Talking Smack Vs. Inciting Hatred and Violence

Americans talk the smack better than any other culture on the planet. I think we invented it, patented it, and elevated it to an art form that transcends all race, ideology and social class boundaries. We see it clearly when pollsters ask voters of either party about their political enemies. The question becomes what happens when all these smack-talkers forget that it can be carried too far. I think we discovered that recently when James Jay Lee took over the Discovery Channel building and held hostages.

Unlike the pitiable Environmentalist Whack-Job James Jay Lee, people don’t really speak from their hearts on these surveys. They just slag down the people they would never consider voting for. The unspoken assumption is that it’s all just a game.

Sadly, in the case of James Jay Lee, we just met someone with very strong, opinions, and no particular understanding of a lot of the political speech around him. He really didn’t know that Al Gore, a father of four children and the owner of a palatial estate himself, was talking smack to the activists about overpopulation and resource overconsumption.

A recent Daily Kos Poll suggests those Right Wingers, the ones Kos doesn’t exactly send Christmas and Hanukah Cards every year, have bizarre and irrational beliefs. Can you imagine a Daily Kos poll getting that result? Did you know that President Obama was a secret Muslim? Or that 36% of those whack-job Republicans believed he was born abroad and not really a US citizen? Show us the birf-surtifikate, President ObaMao! But that just describes our side’s sick puppies.

In 2008, James Zogby discovered that Liberals were nearly twice as likely as Conservatives to believe they should have the right to succeed from the United States. It’s as if that whole State Contract vs State Compact Thingy was all just Bush’s fault! Perhaps the Democrats didn’t lose the last American Civil War badly enough….

No, the real truth here is that Zogby’s poll result is a predictable result of Liberal politics of racist pandering. The highest pro-succession results come from Black and Hispanic respondents who coincidentally tend to hold liberal beliefs. This skews the statistic for liberals and thereby produces the “gotcha” result that got Zogby all the web hits and blog citations. Zogby reports his racial crosstab below.

Broken down by race, the highest percentage agreeing with the right to secede was among Hispanics (43%) and African-Americans (40%). Among white respondents, 17% said states or regions should have the right to peaceably secede.

This result can be looked at in two ways. Russ Douthat describes it as a symbolic belief. People claim that George W. Bush either prefers LIHOP or MIHOP; and we’re not talking about pancakes. But they perhaps claim to hold this belief to make a political statement. Douthat describes these symbolic beliefs below.

For all but the hardest-core conspiracy theorizers, they may express what Sanchez calls “symbolic beliefs.” These are “propositions you profess publicly” but would never follow through on, because they’re adopted as a kind of political and cultural statement rather than out of deep conviction.

(HT: Russ Douthat).

Now I’m willing to concede that most Americans have stayed awake through enough US History to accurately understand how successful Pickett’s Charge was. Popular Mechanics Magazine has written the definitive smack-down of all stupid 9-11 Conspiracy theories. The Hawai’i an Certificate of Live Birth for Barack Obama states that his familial religion is Islam. It also offers evidence that he was born in the US and is constitutionally eligible to misrule the United States of America for yet another two years of ignominious and arrogant enstupidation. These are all three bodies of fact that are not in serious intellectual dispute.

So why do people still say these things? For the same reason that the chicken pooped after she crossed the road: to insult the other side. Everybody alive has probably called at least one individual with an IQ greater than 130 an idiot over some point of intellectual contention. People say things that they know well are not accurate about people for whom they bear great antipathy. Most of us get that and aren’t really aligning our beliefs to statements such as “There is no need for red-hot pokers – Hell is other people!”

Yet every so often, we get a Sirhan Sirhan or a James Jay Lee. We meet somebody who just doesn’t get Al Gore’s shtick. The leading Environmentalists repeat the discredited lies of Thomas Malthus or Paul Ehrlich who predicted mass starvation by the mid 1980’s if we didn’t quit procreating. The authors of these screeds usually assume that Earth has some fixed biotic carrying capacity for human population that in no way accounts for technological advances in medicine, food production, community planning or energy.

The ideas in Erlich’s work make a certain rudimentary sense if you only examine only a minimal data set. It’s the modern scientific equivalent of the Geo-Centric Theory. You can hand-pick data and torture the numbers until they support Malthusian Doctrine; but you can’t keep making chicken salad out of such an obviously wrong conclusion. We mostly all know this, – except for James Jay Lee.

Maybe what we all learned from the Discovery Channel debacle and James Jay Lee’s condign, yet untimely death, is that really funny jokes like George W. Bush committing LIHOP, or Barack Obama having a secret Kenyan Birth Certificate, aren’t particularly funny. It’s all fun and games until someone puts an eye out, or carries one of these mistaken beliefs so far that they strap explosives on and take hostages over a stupid, dishonest and wrong-headed ideological screed.

The aforementioned Sirhan Sirhan was a dedicated true-believer as well. That doesn’t make you feel any better in the morning if your last name happens to be Kennedy. One of these days the cute political conspiracy theories that we use to trump the bad guys could get an awful lot of us killed by someone who doesn’t understand it’s not serious.


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