Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Asking Why

In an article in The Economist on Dinesh D'Souza, the writer says that it's better to address ideas than motivation.

It's not entirely useless to investigate people's backgrounds as a way of understanding their thinking. Mr D'Souza has surely been shaped by the milieu he grew up in and the political ideology that structures it, and Barack Obama was clearly shaped by the experience of growing up partly abroad, with a mixed-race identity that had links to middle-class white America, to black America, and to Africa. I've certainly been shaped by growing up Jewish on the East Coast, Sarah Palin was shaped by growing up Christian in Idaho, and so forth. But I think we do better when we criticise people's ideas and programmes on their own terms, rather than seeking out mysterious causes in their childhoods. There's no need to search for abstruse reasons why an extreme movement conservative like Dinesh D'Souza might oppose raising taxes on the rich or defend privilege in access to education. And it's not surprising that a centrist liberal like Barack Obama thinks people earning more than $250,000 per year ought to be paying more taxes. In fact, that conviction is shared by a majority of the American electorate. If Mr D'Souza finds it bizarre, it's not Mr Obama who's out of touch with America.

We need to do both. I disagree that we should ignore psychological motivation in politics because we need an explanation for irrational acts. Facts and reason are usually ignored during decision-making. We have to understand and explain why so we can address irrational behavior.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree Susan. Its not an "either/or" its better, or worse, done. I got chastised over at Balloon Juice for pointing out, in comments, what was later pointed out in the Economist Blog which is that Dinesh D'Souza occupies a more overdetermined psycho/political role than Obama ever did. He comes from an upper caste/upper class minority (Catholic Portuguese/Indian Goans) who were converted from among the upper castes, who always rejected any kind of Catholic/Christian identity with lower castes, who moved to the US and aligned himself deliberately with the most white racist elements of his new aspirational upper class colleagues.

For bringing this up I was accused of "doing the same thing D'Souza does to Obama." But I'm not arguing, and one should not argue, that the problem with the D'Souza hatchet job on Obama is that it descends to racist psychobabble. Its that it flies in the face of everything we know about Obama personally, professionally, and politically.

In other words: it was badly done psychoanalysis.


Kia said...

It's one thing to examine Obama's or anyone's irrational motives; it's another thing to do it in an irrational and irrationally motivated way. It's stupid to think that attention to irrationality must necessarily itself be irrational.

Kathy said...

It would be very interesting indeed if a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist gave his or her viewpoint on why Obama behaves in the shocking way he does; how he may rationalize his increasing the Bush surveillance policies, not closing Gitmo, defending or protecting torturers, and so on.

Mr. Wonderful said...

Aimai nailed it. You can speculate on someone's psychology, and it's good clean fun (and more--I liked Justin Frank's Bush on the Couch).

But it has to square with what is objectively known about the person, both in their past and in their present behavior.

When all you're doing is providing a pseudo-"theoretical" scrim for covering ludicrous predictions, in the D'Souza/Gingrich mode, it's thoroughly intellectually dishonest.

What's weird is how blatant this all is. One knew that Newt was and is a shameless opportunist, but he also fancies himself--and not just pretend--an intellectual. The fact that he's spouting this bilge shows how degraded discourse on the right has become. He feels he has to be this extreme to make a dent in the consciousness of rubes whose sensibilities have deteriorated way beyond what they were in his heyday in the 90s.

Kathy said...

I think Newt fancies himself not only an intellectual, but a visionary

Smut Clyde said...

It would be very interesting indeed if a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist gave his or her viewpoint on why Obama behaves in the shocking way he does

Not possible while remaining within the profession's code of ethics. Perhaps you could ask Krauthammer.

Batocchio said...

Curse you, Blogger! Oh well, another try, just the big finale:

Bush the Younger made so many comments about his dad and measuring up to him, especially related to legacy, taxes and war, that it's hard to ignore. Obama I'm less clear on. There's one level where I really don't care – a crappy policy is a crappy policy, and should be opposed regardless. And Beltway journalism provides plenty of vapid psychobabble (Maureen Dowd's need for a strong daddy figure). But on another level, an on-target psychological take really explains some figures (as with Perlstein on Nixon and the orthogonians). Sometimes anthropology, psychology, history and the arts can tell us more about politics than a standard news piece might.

With D'Souza, there's the simple fact that the minority conservative hack gig pays well, but Johann Hari's piece on the National Review cruise remains a must read. The D'Souza bit is absolutely revealing, as is the Norman Podhoretz interview.

In one of their recent podcasts, Blue Gal and Driftglass mentioned this great observation by Hunter S. Thompson, writing about Nixon's death:

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism -- which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.