Understanding the Tea Party III: A Response

This is part three in my ongoing attempt to understand the Tea Party's underlying motivations.

So, in the previous entry, I outlined what I felt were the four underlying causes for the Tea Party's stance on government:
  1. Constitution
  2. Capitalism
  3. Freedom of choice
  4. Private Industry over Public Works
So, here we have rational ground upon which to have a discussion. (...because how do you respond to "Obama's plan is just like Hitler's!")

And here, in brief, are my feelings on the subjects:
  1. Constitution: Sorry, I only weakly support it. I agree that it was brilliant in its time, and it got us where we are today, and some of the underlying ideas still hold true. ...but I also believe in agility and adaptation, and I don't think a 250-year-old country can be run based on two pages of text which are outdated, particularly in light of what we understand about equality and social justice now. In fact, if I had my way, every law would have a sunset date established when it's signed. If it remains relevant, it will be re-enacted.
  2. Capitalism: Well, I'd be quick to agree that it was a great way to boost a country from obscurity to super-power, but I would just as quickly point out that it leads to corruption and pathological corporations and concentrated power. So, again, I only weakly support it. And I certainly support strong regulation. Super-strong, even. Left to their own devices, corporations are designed to act amorally, and thus must be restricted.
  3. Freedom of choice: well, this is a bit of a misnomer. I certainly believe in personal freedoms (and consequent responsibility). But in the context of mandatory health care, the argument strikes me as a little odd. ...I suppose if you prove that you'll be able to pay for your own medical expenses, I wouldn't argue against your freedom to pass on the plan, and I'd be amenable to some kind of partial kickback/tax-break for your doing so. Still, this seems like such a border case that I feel like we're wasting our breath. As for choosing where your taxes get allocated? ...Sorry, no, I don't believe you have that right. The whole point is to benefit the entire community, and your interests are necessarily biased. A brief lesson in cognitive bias will make that clear. This may seem like a personal burden to you, but that's the cost of a moral society that has the resources to help those less fortunate.
  4. Private Industry over Public Works: whoa, nelly! This is where our opinions part in irreconcilable ways. I whole-heartedly support the Commons. I believe in externalities. I believe that a nation of people should act toward unified goals. I believe in constant improvement of the system. And when you shout "that's communism!", I may just have to shrug and say "perhaps it shares some qualities." And when you shout "the scariest thing a person in need can hear is 'I am from the government, and I am here to help'", then that's where I say we need to improve the system, not disband it. I believe that the greatest accomplishments of mankind are collaborative, public works, not private industry. Art and Science, man. Art and Science! They are the pinnacle of human potential: our collective actualization. ...Now, clearly, industry fuels public works, and I'm cool with that. ...as long a industry behaves as morally as possible, and is continuously pushing itself to be "better", in a moral sense.
...So, it seems I disagree with the Tea Party on every subject I can cull from their torrid comments. My opinion of them has changed slightly, during this process: I feel like I understand their motivations a little better, and while I still see those motivations as greedy and a bit ego-centric, at least I feel my understanding improved.

That said, I probably went into this pre-judging them, and with more than a small dose of confirmation bias, so I'm not surprised that I come out the other side feeling equally "icky". So perhaps my sense of heightened compassion is bullshit. But I'm afraid I am too far along in my self-justification of liberal beliefs. I can't grant them any more clout without losing my ideals. I'm afraid I disagree fundamentally. A society should be more about morality than "earning"... and I'm too jaded to move away from that opinion, despite its flaws. (...and I recognize at least some of my belief's flaws!)

Overall, though, I can't help but feel this exercise was worthwhile. But that's likely just a kind of "post-purchase rationalization!"

On the subject of cognitive dissonance, however, I must admit I still have some serious dissonance. I have friends and family who believe the Tea Party line. I want to continue to believe that they are good people, but I have to wrestle with my underlying assumption that their beliefs are rooted in greed.

I'm still not sure how to resolve that. So, to that end, I'm no better off than when I began. [sigh]


Victor said...

Andy Sullivan has an interesting explanation from his readers: their hatred of Obama is a form of projection.

Essentially, the argument is that one way to deal with cognitive dissonance is to have a sort of psychological scapegoat, a person or an entity you endow with the qualities you fear the most. Then you can believe that you are right and pure, and that person or entity becomes the scapegoat -- in the original religious sense, as an entity upon which they foist their sins, the repository of their "shadow" side.

So the real issue here, in this interpretation, is not that "tea partiers" really believe the things they say, but that they are very vested in seeing themselves as "moral" and "good", and for that purpose project upon Obama anything they perceive as vile and evil.

Which is to say, their apparent position is just a result of psychological bifurcation of the ideological space into "good" (them and whatever defines "their", i.e. "good", beliefs) and "evil" (Obama, liberals, and anyone who supports them).

Dig down, and you will probably find that they don't really believe all those things on their side of the bifurcation; but the very process of this "shadow projection" requires the world to be split into black and white. This bifurcation, which entails condemning or praising the things they wouldn't condemn or praise without the psychological pressure of cognitive dissonance, is the price they pay for the illusion of righteousness.

Jeremy Rice said...

Were we (liberals) doing the same thing with Bush?

Victor said...

Where we? I never thought Bush wholly evil. For example I always thought that it was quite clear that, despite his politics, he was not personally racist or homophobic. Furthermore, I saw that attitude quite commonly on the left.

For that matter, I never thought Cheney to be an evil monster either.

I can't really tell how "activist left" was, because as you know, politically I am a bit of a mixed bag, and never really identified with the hard left thing, for all that I sympathize with many of their goals. I am the wrong person to ask.

I surely was wrong about some things re Bush, and right about others, but that's not the yardstick to judge the "we liberals" by.