We are becoming a nation fractured…. (More)

“We don’t agree on everything, but we get along”

So declared a man quoted in the Third Way report on their “New Blue” tour of Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District, which concluded:

One person told us that, “Around here, some deals are still sealed with a handshake.” Hard work, community, and family – those are universal values in WI-3 and those are the values they see reflected in their local government.

Locals generally expressed a feeling that they were adapting to economic and social challenges due to the “the Midwest ‘don’t express emotions and work hard’ mentality” – not federal or state government.

“We have gotten away from [partisanship]. We don’t agree on everything, but we get along,” said one man of his hometown. 
“You suck it up, you work hard, and take care of your neighbors,” said one woman.

The positive changes occurring in WI-3, they believe, is evidence that people can in fact put differences aside to work together.

“The last election was really nasty, but on a local level where you know people, it goes away. We come together on projects and solve problems together,” said one man to nods of agreement around the table.

“Big government can learn a lot from small government,” said another.

That sounds oh-so-promising … and oh-so-not what The Atlantic’s Molly Ball saw as she followed along:

The trip was predicated on the optimistic notion that if Americans would only listen to each other, they would find more that united than divided them. This notion—the idea that, beyond our polarized politics, lies a middle, or third, path on which most can come together in agreement—is Third Way’s raison d’etre. It is premised on the idea that partisanship is bad, consensus is good, and that most Americans would like to meet in the middle.

But these are not uncontested assumptions. And, three days into their safari in flyover country, the researchers were hearing some things that disturbed them greatly—sentiments that threatened their beliefs to the very core.

The last focus group, a bunch of back-to-the-land organic farmers and artisanal small-businesspeople, was over, and the researchers had retreated to their car to debrief. There was a long pause after [Nancy] Hale turned off the tape recorder on which they were recording their impressions.

“I had a very hard time with that meeting,” she finally said. “The longer the meeting went on, the more it started to feel to me like just another community that had isolated itself, and it was right and everybody else wasn’t, you know?” The hippies should have been her kind of people, but the attitudes they’d expressed had offended her sense of the way America ought to be. She had come seeking mutual understanding, only to find that some people were not the least bit interested in meeting in the middle. And now she was at a crossroads: Would she have to revise her whole worldview to account for this troubling reality?

The solution was, as we see so often, to cherry-pick opinions that agreed with their preexisting beliefs … and disregard the conflicting evidence. Ball writes:

The report surprised me when I read it. Despite the great variety of views the researchers and I had heard on our tour, the report had somehow reached the conclusion that Wisconsinites wanted consensus, moderation, and pragmatism – just like Third Way. We had heard people blame each other for their own difficulties, take refuge in tribalism, and appeal to extremes. But the report mentioned little of that. Instead it described the prevailing attitude as “an intense work ethic that binds the community together and helps it adapt to change.”

This supposedly universal belief in the value of hard work was the researchers’ principal finding from their trip to Wisconsin. “It is their North Star, guiding their sense of what is right and wrong, inside and outside of WI-3,” the report states. In the face of challenges, from school budget cuts to factory closures, the community had responded “with a fierce work ethic and a no-nonsense attitude.”

We had certainly heard some of that, but it wasn’t all we heard. In many cases, the report presents only one side of an issue about which we’d heard varying views. For example, it quotes a local employer who sang the praises of automation, but none of the union members who worried about jobs disappearing. It quotes a technical-college instructor proclaiming that crises in the education system create opportunities, but none of the public-school teachers who saw their classrooms gutted by voucher programs.

And all of that conveniently elides the fact that Wisconsin’s Third District is 96.6% non-Hispanic white, while the U.S. is only about 61% non-Hispanic white. Hardly a representative sample on which to base a national party platform.

A new Pew Research survey suggests that Ball’s impressions were more accurate than Third Way’s conclusions:

In political values ranging from views of government and the social safety net to opinions about immigrants, race and homosexuality, Americans are less likely than in the past to hold a mix of conservative and liberal views. […]

Overall, 32% of Americans now take a roughly equal number of conservative and liberal positions on a scale based on 10 questions asked together in seven surveys since 1994. As recently as 2015, 38% had this mix of values – and 49% did so in 1994 and 2004.

Reflecting growing partisan gaps across most of the individual questions in the scale – even those where both parties have shifted in the same direction – Republicans and Democrats are now further apart ideologically than at any point in more than two decades.

Papering over those fractures with cherry-picked findings of “consensus” is case study in confirmation bias.

“Stephen is not a man”

Consider Olivia Campbell’s report at The Cut about a community program to address toxic masculinity:

For some time, Stephen Hicks had felt like something was off. “My relationship ended, then a lot of things started collapsing in front of me,” Hicks says. He began attending therapy, which made him realize that he needed to make a bigger change: “I wasn’t doing really terrible things, but I also wasn’t being the most ideal Stephen I could be,” he says. “The bar is really lowered for cisgender guys.”

So earlier this year, Hicks signed up for the pilot Rethink Masculinity class, a partnership between the Washington, D.C., Rape Crisis Center, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, and ReThink, an organization that works to prevent sexual assault.

The program bills itself as a class where men “learn how social constructs of masculinity harm them and the people around them, and work to construct healthier masculinities.” Or, as Hicks puts it, “It was eight weeks of guys discussing how they can address their actions with better self-awareness and less toxicity.”

“We spoke of emotional labor, consent, violence, communication, empathy, and vulnerability,” he adds, noting that the last subject, in particular, was a struggle for him: “[I was] trained and conditioned to be tough growing up.”

It’s important to note that this is a purely voluntary program for men who want improve their professional and personal relationships. The class curriculum is “intended to improve men’s understanding and practices of consent, emotional labor, workplace discrimination, intervention against gender-based violence, and more.”

So of course, men are furious:

frank.skidmore – I will consider this class…as soon as I finish the arrogant, hate mongering bitch class.

JeddMcHead – Stephen considers himself to be “cisgendered” and refers to himself in the third person.  Stephen isn’t suffering from “toxic masculinity” (or any other kind of masculinity, for that matter). Stephen is not a man.

geraldbrennan – There are no Men taking Toxic Masculinity Classes; there are surely some Males taking it, but no men. By definition.

Those are the first three reader comments at the article. A D.C.-area talk radio host said he’d explore the issue, but with more than a bit of frame-twisting: “Ladies, is masculinity toxic?”

If a report studied the effects of toxic water … would it make sense to ask listeners: “Is water toxic?”

Keep that frame-twist in mind …

“This is, for many, an absurdity to contemplate”

… as you read Ezra Klein’s essay on our rape culture at Vox:

Last week, the hashtag #MeToo took over social media. Virtually every woman I follow, on every social platform, no matter the industry or walk of life they came from, shared stories of harassment, abuse, and worse. I read searing tales from reporters and techies, chefs and yogis, civil servants and mountain climbers.

There is a pervasiveness to sexual assault in America that defies the word “problem.” When a system creates an outcome this consistently, this predictably, in this many different spaces, you have to at least consider the possibility that the outcome is intended, that the system is working as designed.

Perhaps we need to do more than try to root out the worst abusers. Perhaps we need to rethink our sexual culture too.

Klein then recounts the response to a previous essay on affirmative consent laws:

These laws try to impose a “yes means yes” standard on sexual relations. Did she consent to being kissed? To being touched? To being penetrated? Was she capable of consent – sober enough, conscious enough? If not, then it can be claimed as assault.

This is, for many, an absurdity to contemplate. Sex is too powerful, too primal, too uncertain to be chained to legalistic consent rules. What if she’s your wife? What if he’s your longtime boyfriend? What if you’re both so turned on that you can barely think, can barely talk, but everyone’s every movement is a yes unto itself?

But take a complex area of human relations that we really do take seriously: property rights. Here, too, we have a yes-means-yes standard, though we rarely call it that. The only way I can legally take something that belongs to you is if you explicitly give me permission. That’s true even if I’m just borrowing it, or even if I’m just testing to see if you’re willing to let me have it, or even if I really want it, or even if you’re too drunk to realize I took it.

Imagine a defense lawyer in an auto theft case cross-examining the victim: “Wouldn’t you agree that your car was very attractive? Why did you show off such an attractive car? How many cars have you driven? Did you lock the doors?”

Or a cross-examination in a home burglary: “You have a nice lawn. Nice shrubs and flower beds. Nice paint job. Doesn’t that advertise that you have nice things inside? Did you try to fight the burglar off? Did you even say ‘no?’ What do you mean you weren’t there? … Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, should we blame my client when the homeowner was clearly asking for it?”

No one would accept that ‘defense’ in an auto theft or burglary case. But when the crime is rape, the frame-twisting begins: She shouldn’t have worn that. She shouldn’t have gone to that bar or that party. She should have fought him off. And the same frame-twisting happens in sexual harassment: She shouldn’t have worn that. She shouldn’t have walked or stood or leaned or sat that way. She should have slapped him, or at least yelled “No!” right that instant….

Where, exactly, is the “middle ground” between “yes means yes” and “Why didn’t she try to fight him off?” or “Why didn’t she file a complaint when it happened?”

There are real fractures in our society and pretending they don’t exist – or pretending both sides are equally to blame and the best answer must lie in the middle – is an exercise in willful self-delusion.


Image Credits — U.S. Flag: Wikimedia; Cracked Rocks Gregory David Harrington (Wikipedia); Composition & Effects: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com)


Good day and good nuts