The Corner

The Pop Psychology of the Punditariat

There is no end to the assertions that conservatives are motivated by bigotry; by, as President Obama said a tendency to “not think clearly when [they]’re scared”; or any number of other neuroses.  More and more liberal thinkers and leaders reduce conservative ideas to subconscious psychological fears and resentments, or clever disguises for group hatreds. New York Times columnist Charles Blow is one of the worst offenders  – he has almost entirely replaced reasoning about policies with speculations about motives. In other words, he’s substituted pop psychology for philosophy. My piece from Friday was about Charles Blow, and the harmful rhetorical trend of which he is at the vanguard. Here’s a taste:

Political psychology got its start with Theodore Adorno’s attempt to identify conservatives as a psychological type, as measured on his F-scale (F stands for fascist). Today, as his ideas have trickled down and pop psychology has caught on, we see the common conflation of “anti-illegal-immigration” and “anti-immigrant,” the belief that welfare reform was essentially anti-black, and the reduction of concerns about Islamism to a kind of phobia. Conservatives’ ostensible reasons and supporting facts are dismissed without consideration, because it is presumed that those reasons and facts aren’t what really motivate them. And when one lacks, in postmodern fashion, a belief that reasoning can lead to truth, questions of political motivation become preeminent. Conservative ideas are investigated as psychological phenomena — evaluated for the mental health or pathology they suggest — rather than as philosophical propositions — evaluated for the truth or falsehood they contain. The Left seems every day less concerned with substantive reasons for policies, and focuses more intellectual energy on trying to discover the invisible psychopathologies of its opponents.

When you combine the conceit that political ideas are merely manifestations of subconscious impulses with a habit of viewing people through racial and other group taxonomies, it’s easy to buy into Blow’s belief that Tea Partiers are so anti-government because of our president’s racial background. Indeed, given all that, it’s easy to understand how Blow’s columns have at times become streams of assertions about the revolting bigotry of Republicans and conservatives.

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