I read some very good pieces recently about the senselessness of Beltway pundit kabuki. Alex Parenee puts it well:
When it comes to centrist pundits, the unsophisticated brainwashing technique that has utterly failed to move the public at large over the last 25 years has worked perfectly. (Because centrist pundits are simple, credulous people, by and large, and also because they will not rely on “entitlements” to survive, when they retire from their very well-compensated jobs.)
The truth is you’d have to be the worst kind of rube to have ever believed for a second that you could trust a bunch of millionaires opiners, most with no accreditation or accomplishment, to inform you about complex issues affecting the well-being of the middle-class. Likewise, the wonder with the Catholic church isn’t that people are now leaving it in droves but that anyone ever trusted the institution in the first place.
Here’s a question, maybe unanswerable: have people always, throughout history, put unthinking, stupid faith in institutions that were obviously screwing them or is contemporary American gullibility a product of 60 years of relative (and certainly precedented) prosperity?
Once when I visited some church in Italy, my mom said “it’s amazing the faith the artists must have had to create these religious masterpieces”. I’d like to think that they were just trying to get paid, I guess.
Yeah, at the time most of them were created, the church was one of the major sources of cash for art.
Damn you, sir. You are too quick.
Yup. Yet another edition of Simple Answers To Simple Questions.
There was recently a New York Times piece about a semi-famous UNC professor who got arrested for drug smuggling because he wanted to believe that there was a czech supermodel waiting for him in Bolivia asking him to carry a strange suitcase even though his friends and common sense told him otherwise. I think the “magical thinking” is similar- There’s a ton of negative consequences if you’re wrong and everything’s awesome if you’re right, so why not believe you’re right up to the point everything falls apart?
Look at how long the Monarchy/Nobility/Clergy trifecta was able to rule Europe with zero public opposition. We’re talking centuries and centuries and centuries.
@cckids: After reading “The Pillars of the Earth” I think the faith is not of the artists, but the people who will start a project that will not be finished for 100 years. I bet there are some famous cases where the church did not get finished, but still.
Yes, of course people have always been suckers. How could there be any doubt?
@Mojotron: “There’s a ton of negative consequences if you’re wrong and everything’s awesome if you’re right, so why not believe you’re right.”
Pascal’s wager, restated.
How dare you speak of my most precious oracles in such specious tones? Cokie Roberts will do a hit piece on you that will boil the blood of your ancestors, boy!
Unless Roger Ailes gets there first.
Everybody’s got planes to catch, and bills to pay.
White Trash Liberal
I like to sit back and remember that the cardinals are currently electing their next leader under a ceiling painted by a homosexual.
To try to answer you question more seriously, people by and large don’t move from something to nothing. They move from something to something else. The reason people maintain faith in corrupt or corrupted institutions is because the “something else” often isn’t viewed as a better alternative for those people or simply isn’t as well developed.
The only interesting question to me is whether it’s possible to break the cycle – by education, or whatever. A simple history lesson on the Gilded Age versus the postwar era should have been all it took for people to realize that Reagan and company were not only selling a shit sandwich, but a shit sandwich that had ALREADY been tried, so recently that many people still alive were old enough to remember it. The fact that they fell for it anyway seems to indicate that it’s difficult to impossible to prevent these lapses in judgment.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
Tweety was a masterpiece of willful befuddlement on the Catholic church today. He called for liberalization of the Church, married priests, women priests, acceptance of human sexuality, a reversal on birth control, facing up to the sex scandals, a return to the social activism of Dorothy Day and… Pope Timothy– actually, he said “Tim”– Dolan, the humble shepherd of the faithful, the money launderer of Milwaukee, which must have the finest cemeteries this side of the Taj Mahal, and volunteer speaker at the Republican National Convention.
as to centrist pundits, I tend to think their greatest influence is, unfortunately, with elected centrist Democrats, by which I mean most of them.
Judging by the Ziggurats, pyramids, and upright stones and all that we still find, I’d say the grift has been going on a long time. At least our sacrifice doesn’t involve Pete Peterson slashing a virgin’s throat on David Gregory’s show.
A majority of Americans may have resisted brainwashing on the individual policy questions, but they still vote in politicians who would destroy their preferred policies far more often than one would expect. So something is influencing American voters, or enough of them to alter election outcomes.
@flounder: Yet. There’s still time.
Only someone in the hard sciences could even ask this question.
Paging P.T. Barnum! Mr. Barnum to the operating room stat for a naievetectomy!
@Mojotron: I rad that too, but from the story that guy has near clinical levels of inability to cope with the social world. He sounds like he’s a very high functioning something on the autistic spectrum, rather than standard issue smug, comfortable, and far too self-satisfied.
But on the other topic, religion has forever been a wellspring of enlightenment, meaning and humility in people’s lives, as well as a convenient platform for wielding power. People are complex creatures.
Who is really able to say what goes through a pundit’s brain? Some, it’s the compensation they will get and what they plan to do with that moola. Some, well some I don’t think really have an original thought of their own but just parrot their elders.
Do I think they believe what they spew? Some do, some are just plain ole whores. You all know which is which.
I was about to say there are two kinds of people but I hate people who say that. Let’s just point to the obvious that the mind has a rational, curious inquiring side and an emotional, creative and irrational side. The two sides mostly work together more or less successfully in a lot of people but there are also a whole lot of people who are more unbalanced – for whom the tendency is for irrational, rigid and conformist beliefs. At the other extreme are the extreme rationalists who are overly rigidly systemic and have little social empathy. They are also dangerous. The Teatardists are the first lot. People like Ryan are just cynics that clumsily attempt to manipulate those people.
Yep. Everyone’s always a sucker forever, except for bloggers.
I took a lot of art history classes and, while this does nnot make me a expert, it did leave me with the impression that the art of the renaissance period was produced out of love of art and the need for money, with religion as an aside.
One of the patterns of history is revolution led by middle class intellectuals against the rich on behalf of the working poor, many of whom don’t see a need for a revolution.
Dude, the Beltway is such a mindfuck that even they don’t know which is which.
Dude, you just mentioned the church in like the last sentence. And the next one!
As per the RCC in the Renaissance (re your mom at the church), there was no plan “B”. Somebody had to give you answers and it’s not like they could switch on the tube and watch Myth Busters.
They believed because in the 14th century life was shitty, very, very shitty and the church as foul as it was gave them a story that was important for them to hear.
See The Great War for $800, Alex…
All that and more. How DARE DougJ question the insight of David Brooks into all problems affecting the middle class, and how those problems may be solved in the most morally uplifting and beneficial fashion? Lower class don’t count except insofar as Dave’s landscapers show up on time; this would be any family with a combined household income of less than $100,000 per year.
That’s what I truly loathe – er, love – about the Sunday morning whorefests. All this earnest opining on policies that directly affect the health and welfare of many millions of people, and not one of the human shaped piles of waste doing the opining with an annual income (at a semi-informed guess) of less than half a mil a year. Meaning that the “tough choices” and “painful austerity” so necessary (and good for us, leave us not forget) will have no impact on them whatsoever. They have no “skin in the game”, to use one of their much-beloved phrases – somehow I can’t see David Brooks or Cokie Roberts having to decide between buying coffee or paying for the monthly refill of blood pressure medication.
I blame Obama.
@Keith G: That was one of the big problems the Church had with the Reformation; it offered slightly different answers and claimed it wouldn’t be as foul. Monopolies hate competition.
John Adams once wrote Jefferson that homo sapiens was the wrong name for humankind, should be something more like homo gapens (or something, as if I knew any Latin). Anyway, should not be ‘wise hominid’, but rather ‘gaping hominid’, because many people loved to gape and wonder and put great faith in complicated doctrines and babble that they could not understand.
Edit: point being, it’s been going on for a long time.
Mike in NC
We learned on a vacation to Central Europe that people in the former East Germany, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary were very glad to be rid of Communism, and also just as glad to be rid of religion, as only the elderly went to church.
@Mike in NC: There is a beautiful church near the center of Maastricht that has been turned into a bookstore. One hopes this is a metaphor for something positive.
We think our individual minds are our own. Kinda like computers. But the programs/genetics came to us with lots of things that worked in previous generations that no longer serve today’s needs. Always doubt intuitions and emotions, they might not be ours.
Not really OT, but Jon Stewart just skewered the mindless idiocy of GOP budget priorities, which, inter alia, claims Head Start to be useless (really after decades of proof otherwise?) and that funds should be devoted to the military instead (of course). Anyway the said skewering was pointing out that the military says most potential applicants don’t qualify for the military because they are unqualified (by various standards). They said the biggest single difference would be early education, yeah Head Start. So, the GOP is not only terminally stupid but their policies are also undermining the defense of this country. Nooooooo!
@Omnes Omnibus: I just bought the audio edition of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and I am so loving the insight into the lives and times of Western Europe in the 14th Century. What a fucking brutal place/time. Yeah…they needed to believe in something, but they seemed to be in tune with the mess that comes with a powerful bureaucracy and accepted that as it came….and even the commoners were not above viciously killing a local prelate who got out of line.
Good book…..Read it!
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that whoever becomes pope isn’t going to reform shit. The most pressing concern in the world is still going to be birth control, all the corruption scandals will be swept under the rug, etc.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
That’s not fair. Birth control is only part of the broad program of sex policing and crotch sniffing that gets Red Beanie Brothers out of bed in the morning.
@Keith G: I got it as an X-mas present when I was twelve and have read and re-read it several times. One of the things I like are some of the little asides about the culture of the era, like the fact that children generally show up in literature as mainly victims of drownings, poisonings, or being dumped in the woods by the adults in their lives.
@Omnes Omnibus: Some things change, some things don’t.
Mike in NC
@mainmati: The trouble with having an “All Volunteer Force” is that something like 2/3 or more of young people of military age in the USA are ineligible to enter service due to mental problems, physical problems (mainly obesity and other health issues), or criminal records. I used to have to interview prospective Navy Reserve recruits and most of them couldn’t qualify.
Here’s a question, maybe unanswerable: have people always, throughout history, put unthinking, stupid faith in institutions that were obviously screwing them
Reporting from ancient Rome: yes, absolutely. Wars in particular often wouldn’t work without this, although you obviously want to spread the spoils around a little bit so everybody feels like there’s a little something in it for them beyond glory and a satisfied sense of patriotic duty, and God help your society if the soldiers start to perceive that they’re getting a shit deal.
It’d be “homo hians” probably; does that sound right?
I don’t know, Southerners were always pretty ignorant, but slavery was a might fine benefit for white folk.
Likewise, the wonder with the Catholic church isn’t that people are now leaving it in droves but that anyone ever trusted the institution in the first place.
Time was you could be tortured to death for not trusting it, and that kind of thing takes a while for a society to overcome.
Actually it wasn’t. The single biggest problem in the South is work is not valued. Work was something slaves did. The admired goal for the whites was to amass enough slaves to be able to live off their labor.
Fast Forward and today we can see the only — ONLY — major contribution the South has made to civilization is Jazz and southern whites had f–k all to do with that.
@Anoniminous: Why work when you can get someone else to do it, or get the federal gov’t to subsidize it?
Seems like they’re a lot smarter than you give them credit for.
While perhaps not precisely on point to DougJ’s question (not “unanswerable,” just impossible to summarize given the voluminous evidence), an immensely enjoyable book related to the subject is Charles MacKay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
First published in 1841 and still in print, the book is more anecdotal than scholarly on examples from the Middle Ages (witchcraft, the Crusades) to 18th-century land speculation. Well-worth seeking out, not least for its caustic appraisal of humankind’s penchant for folly and fable.
@Omnes Omnibus: Slaves invented pit-bbq, cowboys probably copied slow cooking from natives.
Only for the nobility that could actually afford slaves. Bunch of white people who went along with it didn’t get any tangible benefits out of it. I’ll put Southern slavery down as another instance of “why are you supporting these people again when they’re giving you nothing?”
See poor and middle-class Southern whites and slavery, ca. 1670 to 1870, followed by Jim Crow, ca. 1870 to today. More generally, poor and middle-class whites and white supremacy, which hurt and continues to hurt them in ways that still go largely unrecognized.
It was a benefit for a select few, a mixed blessing for some (if you got paid to be on the slave patrol by Planters), and undermined the economic security of most.
For example, Georgia actually began as the first colony to ban slavery; it was established by James Oglethorpe, an English parliamentarian and philanthropist, who specialized in prison reform and wanted to create a space for England’s “unfortunates” – mostly people who were repeatedly sent to debtor’s prison – to become yeoman farmers. Oglethorpe thought that slavery would interfere with that goal on both economic and military grounds (he feared slaves would flee to Spanish Florida and work with the Spanish to undermine the colony… it was the same reason why Catholicism was banned in Georgia).
Eventually the settlers rebelled against Oglethorpe’s plan, owing mostly to the heavy prevalence of slavery in the Carolinas and Georgians’ inability to compete in commercial agriculture because of it, and the ban on slavery was lifted. This didn’t help the majority of Georgia settlers, as they became economically sidelined as the colony was bought up by wealthy planters from South Carolina within a few decades of the ban being lifted.
Oh, my. Well timed and much more extensively well described than what I said.
Well, Elmer Gantry is about 80 years old, so the gullibility is older than you think.
Ted & Hellen
Hello: BJ Bots and the national Democratic Party.
The lack of self awareness in this post is hilarious.
It’s, well, complicated.
Another Halocene Human
@wonkie: One of the patterns of history is revolution led by middle class intellectuals against the rich on behalf of the working poor, many of whom don’t see a need for a revolution.
It’s not whether they see a need for revolution, it’s whether the calculus of revolution makes sense. Revolutions often don’t work out too good for the working poor, especially on the short term. But there have been plenty of moments where desperation or opportunity led to popular uprisings.
The upper class hasn’t forgotten. They’re almost perpetually afraid of the proles catching on and going homicidal.
People are complex creatures.
We really aren’t. Some try hard to convince others that they are but that’s not complexity, that’s bullshitting.
As someone once stated – Persons are smart, people are stupid.
Another Halocene Human
@jl: homo credens
Antebellum Southern whites were not as unified as might appear at first glance. There was definitely resentment among many poorer whites towards the planter class, but being poor and relatively isolated makes it hard to displace a class that pretty much controls everything in the society in which you live.
And they could take that resentment out on black folks, both during slavery and Jim Crow. The term “white trash” was actually coined by black slaves for poor whites who got a kick out of abusing black folks, especially if they got paid meager wages to do it.
And this is probably part of the reason why so many Southerns in the Appalachian upcountry – like eastern Tennessee and western Virginia, stayed loyal to the Union but became Lost Causers a generation later. Having very little slavery in those regions, poor whites didn’t have the same outlet; but once black folks started to migrate into those regions looking for jobs, those same whites suddenly discovered their Confederate sympathies.
The artists were, indeed, just trying to get paid.
The church, and the nobility, was the 1% of its day!! They were the people hiring artists. If you weren’t working for the church, you were working for the Medici’s, et al.
So, your options were 1) religious art, or 2) portraits of wealthy fuckers.
That’s the kind of world the Galitian Overlords would have us live in today. A tiny minority of insanely wealthy fuckers, and your only hope is to put on the kneepads and blow them.
False. Hundreds of major revolts by peasants and workers in early modern Europe (1350-1789).
Look up for starters: Wat Tyler revolt (1381); Ciompi revolution of Florence (1378); German Peasants’ War (1524-6)
I’m not sure how you get that from Alex Pareene’s quote. Alex’s position is that people aren’t putting unthinking, stupid faith into institutions that are obviously screwing them and that the only people who are doing anything like that are the millionaire pundits – who are part of the apparatus doing the screwing rather than the part being screwed.
So no, actually, I don’t thinking that people do generally put that kind of blind faith into institutions that are obviously screwing them. So long as they can see an alternative to the status quo that is better, people will struggle for it. And if the available alternatives to the status quo all seem substantially worse, then people will grumble about it but generally settle into protecting the system as the least worst option available.
(This is, in fact, the entire basis for the foundation of the modern welfare state. See Otto von Bismark introducing pensions, workman’s comp and medical insurance into the German economy because the Socialists were promising a class war now followed by a worker’s paradise in the future and he wanted to trade the class war for some mild support for workers while leaving the capitalists in charge in general. The Socialists hated him because of it too because they knew EXACTLY what the social calculus was and remains today.)
@PeakVT: seems ol Samuel knew what he was talking about
There are more fools than knaves in the world, else the knaves would not have enough to live upon.
Samuel Butler (1612–1680), British poet.
My understanding is that the resentment towards slave owners was mostly in the mountain states where slavery wasn’t as much a thing. I was thinking more of the regular white folk in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas where the plantation owners lived.
@catclub: Yes. Cologne Cathedral: Foundation laid 1248: Completed 1880; rebuilt after bomb damage: 1956. Also see “National Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul (Episcopalian)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Cathedral
As an RC who is probably about to leave the building (probably for the Episcopalians) there is another side to it from the founder JC down to the present.
Basically, until 17th century and the light arrived about scientific method (thank you Lord Bacon and Gallileo), magical thinking was how humans got through what Carl Sagan has called “a demon haunted world.” It provided legitimacy for, hence James I famous response to the Puritan demand for abolition if the epicopacy: “No Bishops, No King.” http://simple.wikiquote.org/wiki/James_I_of_England
People like a good con and a good story, especially when the reach a certain age and recognize that life has disappointed them and that the story does not have a happy ending for any of us. Hence the rush of so many unchurched boomers into the mega-Churches of the 1980s and 90s. Rep. (& Dr.)Paul Broun of Georgia is a great example of willfully making oneself stupid so he can create a “happy story” for himself. The famous speech he makes tells us that he once believed all those “scientific lies from the pit of hell” and now “knows” through “faith” that JC is his savior and the Earth and the whole Universe was created on 4004 BC.
All ideologies, including the Liberal one, are a bit of a con, one that keeps a society functioning. Which is why are elite’s current abuse of trust and lack of fiduciary care for the rest of us will likely end in tears.
Pundits = curia because centrism? Really? It would be easier to just write that you don’t like catholics or david brooks–an opinion you’re certainly entitled to have.
@wapsie: And the Gügler War, which wasn’t so much a revolt as a bunch of fed-up commoners getting together to thrash a band of marauding knights. I’m sure the knights thought they were revolting, though!
Not 60 years. This is just the pushback that started in the 70s against the organizing that happened in the 30s to the 60s.
A good book on this is, “Stayin’ Alive – the 1970s and the last days of the working class,” by Jefferson Cowie.
Capital always plays the long game.
Fear of being murdered because of heresy has a way of concentrating the mind.