Personal choice

Gary wrote:

The implication of this, when interpreted in light of your analysis, is that people with college degrees aren’t “real people” who "are the people who understand where meat comes from and where trash goes”, and are not " doers and makers of all stripes”.

That seems like a stretch. I don’t think that having a college degree makes you less real, or less inclined to do or make things.   I DO think that a degree puts you less on the economic edge--less vulnerable, on average, to factory and coal mine closings, etc. I believe that vulnerability is really the major factor, which educational attainment serves as a proxy for.

However, while education and/or economics seem to be the strongest determinants of who we voted for, ethnic background and race are also major factors. Blacks and hispanics tended toward Clinton; blacks overwhelmingly so. The only major group that voted strongly for Trump when education is removed from the analysis is whites. (Though that was only slightly the case for white women, who voted 52% for Trump.[2]) This would seem to conflict with such assertions as the election not being about race “at all”. While the election was probably primarily about economics, there is evidence that non-whites do feel disproportionately alienated by Trump. Talk about banning Muslims from entering the country, and how a judge with Mexican parentage wouldn’t be fair, would obviously fuel such concerns. For many people, the thought of friends being deported due to being undocumented immigrants is quite negative. So asserting that the election is "not about race, class, or ideology at all” seems to be pushing the point too far. It could be about all these things, to various degrees.

I’d be interested in any further comments you may have to help me understand your position better.

Thanks for your points, Gary. I have been thinking a lot about the responses I have gotten and what I believe to be the true divide in the country.

My point in my takedown of the New York Times piece is that I agree that the divide is along an identity line, but not one that has been clearly defined in the past. The old identity lines have fallen along obvious demographic identity lines: race, income, education level, religion, etc. The writer of the New York Times essay argued that the line is not an ideological line, and to the point that it does not fall along the antiquated and staid definitions of left/right, Democrat/Republican, and liberal/conservative, I tend to agree. But what eluded the writer and to some extent still eludes me is exactly what the divide is. I have a deep sense of the divide, but putting it into words and defining it outright has been the challenge.

After further contemplation I have started to become convinced that even trying to distinguish this as an identity versus ideological line, as the NYT writer was asserting, is problematic. Because our internal sense of identity is highly interwoven with our personal ideologies. If I identify myself as a Christian, that also says a lot about what I believe, although from my years of self-identifying with atheists and agnostics, I can tell you that it is deeply personal and is not so simple as what any other ‘Christian’ could tell you about my belief.

So too do my identities as ‘white’, ‘male’, ‘straight’, and ‘American’ transcend the simple boundaries which are proscribed by simple demographic categorizations of these boundaries. As I have written before about sexual identification and sexual desire, I think that we are coming to understand that all of these categories are not simple yes/no, true/false bipoles, but that they all exist on a spectrum of degrees.

“What?!?” the rational and inquisitive person may ask. “How can you say that none of these are dichotomies, when they clearly are?” I can understand the bewilderment that this supposition must cause in some quarters and the degree of confusion, uncertainty, and fear that it may cause as well. But for the sophisticated mind it is not that difficult to understand.

Race is one of the easier ones to clarify. As we all know there is no such simple thing as “black” versus “white” or any other racial identity that we may want to throw into the mix. We are all admixtures of different bits of DNA from many different races over the years. Currently there are a number of different companies offering the service of taking your blood and sorting out the varying genetic markers to give you more of a sense of exactly what racial components you contain. For a while the Food and Drug Administration even tried to stop these companies from doing this on the grounds that this information is too dangerous for people to have for themselves. But it is only dangerous to you if you have a self-interest in keeping people divided into nice little categories, which is what I argue that the left has been trying to do for decades. Because if you can keep people divided into categories, you can manipulate them by demagoguery, which our politicians have become experts at doing.

So too you may manipulate people by playing on their fears of the ‘other’ with sex, religion, and so forth. What has made the left so angry about Donald Trump is that he successfully engaged in demagoguery against them, and they do not like having the tables turned in that fashion. I am not a fan of these tactics, either, and in that way do not condone the manner in which Mr. Trump managed to win the election, although I do have to respect the audacity of the move.

If the divide in our country is not along a simple demographic identity, where does it lie? Here we run into the problem of trying to define a new line where a clear divide does not exist. I have come to believe that the line is in fact ideological, but is goes very deep into one’s core identity. In fact, the subject that I believe is the dividing issue has been a driving area of controversy throughout our popular culture for decades and sits right in front of our eyes. It has driven much of the Apple/PC debate and has been the major plot line of several recent movie franchises.

Before I spell out what the divide is I will tell you that this area of identity drives consumerism, marketing, and fundamentally defines who we are as Americans. It has led to conflict over national security and drives how you feel about Edward Snowden, immigration policy, and the government as a whole. And as with all of the other divides I have mentioned thus far it is not simple, clean, or dichotomous. It exists on a spectrum along with everything else, but defines who you are, where you live, what you eat, and what you do for a living.

Where the divide lies is along the spectrum of self-reliance, personal choice, and personal responsibility. Let me give a few examples of how this plays out in our daily lives.

I have always considered myself a self-reliant person. I feel that I am capable of making the choices that are right for myself, and I do not need a lot of help in running my day to day life. This leads to problems at times because I am often too stubborn to ask for directions or to ask for help finding something in the grocery store. I should be able to figure these things out for myself, and it is only beyond a certain point of difficulty that I want to burden someone else with the responsibility of solving my problem for me. Never mind that there are often plenty of people available and willing to help me with these problems, it is up for me to decide when and where I will take advantage of the help of other people.

If you want to sell me something that contains a lot of options, the biggest mistake you can make is to tell me that you have picked out a package for me, to save me the trouble of doing it myself. If you do not present me with the options and let me decide what is right, I will have little or no interest in the product. That does mean that I will make the wrong decision at times, and I will have to live with the consequences. I am happy to have guidance when I recognize that someone else has expertise that I do not have, but that guidance is accepted under the condition that I trust that the other person is acting in my best interest and not their own.

I am capable of maintaining my own yard – cutting the grass, edging, re-sodding, mulching, etc. In recent years the amount of time required versus the payback in doing my own yard-work has fallen below a certain threshold of worth, and I have started paying a service to maintain my yard for me. If I do not like the way they are doing something, I can always tell them and have them change it, and if they are not willing to do it the way that I want I can always hire another company to do it for me. Giving up the task of yard-work was tough for me because I have always taken personal pride in the appearance of my house, and I have high standards for what I think is a job well done. I have to admit, now, however, that the crew that comes and cleans up my yard does a damn good job, and I am glad that I can spend that time doing something more productive. It is an investment well spent.

I also am capable of fixing things around my house. Our old water heater was causing us problems, and I replaced the thermostat which was unreliable. Later one of the heating coils went bad, and it was only after much struggle to remove the coil which had rusted into place did I hire someone to replace the entire unit. After the unit was replaced the hot water was not to my satisfaction, but I went and adjusted the thermostat myself. After several iterations of this process the water in our house is perfect to my and my family’s satisfaction, but I can always change it again in the future if I like. Again, I get people to help me when the balance of expertise required, money and time to be spent, and the hassle of getting the help works out in my favor. This is self-reliance, personal choice, and personal freedom on display.

I am capable of replacing light bulbs in my house and have done so for years. I recently replaced the light bulb in my in-ground hot-tub as well, but only after having to order a replacement from China on the internet. Why did I have to get a light bulb from China? Because the government has decreed that because of ‘global-warming’, incandescent light bubs are no longer permitted to be manufactured and sold in this country. Never mind that the replacement bulbs do not provide the adequate number of lumens to light my tub, and never mind that incandescent bulbs have done a good job of providing light for people for over one hundred years, some people in Washington felt that it was their job to tell me what I can and cannot do to light my tub. So they removed the choice (or thought they did) and made it much more difficult for me to go about having things the way that I wanted them. In the end, I got my bulb from China, cheaply ordered over the internet and shipped directly to my home, and now happily the bulb is providing excellent, poor-efficiency light for me and my family. Who is being hurt by this? The people who used to work in the light bulb factory here in the U.S. have been hurt. People in Washington got rich from the lobbyists. People in corporate management at General Electric have gotten rich from making people pay a lot more money for more expensive, inferior replacements to incandescent lights. The American public has been hurt because they are having to pay more and their choice has been reduced. We will get to ‘global warming’ and the supposed benefits to the environment by removing the choice of incandescent bulbs in a bit, but for the moment we can all probably agree that this benefit is at least nebulous and intangible, if not dubious. The tea-party movement arose in large part due to this government overreaching, and the Republicans who were elected had an opportunity to repeal the light-bulb legislation, but they chose not to do so. Why? I can only speculate, but I have to believe that big-money interests won the day, and the Washington elitists (the bubble inhabitants, as I have postulated) did what was in their own self-interest at the expense of the common folk. This issue was one of many that combined to making the tea-party movement lose its steam but went on to contribute to the election of Mr. Trump.

“But, but…,” you protest, “what about global warming?” Here we have an issue that is divisive precisely because is goes against personal choice and self-reliance. And, I would argue, an orthodoxy that is so deeply ingrained in the left that they cannot see that it is not proven science, but more of a religion. Global warming is a proxy war for anti-capitalists. They have not been able to win out by convincing people that capitalism, or at least personal choice, is bad, so they have invented other ways of trying to convince people. And in many ways they have been successful. And how could they not be? After all, the global warming nonsense has been taught to generations of children as God-given truth. I can distinctly remember being taught in fourth and fifth grade science about greenhouse gases and the dangers of global warming – and that was thirty five years ago.

“How can you, as a scientist, not believe in global warming?” you may ask. “You are intelligent and thoughtful, and besides the science is settled.” Aha, you see, therein lies the problem. The science is not settled, as no true science ever is. There are hypotheses, there is weight of the evidence, but there is never settled science. But global warming never was and never will be science, it is ideology. It has become a religion in and of itself, all the easier to buy into for people who have forsaken a belief in God. I am a skeptic, and a thinker, and self-reliant, and until you can show me the weight of the evidence I am not willing to buy into your ‘truth’. The science of global warming is very shaky, and the ‘climate scientists’ who sell this malarkey are not exactly the cream of the crop when it comes to scientists. I should know. I was raised by intellectuals and have been taught in some of the best schools in the country. I am more capable and intelligent than most of the people who have taught me over the years, not that I do not appreciate their assistance in helping me become who I am. But you can not tell me that the ‘climate scientists’ have some insight into the world that I do not have, and that they have some special knowledge which eludes me.

What I can definitively tell you, and which if you take away your ideological defenses what I hope can can agree with me are these ‘truths’: 1) Many of the people who work in academia and specifically climatology have an ideological bent that is to the left of average and is overall more anti-capitalist and anti-American than average; 2) Many climatologists are dependent on government and academia for their incomes and their grant money, so they have a personal stake in what they say and what they believe; 3) Statistics can be used to manipulate data to show almost anything you want them to show (we will discuss this more later); 4) There is a lot of demagoguery and self interest in the politics of global warming; and 5) The raw data of climate science is a lot more problematic than most climatologists want to admit.

So while I will leave it out there for debate as to whether global warming is: 1) indeed happening (I would say probably yes); 2) due to human activity on the planet (I would say almost certainly in part); 3) something we can change by a change in governmental policies, specifically through enactment of laws in the United States alone (I would say almost certainly not; 4) something through which a lot of bubble inhabitants have become fabulously wealthy at the expense of the common folk (I would say demonstrably so); and finally 5) something to continue to debate about (I remain dubious), I will say that there are a lot of people who need to rethink their own personal stand on this issue.

Again, it all comes down to personal choice. And now that this is getting very long (many people probably said tl/dr long ago) I will leave it at that for the time being. More later.



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