08 October 2021

Top-down vs bottom-up

There is, I believe, a fundamental error in the way many bloggers and media assess politics and social issues.  It's analogous to, but broader than, my earlier point about how culture influences and dominates politics rather than vice versa (see here and here and here for some examples).  Such commentators mostly have a "from the top down" vision of how things work, whereas a "from the bottom up" model more accurately reflects reality.

Here's an example.  It's a common belief among liberal bloggers that the disastrously-bad US response to the covid-19 pandemic is mostly due to Trump's incompetence and downplaying of the danger, which supposedly inspired the widespread denialism and resistance to masks and vaccines which we still see among the right-wing population, and that if Hillary or another Democrat had been president, things would have gone far better.  In fact, a better president would have made only a marginal difference.  The disdain for science and expertise (ultimately rooted in religion), the conspiratard mind-set that reflexively treats any new government mandate as "tyranny", the embrace of rejection of objective reality as a marker of right-wing tribal identity -- all these stupidities were deeply entrenched and festering on the right long before Trump became president.

That population's reaction to masks, vaccines, the seriousness of the pandemic, etc would have been roughly the same regardless of who was president -- indeed, with a hated Democrat in office, such responses would have been even more rigid and truculent.  Blue states would have been somewhat better off during 2020 with a more competent federal response, and the vaccine roll-out would have gone somewhat faster (though remember that the first vaccine wasn't even approved until November anyway), but the overall course of the disaster would still have been roughly similar.  The real problem is the "stupid one-third" of the US population, much more than quality of leadership.  It's a "from the bottom up" issue, not a "from the top down" one.

Another example is the baffling belief on the left that draconian gun-control laws, or even a mass confiscation edict, would be effective at curtailing the mass shootings and other gun crimes to which our society is prone.  The assumption seems to be that most citizens are basically automata who will operate in accordance with whatever programming Washington chooses to download into them.  In fact, guns are a deep-rooted and fundamental part of the very culture of vast areas of the US, and it's impossible to enforce a law in regions where most of the population, including most local police and other authority figures, vehemently rejects it as illegitimate.  We've already seen the emergence of the "sanctuary county" movement, in which many rural counties in blue states simply refuse to enforce state gun-control laws.  There is nothing much state governments can do about this, when the local sheriffs and elected officials are supporting and even leading the sanctuary movement.  The same was true of the earlier "sanctuary city" movement in which liberal cities refused to cooperate with federal efforts to round up and deport illegal aliens.

The most the would-be enforcers can do in such cases is to stage an occasional symbolic raid targeting some particular location with overwhelming force, which makes headlines for a day or two but leaves the general prevalence of guns (or illegal aliens) unaffected.  In the regions of the US where most of the guns are, any serious effort at enforcing more than cosmetic limitations of guns (or, Satan forbid, large-scale confiscation) would require an operation similar in scope and brutality to a full-on military occupation of an enemy country, and would probably lead to more bloodshed than the original 1861-1865 conflict.  Attempting such a thing would be madness.  Culture trumps political authority, and the direction of power cannot be reversed.

The media and the political blogosphere tend to focus heavily on the minutiae of political maneuverings in Washington.  These are not unimportant -- passing things like a minimum wage increase, Medicare expansion, etc would make a real difference to a lot of people -- but they are effects, not causes, and such an emphasis on them illuminates only the surface and not the depths.  Endless paragraphs are spent analyzing Manchin's latest remark, while strikes, mass demonstrations, the Great Resignation, etc are almost ignored.  I've seen very little effort to understand why so many more women and non-whites voted Republican in 2020 than in 2016, or why the gay movement gained acceptance so rapidly over the last twenty years, or why religion has declined so dramatically during the same period while the shrinking fundamentalist minority became even more militant, or why illegal immigration is such a concern to so much of the population (and no, bleating "racist racist racist" is not "understanding" what's going on).  These are the kinds of currents that drive politics -- that shape election results and thus, ultimately, legislation.  They are questions of culture -- of what the millions are actually thinking and feeling, not what the political leaders decide to tell them to do.  They require different modes of analysis than political issues do, and a longer-term view.  But they're far more fundamental questions.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

I disagree. Yes, the average 'conservative' American is indeed deeply racist and stupid, but the rabid MAGAt base followed their leader and drank the koolaid both because they're morons and because they worked as a mass of Ids. Having Agolf Twitler just insinuated that it was not a big deal to get a mask or a vaccine and having him acted before without fearing looking like a failure, we would not be so deep in death.
Same with guns. You are minimizing the effects of the entitlement and privilege in which Americans wallow on a daily basis and using a fish-eye lens to look at things.


08 October, 2021 03:25  
Anonymous Johnny Profane Âû said...

I agree with a great deal. Really nice.

By 21st Century America, corporations and their billionaires...

control what most people see, hear, touch, taste, smell, watch, read, learn, research, kill with...

Even what they use to get high. Blue pills AND red pills...

They control pop culture.

They control haute couture.

They control the narrative.

They are the puppet masters.

An old paranoid trope.

Truer than ever.

08 October, 2021 05:40  
Blogger Mike said...

Every time someone mentions illegal immigrants, I ask them the question, who is going to pick your vegetables? We need a system to handle immigrants that come here to do just that.

08 October, 2021 07:19  
Blogger Mary said...

I think you are correct. It would not have made a lot of difference. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to need group identity and group think and this causes conflicts that can and have lead to killings and wars. It’s an old story and perhaps a part of an evolutionary means to keep the numbers down.

08 October, 2021 10:38  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

Boy, the answer to that $64,000 question of "why" would go a long way toward understanding current affairs.

08 October, 2021 11:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: But the supporting evidence I cited is objectively true. The mental traits I cited on the right are verifiably real and were entrenched long before 2016, though they're getting steadily worse with time. Trump didn't cause these delusions, he succeeded by kowtowing to them and making himself the embodiment of them. If he had refused to kowtow to them, then to that extent, his base would have refused to follow him -- note how he was recently booed at one of his rallies for advocating vaccines, for example.

As for guns, again, their importance in red-American culture and the fierce resistance that any attempt at mass confiscation would evoke are verifiable facts. "Entitlement and privilege" is irrelevant to those facts. And it's the mainstream left which is using, not so much a fish-eye lens, but blinders. Most liberals refuse to read right-wing sites or blogs, limiting themselves to paraphrases by left-friendly sites, and thus deliberately keep themselves in ignorance of the enemy's culture and what they are really thinking.

08 October, 2021 13:46  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Johnny: Thanks. I'm hoping to get people to have a better understanding of how things really work.

The ultra-wealthy certainly do have too much power -- again, much of it in realms other than the political. I think, though, that we need to avoid thinking in terms of a small cabal of people controlling everything from behind the scenes -- the whole "puppet master and puppets" concept. That is another top-down model which treats the masses as passive objects of manipulation rather than active agents and drivers of events in their own right. And there have been plenty of cases where candidates spent far more money than their opponents and still lost -- see several Democratic senate candidates in 2020, for example.

08 October, 2021 13:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mike: The problem is that (a) the great majority of illegal aliens don't work in the agricultural sector, and (b) if the agricultural sector needs foreign labor, that needs to be handled via a legal mechanism, not by abandoning enforcement of immigration laws. A sovereign state is entitled to control immigration. That's part of the definition of a sovereign state.

Anyway, I think you are missing my point, which is that Democrats need to understand why increasing numbers of voters are concerned about illegal immigration, as opposed to lecturing them that they shouldn't be (or, as I said, calling them racist, which some of them are but many are not). If Democrats won't listen to their concerns, they will vote for those who do listen. This issue is already driving some groups of otherwise-reachable voters, including many Hispanics, toward voting Republican in places like Texas.

08 October, 2021 14:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: Thanks. It may be comforting to attribute every popular attitude we don't like to evil leaders or secret manipulators -- such attitudes would be easier to defeat if that were true. But culture is what it is, and most successful leaders succeed by harnessing and personifying its currents, not by creating them from scratch (which is impossible). As for group identity, I don't think any human society has ever existed without it, or ever can -- but the forms it takes are much more changeable, and at least some of our problems are rooted in other issues than group-think.

Ricko: The answers to those "why" questions at the end of the post are complex, multi-faceted, and debatable -- and, if we look at them honestly, will turn out not to fit anybody's preferred theories or narratives. I certainly don't claim to have the final answers to any of them. I'm just saying that these are the kinds of questions we need to be focusing on, rather than spending 95% of our analytical effort on political stuff which is really just surface effects of those kinds of deeper trends.

08 October, 2021 14:11  
Blogger Kwark said...

I agree with Sixpence Notthewiser up top! I don't think you can underestimate the huge influence of Agolf Twittler and his enablers on the right. Sure there would've been right wing resistance to masks but the huge bonfire of anti vaccine bullshit was stoked mostly by tRump.

08 October, 2021 17:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Kwark: Again, just look at the evidence. As for Trump, he's been pretty pro-vaccine overall. He pushed hard to get the vaccines approved as fast as possible and was furious when it didn't happen before the election, and he's tried to take credit for them ever since. Not respectful of the science, certainly, but hardly anti-vaccine. Again, at a recent rally he urged his followers to get vaccinated and they booed him. Suspicion of vaccines, expertise, and science generally was part of wingnut culture long before Trump ran for president. He contributed to it in minor ways, but he didn't create it. It was an existing cultural trait that he exploited.

09 October, 2021 00:35  

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