For most of us, everything we see around us is a projection of our inner reality — our beliefs, biases, thoughts, fears, desires, etc. I’m not saying that’s what actually is all around us, mind you, just that that’s what we see. An ability to see things as-they-are is rare and usually takes a lot of work to cultivate. And yes, this is a Buddhist teaching, although I think a lot of psychologists would agree with it.
In the realm of politics, it’s common to put politicians we like on pedestals (eventually to be disappointed when they fail to live up to be the people we projected them to be), while assigning all manner of unsavory characteristics to politicians we don’t like. In fact, I’d say that tendency is more than common. We probably all do it to one extent or another.
They key to developing objectivity is self-awareness. If you have some intimacy with yourself, you can at least recognize your biases as biases and your projections as projections. That doesn’t make the biases and projections go away, exactly, but at least you can learn not to mistake them for reality. Such self-awareness also adds a healthy amount of doubt to your opinions, which keeps the option open that I might be wrong. If you can do that, you are less likely to be utterly fooled.
People who are not self-aware have no idea that they live in a dream world of projections. Further, if the dreamer’s projections are being reinforced by the people around him, this reinforcement can set up a positive feedback loop for the projections that make them even more “real” and impenetrable. This can set up another kind of feedback loop in which everything the dreamer sees is interpreted as reinforcement for the dreams. Such a person becomes more and more delusional, and also appears more and more irrational to other people who aren’t living in the same dream world. (See also “Truth, Lies and Self-Deception: None of us are beyond deceiving ourselves” by Dr. Stephen Diamond at Psychology Today.)
When the dreamer is keenly interested in politics, his projections of political figures become more and more polarized. Politicians are either idealized or demonized. They are either manifestations of all that is noble and good, or they are diabolical agents of evil and destruction. Now, we all do this to some extent. We want to think “our” politicians are doing what’s best, while “their” politicians are stupid, crazy or corrupt. But most of us, I hope, can also appreciate that politicians are all flawed human beings who are neither utterly evil nor utterly good.
I don’t want to set up a dichotomy that says righties are all hallucinating while lefties are not. I see plenty of dreamers on the Left. The “9/11 truthers” are a prime example. During the 2008 Democratic primary, I was startled at the degree of idealization/demonization among progressives of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and their supporters. And yes, I was caught up in it, too, but at least I could admit it at the time. And don’t get me started on how “identity politics” — which usually involves a lot of ego projection — has held back progressivism.
But now that I’ve said all that — are Sarah Palin supporters out to lunch, or what?
Yes, it’s too easy to make fun of them. But I ran into a post this morning from someone who calls herself a feminist and who appears to lean left but who seems not to see the insanity.
Dr. Violet Socks of Reclusive Leftist correctly notes that some on the Left are projecting all manner of things onto Sarah Palin that may have little to do with Sarah Palin. They ascribe opinions to Palin that Palin may not hold, or at least has not publicly expressed. I honestly don’t know where Palin stands on “abstinence only” sex ed, for example, and if Dr. Socks says Palin is in favor of contraception information in sex ed, I will take the doctor’s word on that.
But here’s a problem:
Which brings me to my first puzzlement: why donâ€™t people bother to find out what Sarah Palin really believes? I donâ€™t mean people as in the usual sexist freaks; I mean feminists.
Sarah Palin is only the second woman in the history of this country to run on a major partyâ€™s presidential ticket. That alone makes her, to me, a fascinating figure worthy of serious investigation. When McCain announced Palin as his choice for VP, I immediately tried to find out as much about her as I could. I wanted to know who she was, what she believed, what her politics were. It never occurred to me that this interest would make me in any way unusual among feminists, but apparently it did. Apparently most feminists â€” at least the ones online â€” are content to just take the word of the frat boys at DailyKos or the psycho-sexists at Huffington Post. That amazes me. Arenâ€™t you even interested in who she really is? I want to ask. Sheâ€™s only the second woman on a presidential ticket in our whole fricking history!
But even weirder is what happens when you try to replace the myths with the truth. If you explain, â€œno, she didnâ€™t charge rape victims,â€ your feminist interlocutor will come back with something else: â€œsheâ€™s abstinence-only!â€ No, you say, sheâ€™s not; and then the person comes back with, â€œsheâ€™s a creationist!â€ and so on. â€œSheâ€™s an uneducated moron!â€ Actually, Sarah Palin is not dumb at all, and based on her interviews and comments, Iâ€™d say she has a greater knowledge of evolution, global warming, and the Wisconsin glaciation in Alaska than the average citizen.
Where to begin: First, I have listened to and read Palin speeches and interviews, and I do not think Sarah Palin knows what Sarah Palin believes. She doesn’t seem to have any cohesive political ideology beyond what plays well to the crowd. And when the crowd wants red meat, she throws it with the best of ’em.
Yes, she is only the second woman to appear on a political ticket. And Clarence Thomas was only the second black man to be seated on the Supreme Court, but that doesn’t make Clarence Thomas a beacon of hope for those struggling with oppression, does it?
Yes, a lot of sexism got mixed into criticism of her. Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she’s a ditz. However, just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she isn’t a ditz. And let’s face it — she’s a ditz. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth of it. I cannot see how anyone could have read or heard the speeches and interviews, including the recent “farewell address,” without concluding the woman is a ditz.
Many on the Right took offense at the assumption that she left the governorship because she was about to be hit with criminal charges. Frankly, that assumption gave her credit. It ascribed a solid, grown-up (if not pretty) reason for bailing out on the governorship. If she is not leaving for any reason other than what she gave in her speech — good luck finding a reason in that incoherent mess of a speech — then she’s a ditz. With sprinkles, whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Whether she’s “dumb” I cannot say. She probably does have considerable native intelligence or she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she got. However, she shares with our recent president George W. Bush a pathological incuriousity about the world. During the 2008 presidential campaign she revealed more than once that her knowledge of how the federal government works, including what a vice president does, barely rose to the level of “superficial.”
Actually, Sarah Palin is not dumb at all, and based on her interviews and comments, Iâ€™d say she has a greater knowledge of evolution, global warming, and the Wisconsin glaciation in Alaska than the average citizen.
One of us is living in Bizarro World, and I don’t think it’s me.
I assume that Dr. Socks is projecting qualities and virtues onto Palin because Palin is a woman. But Palin in this case is a walking Rorschach inkblot test. Dr. Socks looks at Palin and sees what she wants to see.
As for the real Sarah Palin, she may be neither stupid nor corrupt. My suspicions are that the adulation of the extremist Right has unhinged her, and brought out the worst in her, and had she not come to the nation’s attention she would simply have been a reasonably average governor of Alaska. If I’m right, the best thing she could do for herself is to drop out of public life and try to remember who she is.
However, I’m afraid she won’t do that. And if she continues to grow into the persona the extremist Right projects onto her, she’s going to become more and more monstrous as time goes on.