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Most Analysts Oversimplify, and Make Things Worse

The deep, nuanced, understanding of humanity exhibited by Rod Dreher in Sad Songs And The South is why I recoil against labels like populism or nationalism or authoritarianism to describe people who support Brexit and Trump.

Labels like those turn the rich, complex, caring, loving, suffering human beings described by Dreher, and by J. D. Vance in  Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, and by Alec MacGillis in Revenge of the Forgotten Class, into one dimensional monsters, stumbling around flyover country like zombies from The Walking Dead, mindlessly fixated on one thing, and one thing only. Those labels are gross oversimplifications that strip these people of their basic humanity and reduce them to caricatures of wickedness.

Labels like those are identity politics in a nutshell. By reducing people to one dimensional labels identity politics dehumanizes BOTH the people it purports to protect AND the people it purports to protect them from. It deprives sacralized victim groups of their agency and dignity and it attributes zombie-like subhuman heartless hate to everyone else.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Labels like populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism are dog-whistle code words used by the left to denote Nazis, Fascists, white supremacists, KKK, racists, bigots, right wingers, conservatives, etc. All of those words are, more often than not, used interchangeably to refer to the exact same single group of people. If you’re not on the left you’re a monster by definition.

Labeling like that has an additional nefarious effect. It stops curiosity and thoughtfulness dead in their tracks, and along with them the possibility of true understanding and empathy. Once we label people as populists or nationalists or authoritarians we think we know all we need to know about them (they’re monsters) and we need do no further investigation nor acquire any deeper understanding of who or what they actually are.  It thwarts the exact thing the left claims to want: empathy, tolerance, inclusiveness.

A small number of analyses (in addition to the analyses by Dreher, Vance, and MacGillis) buck this trend. What Makes People Vote Republican? and Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion HUMANIZE people. Those essays illustrate the rich complexity of human nature and the emergent moral intuitions that result. They look past the superficial labels and sincerely attempt to understand the real human beings behind them. They INCREASE empathy and understanding.

Would that Heterodox Academy took the same approach. Would that it spent a little less time on a WEIRD, dispassionate line-by-line analysis of the veracity of Damore’s Google memo and a little more time humanizing him and, importantly, why he was moved to write it; a little less time on the iceberg chunks that look like populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism and a little more time on the psychology behind why the Titanic of Western Culture hit it, causing them; more attention to the root causes of today’s issues and less attention to the reactions to them. 


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