Am I a nutjob?

Consider the following thought experiment:  Everyone in the world is given a detailed ideological survey covering multiple dimensions with multiple measures.  Now assume a really good metric for calculating “ideological nearness.”  This metric is used to put people into groups of 100 who have very similar ideological views—political soul mates, if you will.

Would you like the people in your group?

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a web page that appeared to be a coalition of Tea Party groups.  The page I was looking at had a statement of principles—things like limited government, accountability, strict adherence to the Constitution, etc.—that I mostly agreed with.  But for some reason I felt that I wouldn’t really enjoy hanging out with a random sample of people who shared those views.

I also find that there are people who frequently scare me with the words that come out of their mouths, even when they are words I might say myself (though I think my tone and delivery would be much different, and tone might be more important politically than substance).  Similarly, I’ve always really liked Barak Obama, though I really detest many of his policy positions and almost all the positions of his vile political party.   Still, I’d much rather hang with Barak than with George W., who usually made me want to stick my head in a meat grinder every time he opened his mouth.

So, I’m wondering if this makes me a nutjob.    Many of the people who say things I believe are definitely nutjobs, and they scare me.  Demagogues like Glenn Beck scare me.  I saw a relative of my wife on TV when the Tea Party tour came through town a few weeks ago.  She is a wonderfuI person who I like a lot, but now she scares me, too.  This makes me wonder if maybe I should be scared of myself.

Obviously many people would respond that my politics aren’t nutty, it is just that I’m a snob.  There is some truth to this.  Even though I grew up in a very politically conservative culture, I was raised by educated, relatively liberal parents and went to an elite graduate school.  I like to associate with thoughtful, intelligent people, even those I disagree with.  Indeed, a shared ideological perspective is seldom an important criterion in pursuing friendships, though certain morally repugnant views can turn me off.

I’ve always hated the ignorance and racism of some on the Right, just as I’ve hated their indifference to the condition of the world’s poor and oppressed.   I tend to dislike people who lack the capacity to see the world from the perspective of their opponents, who demonize people who don’t share their values,  who are ignorant of the limitations in human understanding, who lack the capacity to forgive people for their human failings, or who are oblivious to any kind of nuance in political argument.  These kinds of people are found in all ideological groupings, of course, but for some reason I think there would be quite a few of them in my group of 100.

I like to think that my political views are a result of careful consideration of alternatives and rest on a solid moral foundation.  But maybe I’m just a nutjob.

11 thoughts on “Am I a nutjob?

  1. Sven, I just don’t have the heart to respond to the title of your post. But I do have two comments:

    1. First, I don’t think there is any ideological survey (especially one that requires explicit statements of commitments and beliefs) that could come close to indexing the array of things we take into account when we judge whether we like somebody else’s company. I think the things we respond to way outrun our capacity to render them conscious and explicit (even more so to do so accurately!).

    2. The divide between commitments and who you feel comfortable around explains something about political parties, I think. It’s obvious that you can’t look for any degree of consistency or principle in the major parties, yet people strongly identify with their party commitments. I think a good part of that is explained by exactly the phenomenon you pick out here. I’ve heard it said that the people in the party you identify with are, roughly, people you’d most like to go out drinking with, or the like, and that seems to be to a good extent true. That would help to explain their cohesion and durability when pretty obviously beliefs and commitments cannot do so.

  2. Sven,
    I share your sense of alienation with respect to the lack of attractive political parties and associations. The Right and the Left seem to have entrenched positions based solely on protecting their base and attacking their counterparts’ base. Similarly, both established parties have a stake in de-legitimizing third-party movements and candidates. I don’t believe that you are a nutjob — but, the current political situation is truly nutty. Nonetheless, the need for a new political alignment seems clear. I don’t know how it will happen; but, I believe that it will because it must. At some point the independents will find a worthy champion. In the meantime, I wouldn’t be too put-off by the media circus — just remember who is putting on the show.

  3. No Sven, I don’t think your are a nutjob. The thought you express in the following sentence is probably true for 99.99% of everyone who takes the time to think about politics, including yours truly.

    “I like to think that my political views are a result of careful consideration of alternatives and rest on a solid moral foundation. But maybe I’m just be a nutjob.”

  4. My next door neighbors on both sides are family people with kids and pets like I am, and I like them, and we watch out for each other. But they are leftists with Obama signs in their yards and other pervese evidences of their political views. It is politics that separates us, not the civil society which we share. The Leviathan State turns neighbors into enemies all over the world.

  5. Bill –

    Is it the state that turns you into enemies or the state that keeps your value disagreements from turning bloody – or worse (a war of all against all)? You’ve stated that you have fundamentally different views about political philosophy and the demands of justice. So, without the state, isn’t it possible that one of you would try to force your views onto the other by the barrel of the gun? Isn’t that what anarchy gets you? Why do you assume that absent the state your basic value conflicts would be resolved? Of course, the state will help determine who wins – especially if one of you can capture it. But at least politics as war by other means gives you a fighting (pun intended) chance of avoiding politics by other means (war).

    Now maybe you would argue that this is bad thing since it means that the frog can be slowly boiled rather than allowing the frog to stand up and fight because it knows it must (it isn’t lulled to sleep by the seeming peacefulness of a lot of state coercion).

    Or maybe you would argue that absent the state, you and your neighbors would resolve those differences in a more beneficial fashion that the zero-sum game of politics.

    But I think you need to clearly tease out how the basic conflicts are going to get resolved once the state disappears. And a lot of this is going to be contextually determined — in Yugoslavia, when the Leviathan disappeared, the neighbors slaughtered each other and wished the state would return. In Minnesota, maybe the withering of the state wouldn’t end up so bad. But give me an argument here, Bill.

  6. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to live near a lot of the libertarians of the world. But I certainly would love to live in a country/state made up with 51% of them, in a town with some of them (namely virtue libertarians), and in a neighborhood with my fellow bloggers.

    But that just goes to show you that libertarianism is merely a theory of politics (and shouldn’t/doesn’t pretend to be anything more) and not enough to determine lots of meaningful questions about life. That is why we need thick theories of ethics, parenting, aesthetics, etc to go with our theory of politics.

    And if libertarians have many of the values and ethical views I have, I usually get along with them really well even if we have many other differences — hello my wife, Sven, Marc, Jim, Jason, Marcus, and many other movement libertarians I’ve met.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t value and love/like people who don’t share our political views. That would make too much of politics by people who decry politics becoming part of every aspect of life!

    That being said, it does become hard to have a deep friendship or love for a person who veers too far away since it is hard to respect people who believe in a great deal of coercion. I’m too tired and lazy to look now, but I think David Bernstein at Volohk has written on this subject in relation to dating or love.

  7. I think emotional temperament is more important to getting along than aligned political philosophy, sports allegiances, etc. If they be equanimous I get along with borderline socialist and Boston Celtic fans more than the strident among my own ilk.

  8. What Grover said. Libertarianism is, practically, just a political strategy. There are several moral and ethical philosophies that can agree on libertarianism but come at it from even conflicting ideas. See the other article here on Rand vs. Friedman. But you should still sign up for the Free State Project, it gives as real a chance at the ideal as is likely possible this go-around.

    And, yeah, the GW Meatgrinder comment indicates some need for improvement in directing energies constructively.

  9. Well, gee whiz, Grover. I wasn’t writing a philospohical treatise or something on the history of the Balkans, but just making a simple statement of what seems to me to be near a self-evident truth: namely, that it is hard to get to really know or like someone who plans to use politics to take your money to spend on causes which you think to be immoral and unworkable.

    Parenthetically, the Yugoslav Leviathan hardly seems to be a model of good governance upon wghich to base an argument.

    1. Sorry Bill. And you’ll see by my second post last night that I agree with you about what you say here. Rereading my first comment, it sounds more hostile and less honestly inviting than I intended. But I am curious about your thoughts on those issues. How much government is too little – as we seem to know and agree on how much is too much?!

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