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September 2021

What George Will Said 

George Will is a respected columnist who was recently making the TV rounds to promote his new book American Happiness and Discontents. Mr. Will is a smart and well-educated guy with an impressive vocabulary. I thought truculence was an emergency vehicle with eighteen wheels. 

Like many recent books about our current political divide, Mr. Will disparages about the state we're in. These books raise a question. Why are knowledgeable people asking us to read stuff when they say they have no idea why these things are happening or what to do about it? They want us to know that they have no explanation for some peoples' thinking and actions. And no imaginable theory of mind for MAGA-ites or Q-anon followers. 

We should thank them for this useful and revealing input. When asked "What are these people thinking?", Mr. Will responds that he is not sure it is thinking. When asked, "Why do they do these things?", he answers "Because they are morons." 

Other pundits say the problem is that the common clay believe in mythologies based on faulty facts. And that the solution involves convincing folks with better facts that will force them to outgrow their mythologies. It seems like a hopeless ambition and it is, because the pundits want the clay people to think like academics and when they demonstrate that they cannot, the pundits enjoy calling them morons. 

All these erudite non-morons believe that their reasoning is fundamental to any human brain. They cannot imagine how anyone could be fundamentally different or hold on to traditional aspirations like making shit up. They are thus forced to believe that the other side of The Great Divide is filled with witless morons hell bent on the destruction of mankind. They all admit they're baffled as to how anyone can think like a MAGA-ites. That should be a clue and not a frustration.

Pundits would say that the MAGA-ites are wrong about democracy. I say they are not wrong and seeing why is a matter of doing the math. Falling short of the needed steps of reasoned scrutiny that reveal why democracy is a lovely idea should not be seen by the pundits as a rejection but rather as a blindness. Those who apply a limited scrutiny to politics or most anything are not rejecting applying further scrutiny. A runner who loses a race did not reject running faster. For some people, in a properly run and lovable liberal democracy, they are always losers. It is not the world that Nature built them to expect. All the natural human skills get devalued and replaced with an endless need for and exposure to heavy reasoning that they are not equipped to handle. Their capacity to self-sustain a narrative that could contain all the steps necessary for loving democracy falls short. 

This is a more useful and compassionate conclusion than calling folks stupid or morons. Instead, trying considering what a liberal democracy with rule of law looks like at a lower resolution of scrutiny. Listen to the MAGA-ites talk about democracy. At low levels of scrutiny, democracy is easy to cast as a contest of corruption or as an unrestrained crime wave of anarchy. Democracy must be confined to the boundaries of a religious institution of righteousness and not allowed to run amok with human whims. Take them at their word for they are telling the truth of their kind. 

Consider Robert Benchley's old gag. 

"There are two kinds of people: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don't."

Har har. In grappling with the subject of our political divide, today's most intellectual pundits are demonstrating an astonishing cognitive dissonance by repeatedly indicating that they take both positions. They insist there ought to be one kind of people while pointing out, over and over, that there are two kinds of people.

Some offer the amorphous admonition that we must somehow come together and unite as one. Then they insist that the problem with uniting as one is that there are two kinds of people. They observe that there are those who want democracy and those who don't. Then they describe what sort of people the don'ts must be in order to not want Democracy. Words like 'crazy' and 'morons' are heard. Some point out demographics of those with and without a higher education. They blame social media or vague and shapeless notions of "cycles of history". Some speak of hearts filled with hate as if hate is some sort of valve lubricant. It all comes off as, normal people want Democracy unless something within them has gone wrong. In their minds, the second kind of people are actually the first kind of people gone wrong.

Everyone, including the alt-right pundits, have cast us as two kinds of people- the ones on our side and the ones on the other side. Since no one on either side can find an actual context for dividing us that everyone can see, like a difference in internal organs, there is only the notion of normal and abnormal or pure and corrupted to be what cleaves us. People feel mortal dread when faced with even the prospect of having to live in a world as conceived by the other kind of people. 

There is an 'other-ness' that cannot be ignored even by those who would claim there is no good reason for it to exist. It is wishful thinking that denies the plain facts. It is normal for there to be two kinds of people. That is to say, two kinds of normal people. We don't differ in content. The difference is in process.

Humans possess an internal perception that allows us to scrutinize, examine and re-direct our thoughts. Education and lifestyle have an impact on its development. Individuals fall into two categories depending on how it is integrated into their daily habits. That determines how we organize our reasoning and sets a limit on our ability to scrutinize the world. 

Think of scrutiny as a brain task and imagine doing less of it. Don't think of more scrutinizing as 'smarter' and less scrutinizing as 'dumber'. Our intelligence is applied to each step or conclusion in a chain of logical scrutinizing. More scrutiny means more nuanced conclusions and less scrutiny means coarser conclusions and a reliance on taking things on authority. The chain is sustained by a facility that is shepherding our intelligence. It does not discern chains of dumbness from chains of smartness. Everyone has a limit to how far the chain can go, as well as some measurable amount of intelligence. 

One type of people or, Type A for short, rely on lower levels of scrutiny. Type A folks take a few steps and then differ to a chosen keeper of the remaining steps that has earned their loyalty. People who are maximal users and can apply a greater degree of scrutiny are the other type of people or, Type B for short. Type B folks tend to see things for themselves because they can handle the steps necessary to follow things to their conclusion.

Pundits need to discover the truth of their so-called enemies. Think a mile in their brains. The A's want to return to the normalcy that was experienced through most of the history of civilization. They want it because it is compatible with the operation of their minds. The A's would say "Sorry about all that lies and rough stuff but that's life in the big city. If you can't stand the hate, get out of the social order. Go back to the wild tundra you came from before I hurl more homilies at you." That policy worked for thousands of years. They are refusing to be led around by the nose by elites who are no longer normal. 

We ignore an inconvenient fact. The Type A's built the civilization that the B team wants to Build Back Better. The A team will pursue ways of recovering from having fallen from perfection and restoring greatness. Real Democracy only happens when there are enough B's in the populace to be a strong enough social force to dominate or at least out-shout the A's. 

The formula for an authoritarian state is always with us. Democracy smothers it on the way up and exposes it on the way down. In time, we will lose sight of the idea of Democracy. We'll be too busy finding our place in a contest of corruption that runs on loyalty and intimidation where a lack of scrutiny is rewarded. Avoiding an opportunity to scrutinize is a demonstration of loyalty. We'll be surrounded by things that are short and sweet and don't need much scrutiny. Our brains will become flabby. We'll struggle with just a few steps of reasoning. It will be all we can do to just look out for own. 

The really hard part is that folks will have to watch liberal democracy slip away as they descend from being Type B high scrutinizers into Type A low scrutinizers. Loss of patience, trouble keeping up… Who has the oomph these days to give anything its due attention? 

Defeat them? We will become them. Everyone wins because we will at last have come together and united as just one kind of people. 

Let's don some colorful pointy hats and raise a piece of burnt toast to democracy before we are all encased and preserved, in mid-freak out, in the rushing molten political lava.

up next- The Unhappy Truth