Who are your people?

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was going to try and finish a post about opening versus not opening our economy in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. (NB: Is it Covid-19 or COVID-19? Your Maximum Leader thinks it should be in all caps, but he doesn’t want to hit and hold that shift or caps lock key. Lazy fingering.) But, he read David French’s column today and decided to write about it instead.

Many moons ago, when your Maximum Leader was in college, he was at a party. It wasn’t a college party with kegs, togas, and lots of grinding on a dance floor tacky with spilt beer. It was a real dinner party with grown adults. Men wore sports jackets and ties (at a minimum). Women wore dresses. Before dinner there were hors d’oeuvres on silver trays walked through the room by servers my age (my age back then anyway). There were cocktails with top shelf booze. Then for dinner you sat at a table where one needed to know which fork was for which course as well as which was a white wine glass and which a red wine glass. Your Maximum Leader was seated next to an aged lady from Richmond, VA. She had that wonderful Tidewater Virginia accent as she spoke. We engaged in friendly conversation through much of the dinner. At one point your Maximum Leader said something that made her laugh. When she stopped laughing she looked at him with a most serious expression and said, “You are such a delightful boy.” She continued, “I must know, who are your people?”

Your Maximum Leader must admit that he’d never been asked that question ever before. He stumbled for a moment and said, “My people? I’m an American from Virginia, like you ma’am.” Then she clarified, “No who are your people? Who are you descended from? I’m a Byrd myself.” Then your Maximum Leader got it. He replied that “his people” were nobodies from Scotland and England who settled in America like many others. (And didn’t move to Virginia until during/after World War II.) This disappointed her somewhat, but not enough to stop talking with him. It seems many in the room were descended from someone of note. (In case you were wondering, it was a dinner party for the Virginia Historical Society… About 1989 or so.)

That little anecdote came do him today when thinking about David French’s piece. French wasn’t writing about ancestry in general, though his ancestry is part of the essay. He was talking about tribes. Political tribes. Religious tribes. The confluence of the tribes of religion and politics. He was also writing about group think and confirmation bias. Here is a particularly salient bit when explaining “group polarization”:

The concept comes from a Cass Sunstein academic paper, published all the way back in 1999. Surveying the relevant social science, Sunstein said, “[I]n a striking empirical regularity, deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals who compose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own predeliberation judgments.”

In plain English, this means that when like-minded people gather, their views get more extreme. Our arguments reinforce one another to such an extent that the entire group will sometimes become more extreme than the most extreme person at the start of the deliberation. Think of it like this—when gun rights advocates (or gun control activists) gather, do they tend to leave the meeting doubting their positions or redoubled in their commitment to advocacy? How many people leave a good Bible study loving Jesus less?

It’s a nonpartisan, human phenomenon, and what’s so seductive about it is the fact that we can’t perceive the sheer tribalism because it’s accompanied by deliberation—by discussion and thought. We fool ourselves into believing our ideas or our intellects are in control when it is often our identity or our history.

This doesn’t mean that group deliberation is always wrong. A collection of abolitionists who met and grew in dedication to the abolitionist cause in Boston in 1860 were right. Unquestionably they were right. But what it does mean is that like-minded group deliberation is suspect, and it can be suspect even in a righteous cause. “The ends justifies the means” is a concept born in unanimity and fervor.

This passage, and French’s whole column actually, caused me to shiver. Shiver due to self-actualization. French writes about his Confederate ancestors taking up arms to defend slavery and he asks himself while he acknowledges the guilt he sometimes feels about his ancestry:

I don’t mean that in a guilty way, I’m somehow responsible for the actions of men who took up arms for an unjust cause more than a century before I was born. Instead, I mean that I’ve often asked myself, “What would I have done?”

Slavery was a monstrous evil. Yet generations of Americans grew up in communities that accepted it, defended it, and even celebrated it. How many abolitionist arguments did a child of the antebellum South ever hear? If they heard abolitionist arguments, did they hear them portrayed fairly, accurately, and sympathetically?

Putting aside the power of argument, did the witness of their own eyes and ears—the brutality that was plainly before them—provide them with sufficient cause to say, “No. I shall not defend such evil”?

That was the specific passage that caused your Maximum Leader to shiver. Often he finds himself asking silently, “what if things were different for me?” Your Maximum Leader recalls with vivid clarity the day he was sitting in a high school history class during a discussion of the Cold War (which was still ongoing at that point). Your Maximum Leader, a Reagan conservative then (and now he thinks - but then was actually during the Reagan Presidency), gave a rather rote recitation of why the USSR was in fact an “evil empire” and needed to be opposed. A dear and close friend, a friend then and now, made a glib remark that “Sure, you’re a good conservative here, but if you’d been born in the USSR you would be in the Young Communist League and be working to get your Order of Lenin before you graduate from college.” At the time the comment shocked your Maximum Leader. He actually took offense to it then. But even way back then (in 1986 or so) a seed was planted. Ever since then your Maximum Leader has taken more time than he cares to relate to you all wondering if his beliefs and biases are an accident of birth and the groups with which he affiliates himself, or if they are due to him actually reasoning out a belief system in which he actually believes.

If your Maximum Leader is being honest with you all, he feels about 60% of the time he has formed a belief system based on his reading, understanding, and assimilation of the ideas of numerous other smarter people than himself. But 40% of the time he does think it is all just an accident of birth.

So your Maximum Leader asks those of you who may still be reading (or may stumble across) this humble - and moribund - weblog to ask yourself this question, “Who are your people?” But don’t think about your ancestry, as Mrs. Byrd did. Think about the broader tribe to which you belong. Think long and hard about who are your people in life. With whom do you associate? Who do you follow on Twitter? Who are your Facebook friends? Who do you go out to lunch with? With whom do you really talk about meaningful things? Then think about what they might have in common and how that commonality is intensified in you. How that commonality is actually polarization causing you to be less open and responsive to others. Try to give “the other side” a kind thought, or at least an open-minded review, from time to time. We live in an age and time which is becoming more polarized. Your Maximum Leader is keenly aware to many those who don’t share their views are misguided, or wrong, or even evil and must be stopped. But consider their views openly, then examine your own with a jaundiced eye from time to time and be open to revelatory ideas.

Be aware of the tribe to which you belong, and recall David French’s words: “The tidal pull of tribalism should humble us all. For many of us, it renders our virtue an accident of history and birth. For others, it gives our sin and vice a terrible momentum that’s so very hard to reverse.” Try to be self-aware of your own sins and strive to overcome them.

Carry on.

PS: And speaking of who you follow on Twitter, follow your Maximum Leader.

PPS: And in case this was a little heavy, here is some related humorous perspective on this post.

Shadows

Josiah woke with a start. He rubbed his eyes and looked around, not fully remembering where he was. His mind started to put it all together: he was in his chair in the front room. His book was in his lap. The light on the table next to him should have been on. He must have turned it off as he fell asleep.

Realizing where he was, he looked out the window into the night. The moon was bright, but not full. The wind moved the trees and bushes and helped create sepia images of darkness and less darkness in the woods around the house. He’d stared out and let his mind make shapes for years.

As he watched the shadows change, he realized there was a large shadow moving oddly across the woods. He thought it was a bear. The base primordial areas of his brain were trying to fit a regular animal into the irregular shadow. Other primordial areas of his brain started to worry him. It was bigger than any bear he’d ever heard about. It was long. Its unusual movements didn’t seem like walking; it was undulating across his field of view. Then it stopped. The shadow seemed to grow longer, as if it were sprouting a new appendage. The appendage grew, and it crossed into the light of the moon. It was a sickly gray color in the half-light. The wrinkled, leathery skin seemed to have a sheen of mucus on its surface. By now, the appendage looked like the neck of some prehistoric dinosaur. The appendage turned towards Josiah’s house, and he could see the end of it. A few feet from the end of the trunk were three huge compound eyes that reflected the moonlight like some sort of prism. They shone with flashes of red, green, yellow, and blue. They unblinkingly looked in all directions, as though they were seeing everything in color, heat, and motion. Past the eyes towards the end of the massive stalk were many sphincter-like orifices that opened and closed. When they opened, a tassel of waving tentacles shot out of them and seemed to sample the air and ground as the neck moved. At the end of the trunk was a much larger round orifice surrounded by a thick lip that was studded with irregularly shaped teeth.

Josiah was frozen in his chair. He disbelieved what his eyes were seeing, but he could not blink or look away. He sat. Sweating. Panting. His fingers dug into the arms of the chair. He was filled with fear and panic, but immobilized by some primal instinct to remain perfectly still. The thing in the woods began to undulate again, slowly shambling off away from the house. The wind blew clouds across the moon, and the shadows devoured the thing in darkness.

Josiah’s wife found him the next morning. Catatonic in his chair. Alive but trapped in his body. She thought it was some sort of seizure or stroke and called for the rescue squad to come and take him to get professional care.

(Editing provided by my buddy, Kevin.)

Bleh.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader had three drafts of posts that he just can’t seem to finish. Two are fiction and the stories don’t go anywhere. The third one are more musings about the virus and the economy. He may try to finish that one off during the weekend.

But, he is writing this because it is just a shit week. Work hasn’t been bad. In fact, your Maximum Leader is glad to be occupied. But on so many other fronts it has been crap. Your Maximum Leader’s father has been in the hospital, home, then hospital, then rehab center, then hospital, now back at rehab center over the past two weeks. It is frustrating. Not as frustrating to him as to others actually. But it is not fun. Then a very close friend has broken his ankle and has to have emergency surgery tomorrow to insert screws into this ankle. He is panicking about the surgery. He is quite fearful of every aspect of the procedure. This too is not fun. And then there is the general stir-craziness going around the Villainschloss.

Your Maximum Leader would say that this would be a good weekend to get a haircut, go to confession, and then get to Mass on Saturday AND Sunday in the hopes that a little religion would help put him in a better frame of mind. But given the situation…

He might try to read some to distract himself.

Carry on.

    About Naked Villainy

    • maxldr

    Villainous
    Contacts

    • E-mail your villainous leader:
      "maxldr-blog"-at-yahoo-dot-com or
      "maximumleader"-at-nakedvillainy-dot-com

    • Follow us on Twitter:
      at-maximumleader

    • No really follow on
      Twitter. I tweet a lot.

Dispassionate Conservatism.

    Villainous Commerce

    Villainous Sponsors

      • Get your link here.

      Villainous Search