What we have here is a death spiral: the worse things get for the movement, the more scrupulously and cautiously it needs to behave, but the more incautiously and emotionally it becomes — leading to more failure and worse advocacy.
The root cause of all this remains, in VM’s opinion, a truly idiotic set of policy proposals that, no matter the state of the underlying science, simply cannot and will not be implemented.
Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make green. Just ask Peter Gleick.
To get back to the source material for Mead’s post, this phenomenon of conservatives/libertarians comprehending the left’s positions much better than vice versa is just a special case. Jonathan Haidt has an interesting piece in this month’s issue of Reason (not on line yet) on the consistent and persistent asymmetry of this miscomprehension, which is described in a review of his book at the New York Times:
The hardest part, Haidt finds, is getting liberals to open their minds. Anecdotally, he reports that when he talks about authority, loyalty and sanctity, many people in the audience spurn these ideas as the seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia. And in a survey of 2,000 Americans, Haidt found that self-described liberals, especially those who called themselves “very liberal,” were worse at predicting the moral judgments of moderates and conservatives than moderates and conservatives were at predicting the moral judgments of liberals. Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.
From the Reason article:
We asked more than 2,000 American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answer as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing peoples’ expectations about “typical” partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and right. Who was best able to pretend to be the other?
The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the study came when liberals answer care and fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with statements such as “one of the worst things one can do is to hurt a defenseless animal” or “justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality) and you listen to the Reagan narrative, what else could you think? Reagan seems completely unconcerned about the welfare of drug addicts, poor people and gay people. He is more interested in fighting wars and telling people how to run their sex lives.
If you don’t see that Reagan is pursuing positive values of loyalty, authority and sanctity, you almost have to conclude that Republican see no positive value in care and fairness. You might even go so far as Michael Feingold, theater critic for The Village Voice, when he wrote in 2004, “Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet…Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.” One of the [many] ironies in this quotation is that is shows the inability of a theater critic–who skillfully enters fantastical imaginary worlds for a living–to imagine that Republicans operate within a moral matrix that differs from his own.
Not also the leftist eliminationist rhetoric from the people who deign to lecture us, the great unwashed, about civility.
As I said, Gleick was just a special case of this broader problem. Many of the leftist warm mongers continue to fantasize that the faked Heartland document is real, while it was almost immediately obvious to those on the other side, even those sympathetic to the AGW thesis, like Megan McArdle, that it was faked, because no conservative would have written such a thing in such a way. Gleick wrote it that way, and his partners in fraud thought it perfectly plausible, exactly because they lack this ability to understand the motivations of their political opponents.
[Update a few minutes later]
Here’s another example of the new civility: Twitter explodes with Cheney hate after his heart transplant. Aren’t these people sweet? And more proof that they can’t imagine that Dick Cheney may not be evil.
[Early evening update]
First link fixed, thanks to the commenter who pointed it out.