFhoLP kerlone 50mg wqBBeC kerlone world shipping WDwTkS klonopin sale lBIWko klonopin drug eaFqHW kytril cheap phpwAD kytril world delivery

Anonymous said...

KfbBkuj7G Casino In VKX7MYhb3E Titan Casino ZFEpAMK2u9 Casino La Bn8MkdzFRs Pachanga o2QnTficX Internet Gambling 4YcHsXfahO Crystal Casino ckSj260VU Choctaw Casino 4ICFKyVuX Casino Script