Conserving Rightie Cognitive Resources

I remember many years ago being required to copyedit a study of white racists for a social-psychology journal. We’re talking out-and-out, unreconstructed racists, the kind of people who think watermelon on the White House lawn cartoons are funny. Somewhere among the p values and chi squares I picked up the finding that white racists sincerely believe that all other whites are as racist as they are, and if they don’t act that way they’re just being “politically correct” to conform.

The authors of this study also defined “bias” as a strategy for conserving cognitive resources, which I believe may have been the single most brilliant thing I ever read in a social psychology study. Not that I’ve read a lot of social psychology studies, mind you.

This past week, between the Senate Republicans’ performance in the Sotomayor hearings and the Pat Buchanan-Rachel Baddow exchange on MSNBC, there has been about as much unreconstructed racism on public display as I’ve seen since I moved out of the Ozarks. And when Pat Buchanan made the sexist conflation of Sonia Sotomayor with Harriet Miers one did wonder what century Uncle Pat had time-warped from.

And the thing that’s so glaringly obvious from watching all this is that the whole crew of bigots is utterly unconscious about it. They don’t perceive their biases as biases.

Frank Rich also makes the point that the troglodytes don’t realize the rest of White America doesn’t think the way they do.

The hearings were pure “Alice in Wonderland.” Reality was turned upside down. Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here. The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue.

At this point, the die hards of the Hard Right are reminding me of Joe McCarthy in the Army-McCarthy Hearings. McCarthy’s witch hunts against Communism had made him a hero to many Americans who only read about him in newspapers. But by 1954, the year the hearings were held, most Americans had a television set, and the Senate hearings looking into the Army’s accusations of McCarthy, and vice versa, riveted the nation. And when the nation saw the unvarnished, unedited McCarthy in action, they were shocked.

McCarthy appears to have had no idea how he was coming across on television. They hadn’t invented media consultants yet, I guess. After Joseph N. Welch’s famous “Have you left no sense of decency?” comment, and the audience in the gallery broke into applause, a stunned McCarthy turned to Roy Cohn and stammered, “What happened?”

The past few days we’ve seen a lot of unfiltered and unedited wingnutism. Between the Senate Republicans, the Stanford-Ensign-whoever else got caught recently debacles, and the right-wing freak shows known as “tea parties,” I think most of the country is ready to scream, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

16 thoughts on “Conserving Rightie Cognitive Resources

  1. “… I think most of the country is ready to scream, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

    Simple answer to simple question: NO!

    They have to feed their base the way you and I add scraps to our compost heap. They hope that if they can keep adding enough junk to it, eventually there’ll be enough shit out there to spread around and to grow a larger base – and regain power. We just want larger tomato’s.

    A poor analogy, but heck, it’s early Sunday morning. Enjoy the rest of the weekend, all! 🙂

  2. I picked up the finding that white racists sincerely believe that all other whites are as racist as they are, and if they don’t act that way they’re just being “politically correct” to conform.

    True. Whites who don’t go along are being politically correct because of their feelings of “white guilt”. It’s a phrase you hear all the time from conservatives.

    Another trope on the right now is that it is minorities who are racists. The irony of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama implying that Sonia Sotomayor is a racist can’t be lost on anybody except Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III himself.

  3. I usually chalk up what feel like weekly revelations of racist joke forwards from Republican email accounts to technological naivete – maybe they just don’t understand that there is no such thing as private email.

    But this cognitive explanation makes so much more sense. Only now I’m pissed that these creeps might think I’m as foul as they are.

  4. What is sad to me is the flip side…No, this doesn’t go down so much today. But it DID go down not so many years back. And presumably, in Palinville. I would dearly hope ignoring such fools would be the end of it, but they still have ways of screwing up our hard-won rights.

  5. I think their base (which is just as rabid as ever) is shrinking as more people get a wider view of the world. I spoke at my church today and one of the things I mentioned was that soon the majority of Christians will be non-white and speak a language other than English. I related this to my own work with an NGO and how I constantly ran up against my own nagging, unconscious racism. I was always so impressed by how competent and creative our indigenous staff members were (the organization I volunteer for has no overseas American staff), until I realized that I had internalized a racist baseline.

    After the service a woman approached me who is one of the last of the 27%ers. She wanted to talk to me about that part of the sermon. I braced for the worst. Instead, she began to cry about how mean all the senators had been to Sotomayor. What brought this about? The woman at my church has a cousin who is half-Chilean, and the member of my congregation had observed the careless, callous racism people practiced toward her cousin. This put her in sympathy with Sotomayor. As more and more people interact with those outside their own group, the die-hard racist assholes will not be persuaded, but their numbers will decline.

  6. “white racists sincerely believe that all other whites are as racist as they are”

    Sure that makes sense, racism (white or otherwise) is basically ignorance, ignorant folks do not have the capacity to consider if their biases even exist, much less that they lie outside the mainstream. As a white guy who grew up in 90% black Gary, IN. I’ve had to reprogram myself over the years, it hasn’t always been easy it’s a whole process. People like Pat Buchanan are not stupid, they are just ignorant, he knows he doesn’t like minorities (he’ll be one soon enough) but he doesn’t see it as racism, it’s the minorities who are the racists. I think its how the subconscious mind deals with not having to process complex thought. My guess is that racism does not lead the list of Pat Buchanan many emotional problems.

  7. Wingnuts come from a place where they’re really not allowed to think for themselves, because this threatens the whole idea of a tribe. They’re not allowed to have empathy for others, or they never learned this skill in the first place, instead they learned that Others are threatening/are the enemy. And so it’s the default position for wingnuts to blindly assume everyone thinks like they do. They really believe this. It’s quite a shock, even threatening, when they realize this is not so.

    Then there are a whole ‘nother set of people who are not as extreme as wingnuts, but who are conformists, nonetheless. They find safety in going with the flow. They’re middle of the road, but don’t really believe in anything – except their own survival, and the survival of their tribe – very strongly. I have in mind a female cousin who married a GOP stockbroker, and yet who comes from a strong Democratic family. Her solution to whatever cognitive dissonance she might have (which I doubt is very much) is to simply not think about it. She epitomizes the bumpersticker “Vote Republican: It’s Easier Than Thinking”.

    In thinking back to some exchanges I’ve had with wingnuts, I remember being about ten to fifteen years old, and being incapable at the time of seeing that others had a legitimate viewpoint that was different than my own. At that time, I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t think like I did, and I got into many fights with family members over this. Eventually I grew out of this, probably giving up in futility at convincing other family members of my view. Many wingnuts never went through this.

  8. I agree that what the GOP did was ugly, but I don’t think it was racist. It was far too calculated. They kept hammering about race, public statements about race, association with Hispanic groups and damn little that I saw about her judicial record. Why???

    There’s a new page being added to the narrative. It’s going to sound like this: ‘With the election of Barak Obama, the county has proven that racial equality has been achieved. It must therefore be absolved that no legislation can benefit or penalize one group over another without exception.”

    There’s a huge racial gap still in nearly every metric, starting with infant mortality, then education, crime, poverty, health care. Few areas of the country are overtly racist; to the credit of us all the factor of race was relatively minor in the election of Obama.

    The elaborate posturing by the GOP was not an attempt to exclude her from the most exclusive club in America. They were trying to prepare the electorate for the argument that equality is here and affirmative action is dead.

  9. I grew up in the South and even among the southern uppercrust there was a view of those in other races being undeserving because they did not have much and not having much because they weren’t deserving, circular logic at best. They have to rationalize their advantage somehow.

    The Maddow-Buchanan set-to was interesting and cries out for illumination of affirmative action as something more than “two wrongs not making a right.” Firstly, medical schools take a lot more than grades into account and many rejects affirm their desire to work in the medical field by taking some job, say paramedic and upon reapplying years later are accepted, often over someone with better MCAT scores or undergraduate GPA.

    So it seems that some of the least color-blind among us curiously adopt the position that when it suits their purposes we should all of a sudden act as if race and opportunity are unrelated. Well, that certainly maintains the status quo, doesn’t it? And to the extent that we remain a segregated nation with ethnic clusters and communities, what is the point in denying what is essentially representation and consequential service that is more likely to reach excluded groups in a variety of fields like law and medicine?

    Sometimes the awareness of having been systematically denied something over generations also unleashes powerful motivation. Why should schools not be able to consider singular candidates on a basis other than test scores when it comes to race and when they determine there to be the possiblity of above average desire, dedication, motivation, or cause to serve others besides themselves?

    Sure the progressive values in affirmative action might simply result in head nods of agreement but if it can’t be verbalized the unfairly threatened white man perspective will prevail, giving a backseat to any affirmation of the greater good. So I wished Maddow had gone on a bit longer.

  10. Don’t ask me why but I decided to google GOP racist and came upon this lovely woman. Not only does she appear to be a flaming racist loon, she also thinks at age 38 that she qualifies as a “young republican”. Is this is the best the GOP can produce for their “future leadership”?

  11. Being a white male of advancing years who speaks with a rather noticable accent (of the Southeast Missouri Yokel variety) I’ve always been amazed at the number of people who assume I must share their racist views…
    Whenever I provide a little ‘negative feedback’ to one of them, I get the response: “Oh, so you’re a Liberal, are you?”…

    That’s usually when I tell them what the “R.” stands for…

  12. Gosh, that says a lot….

    If you are not a racist, you must be a liberal….

    = if you are a racist, you must be ? .. conservative is what comes to mind.. but it seems a bit broad.. surely they are not all racists.

    (wonders what the R stands for)

  13. DR, I love your comeback. It’s better than mine: “American Politics is like an automatic transmission. When you want to move forward, you put the shifter into D. When you want go backwards, put it in R”.

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