Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Strength and Weakness of Stubborn Despair

The complicating factor in any discussion of pessimism is that most people are looking at things subjectively. This is natural. Your first thoughts and actions are most influenced by the world your mind binds together from the internal and external information it gets. Information outside of its proper context lacks the influence on our rational minds that properly situated information does.

It takes effort to bridge the gap from whichever side's one's on. The listener must be willing to change perspective the communicator willing to deconstruct and examine what they're communicating, so they can go beyond just putting forward their view to bring forward the emergence of a new point of view. The toughest part of this, is that one usually is not provided with anything approaching a blank slate. In short, the new perspective must be evolved from the old.

For those who trusted Bush from the start, being optimistic has been easier for longer. Only recently have people begun to desert him, as the weight of the evidence has caused people to reconsider the world their preconceived notions tied together. But for those who never really trusted him, or only gave their trust conditionally, the opposition came more quickly.

Still, it was not fated that Bush's policies should be seen as half or all empty. The weight of the evidence could have swung things to Bush's side, shutting people up. Success changes the facts, and changing the facts changes the selective pressures on certain points of view. It is only in the consistent shortfall of Bush's efforts that we see a majority of Americans becoming pessimists. One cannot maintain hope forever in the face of countervailing evidence.

People shouldn't be expected to. If Bush and the Republicans want optimism, the first thing they should stop doing is trying to force people to be optimistic. Not only is it not their right to coerce this, it's not even in their power to do so. Even if they were Stalin-style tyrants, this would not be within their power. People aren't fools, nor can they be deceived forever. They know what's out there, or at least they think they know. If go in and tell them that their skepticism is a moral failing, or an example of cowardice, you're reinforcing the view that you're exercising power arbitrarily of either public approval, or good old-fashion results. Neither elevates people's opinion of your performance.

What can be done? First, examine your theories, your points of view. People can stumble into objectionable position by the failure of their theory or by degrees of radicalization from the mainstream. Is one's point of view objectively bad, objectively flawed? This is a possibility, one in our image-obsessed age that we're not always willing to consider. After all its bad for ones image to be wrong. Yet many fail to consider that there is a worse fate: to be wrong, yet continue in error, with all the consequences that follow. If one is simply in denial, then optimism paves the road to hell.

We too on the left must consider the possibility that pessimism is as much of an error when applied indiscriminately, without regard for what's going on. Both we and them are likely in some form of error. That's being human. In dealing with that, we fallible human beings must do with information what sharks must do with water: keep swimming, and keep moving. We must always be open to correcting our mistakes, and discovering the facts.

But what if we're right? There's still the problem of persuasion. Examination of one's theories then, takes on another dimension. In a previous post, I talked about the significance of Small Worlds Theory (a.k.a. six degrees of separation). One interesting finding is what's known as the strength of weak ties. Our short path of connections to the other six billion people on the planet doesn't mainly run through the people we're closest to.

Why is that signficant? Because our relationships with people we're close to are fairly cohesive. The friends of our friends tend to be ours as well. What's important here, is that we get very used to talking to people whose beliefs we often share ourselves. Having that that common subjective point of view, we don't need to explain, or expand, or examine what we say to the other person as much as we do with a stranger.

That model of things, as technology and transportation demolish former limits of interaction, is rapidly degrading into irrelevance. We can no longer count on non-local problems to stay that way. We can no longer count on having to solve problems with folks who are like minded. Differences must be bridged if we are to remain a functioning society. We can no longer rest in comfortable little bubbles of belief. We must become actively involved in learning the nature of things beyond our ordinary experience. We must be willing to change and adapt, and not merely hope for the best or wait for the worst.

Our leaders must in turn cultivate a society that isn't defined along rigid lines of ideology, but along the more flexible lines of pragmatism, with ideals guiding but not determining our actions. We must be willing to see in the world a right and a wrong that is not merely a product of our own beliefs, but one of our experience of interaction with the real world. We must be willing to risk making mistakes, but also take the risks necessary to admit them and correct them.

Most of all, though, we must realize that what's wrong and right matters more than who's wrong or right on ideological grounds. We must guage our theories by their successes, not by their elegant lip service to our own notions of what the world's like. The more we confine our perspective on the world to our own little realm of thought, more likely it is that we will not just stray into error, but trap ourselves in it.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at January 29, 2006 10:22 AM
Comments
Comment #118166

Bob Woodruff and his Cameraman got hit by an IED in Iraq today:

Pessimist: This shows Iraq is getting worse.

Optimist: This shows the Insurgents are desperate and we are winning.

Posted by: Aldous at January 29, 2006 11:32 AM
Comment #118186

Aldous-
The problem comes when you ask one question: What next? The easy responses- pull out or stick to it- fail to ask the crucial questions about the small issues that determine the destiny of such strategies.

Politically speaking, each position represents a victory for one side in the short term. But for America as a whole, such shortsighted policy decisions, and more importantly the stubborn insistence on one course of action, represent a long term defeat.

The essential questions are “What do we want?”, “How do we achieve our goal?”, and “What happens next?” and finally, “How much are we mistaken about all this?”

The more glib our answers, the more like it is we haven’t done our homework.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 29, 2006 12:07 PM
Comment #118187

I don’t think we should immediately pull out, nor do I think we gain much by staying in just to prove a point. I think we should consider what’s going on, try to assess the ebb and flow of the political currents - various important cycles and determine when and where to pull out, but not exiting too soon.


We could call it the ‘rhythm method.’

Posted by: tony at January 29, 2006 12:15 PM
Comment #118240
The problem comes when you ask one question: What next? The easy responses- pull out or stick to it- fail to ask the crucial questions about the small issues that determine the destiny of such strategies.

This assumes that there are still options open to us that could make this a “win”, or even “more” or “less” of a defeat. At what point can we simply admit that the situation in Iraq has become FUBAR and beyond our ability to correct? At what point does withdrawing and allowing the citizens of Iraq to engage in their civil war without our interference and thereby determine their own future become an acceptable option for us?

Right now, every time we interfere, it is seen by the middle east and much of the world as an attempt to force a sovereign nation to enact a system of government we approve of. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been forced to hold back while radical islamic groups have taken control of the government, and to allow Islam to form the basis of the new Iraqi Constitution in what was supposed to become a bastion of Western Democracy in the middle east. We’ve become an occupying power with no real teeth, and whether we stay or go at this point we have lost control of Iraq’s destiny, if we ever had it to begin with.

Posted by: Jarandhel at January 29, 2006 2:23 PM
Comment #118273

Most Americans are pragmatic. This is the gift of our free market economy, which doesn’t value authority without the ability do something useful that can earn money. But pragmatism itself is an ideology and ideology is the basis of all our decisions. In other words, what is right and wrong is always a product of our beliefs.

Pew Research recently published the results of it surveys of attitudes toward various things. If you look at the graph on the economy, you find that Republicans are generally more optimistic about the economy. Democrats kind of catch up during Democratic administrations. Republicans are always more optimistic about their personal finances, no matter who is in the White House.

Another interesting aspect is perception of crime. Although crime has been dropping since 1990, people now perceive it as a bigger issue. In this case, optimism is accurate, while pessimism is in style.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 6:07 PM
Comment #118283

The people who are pessimistic are often the people whose party is currently the minority, or don’t even vote.

Those that are optimistic are those whose party is currently the majority.

Who can deny seeing exactly that throughout the blue, green, red columns ?

Why not try something fresh and new?

How about the simple truth, problem, and solution?

Vote out irresponsible incumbents .

Why?

Because incumbents AND voters are the problem.

It’s that simple.
No complex theories.
No vast conspiracies.
No grand schemes.
Nothing more, than voting responsibly to peacefully force government to be responsible too.

Posted by: d.a.n at January 29, 2006 7:10 PM
Comment #118291

Actually, DAN, it is not exactly right.

If you look at the Pew Poll you see that Republicans have been more optimitic about their own situation all through the Clinton Adminisration, and more optimisitic about the economy in general every year but one.

My observation is that Republicans are generally more upbeat about the economy and the polling data backs me up.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 8:01 PM
Comment #118300

“My observation is that Republicans are generally more upbeat about the economy and the polling data backs me up.”

i have expressed many times my reservation concering the validity of polls, but let’s suppose that this one is accurate and factual…

what does this imply exactly - that there is some genetic difference between republicans and democrats? perhaps it’s a product of a better raising? higher (or lower) intelligence? sure, anything’s possible - but let’s talk probable. republicans tend to be wealthier, wealth inspires optimism.

if i had a mansion, i probably wouldn’t notice the rest of the country crumbling either… oops, there goes my ‘pessimism’ again.

(if i were a democrat who had lost to someone with the intellect of Bush, then i’d *really* be pessimistic)

Posted by: Diogenes at January 29, 2006 8:30 PM
Comment #118306

Majority of Republicans are either the top 10% or the Religious Nuts. One is so rich that they buy happiness and the other is so brainwashed that they think the Rapture is coming.

Posted by: Aldous at January 29, 2006 8:51 PM
Comment #118312

Isn’t it wonderful how we can have a civil, reasoned exchange of ideas here wothout resorting to name calling and stereotyping?

For example, the previous post lumped “most” Republicans as rich folks or religious nuts. Aldous should get out and talk to people. He/she might dind that Republicans come in all flavors, just like Democrats. Tell me Aldous, would you put Ted Kennedy or Jay Rockefeller in the Republican camp? Both are extremely wealthy with money they never worked for(another symptom of Republicanism). I think you will find that most republicans, rather than being defined by socioeconomic or religious strata are just folks who are sick and tired of a government that is unresponsive, wasteful, and very, very arrogant.

Unfortunately, we get betrayed sometimes, just like the Democrats. Rather than constantly fighting with each other, why not reach out and join in an attempt to put aside party labels and try to do what’s best for the country? I believe reasonable people can debate reasonably without calling each other names.

As a libertarian, I am willing to debate and discuss with anyone who has feasible ideas for the good of the country.

Posted by: John back at January 29, 2006 9:11 PM
Comment #118315

I believe that attitude helps determine life’s outcomes. I was optimistic before I was successful. I think optimism has been a component of my success and this is true for others. So being optimistic is correlated with success, like being tall is correlated with winning at basketball. That does not mean all tall guys are good basketball players, but it helps.

This is a case where cause and effect are mixed. Are optimistic people successful because they are optimistic or are successful people optimistic because they are successful? Probably both are true.

Aldous

If you look at the Pew data I supplied, you will see that Republicans are more optimistic in all income levels. Of course, if you have Republican attitudes, over time you probably end up with a higher income. You all can take that as you please.

Posted by: Jack at January 29, 2006 9:21 PM
Comment #118317

Jarandhel-
I personally think that we are past the point of being able to not interfere. I think even our withdrawal will be seen negatively. We’re not in a situation where we can draw a positive outcome by trying to anticipate what people will think and responding to that.

We need to commit ourselves to doing what people wanted us to do all along, and that’s care about what’s going on in Iraq. We have the advantage in this war of being on the side of the new nation Iraqis generally want to create. In Vietnam, we were on the opposite side. Here, if we act conscientiously, we could in fact draw a more positive outcome. Our style of Democracy may just have to be something these people evolve towards, the way nations in the west evolved towards it. The first thing we must do, though, is avoid tipping the balance of power into chaos.

Jack-
Pessimism about crime is one of those problems that come of fearmongering among our leaders. Neither party is clean of it on the local or national level. We act like we have the power to end all the ills of the world, and we don’t. We have but limited means of fighting those ills, and it’s often a complicated matter. I think you should consider that it is not so much important how optimistic people are, but the degree to which their optimism or pessimism bases itself on fact. I’ll tell you this, people do not want to lend encouragement or support to leaders who they perceive as having wasted and misused that support previously. Bush has had the misfortune to waste some of the most solid support a leader has ever had in modern history on furthering political agendas, and trying to force his ideology to become reality. People will not become optimistic about the direction of this country, unless they feel motivated to support it.

d.a.n.-
Yes. Vote out those incumbents who have been irresponsible. Leave those who have done their job. Do this again and again. The ones who stay will present the standards for those who replace the ones removed. The ones who go will serve as a reminder to those who remain and those who succeed them. That’s Democracy.

You say no complex theories, no vast conspiracies, no grand schemes. I can do without the conspiracies, but what is a government without grand schemes and complex theories? Without the first, what problems can we be motivated to take care of? Without the second, how can we possibly negotiate or compromise to bring about good policy? Einstein said that we should make things as simple as they can be made, and no simpler. The reality we deal with is complex, so we cannot get away with simplistic reads on it.

Aldous-
It doesn’t help to look at the people across the party line, and not see a person just like you. How do you speak to a person to persuade them, if you cannot offer them common ground to share with you?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 29, 2006 9:29 PM
Comment #118324

Aldous,
“Majority of Republicans are either the top 10% or the Religious Nuts. One is so rich that they buy happiness and the other is so brainwashed that they think the Rapture is coming.”

Well if the religious “nuts” are brainwashed, I guess that means you’re talking about Islam. They’re pretty phanatical and reverent, aren’t they?

Posted by: rahdigly at January 29, 2006 9:53 PM
Comment #118358
If you look at the graph on the economy, you find that Republicans are generally more optimistic about the economy. Democrats kind of catch up during Democratic administrations.

Jack, if you look at administrations, you find that the predominantly Democratic poor and middle class do better during Democratic administrations.

Now combine those two data points and apply your vast reasoning skills.

Although crime has been dropping since 1990, people now perceive it as a bigger issue.

Again, that’s not a surprise, Jack. Crime is a big Republican issue and Republican politicians do better when they can convince Americans that crime is rampant.

Good post, Stephen. My take on the subject is that, while the Democratic Party may not have a narrow, ultra-coherent view on many issues, they aren’t completely wrong on them like Republican Party.

Posted by: American Pundit at January 29, 2006 11:32 PM
Comment #118411


John Back:
I totally agree with this part of your statement:
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Rather than constantly fighting with each other, why not reach out and join in an attempt to put aside party labels and try to do what’s best for the country? I believe reasonable people can debate reasonably without calling each other names.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

So, who’s willing to break away from Bush & Cos. failed policies and be honest about domestic and foreign affairs? Numerous reports tell us that our military is stretched too thin. Even General Casey agrees although he’s too career oriented to buck the Pentagon. Of course defense isn’t real important right now because international affairs are pretty calm right now.

Throughout 5 years of Bushology tell me what’s improved? OK, the rich have gotten richer. Big oil and gas have certainly shown record profits. Many thousands displaced by Katrina and other catastrophies have learned not to depend on the government that they fed all their lives.

More & more people find themselves unable to obtain quality health insurance at the same time health care costs have skyrocketed. We’ve limited the individuals ability to discharge debt and sue corporations who have wronged them.

Everything else aside, I must say that Bush has done one hell of a job with the environment. The Bush answer to global warming: decaying bodies will not only cool the planet but the stench will prevent overpopulation, and if left undisturbed they wiil eventually become “new oil”, heh, heh, heh.

I will however have to say that Bush & Co. have done well at energy conservation. Shucks ya’ don’t hardly see more than two SUV’s in every gas & oil company employee’s driveway. Besides them heavier vehicles will create more scrap metal down the road.

Oh, I almost forgot, we’re fighting ‘em over there so we don’t have to fight ‘em here at home. Well, shucks I know we’ve got a little border problem but we’re listenin’ to ‘em when they talk to Americans and we’re findin’ out just where our borders are, heh, heh, heh.

Just George here, heh, heh, heh.

Posted by: KansasDem at January 30, 2006 5:24 AM
Comment #118489
Stephen Daugherty wrote: d.a.n.- Yes. Vote out those incumbents who have been irresponsible. Leave those who have done their job. Do this again and again. The ones who stay will present the standards for those who replace the ones removed. The ones who go will serve as a reminder to those who remain and those who succeed them. That’s Democracy.

Stephen Daugherty,
I have changed my stance slightly.
I agree completely.
Remove the irresponsible incumbents, repeatedly, always. Let the responsible incumbents stay.

That’s up to the voters to decide. I have researched almost all senators and representatives, and there are only three or four that come close to being responsible, and even they too troll for campaign money, vote for pork-barrel, resist common-sense reforms, and look the other way. Thus, in my opinion, all incumbents should be voted out. That is the minimum price they should pay for looking the other way.

You say no complex theories, no vast conspiracies, no grand schemes. I can do without the conspiracies, but what is a government without grand schemes and complex theories? Without the first, what problems can we be motivated to take care of? Without the second, how can we possibly negotiate or compromise to bring about good policy? Einstein said that we should make things as simple as they can be made, and no simpler. The reality we deal with is complex, so we cannot get away with simplistic reads on it.

No, Stephen, let me clarify. When I say no vast theories or complex schemes, I am only talking about the problem and the solution. They are simple to understand. That does not mean it is easy to do. I’m merely talking about the ability to understand the problem and the solution. They are simple, and simplicity is not the problem.

The problem is:
Irresponsible government.
But, who in government is most irresponsible ?
Incumbents are the most irresponsible. They always outnumber the newcomers, and prevent the newcomers from passing badly-needed, common-sense, no-brainer, responsible reforms.

The Solution is:
VOTE OUT (or recall) all irresponsible incumbents ,
Repeatedly , EVERY election ,
until government becomes responsible and accountable too.

The solution is simply the right thing to do. Voters are supposed to vote out (or recall) irresponsible incumbents. That’s what we were supposed to be doing all along. The solution is simple to understand, but that does not mean it is easy to do. But, just because something is difficult is no reason resign to futility or despair. If someone thinks there’s a better way, then what is it?

So, why not do it? Now, that is where it gets complicated, because people (and I used to be one of them) get seduced into the petty, partisan bickering, and get distracted from real problems, and our priorities. Brainwashing is hard to undo. People join parties because they believe the there is power in numbers and the party fights for them. But, if the party doesn’t really fight for them, and is irresponsible, there is no power in numbers, there is only a bigger problem.

Voters must do their part too. That’s the hard part. Simple does not mean easy to do. For details, see this.

Education is the key, as it has been proven many times to be solution to numerous problems.

You and A.P. keep saying it is too simplistic.
What part is simplistic.
Voting out all irresponsible incumbents?
What’s wrong with that? Aren’t voters supposed to vote out irresponsible incumbents?

Or do you think voters will never vote out irresponsible incumbents?
Well, neither you nor I know that.
So, in the mean time, I will have hope, because doing nothing won’t accomplish anything.

Or, perhaps you believe, as some other rose-colored-glasses-wearing optimists here believe, that everything is going pretty well, the national debt is not too large, the war is going great, the politicians are only human and we should accept mediocrity, and what’s all the whining and complaining about ? No, I don’t think that’s your take on it. But, when you say it is too simple, I’d like to know what way would be better? Don’t you think education and grassroots organizations could help accomplish the simple (not necessarily easy to do) solution? If not, how then? How do we oust irresponsible incumbents? All march on D.C. , drag ‘em all into the street, and beat the crap out of ‘em? Hey, I’m all for that (just kidding). Seriously, what else is better than the one simple, common-sense, ethical, peaceful, non-partisan, inexpensive, responsible voting out irresponsible incumbents?

I think people will figure this out eventually.
Maybe not in my lifetime, but someday.

Unfortunately, the incumbents have many unfair advantages.

The newcomers to Congress need the voters’ help to overcome the irresponsible incumbents that always outnumber newcomers, and use temptation, pressure, and threat of loss of party support to accept the status quo, and prevent newcomers from passing any badly-needed, common-sense, no-brainer, responsible reforms.

Incumbents won’t allow newcomers to pass any common-sense reforms if they might reduce their power or the opportunites for self-gain.

That is why the system is dysfunctional.
Incumbents outnumber newcomers, and incumbents perpetuate the status quo.

And the sad part is that well-meaning newcomers lose hope to pass reforms, and finally accept the status quo, because they finally rationalize that the voters deserve what they get if they can’t ever do the one simple thing, the one thing they were supposed to be doing all along, to vote out (or recall) irresponsible incumbents, and help newcomers pass badly-needed, common-sense reforms that the incumbents will never pass.

Posted by: d.a.n at January 30, 2006 11:36 AM
Comment #118532

Interesting article in todays washinton post (1/30). Seems studies show racial bais against blacks is indicator of Republican voting. No surprise to me. Remember Bob Jones?

Posted by: Bill at January 30, 2006 2:33 PM
Comment #118658

Interesting article in todays washinton post (1/30). Seems studies show racial bais against blacks is indicator of Republican voting. No surprise to me. Remember Bob Jones?

====

Strom Thurmon
David Duke?

Posted by: sigh at January 31, 2006 12:12 PM
Comment #119497
You and A.P. keep saying it is too simplistic. What part is simplistic. Voting out all irresponsible incumbents?

Not all incumbents are irresponsible. I think it’s irresponsible to tell people to vote out all incumbents whether or not they’re any good.

If you really believe that’s a good idea, you would have voted for John Kerry.

I think the country would be better served if you and David started a campaign to educate voters on issues and candidates. Props to David for helping run this site. It’s a good start. Build on it.

Posted by: American Pundit at February 2, 2006 8:36 AM
Comment #119782

AP,
I’m only proposing people vote out irresponsible incumbents. Unfortunately, that would be most (if not all).

That is why no one can list 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, or even 268 (half of 535) in Congress that are responsible.
That’s because most (if not all) look the other way.
Most (if not all) troll for campaign money from their donors.
Most (if not all) won’t let newcomers pass badly-needed, common-sense reforms.

So, if there are so many responsible ones, who are they ?

Posted by: d.a.n at February 2, 2006 6:31 PM
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