It’s a classic rhetorical trick to designate your opponents “sheep” who blindly follow orthodoxy or charismatic leadership, failing to think for themselves – implying that if they thought for themselves, they’d of course come around to your way of thinking. For the most part these are empty arguments, but we liberals persist in coming up with new ways to explain right-wing thinking along such lines.
The latest comes (via Truth-Out) from Joe Brewer at Cognitive Policy Works, where the About Us page makes no effort to hide the group’s agenda: “to bring powerful insights from the cognitive and behavioral sciences to practitioners working to deliver progressive social change all over the world.”
I love how that use of the word “practitioner” fuzzes the line between political activism and health care, subtly suggesting that “practitioners” (i.e. health care workers) should by their very nature be “working to deliver progressive social change” (my emphasis).
Perhaps ironically, the latest of these “powerful insights” derives from evolutionary theory, which certain benighted right-wingers persist in refusing to believe in – whereas anybody who calls him- or herself a “practitioner” is presumed to accept the overwhelming evidence for Darwin’s theory, and can thus take Brewer’s point to heart, which is this:
Conservatives have such a good record at winning political points and contests because they have a “top-down authoritarian worldview” reflecting the group-selection dynamic described in E.O. Wilson’s new book The Social Conquest of Earth. As Brewer sums it up, “When two groups compete, the one with the most social cohesion wins in the long run.” And as Wilson is an enormously respected (though serially controversial) biologist who for many years has been one of our very few modern-day public intellectuals, his imprimatur (whether he has offered it or not) means a lot.
Not surprisingly, though, in Wilson’s own latest statement in the public arena, an essay explaining “good and evil” and “sin and virtue” through the lens of his multilevel selection theory (which subsumes both group and individual selection), he makes no mention of progressive politics, liberals, conservatives, right or left wings – no wings at all, in fact, save those of the termites who, like us, have evolved caste systems as an expression of group selection.
Brewer may well be correct that liberals have a hard time banding together to strengthen their public policy arguments. “Progressives need to engage in a values-based strategy that builds trust across the issue silos,” he writes. “We need to focus on building communities of shared identity that bind us together.” But conservatives are pretty good at siloing themselves, too – libertarians, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, religious zealots, that lady in Asbury Park who doesn’t think people should be allowed to wear bathing suits on the boardwalk, and so on. And while it’s always easy to stereotype your opponents as groupthinkers, talk to an actual person on the other side and you’ll generally find somewhat just as thoughtfully opinionated as you. Believe it or not.