Monday, May 05, 2014

The Self-Reinforcing Conspiracy Theory

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first—verdict afterwards.’

This excellent piece from Ezra Klein's VOX got me thinking. What is it about Benghazi that has Republicans so obsessed? Does the time they've spent digging make them more certain there is something there? Did they begin digging with a certainty in their heads?

Fitting our conclusions to our preconceptions is bad philosophy. It’s illogical. It’s what made Galileo recant his discovery about the solar system. It’s stupid. But that is the guiding principle of modern Republican thought. Eisenhower, TR, Lincoln, every admired Republican in the party’s long history would be embarrassed. The leaders of the party should be ashamed of where it’s got to.

There seems to be a greater habit among Republicans to fit conclusions to preconceived ideas, to shape policy around an unproven belief system. To take one example, denying science while at the same time criticizing the public education system for the way our students are failing at science. (Bill Moyers takes a look at this tendency towards stupidity.)

Republicans seek government office, run for it, or buy it, and then they use it to make government stop working. Why? Is it because they believe government is automatically and a priori bad? Do they believe this so much they have to make it true? What does it mean when they spend their lives in government trying to make it fail? (New Yorker piece: the Republican War on Competence.)

Why do Republicans oppose everything Obama does, even when he proposes a health care reform their own Heritage Foundation devised? You reach the unavoidable conclusion that it’s because Obama is black. They cannot bear it that a black Democrat is so much more intelligent and capable than their hapless George W. Bush was. White superiority has become an unspoken but deep principle among Republicans. It’s their secret handshake. It too is a preconceived notion that doesn’t fit with reality.

Or is this a preconceived notion? Here are some statistics about it from Nate Silver's 538 blog. Unsurprisingly the racial bias is higher among white Republicans than white Dems, but not that much more. How much information is suppressed in these answers? Which group is more likely to hide its “inappropriate opinions” in a public forum? Which party is likelier to act on inappropriate opinions in concert with their like-minded friends?

Or is that just a conspiracy theory of mine?

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