Booing too good for him?

by John Holbo on September 25, 2011

No, I’m not thinking about our Daniel. I’m working up to a proper follow-up to my conservative cognitive dissonance posts. This isn’t really it, alas, but it’s a start.

It makes no sense for conservatives like Jim Geraghty to express this sort of concern about the booing of Stephen Hill at the GOP debate. (Hill is, as you probably know, the gay soldier who asked about DADT):

Rereading the transcript of last night’s debate, I am struck that Rick Santorum did not thank Stephen Hill, a gay soldier in the U.S. Army currently in Iraq, for his service. Nor did anyone else on that stage.

Whatever you think of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or homosexuality, Hill is risking his life on behalf of his country.

And for sure it doesn’t make sense for Santorum himself to have responded to subsequent questions about the booing, like so:

I condemn the people who booed that gay soldier. That soldier is serving our country. I thank him for his service to our country. I’m sure he’s doing an excellent job; I hope he is safe and I hope he returns safely and does his mission well.

I have to admit I seriously did not hear those boos. Had I heard them, I certainly would have commented on them. But, as you know, when you’re in that sort of environment, you’re sort of focused on the question and formulating you answer, and I just didn’t hear those couple of boos that were out there. But certainly had I, I would’ve said, “Don’t do that. This man is serving our country and we are to thank him for his service.”

Why does it make no sense? Because everyone on stage, except Huntsman and Johnson (correct me if I’m wrong), is on the record as saying that DADT - or something quite like it – should be reinstated. According to Santorum, Stephen Hill should ideally be dishonorably discharged in the not-too-distant future. If you think that, it obviously makes no sense to say you are sure he is doing an excellent job and wish him a safe completion of his tour of duty. [UPDATE: As pointed out by Sebastian in comments, you didn’t technically get a DD if forced out under DADT. You got an involuntary general discharge or involuntary honorable discharge. However, unlike those discharged for mental illness, discharged gay service people didn’t get any post-discharge compensation, obviously. Now, apparently, there’s an undecided issue as to whether service people forced out under DADT can re-enlist, post-DADT. All this is significant, for accuracy’s sake, but, pace Sebastian, I don’t see that it affects the logic of the post. It doesn’t make sense for Santorum to think BOTH that the soldier should be involuntarily discharged without compensation (which I’m sure is his position) AND to believe Hill is doing an excellent job AND to hope he finished out his tour successfully. An involuntary discharge is still worse than a boo.]

Suppose Stephen Hill had confessed to any other thing that might get him a double D (again, I ain’t talking about Daniel Davies) an involuntary discharge. Suppose he said he was always drunk on duty [severely schizophrenic] and was worried that eventually he might be severely disciplined [discharged] for that, and wanted some verbal assurance from the candidates that they would see to it he wouldn’t be. Would conservatives be lining up to say, sorry, you will have to be disciplined [discharged], but we thank you for your heroic service to your country and are sure you have been doing an excellent, drunk [schiozphrenic] job? I think not.

Getting back to Geraghty’s post, it makes no sense to say that, whatever one thinks of DADT, one should be opposed to booing gay soldiers. No. Because if you are in favor of DD’ing [involuntarily discharging] gay soldiers, just for being gay, you think a few boos is too good for him.

What’s going on here? Well, for sure it’s cognitive dissonance. On one level, all these conservatives are ‘operational’ liberals. Confronted with an individual, gay soldier, their instinct is to say that it doesn’t matter what his private life is like, so long as he’s doing his duty. Booing the soldier is shameful, because he’s done nothing that deserves being booed. These conservatives are ‘closet tolerants’ about homosexuality, would be another way to put it. Even Santorum. On some level. Hence his nonsensical response to Hill’s question, to the effect that re-instituting DADT would be simply a means of assuring that homosexuals don’t get special sexual rights. That is, Santorum is at pains to make it sound as though, in the eyes of the law and military regulations, homosexuality and heterosexuality must be regarded equally. (Of course, Santorum is not actually in favor of dishonorably discharging heterosexual soldiers who ‘out’ themselves as such by getting straight married, for example. Yes, he’s talking complete nonsense. But he’s doing so because he feels obliged to make certain ‘liberal’ assumptions in making his case.)

So saying Santorum is an ‘operational’ liberal is half the story at best, even operationally speaking. He – and everyone else on the stage who might have a shot at the Presidency – is perfectly prepared to take the necessary steps to ensure the ruination of Stephen Hill’s professional career. So Stephen Hill should take zero practical consolation from the thought that, personally, Santorum thinks Stephen Hill is doing an excellent job. At this point the pretzel logic moral psychology gets pretty complicated and, as a result, necessarily speculative. Trying to guess what Santorum is ‘really thinking’ will ultimately get us nowhere. I doubt Santorum knows what Santorum is ‘really thinking’ when he emits something as nonsensical as the response he gave to the soldier’s question. He probably thinks what he is saying makes sense. Would be my guess.

Let me try to outline a coherent view of the psychology here (I’m not really defending the view now, just sketching it). American conservatives tend to be ‘philosophical’ conservatives but ‘operational’ liberals. (Let’s keep in mind that all generalizations need to be modified by ‘some’. There are no exceptionless universal generalizations hereabouts. There are only general tendencies.) That is, American conservatives like conservative slogans – conservative rhetoric – but, in practice, they don’t like the implications of those slogans, if they were to be taken literally and seriously. This produces ‘get your government hands off my medicare!’ type attitudes. And candidates who do things like write books in which they imply that Social Security is unconstitutional; then, when called on the practical implications of that proposition, pull back. But there’s another dynamic, which is related but even weirder. Conservatives seem to like liberal premises – in the eyes of the law, straights and gays should be treated equally – but conservative conclusions to arguments from those premises – gays should not be treated equally. Hence Santorum’s official argument. Which pretty much consists of that one liberal premise, leading to that conservative conclusion.

It’s hard even to describe Santorum as a ‘closet tolerant’ at this point. After all, he’s publicly said that he thinks Stephen Hill is doing an excellent job and should not be booed. He’s publicly committed to the proposition that what we need is equality – no ‘special’ rights for any one sexual orientation. And yet, ‘philosophically’, he’s a conservative, so ‘ideally’, the likes of Stephen Hill should be dishonorably involuntarily discharged. Only what’s the status of this ‘ideal’, given that the actually existing Stephen Hill should not even be boo’ed, let alone DD’ed [involuntarily discharged]?

It’s a bit like the question about letting the uninsured die. Conservatives who say we should do this, in principle, would like to think that upholding this principle would lead to a world in which – due to the magic of private charity and strong economy and strong families and rugged individualistic so forth – in practice no one would die. In an ideal world, awkward cases wouldn’t arise (or so much more rarely than now that we could tolerate them.) So, for advocates of this sort of libertarian ideal, confronting the ideal picture with the awkwardness of actual world awkward cases seems to miss the attractions of the ideal. I”m not sympathetic to the specifics in this case, but I don’t think it’s an incoherent way to think about ideal political philosophy.

But this sort of thinking gets much weirder when we are thinking not about some unfortunate person lacking health insurance, but rather about a gay soldier like Stephen Hill, worrying about DADT. I think it’s probably safe to say that Santorum thinks that, in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be people like Stephen Hill. Not because we’ve killed them all. (I don’t think Santorum is a closet eliminationist, by any means.) But, somehow, in a healthy society, this sort of case would cease to arise, so embarrassingly. So therefore it doesn’t feel (to Santorum) like the sort of case that really demands that he rethink his ideals.

No doubt many of you will think I’m overthinking this. Maybe so. But I persist in thinking there’s a strong, quite stable, and really quite distinctive cognitive dissonance that has characterized American conservative thought since at least the 1960’s. I don’t think anyone – including me – has ever really pinned down it’s distinctive characteristics. It’s not right to say it’s just hypocrisy, or lying. (There is that, of course. But it’s not just that.) It’s self-serving double-think, to be sure, but its double nature is of a fairly high philosophical order. The self that is consistently served illegitimate double-portions is not just the electoral self, that wants to win or get paid, but the philosophical self, that wants to be right, in principle. It’s a status thing. An amour propre thing, in Rousseau’s sense. But I for sure don’t have time to talk about that today.

{ 67 comments }

1

David 09.25.11 at 5:26 am

Well, I ‘ve known self-professed progressives for whom the mere idea of forming a union in their own workplace was abhorrent.

The gap between rhetoric and its implications is often quite large.

2

John Holbo 09.25.11 at 5:43 am

Well, I’m not sure that progressivism necessarily obligates you to think that every workplace should be unionized. I think it matters why the person thinks unionizing their workplace, in particular, is not a good idea. (I do admit that if a person just has a visceral aversion to unions as politically ‘yucky’, that would be a rather unprogressive attitude. But I don’t in fact think it’s common for avowed progressives to find unions just generically yucky.) Are you thinking of cases in which progressives are themselves owners/management, so perhaps their personal interests and those of their would-be unionized workers are not aligned? What case are you thinking of?

3

Sebastian(1) 09.25.11 at 6:08 am

Look, I dislike Santorum (both man and frothy mix) as much as the next guy, but the basic premise of this entire post is wrong:

Gay soldiers were honorably, not dishonorably discharged under DADT – _huge_ difference. Specifically:
“Most gay people released under DADT received what’s called an involuntary honorable discharge, which also applies to personnel with mental health problems or parental duties that preclude military service. “
http://www.slate.com/id/2278627/

Your entire logic is premised on the discharge being dishonorable – like for drunkenness or other misbehavior. I don’t think it is giving too much credit to Santorum to say that he probably would speak out against booing a soldier discharged for mental health problems, too.

In addition to this, Santorum actually did make a point to say that there would have to be accommodations for people who came out after the DADT repeal.

Also, it’s perfectly consistent to believe that there should be a rule to keep gay service members in the closet and to still respect gay service members as professionals once the rule is lifted and they come out. It’s a discriminatory and morally despicable position, but it’s not self-contradictory.

4

John Holbo 09.25.11 at 7:09 am

Ah, I was unaware of the category of ‘involuntary honorable discharge’. My understanding was that people were getting DD’ed. That is a significant difference – I’ll do an update correcting that – but it’s not a difference that really affects the logic of the post. After all, suppose someone admitted to having serious mental health problems. Would Santorum – or anyone else – say that they were sure so-and-so, the admittedly mentally ill soldier, was doing an excellent job and hope that he finishes out his tour? No, the presumption would be that serious mental health problems created a presumption against that being the case. (At least reasonable doubt.)

I don’t see why it’s consistent to believe that there should be a rule to keep gay service members in the closet and ALSO say that the presumption should be that gay service members who are NOT in the closet are exemplary soldiers. If there is any reason to force them in the closet, it has to be something to do with thinking it would be a problems for them NOT to be in the closet. If you don’t think there is any harm in having them out of the closet, why force them into the closet?

5

BenK 09.25.11 at 7:45 am

I will not speak for what a senator or congressman may or may not think. However, as a soldier, I can speak for myself.

First, let’s pick some other UCMJ crimes, like adultery, or perhaps failing to pay a debt (like a car loan or a gambling debt) or DUI. These are not breach of duty in the same sense as abandoning your post, sleeping on watch, or drunkenness in a combat environment; or even worse, disobeying a rightful order, fratricide, treason. However, they will earn you at minimum a non-judicial punishment or reprimand, and at worst, a court martial and prison time.

Ignoring these laws because you don’t like them isn’t an option. You can try to evade the laws through secrecy, or you can obey them, but you don’t get to ignore them. And if a fellow soldier knows you are breaking them, he should inquire and report. This is part of the conduct of daily Army life. I know of two senior officers currently in trouble over adultery charges and another in trouble for making a brutally impolitic (and generally racist and sexist) statement about the host country he was serving in.

DADT was the policy. I didn’t like it because it blurred the lines of the UCMJ generally. The UCMJ still claimed homosexual conduct to be a crime. DADT said ‘we enforce one law with very little rigor, on purpose.’ That’s not right. Broken window theory predicts trouble in this case. If Clinton couldn’t get the law changed, he needed to enforce it.

So, I believe that lawbreakers should have been dealt with. I can’t cheer that someone managed to conceal his crime past the effective statute of limitations, for lack of a better analogy. But do I wish that he die on patrol and his fellow soldiers suffer the loss? No. He is a soldier and now, he is obeying the rules. They have been handed down. I will salute smartly and roll out. There are plenty of policies I think are bad for the military – and I don’t go around protesting them (no soldier should).

6

Adam Roberts 09.25.11 at 9:56 am

It seems to me that homophobia is contemptible, and DADT an attempt to appease homophobic prejudices that ought not to be appeased. But I take it that isn’t really the point of John’s post. It’s not wholly comfortable thought-experimenting myself into the mind of a US Conservative politician, but it’s a good discipline to cultivate from time to time, so here are two possible ways of squaring the circle the post outlines.

One is in terms of practical politics. After all: it is in the nature of democracy that people get elected by appealing to various and diverse bodies of opinion, many of which are mutually incompatible with one another. Really there isn’t any other way of getting elected. Insofar as it is philosophically coherent to want to get elected in the first place (and we might think of reasons why it is: ‘I want to do good and can’t do it unless I’m in a power’ for instance) it is arguably coherent to try and find ways of making yourself attractive to these opposed groups. Sartorum is addressing both homophobic rightwingers (with ‘I support DADT’) and the larger constituency who have little or no problem with homosexuality, with his ‘This man is serving our country and we are to thank him for his service’ line. His tactical deafness to the booing in the room is the same thing. We might call this hypocrisy, but we might equally call it quite a clever compromise with the larger system — democracy — that necessitates it. I take John’s point that this ought to be true for the left as well as the right; but we could argue that the American left has already in effect made this compromise by moving to the centre. The right, tugged ever rightwards by church and tea party, has more work to do.

The second thing is a more specifically right-wing rhetorical device (or so it seems to me) drawn from fundamentalist religious discourse — hate the sin, love the sinner. Perhaps that’s already a cognitively dissonant right there (I’d probably say it is); but it could at least be argued that it isn’t a philosophically incoherent position. And it enables a compassionate conservative to take the sort of position discussed in this post: one need not approve of the ‘sin’ this man commits in order to love him as a soldier, serving our country (‘and we are to thank him for his service’).

7

Ben 09.25.11 at 10:09 am

The Conservative Cognitive Dissonance Project seems worthwhile and interesting (would increased conservative partisanship correlate with a decreased ability to determine if given opinions violate given principles? What about authoritarian personalities? Are different areas of the brain active when conservative partisans consider conflicting opinions and data? Hop to, grad students), but this is a bad example to try and explore it.

Santorum’s political project is to tear out homosexuality root and branch from the soil of American life. But Santorum has a problem. He can’t openly declare “I want to keep DADT, and if possible re-instate efforts to identify and eradicate remove homosexuals from service, because I want to stigmatize homosexuality with more prejudice than we do bestiality practitioners” because that doesn’t sit well with civilized people. A lesson he learned well when he went from the #2 Republican in the Senate to a laughing stock out-of-work bum after accidentally putting his views too bluntly to an AP reporter.

So he dodges and weaves whenever homosexuality come up. He can’t straight-out say what he believes so he comes up with some bullshit that he can’t even present grammatically.

In this view, his “Heck of a job, Stephen Hill!” comments aren’t in philosophical tension with his DADT stance for two reasons.

1) His public stance is exterminate the brutes just politically-expedient bullshit anyway, and everyone knows it. This is like contemplating what Spongebob Square Pants must be doing in order to be able to make burgers on the ocean floor.

2) A sort of “love the sinner / hate the sin” escape hatch exists in almost all of the more odious Republican positions. It’s so awful that this specific case of denied unemployment insurance resulted in tragedy, and Something Should Be Done, but of course unemployment insurance should be ended as a program immediately because it encourages sloth. This gay couple adopted 10 Sudanese refugee children and sent them all to college and my stars that’s wonderful, but we can’t allow gays to adopt because they don’t know how to run a family. Etc. This escape hatch is at least 16 times as large for a politician like Santorum, whose gay-bashing credentials are beyond questioning, when he makes a statement extolling the contributions of specific gay people to American life.

Long story short, both the ungrammatical incoherent defense of DADT and the solemn hosannas to the gay soldier are political posturing, and everyone knows it’s political posturing. Both are results of Santorum thinking “I need a way to advance my agenda of stigmatizing gay people that won’t have Brian Williams talking about me for a week.”

8

Ben 09.25.11 at 10:10 am

Whoops. Sorry.

9

Phil 09.25.11 at 10:26 am

Isn’t it just the “some of my best friends are X” attitude, which allows people to think that individual Xs may be perfectly nice people while maintaining that Xs in general are Not Like Us? With, perhaps, a dash of No True Scotsman – the individual X I know is Just Like Us, so it would be unfortunate if he suffered from anti-X attitudes or legislation; however, anti-X attitudes and legislation may still be appropriate, because of what most (true) Xs are like.

10

CplKit 09.25.11 at 11:49 am

I can’t even see the appearance of inconsistency here.

It’s perfectly rational to think that:

(a) People which characteristic C are individually doing an excellent job in their roles in the military, and

(b) Allowing people which characteristic C to serve reduces the effectiveness of the military.

So, you might, e.g., think that through no fault of anyone, the effect on the military culture, or morale, or whatever, of allowing, say, women to serve on the front line, will reduce the combat effectiveness of the army even though all the individual female soldiers are trying their best. So we shouldn’t allow them too serve. And that’s too bad for the blameless and brave women involved, but having an effective army is more important.

Now, that might be bollocks. But it’s not inconsistent. It certainly makes sense. It’s just that you and I think it’s false, right?

11

Rich Puchalsky 09.25.11 at 12:04 pm

John, I’ve been reading essentially this same analysis since your piece on Frum and “Dead Right”, and it never seems to go any further forward. Because, really, it’s not cognitive dissonance at all. It’s pre-cognitive (if it’s sincere). As you old pieces put it n some form, you don’t have to make up a coherent opinion for someone who doesn’t have one. Yet that’s what you try to do, over and over.

Let’s say that Santorum isn’t, contra Adam Roberts’ suggestion, cleverly and knowingly compromising with the system that will allow him to be elected. (I have my doubts about this in his case, because he doesn’t seem that personally skilled — he is nowhere close to being elected, after all.) Then he’s merely expressing two different very basic attitudes. Soldiers good. Gays icky. If a particular person is both a soldier and gay, then he has to go through each in turn, and his choice of which to express depends on which has last been brought up.

There’s not really much more to be said about it, philosophically. It begins to look like a professional deformation that you can get this far and not farther. I mean, other than the problem needing to be located in the area of philosophy for you to talk about it, why should we think that it is?

12

John Holbo 09.25.11 at 12:49 pm

“It begins to look like a professional deformation that you can get this far and not farther.”

I don’t really see that my profession should take the blame, Rich! (It’s not as though I’m professionally obliged to write this sort of thing.)

I do apologize for the repetitiveness, and should strive to move forward. I don’t really think analyses like your alternative, Rich, are fully plausible. “he’s merely expressing two different very basic attitudes. Soldiers good. Gays icky.” I think there’s more to it than that, but I admittedly haven’t really pinned it down in a compelling way. Part of the problem is that I continually seem to be trying to psychoanalyze Rick Santorum (or whomever) when I’m really not meaning to do that.

“(a) People which characteristic C are individually doing an excellent job in their roles in the military, and

(b) Allowing people which characteristic C to serve reduces the effectiveness of the military.”

I guess it seems to me that if the people are doing such an excellent job, then it isn’t characteristic C that is causing the reduced effectiveness. On the other hand, if it is C, then they aren’t doing an excellent job. You could make a parallel argument about race, for example, by way of showing why this really can’t be what Santorum is intending. Suppose African-Americans are doing an excellent job, on average, but there are so many racists around them that they are dragging down the effectiveness of the unit. Well, on the hypothesis that the African-Americans are doing an excellent job, then it’s really the racists at fault. And this really isn’t the sort of analogy that Santorum is reaching for – comparing himself to a racist, by implication. I don’t think it’s plausible to attribute to Santorum the considered view that gays make great soldiers, but there are so many homophobes in the services that unit effectiveness is compromised. Because that places the blame and responsibility on intolerance, not gayness, which is definitely not what Santorum intends.

I think Adam R’s hate the sin/love the sinner line is more plausible. Yes, there’s that, no doubt. But I don’t really agree with the implied cynicism of the rest. Not that I don’t think Santorum is cynical, but I think he’s also sincere about more of it than Adam (and Rich) are giving credit for. But either I should figure out a more compelling way to articulate it, or I should stop repeating myself. (I do tend to repeat myself, hmmm yes.)

13

CplKit 09.25.11 at 1:04 pm

I just don’t agree with this:

“I guess it seems to me that if the people are doing such an excellent job, then it isn’t characteristic C that is causing the reduced effectiveness. On the other hand, if it is C, then they aren’t doing an excellent job.”

You seem to think it’s built in that if a person is doing an excellent job, then they are contributing to an increase in effectiveness. But that’s just really not obvious. You can have people in organisations who just don’t get on, despite both doing their jobs well, because, e.g. their working patterns, or personalities, or whatever, whilst each fine, just happen to blamelessly clash. This happens reasonably often.

With respect to the homosexuality issue, our opponent could say something similar, only applied to groups of people rather than individuals – through no fault of either group, some groups just ‘don’t mix’ in a fighting environment.

The race issue is a bit different. Because their you’re building in that it’s something blameworth that’s causing the trouble – bigotry amongst the non-African American soliders. On the homosexuality issue, people say things like, e.g., you can’t risk troops decisions being influenced by attraction to other troops, and so on. It’s not that any one is at fault for troops being attracted to one another – but it could result in bad decisions, and so on.

Now, I think that kind of position is often motivated by bigotry. But it’s consistent. And it relies on empirical claims which if true, would be persuasive to non-bigots. It’s just that there is no evidence for those claims.

14

Rich Puchalsky 09.25.11 at 1:04 pm

I didn’t mean to imply that you are professionally obliged to write blog posts. More of “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” kind of thing.

I do think that Santorum is being sincere. It’s just that sincerity has no real connection with rationality, for most people. The problem with your (a) and (b) example is that Santorum clearly isn’t talking about whether people are doing an excellent job in their roles in the military, or whether military effectiveness is being hampered. If he was, then on a rational basis, he’d have to talk about evidence — studies of military effectiveness and so on. That’s just not what he’s talking about at all. You may not be trying to psychoanalyze him, but you’re trying to analyze yourself: “what kind of rational belief would I have to hold for me, a person trained in certain kinds of logical thought, to express an opinion like that?” But you aren’t him.

You see things like this everywhere in American culture. “I love football”, and “I hate black people”, for instance. It’s not cognitive dissonance when someone publicly admires a black quarterback and then says that black people are inferior. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is just a theological rationalization made by people who were vaguely troubled by the same thing that’s troubling you.

15

Rich Puchalsky 09.25.11 at 1:36 pm

Here’s a way to test this, actually, through some kind of psychological research — which has probably already been done, but I don’t know the field very well. I’d guess that if you took someone like Santorum and told him something that came down to “Soldier who is gay” you’d get back “gays icky”, and if you told him “gay man who is a soldier” you’d get back “soldiers good”. You could have him alternate if you wanted to. (Though perhaps I have the wrong order, based on whether it’s subject of the sentence or the last word in it that’s more important.) That’s part of how surveys routinely get different results based on how the question was phrased. And it really seems to be all that happened here: Santorum was fine during the debate, because people were participating in “gays icky”, but when someone brought up “soldiers good” later, then of course soldiers are good.

16

David Moles 09.25.11 at 1:48 pm

People with characteristic C are individually doing an excellent job in the military, but their presence causes the more numerous people around them without characteristic C to individually do poorly, thus leading to an overall loss of excellence.

This is demonstrably untrue, but I think it’s what the argument is, insofar as there is one.

17

P O'Neill 09.25.11 at 2:16 pm

Actual Santorum response during the debate (as opposed to what the spinners told him to say afterwards)

MR. SANTORUM: Yeah, I would say any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.

Santorum ain’t no liberal of any kind.

18

soru 09.25.11 at 3:16 pm

Because that places the blame and responsibility on intolerance, not gayness, which is definitely not what Santorum intends.

With my cultural relativist hat on, I don’t see that. The US liberal-to-mainstream cultural value is that racism is a moral failure, and so at least a partially fixable problem. But there is still a distinct remnant of the old consensus that racism is sufficiently inevitable and natural to not count as either. I’m not sure there is a more distinctively conservative idea than ‘that problem, while tragic, is unfixable’.

The only difference for homosexuality/homophobia is the consensus as to which is the ‘fixable wrong’ and which is the ‘inevitable fact of nature’ is less settled.

19

alph 09.25.11 at 3:52 pm

I assume someone will fix the strike-through problem?

Abortion. These are the same people whose view is both that abortion is murder and that women who terminate their pregnancies are committing a murder no less than mafia hit-men. And they will also fall over themselves to deny the consequences of their view when it comes to actual individual women.

Of course, it’s a bit easier to reconcile these views if you are a conservative, because then you think that women are not fully rational and do not enjoy full agency, hence culpability for their actions. They’re just misled.

20

LFC 09.25.11 at 3:59 pm

Holbo: American conservatives like conservative slogans – conservative rhetoric – but, in practice, they don’t like the implications of those slogans, if they were to be taken literally and seriously.

One suggestion: ‘rugged individualist’ slogans have a firm grip on parts of the American political psyche for historical reasons, and consequently some people cling to those slogans regardless of their policy implications. American conservatives’ sloganizing belief in letting the uninsured die, for example, owes something perhaps to the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, that believer in “the strenuous life,” with whom, in Kim Townsend’s words, “American individualism left the courageously creative mind (where Emerson best represented it), left the more social confines of the academy (where James and others manifested it), and confidently strode out into the world.” (Where, one might add, it proceeded to do a not inconsiderable amount of damage.)

Once one digs a bit into the historical origins or roots of Santorum’s ideal world — roots of which Santorum himself may be unaware — it becomes fairly clear why there would be no Stephen Hills in it.

21

Adam Roberts 09.25.11 at 4:11 pm

The really interesting question (I agree with John) is why this is more a function of right-wing political discourse than left-wing. Or indeed, I suppose whether it is … could it just be one of those things? I mean one of those American things? Neil Kinnock, John Smith and finally the much-maligned Tony Blair worked against a similar current on the left in British politics in the 80s and 90s, turning the British Labour Party from an organisation that performed these sorts of cognitively dissonant things — I mean, talking a hard-left socialist revolutionary talk even though when in power they always enacted soft-left social-democratic market-compromise legislation — to a centrist party that no longer needed to speak at odds to its practice because its public profile had been corralled into the political middle-ground. To make it electable; or to denature it, depending on your point of view.

22

JanieM 09.25.11 at 4:17 pm

Trying to get rid of the you know whats….

23

JanieM 09.25.11 at 4:17 pm

No luck….

24

AcademicLurker 09.25.11 at 4:32 pm

American conservatives like conservative slogans – conservative rhetoric – but, in practice, they don’t like the implications of those slogans, if they were to be taken literally and seriously

Because I’m less and less inclined to give American conservatives any benefit of the doubt these days, I would amend that to “don’t like the implications of those slogans for themselves and their immediate family/circle of friends”.

I think they are largely fine with the ugly implications of those slogans for people they don’t have to see.

25

Sebastian(1) 09.25.11 at 4:56 pm

Thanks for the correction. As for consistency, I’m 100% with CplKit.
Santorum _is_ essentially making the same argument against openly gay people serving that was made against racially integrated army units. At the time that argument was made, it wasn’t universally unacceptable to be grossed out as a white man to be serving next to a black man. Santorum’s argument is that it is not universally unacceptable to be grossed out by serving next to an openly gay person. He’s making the same argument, probably even using the same words (I bet someone spoke of “social laboratory” back then, too). The only difference is that, in his view racism=bad, homophobia=OK.

26

geo 09.25.11 at 6:00 pm

OP: all generalizations need to be modified by ‘some’

Nonsense. Here’s one that doesn’t: “all generalizations need to be modified by ‘some.’”

May I have my Nobel Prize now?

27

Barry 09.25.11 at 6:25 pm

John Holbo: “What’s going on here? Well, for sure it’s cognitive dissonance. On one level, all these conservatives are ‘operational’ liberals. Confronted with an individual, gay soldier, their instinct is to say that it doesn’t matter what his private life is like, so long as he’s doing his duty. Booing the soldier is shameful, because he’s done nothing that deserves being booed. These conservatives are ‘closet tolerants’ about homosexuality, would be another way to put it. “

How about the simpler, more plausible explanation? They booed him because he was gay, and didn’t give a flying [rhymes with truck] about him being a soldier. *This is not new* – purple heart band-aids and Cindy Sheehan, for starters.

What clearly happened in this case was that this attracted problematic attention, so days later these politicians are explaining it away.

28

xaaronx 09.25.11 at 6:47 pm

One more try

29

bianca steele 09.25.11 at 7:13 pm

John,
I share your distaste for “psychoanalyzing” public figures. And when people start going on about the importance of “the subject” and “the subjective,” I’m usually on the other side of the argument. But where is the line between “psychoanalyzing” and “thick descriptions”? Can we produce a non-autistic[1] description of what a person is saying and doing without some kind of subject-based psychology? Doesn’t even saying, “she’s lying,” require a model of her mental state?

Even if we don’t need this, surely there is some middle ground between psychoanalyzing and somehow attributing all good intentions to everybody all the time.

[1] On the theory that individuals with autism lack a “theory of mind,” which seems like a well-accepted theory.

30

bianca steele 09.25.11 at 8:21 pm

Also, I kind of agree with Rich on this post. The post is thought-provoking, but (despite being absent from the post) we don’t entirely lack resources to figure out what Santorum (say) believes, operationally or otherwise, or what he would do, or why and how he might be confused, or why and how he might be insincere–and we shouldn’t worry that we are being “mean” to him in some way by saying–or implying–things about him that he hasn’t yet said about himself. In other words, we’re going around and around what seems to be the same philosophical topic, not really for a good political reason.

We can accept the polling research that American conservatives are “operationally liberal” without insisting that Santorum has all the characteristics of that profile.

We can understand that Santorum (like any politician) shapes what he says to what will get votes, and won’t repel large, important parts of the population.

We can understand that what a politician will do in office doesn’t depend only on whether he’s a nice person, and we can look at all the different things that might affect his policies, without putting words in his mouth or psychoanalyzing him or belittling him.

We can talk about a public figure’s personal beliefs and attitudes, if these seem important, or typical of lots of other people, without reducing these to what he is likely to be able to do in office, policy-wise.

We don’t have to throw our hands up in the air and say, “well, a lot of people sure do seem inconsistent, don’t they.”

31

Sebastian H 09.25.11 at 9:40 pm

Holy crap why doesn’t the end strike command work?

32

Rich Puchalsky 09.25.11 at 10:00 pm

Ben is clearly the real villain here, with his use of the malformed “greater than strike slash less than” tag. I’ll have to remember that one for when I comment on some blog I don’t like.

33

Sharon 09.25.11 at 10:35 pm

Slash tag is strong

34

qb 09.25.11 at 11:33 pm

This is already the best CT thread ever.

35

qb 09.25.11 at 11:40 pm

31 to Greece, btw.

36

homunq 09.26.11 at 12:09 am

For the love of the FSM, please end the strike!

37

P O'Neill 09.26.11 at 12:44 am

OK, the source code has a botched close tag [strike /] (i.e. hyphen at end, not start), when it should have been an open tag anyway ….

38

John Holbo 09.26.11 at 2:12 am

Gosh, sorry I missed it. It looks like there was a heroic battle against the forces of HTML. I’m glad to see that everyone seems to have survived, although some of you look to have been shaken by the experience.

39

maidhc 09.26.11 at 3:24 am

I’ve already seen a few hints that the right is going to turn on the military and their free government healthcare. As soon as the teachers have been eliminated, the parasitic veterans and their socialist benefits will be next in line.

40

garymar 09.26.11 at 3:31 am

Still in strike-through mode. I’m putting this up in strike-through mode to see if it doesn’t fix the problem for me.

41

garymar 09.26.11 at 3:32 am

I guess a double-negative doesn’t work in HTML.

42

David 09.26.11 at 3:40 am

“I persist in thinking there’s a strong, quite stable, and really quite distinctive cognitive dissonance that has characterized American conservative thought since at least the 1960’s. I don’t think anyone – including me – has ever really pinned down it’s distinctive characteristics. “

I think the cognitive dissonance is best summed up as : White Christian Nationalist identity politics. While they sometimes claim to be quite philosophical, Conservatives base their politics and preferences on whether or not the given question affirms the superiority of their culture-namely, a White, suburban/rural, christian, heterosexual, patriotic and blue collar/small businessman culture. Any deviation from that culture, be it homosexuality or atheism or welfare for minorities is disliked. Conservative ideology is dissonant at its core because its not trying to advance values like individual “liberty” or “equality,” but rather its trying to advance its cultural mores. The fact that much conservative rhetoric references principles like equality and liberty just shows that those values are vague and easily manipulated, the thing that ties their various beliefs, and contradictory positions on liberty and equality, is White Christian Nationalism.

43

Martin 09.26.11 at 4:47 am

Everything from the middle of #7 onwards is struck out.

44

Sebastian(1) 09.26.11 at 5:29 am

wow, lot of Chrome (and Safari?) users here.
Firefox isn’t that easily perturbed by some stray strikes and slashes. All looks fine to me.

45

ajay 09.26.11 at 10:03 am

46: maybe for you; I’m reading this in Firefox and it’s all crossed out.

46

Bill Benzon 09.26.11 at 12:30 pm

Firefox and cross-outs here as well.

47

Barry 09.26.11 at 1:12 pm

Sebastian(1) 09.26.11 at 5:29 am

” wow, lot of Chrome (and Safari?) users here.
Firefox isn’t that easily perturbed by some stray strikes and slashes. All looks fine to me.”

An unusual pleasure for me – usually, I’m having formatting problems, while everybody else is relaxing in the shade, sipping cool drinks.

48

H.P. Loveshack 09.26.11 at 1:24 pm

Cut that out, damn it!

49

Salient 09.26.11 at 1:28 pm

…and here I thought we lefties were supposed to like strikes.

50

Rich Puchalsky 09.26.11 at 1:41 pm

“The really interesting question (I agree with John) is why this is more a function of right-wing political discourse than left-wing. Or indeed, I suppose whether it is … could it just be one of those things? I mean one of those American things? “

You used to be able to get something like this from the left when confronted with a racist union worker. People would alternate between “unions good” and “racism bad” for a while. That was when many American unions really did have recent racist policies, and now it’s much easier to dismiss the person as not representative of the union and therefore clearly boo-able.

In general, I think that the left in America no longer really has class as an ideological principle of identification across actual class boundaries, so individual leftists no longer really have to confront being in “solidarity” with someone too much unlike them.

51

Barry Freed 09.26.11 at 2:13 pm

Help, I can’t tell whether any one is in earnest here and really means what they’ve written. I’m not even sure of my own authorial intentions.

Yes I am.

No I’m not.

Aaaargh!

52

John Holbo 09.26.11 at 2:54 pm

Really? From the middle of #7? OK. I’ll go in and edit #7. But I’m not seeing it in Firefox.

53

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.26.11 at 3:14 pm

Now it starts right after 38.

54

Rich Puchalsky 09.26.11 at 3:20 pm

I thought about my comment above … yes, I know, that will make me the only one to do so … and I do think there’s something more there about the left/right difference. When I reached for a left example, I automatically used abstract category words (“racism”) and forms of organization (“unions”). The corresponding right-wing words, as far as I can tell, are a lot more elemental. For instance, on the right you have to valorize soldiers, but it’s perfectly acceptable in many contexts to complain about the Army. The left wouldn’t valorize a steelworker who was a scab; instead, the worker has to participate in a form of organization that the left approves of. Similarly, racism is thought to be something that you can be educated out of, homosexuality isn’t. (Though have right-wingers really given up on that idea? Hmm. I don’t think Santorum would have suggested that the soldier get retrained to be a good heterosexual. Though I’m not exactly familiar with his ouevre.)

So the left has less trouble with this kind of thing because they can rationalize problems with any individual as being an unimportant accident of that individual, not one that calls the larger organization or ideal into question. The right is stuck with individuals who embody contradictions within themselves.

55

Henry 09.26.11 at 3:27 pm

A P’ O’Neill intervention presumably intended to stop the strike, in fact perpetuated it. I have now acted as strikebreaker …

56

bianca steele 09.26.11 at 4:38 pm

I didn’t see it yesterday, but without my glasses it’s back.

57

bianca steele 09.26.11 at 5:55 pm

@Rich P, @Adam R
There are plenty of differences between England and the US, of course, but I doubt this is one of them, though a matter of definition may also be involved.

58

Glen Tomkins 09.28.11 at 5:05 am

Well, yes, you are overthinking this.

I don’t think we can infer from Santorum’s later statements to the press about this episode — that he’s grateful for Hill’s service the the nation, is sure he’s doing a good job, etc. — that he isn’t a real and quite simple homophobe. He said those things to the reporter after several news cycles of all the pundits saying he should have thanked the man for his service, etc. He said these nice things about a person he obviously totally devalues — just look at how Santorum reacts in the moment, before he’s had days of pundits telling him the politically astute way he should have reacted — because he is willing to soften his real views to get elected.

The fact that he needs to soften his real views fits in perfectly with another of his beliefs, that we live in a world dominated by a liberal media and liberal “political correctness”. Santorum sees himself as just the latest Christian Martyr being fed to the lions by our Secular Humanist Grand Inqusitors.

Nor are even his easily lampoonable comments about sexuality in the military at all indicative of contradictory thinking, well, except maybe thinking that contradicts reality. Okay, to formulate this as carefully as can be managed by someone who understands Tentherism, his remarks are not indicative of thinking that is self-contradictroy within his very odd belief system. Santorum does not say that homosexuality and heterosexuality should be treated equally by the military services. That’s just you damned Secular Humanist trying to make him say something human about sexaulity. He says sexuality should have no place in the military. He doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as heterosexuality. What happens between man and wife cannot be sex, because the Bible is pretty clearly agin’ sex (at least by their fairly consistent and historically persistent reading), but he believes that marriage is sacred (there’s even a sacrament for it, which there could never be if it involved sex). He believes in Lust, a sin, which can happen between people of the opposite sex who are not married, and even within marriage if the man and wife are not intent on procreation to the exclusion of all else. The most he could possibly grant what we call homosexuality is that it is a form of the sin of Lust that is, at best, no worse than any other sort of Lust. But that’s still plenty bad enough that, of course, no public institution, military or otherwise, should have any truck with it. This belief system may strike you as so odd that spinning tales about the cognitive dissonance that must be at work in his public pronouncements is still less of a walk on the wild side than imagining that there is an internally consistent belief system at work here. But, you know, I was sent to a Catholic school back in Baltimore Catechism days, and this stuff is straight out of the Baltimore Catechism.

Don’t invent fake conflicts within these people’s minds in order to rationalize their thinking into something that corresponds to a recognizable stab at describing reality. Their order of thinking is theory first, then facts trimmed and edited to fit theory. Yes, you do have to walk many long miles down convoluted paths to square the statements they often feel compelled to make in order to retain political viability in this sinful world in which we are all just pilgrims. In actuality, their beliefs are quite simple, and a good deal more self-consistent than yours or mine, because they have made the extremely simplifying leap of faithlessness in observable reality. Just because they occasionally get all tangled up trying to preserve their viability with swing voters, should not be taken as any sort of manifestation of inner contradictions in their actual thinking.

Perry is a very consistent secessionist, so of course he will say things from time to time tending to confuse people who can’t think within the internal logic of secessionism, into imagining that he’s instead an inconsistent anarchist. But that’s your failure of imagination, not his failure to be coherent. (God knows, he has plenty of other problems being coherent.)

Santorum holds with the Baltimore Catechism, so of course he will say things from time to time that confuse those of us who expect thinking about human sexuality to be, well, human. That’s just our failure of imagination, damned Secular Humanist thought police that we are.

59

Salient 09.28.11 at 7:53 pm

That’s just you damned Secular Humanist trying to make him say something human about sexuality.

Glen Tomkin comments are a reliable treat, certainly, but that sentence in particular approaches the transcendental and so I want to follow up on it. If only to draw to it the attention it is due.

Recognizing the geometrical difference between a sphere and a torus is trivially easy, even if we acknowledge deformed spheres to be ‘sphere-like’ and squashed-up doughnuttish things to be ‘torus-like’ — a kindergartener can sort a box full of toys according to whether or not they have a ‘hole’ of some kind in them. But characterizing the difference, entirely as two-dimensional surfaces without recourse to the three-dimensional space they inhabit, can be maddeningly difficult–how could a sentient ant inhabiting a large boundary-free surface attempt to reliably determine whether they’re living on a crinkled-up sphere or a crinkled up torus? The more we peer at our own ability to distinguish, the murkier our distinction becomes–precisely because we find ourselves trying to characterize an absence in terms of what is present. The more you look at what is there, the more you analyze what is present, the harder it is to see the distinction.

The word least likely to be uttered in any discussion of homosexuality, among persons who exhibit any discomfort with homosexuality, is ‘romance.’

And that omission isn’t just meaningful. It’s the whole story.

60

Watson Ladd 09.28.11 at 8:21 pm

Salient, that’s an easy one. The first homology group is trivial on a sphere, nontrivial on a torus. A sphere has positive curvature globally, while a torus is flat. The ant just has to march in a straight line in two directions: on the torus the circles cross once, on the sphere twice. Otherwise I think your comment is spot on: gay rights are not just about sex but about the right to walk down the street without getting jumped, etc, etc.

61

hellblazer 09.28.11 at 9:01 pm

Watson, isn’t your curvature argument going to get messed up by the “crinkled-up” part of Salient’s scenario? (Homology argument looks fine at a quick glance, though.)

62

Salient 09.29.11 at 3:31 am

Salient, that’s an easy one. The first homology group is trivial on a sphere, nontrivial on a torus.

:) There’s nothing more reliably pleasing than to see last-year-undergraduate maths that didn’t exist about a century ago brushed off as ‘easy’ or obvious. (I mean this sincerely. For all that people whine about The Kids These Days failing to Achieve In Math, net progress in humanity’s mathematical prowess has been nothing short of awesome.)

Of course, I’d hate to be the ant given the ‘compute the fundamental group of our world’ assignment (this is assuming a certain lack of resources at their disposal, as if the ants have a string the size of their world’s circumference or the energy to manually circumnavigate twice, I am optimistic enough to presume they’ve found a better use for it). Come to think of it, it’d be a pretty nontrivial act to circumnavigate the world and be confident that you had done so — on a crinkly surface you might be led astray by local deformations, it’s not a smooth manifold, geodesics wouldn’t extend reliably, so even if they *did* have a long enough rope… phooey, I may have self-nerd-sniped.

But actually the whole point of the maths paragraph was to construct a hole/whole pun for the last line. Ignoring the superfluous tangent, my intended point was completely different from what you describe: I mean to say that homophobes are, on average, completely blind to even the possibility that two men or two women could have romantic feelings for one another. It just never enters their mind, which, given that they’re casting aspersions on a mode of partnership, is actually an astonishingly clarifying insight into the mind of a homophobe, at least from the right angle.

It’s one thing to say “it’s all about the dirty awful sex” — that’s true of many prudish conversations. What is remarkable about the anti-homosexual movement is the complete conspicuous absence of awareness that someone could possibly feel romantic impulses toward someone of their gender. Or maybe the remarkable thing is how completely and comprehensively this one fact informs about their state of mind:

* Proportion of public-domain conversations about heterosexual marriage that center exclusively around the propriety of sexual acts and entirely neglect the possibility of romantic love: surely 20% would be too high for a ballpark estimate

* Proportion of public-domain conversations about homosexual marriage that center exclusively around the propriety of sexual acts and entirely neglect the possibility of romantic love: surely 80% would be too low for a ballpark estimate

Like the fundamental-group test for the sphere or torus, the does-romance-naturally-come-to-mind test for opiners on gay marriage tells you everything you need to know about them. (And I know the homophobes have kicked ass at their messaging movement when I notice a solid plurality of straight equal-rights supporters falling into that same trap, discussing marriage at length in terms of ‘lifestyle choices’ even though they’d be honestly offended if someone dismissed their own romantic feelings as lifestyle-choice.)

63

hellblazer 09.29.11 at 5:54 am

Salient: just another thing (he says in his best Peter Falk voice) – unfortunate that you say “last-year-undergraduate maths that didn’t exist about a century ago”, because if memory serves right some primitive form of homology (well, Betti numbers) was around at the time. Riemann and Poincare would have said that if you put a loop in a sphere and cut along it you disconnect it, while you need two cuts to disconnect the torus.

Two hundred years would probably do it, I guess.

None of which is germane to the homophobia of Santorum et al, I admit. Anyway, as you were. (Exits, pursued by a maths-hating bear.)

64

Glenn 09.29.11 at 8:49 pm

What? Changing “always drunk on duty” to “severely schizophrenic” utterly destroys your argument. I don’t want severely schizophrenic soldiers serving in the military (untreated ones, at least), but I think it’s morally reprehensible to boo them. If that’s the correct analogy to DADT, then Rick Santorum is standing on firm logical and moral ground. I *know* that’s not true, so I’m thinking maybe your analogy doesn’t hold up.

65

John Holbo 09.30.11 at 4:02 am

“What? Changing “always drunk on duty” to “severely schizophrenic” utterly destroys your argument.”

But do you think that severely schizophrenic soldiers are probably doing an excellent job (based only on that one piece of knowledge about them) and do you hope that they have the opportunity to finish out their tours of duty? I think not. So I don’t see that my argument has been utterly destroyed, or even significantly dented.

66

Tim Wilkinson 10.01.11 at 10:43 am

a kindergartener can sort a box full of toys according to whether or not they have a ‘hole’ of some kind in them

Not so sure – I suspect they might decide that a tumbler goes with a teacup, a bowling ball with a round bead, a tube with a helical spring. Also that empty cans go together whether perforated once (=no hole) or twice (=one hole).

if you put a loop in a sphere and cut along it you disconnect it, while you need two cuts to disconnect the torus

I don’t know what the definition of ‘disconnect’ is here, but it must be a specialised technical one – presumably it entails making sure neither of the pieces itself has a hole in. (Since just as you can slice or gouge a chunk from a sphere, you can do the same from a torus – indeed, topologically speaking, one often does the latter when carving a roast chicken.)

67

bianca steele 10.01.11 at 3:29 pm

Salient,
I like the topology example, don’t misunderstand me. But let me save you some time. Why should we think of ourselves as ants on a surface? Why not points? Why not cells in some kind of finite automaton? Why not checkers?

More simply, you can get any result if you dismiss bits of evidence as pathological. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether or not they can imagine it.

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