Friday, March 6, 2020

What Make Us Think What We Think?

We like to think our ideas and opinions are our own - something we thought up.  But the reality is, our experiences influence our opinions and actions.

Maybe it is the Asperger's syndrome several readers have diagnosed in me, but I hear everything which can be painful at times, particularly in groups.   But this also means, I try to listen to people I don't agree with.  It doesn't cost me anything, and sometimes it is enlightening - not only to learn their opinions on things, but how they came to have them.   Sometimes there is a triggering event in life, or their life situation that pushes them in a particular direction.
I thought this should be expounded upon.   It is interesting how some people are conservative and others liberal.  It is interesting how, over time, most people become more conservative, even if they don't admit to being so.   Today's social justice warrior is tomorrow's Wall Street Banker and Country Club Republican - maybe not all of them, of course, but some, at least.

I use the example of my one brother, who I characterize as a stinking communist hippie.  I sort of say that in jest for the purposes of humor - he really doesn't smell all that bad.   But the communist hippie part is accurate, or at least it was.    Today, he has a job and a nice car and a pension, and although we haven't talked politics as of late, I suspect his views are probably a little more conservative than they used to be - again, he would not admit to that.   When you are vested in the system, "don't rock the boat" becomes a new mantra.

But why did he go off to live on a commune when I went off to work for General Motors?   Why did he go radical left, while I was merely a centrist Democrat?   I think there are a lot of things at work here - your upbringing, the times, your social circle - your life experiences.

My brother is nearly a decade older than me, and he came of age in the swinging 1960's.   People think that was a fun time, and it was for a while - 1967, the "summer of love" when people discovered LSD, which was legal at the time, if you can believe that.  But by 1968, LSD was outlawed, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been assassinated, Apollo 1 burned on the pad, and riots broke out in the street.   College radicals proposed blowing up buildings - and did.  Charles Manson and other cultists did very evil things.  Human nature raised its ugly head, and the whole "Peace and Love" movement fell by the wayside as the communes closed, one by one.   Human beings, it seems, do not naturally want to share.

So in his era, it was trendy and popular to be radical.  His friends all were, even if they were at an elite boarding school, paid for by their parent's income from "the system".   It was fashionable to be radical - within the safe confines of prep school and college.  For most of these kids, it was just a styling - a political fashion - not a lifetime commitment.  His peers went off to college, and after that, most got jobs and settled down and became part of the system they railed against.  My brother went off to live on a commune - he took this shit seriously!

Another aspect of this could be family.  My Dad was very strict with my elder siblings, wanting them to succeed, as indeed, he was one generation removed from abject poverty.   His children's flirtations with radical politics and underachievement mystified him.  Success was a good thing, right?  What were these kids thinking?  (Well, they may have also been influenced by our Soviet friends at the time, who infiltrated many of these leftist groups - and continue to do so today).  So he got angry and alienated himself from their world, to a large extent.  The "success and happiness" that my parents' generation was selling looked an awful lot like misery and despair, wrapped in a cloak of fancy homes, cars, and cocktail parties.   My parents were not happy people - which made it hard to sell that lifestyle.

By the time I was born (being born last, rocks! - more on that, later) my parents had largely given up on parenting, given how their first three efforts were working out - three underachievers who seemed to reject most of that they tried to teach them.   So I was left alone, and didn't see the American way of life as that desperate or evil.

But there is another factor - inherent talents and interests.   I am an Engineer, and before that, a Technician.  I like to tinker with and take apart things.  I enjoy technology - even if it sometimes is frustrating, or in the wrong hands (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon) used for evil purposes.  So my interests lay in Science and Engineering.  My brothers and sister were more artistic - wanting to study literature, art, theater, and something called "communications" - the latter of which involves smoking an awful lot of marijuana, apparently.

So we each set off on our separate paths in life - based on our inherent tendencies, talents, and skills, as well as the influence of our parents, peers, school, and society.  And along the way, the experiences we had either validated our initial opinions or views, or altered them.  My brother liked to blather on about "the workers" and whatnot, which were theoretical beings he hadn't really ever met in person. Meanwhile, I'm working in factories as a worker and even a union member at one time, and seeing something different.  Apart from a few union agitators (who actually drank the Kool-Aid and don't understand the whole deal is just organized crime) most of "the workers" just wanted to keep the status quo, protect their fat paychecks, cut taxes, and yes, vote Republican.  Chairman Mao's little red book wasn't popular reading among the masses - but was, among the elite, college-educated liberals.

My experiences in these places forced me to re-think a lot of the leftist claptrap my family members imbued me with.   Remember that as the youngest, I looked up to my elder siblings as being bigger, stronger, smarter, and better than I was.  Could they be so wrong about everything?   I started to think so, when my life path took me to a steady job, a retirement plan, health insurance, and whatnot, while my siblings struggled.   When I was in law school, my parents were pleading with my elder brother to go - "We'll pay your way!" they said.  "Hey, I'm already in law school!" I retorted, but in my parents' view, that didn't count, for some reason.    I guess there is a lot more pressure in being "Number One Son" in a family.

Like I said, being born last, rocks.   Birth order, of course, is another factor - but then again, not a controlling one.  I had a friend who read some book about birth order and decided that their entire life was preordained by the order of their birth.  They were the "neglected middle child" they decided, and looked for every sign validating this theory.   I think it is a lot of hooey, though.   While these things are factors, they are not determinative.    Statistics do not outweigh free will.

What got me started on this was a conversation I had with the tree service people - yes, four more trees are ready to go.  A neighbor was having seven removed, and it seemed a lot easier to just cut these at the same time - while the crane was in the neighbor's back yard, not mine.  The tree company was a family-owned business, passed down from Father to Son, and they were born and raised in rural Georgia.   As you might expect, they were pretty conservative - yet accepting - people who were Trump supporters, but perhaps not fans.  Their world-view was shaped by being business owners, farmers, and workers, having to pay taxes and pay employees.   They were not unreasonable people - or evil, as some on the Left like to paint conservatives - or anyone who is from the South - but their views were shaped by their background and experiences.

And one of those was being an employer.   I said before that running your own business is a sure-fire way to turn into a Republican, if you are not careful.    Once you are a "businessman" you are expected to coddle your employees, who have all sorts of rights, while you have none.   If they don't work or even sabotage your business, you can't fire them for fear of a retaliatory lawsuit.  And even if they pull their weight, you still have to help fund their retirement, pay for their health insurance, pay their taxes, and so on and so forth.  Being an employer sucks, and unless you are making a ton of money at it, it ain't worth it - and many employers aren't making a ton of money at it - sometimes they are making less than the employees!

And we wonder why everyone is hiring "part time" workers or "contract employees" these days - hiring someone full-time is akin to marrying them, although you would never be sued for sexual harassment by your own spouse.  Or could you?

But the point is (once again, I digress) being an employer is one of those life experiences that changes your view of things.  When I was an employee, I though bosses were too strict and too stingy with raises and benefits.   I thought the company was making far more money that it was, and didn't realize how much even one employee, such as myself, cost the company.   Employees like to engage in poverty stories such as saying that such-and-such massive loss is a "write-off" to the company - as if they make money on losses somehow.  When you are an employee, it is all-too-easy to engage in weak thinking.  Kind of fun, actually.

Enter the echo chamber.   We may form opinions early in life based on our family, peer groups, and society's fashions.  Our opinions may be modified by subsequent experiences which do not jibe with our earlier preconceptions.  But they can also be bootstrapped, further and further into oblivion, through the echo chamber.   When people spend all their time with people who agree with them about everything, then their personal opinions will be strengthened and reinforced.  A leftist can turn to radical, when he spends time with nothing but leftists.  A rightist can turn into a Nazi, if left alone with nothing but fellow right-wingers.  And we are seeing this, today.

When my brother joined the commune, there wasn't a lot of original thinking going on there. The guru dictated what went on every day, after they rang the morning bell.  Since everyone there was left-wing, there was no serious discussion about issues - even though they were devoted to political theater.  There was no "equal time" for other views, and those who disagreed with them were caricatured as a bunch of intolerant Nazis.   Like I said, a bunch of stinking commie hippies!  Yes, the sarcasm light is lit.

Sadly, this seems to be the trend today - we all retreat to our little cubbyholes (welcome to mine!) and reinforce each others' views on things.   Dissent is shouted down, and dissenters are either "schooled" or leave to join other niche groups (where topic number one is bitching about the group they left).

So a kid in college decides to become "Vegan" because the other kids are doing it, it is a popular and trendy thing to do - not to mention a great way to get attention and alarm Mom and Dad.  They read nothing but Vegan books and periodicals, which make claims about health and the environment - some true, some idiotic - and before long, you are advocating for outlawing the dairy industry as if that was a thing that could happen. Yes, 330 million Americans are going to give up cheese, willingly, overnight, and all those farmers are going to raise soy milk, because you said so.

And therein lies the danger. You see, it progresses from having different opinions and views on things, to the idea that we should force others to accept our views.  In the echo chamber, there is right and wrong and no in-between. Shaming and Damning are the norm, and anyone who disagrees with the group-think is not only misinformed, but the enemy who must defeated, and ultimately, destroyed.

Lest you think I am picking on Vegans or the left in general, bear in mind this same thing is going on with the right.   Many on the right believe that until everyone becomes a Republican, there will be no progress in the world, and those who disagree with that should be locked up or told to leave the country - or worse.   Both left and right are drifting off towards fascism in this regard - the idea that there is only one correct way of doing things, and until the people with opposing views are completely crushed will anything get done.

This is how bad things happen, historically.  Very, very bad things.

Bernie Sanders is an example of this echo chamber thinking - my way or the highway.   People who point out that some ideas are impractical are shouted down.  No compromise!  Why compromise, when we can have paradise on Earth!

The problem with Sanders' view is that other people and institutions exist, and are not going to go quietly into the night. Obamacare was a compromise - a badly made one - but a compromise nevertheless. Obama realized that trying to outlaw the insurance companies would meet with resistance from said same companies, which were very well-funded.  You may decry this as crass politics, but it is realism.   And he got something accomplished where others, for decades, had no luck.

But rather than improve Obamacare, each side in this debate wants to abolish it.   Republicans want to get rid of it and replace it with nothing but useless "Trump Care" plans.  Leftists want to make "Medicare for all".   One is a bad idea, the other is impractical - impractical as is, "It ain't gonna happen" because of this little thing called Congress.

So, rather than try to achieve something we settle for nothing - but of course have the moral high ground, like our friend "Beto" who lost, but lost gloriously (aren't they supposed to fall on their sword at that point?  Just asking).  Failure is the new success, at least among the left.   And they believe this, despite the fact it is obvious tomfoolery, because they keep telling each other that a noble loss is better than a pragmatic win.   The echo chamber strikes again.

I am not sure where I am going with this, other than no one is every 100% right about anything (well, except me of course!) or 100% wrong (except you, of course!).   The idea of listening to both sides of an issue, understanding where they are coming from, and working out practical compromises and solutions isn't "giving up" it is good governance.

Hopefully, people will see this - after the disaster that has been the last four years.   Sadly, I suspect Colonel Sanders will not go quietly into the night, but once again sabotage the Democrat's chances, by pushing his radical agenda - and slapping the label of "socialist" on the party-he-refuses-to-join.

But maybe not.  I guess we will have to just stay tuned.