To be clear, I don’t “hate sports.” I am as close to being utterly indifferent as possible, which is not hate or even distaste. I just don’t care. There’s no “you’re wrong if you like sports” message here. I actually find it hard to pinpoint one thing I hate absolutely, though perhaps “misogynistic gangsta rap that glorifies materialism and violence” might come close, and that is possibly because I have yet to hear more than one or two examples of the genre I didn’t dislike.
(PC LOAD LETTER!)
Even so, I don’t “hate” it. I dislike much of what I have heard, and with some intensity. But, again, that’s an indication I am invested enough in the topic to work up a little grouchiness on the topic. Since I have a mostly negative opinion based on the few samples of the genre I have been exposed to, I’m not totally indifferent.
I am indifferent about sports. I don’t think people who enjoy sports are bad or wrong, I’m just not into it. A friend and I were discussing politics the other day, a subject about which we (mostly) agree. One of us (perhaps me, perhaps him), had just expressed frustration about the opposing political point of view and what a representative of said POV had said about a particular issue and we both promptly set about making the mistake of getting wound up about it and assuming that the people expressing that point of view — or worse, that the people who weren’t discussing or thinking about it at all — were just plain stupid. Admit it, you have done this. You may have even said it: “All [insert members of the political party you don’t agree with] are stupid!” You’re only human, right? Please note that this is a dangerous assumption, no matter what political views you espouse.
I caught us both starting to just dismiss the opposition as a bunch of idiots, and it shook me up. I took a moment to reflect about that. Normally, I don’t like to assume the worst of people. I don’t like to lump people together and say “all X are Y.” I don’t like to just assume that there is a monolithic group out there that collectively acts more like the Borg, a Hivemind, or Pod People rather than, as is true, that there is a group that is made up of real individuals who don’t all act in lock-step or agree on every single issue, and I might or might not have common interests or beliefs with some of them. Normally, I want to know why people I disagree with happen to think the way they do. So why was I dismissing an entire political party as being irredeemably “stupid”? I knew it wasn’t true! I have friends and family members who say they belong to the political party I do not agree with, and we coexist just fine, and not a single one of those people are actually unintelligent. So. What gives?
One thing that occurred to me is that some people just don’t really care about politics. Let’s get real: politics are complicated. They cover social issues, legal issues, and — though Separation of Church and State would seem to be a contraindication — religious issues. To be well-informed, you have to be willing to read information from a lot of different sources, which takes a commitment of time and energy that some people can’t (or don’t want to) make. I know conservative friends who will dismiss any information that is not endorsed by Fox News. I know liberal friends who would rather eat glass than listen to Glenn Beck. (Interestingly enough, liberals I know are apparently less likely to embrace any and all liberal spokespeople just because they happen to be liberal-leaning: for example, I know a lot of liberals who strongly dislike(d) Al Gore, Hillary Clinton or Michael Moore and criticize MSNBC. I know few — if any — conservatives who don’t claim they supported and agreed with the Presidents Bush or who don’t admire Ronald Reagan and quote Glenn Beck at least once. Or who don’t like Michael Savage. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or who refuse to watch FOX News. Which is a curiosity to me. But I digress.)
The thing is, sometimes you must read the opposing point(s) of view to understand an issue better. That way, when you disagree, you are disagreeing with what they actually said or did, and not what a source that supports your political views claims they said or did. This, my friends, if you are (wo)man enough to grin and bear it, can be very enlightening. At any rate, there are people who just don’t give a damn about politics, and they act a lot like people who just don’t give a damn about sports. “What!?” you say (while reading this article on a website that discusses politics a lot). “How can this be?”
Here’s where I apologize in advance for any egregious errors I make when discussing sports. Feel free to correct me in the comments section if you feel so inclined (and know that you’ll be outing yourself to the rest of us as A Person Who Cares A Lot About Sports, not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m admitting I don’t know much. It’s not a passion for me.
I have noticed something interesting. People who like sports typically really like sports. My brother is one of these people. If there is an activity which can, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a competitive sport, then he probably knows a lot of arcane data about it. People who like sports pay attention to which people play for which team. They know the coaches’ names and sometimes they know the referees’ names, too. They make a point to travel to see sports in action. (I would say that more people watch or actually attend sporting events than vote or actually go to (for example) Town Hall meetings or political rallies, but that is just a guess.) People who like sports understand the context when Dennis Rodman gets up, while accepting an award, and apologizes for past bad behavior and vows to be a better person. Non-sports people may not even know who Rodman is, or just know him as “that clown” who likes body art, hair dye and wearing dresses. There’s no context there for them, so the non-sports person shrugs and says, “That’s nice.” Or take the LeBron brouhaha. I’m a non-sports person. To me, it looks, from the outside, like LeBron dumped one team to accept a more lucrative offer from a competing team. This doesn’t bug me one bit. Isn’t that what all people do when they wish to advance in their career? They leave one job, which they may have liked perfectly well, to accept a better-paying job elsewhere and few people raise an eyebrow about it. A sports person, however, is going to have very strong opinions about LeBron’s decision. Here’s another example: not only was I not interested in the most recent Superbowl, I forgot what day it was going to air, and I am still not 100% sure who played. I don’t care if they won or lost. That was the motherloving Superbowl, people, which I am not unaware is a Very Big Effing Deal if you like sports (especially football). Are you having heart palpitations yet, sports-loving people?
I am vaguely aware of various stand-out athletes. Sometimes, such as when I play trivia games, I am shocked that some nugget of sports information has managed to filter its way into my sports-indifferent brain files. I’ve attended a few sports events (and was fairly knowledgeable about the Atlanta Braves during the mid-1990s, if I dare say so myself, though much of that knowledge is long gone…it has atrophied from disuse). I know that if you go to the University of Georgia, you better damn well support The Dawgs, or suffer the consequences. I could go on, but you get the idea.
It suddenly occurred to me that, for some people, politics are as interesting to them as sports are to me.
They know the names of the biggest players, and have a rough idea which “team” they belong to. They pick and choose favourites by relying upon occasionally very arbitrary and limited scraps of information. They hear a soundbite and it sounds good, and they don’t feel the need to go digging for context. (Likewise, I know that there’s a dude named Yao Ming. I know that he is very tall and, I presume, good at his job, but I have no clue what team he is on, or if they are doing well. I just don’t care. I’m satisfied that I can identify that particular tall dude if I have to.) Just as my friends and relatives who care passionately about and enjoy sports are probably disgusted by (or annoyed by) my lack of interest, I find myself equally upset with people who don’t give a shit about politics. (There is only one reason why I might have a “better” excuse to be upset: political issues have a habit of affecting us all, more or less, whether we pay attention to them or not. Conversely, whether a particular sports team wins or loses may be a big deal to fans, but even they have to admit that the outcome — unless they bet on it — is not going to really affect them on a personal or lasting basis. Beyond that, a passion for political information is probably just as unfathomable or boring or uninteresting to people who do not give a crap about politics (beyond the basic highlights and soundbites) as a passion for sports trivia and current events is to people who do not give a crap about sports.
There is a limited amount of free time and attention any one person can give to topics that go beyond the basics of survival. You have to worry about your family, your job (or lack thereof), your home (or lack thereof), your personal aches and pains, your health problems, and so on. The busier you are with family and work and personal concerns, and the more non-basic interests and hobbies you have competing for your attention, the less likely it is that you are going to have the interest — or free time — to really dig into politics. You might not even be bothered enough to go and vote (almost inconceivable to me, but when only about 30-40% of eligible US citizens actually bother to get to the polls, you have to face it that it is not inconceivable to a lot of other people, and, in fact, 60% of Americans are, in essence, saying they don’t give a shit about politics…or not enough of one to back up their political opinions by actually bothering to go and vote).
It is understandable that busy people with a less than passionate interest in politics are going to stick with one source of information even if it makes them misinformed, like Fox News (and please understand the difference between uninformed (which is knowing nothing about a particular subject) and misinformed (which means what you think you know or what you have been told is incorrect)), and/or pick a party and stick with it and reject the idea that maybe that party is working against their best interests (perhaps this is like being a life-long Red Socks fan before they won in 2004, because they were your team, and your dad’s dad’s dad’s team, or you are from Boston (or not) and, well, just because, and “Go Socks!”, et cetera. To repeat: I do not actually care one way or the other about the Red Socks, so don’t yell at me that I mentioned a team you happen to hate.)
There is a reason why political candidates do their best to cherry-pick the current hot-button topics before each election. A lot of people don’t care to really sit down and examine all the issues, because it is a daunting task. They let politicians set the talking points and then argue about them. I may be cynical, but I don’t see a lot of these so-called talking points being passionately discussed by non-politicians before they become political footballs to fight over. Oddly enough, when a politician is not railing about a particular issue, people find it simple enough to decide on a case-by-case basis what they think about something when it actually involves them personally. Talking points take issues that may or may not involve the majority of the public personally, and try to get people to care passionately about them, and, you have to admit, they often succeed. Who gave a shit about the Debt Ceiling before 2011? Be honest, now. It was always a non-issue that only very politically well-informed people even knew about.
Here’s the tricky part: You can’t force people to give a shit about politics, even though it is in their best interests to care.
Often, you can’t even convince conservatives / liberals to get their information from more than one source. Even more often than that, you can’t get some conservatives / liberals to consider the opposition’s POV. Most difficult of all? Getting someone with strongly-held beliefs to take the time to sit down and challenge them, one by one, and see if the party s/he supports is actually promoting ideas that s/he really (still) agrees with! They are, politically-speaking, Red Socks fans before 2004. They belong to a particular party, and it was their dad’s dad’s dad’s party, and that’s good enough. I don’t have to underscore the fact that many Americans do not really enjoy reading for pleasure, do I? Even fewer enjoy reading scholarly books once they don’t “have to” for school. That’s not fun. It takes concentration and comprehension. It takes time.
For what it is worth, when it comes to making my opinions known with the help of social media, I do read all the articles and links I post on my Facebook Wall or which I “retweet” on Twitter. I do not always agree with them (and usually explain why, if it is not obvious). Often I will sit down, when I have free time, and do a little research and explain why I disagree, or why I think something could be explained better, or why something doesn’t look entirely accurate to me. I realize that not everyone has the time or interest to do more than scan headlines, so I try to indicate when an article is a spoof or comedy piece so my more busy friends don’t get all freaked out by a sarcastic Borowitz Report, Daily Currant, Onion or Christwire joke article. I have the luxury of time because I read things very quickly and in the past couple of years, I have been a full-time student but also, sadly, un(der)employed so I have been blessed with some extra free time which I can choose to use to read about things that interest me; that is free time that other people might not have. I am choosing, right now, to focus a lot of my spare reading time on political topics both because it is an election year and also because there are a lot of social and economic issues that I am (I admit) pretty hot under the collar about right now.
I also want to hold people who agree with me politically to some high standards. A lot of online friends were OUTRAGED over a joke circulating about the Obamas (or Obama and Oprah, or Obama and Biden…I have, unfortunately, seen many if not all of the variations) that went something like this:
“Person 1 & Person 2 are on Air Force One. Person 1 says that throwing a $1000 bill (never mind that none are in circulation or easy to get or likely to be cashable at any normal bank) out the plane window would make one person very happy. Person 2 agrees, but says that throwing ten $100 bills out the window would make ten people happy. At this point, the flight attendant or pilot mutters that if s/he threw both 1 & 2 out the window, a large number of people (I’ve seen it as half the population of the US and as the entire population of the US) would be happy.”
It’s a mean-spirited joke, and it is certainly not exactly smart to tell jokes about causing harm to the President. You have to admit that throwing someone out of an airplane is likely to cause them harm or an irreversible case of, well, death. (The Secret Service does not have a great sense of humor, so you take your chances when exercising your rapier wit, First Amendment or not. You know how Suits are. They react first, and sort out what your rights are later, and that’s how it has been for a very long time. (I could get snarky here about The Patriot Act and other politically-expedient erosions of privacy / rights, but I will restrain myself.)) The problem here is that this exact same joke was told about Bush and Cheney in the 2000s, and a lot of liberals didn’t say boo about it. I’ve called a bunch of my liberal friends out about this, too. You can’t think it’s hilarious when it is directed at the guys you don’t agree with, and then get all butthurt and pouty when the exact same joke is told about “your” guys.
(CAVEAT: Both Bush and Obama have been Photoshopped into or compared to apes and monkeys, and people who supported Bush or support Obama don’t find it funny. It’s not cool in either case, but—and this is very important—I have to point out that it takes an especially nasty twist when the subject is African-American. I don’t care if you don’t think that’s fair, because the fact that using Photoshop to depict Obama as a chimpanzee will get you called, rightly, a racist is one of many unfortunate side-effects that happen after white folks oppress non-white folks for decades, when non-white folks are typically disadvantaged in a lot of areas when compared to white folks, and when there are still non-white people alive today who remember riding in the back of the bus or drinking from a separate fountain. You do not, if you happen to be a white person and if you happen to want to avoid being thought of as a racist or asshole (or asshole racist), compound an already sensitive social issue by turning a non-white person into a monkey when that was a well-known racist thing to do in the past and when it still is a racist thing to do today. So, yeah…that’s a trickier issue; one that is thornier and less clear-cut than a recycled joke. Ugh, politicians edited to resemble apes…how about not doing that to anyone anymore?)
What I am trying to say is that people get really emotionally invested in this politics stuff. (Just like people do with sports, though, aside from a dogpiling, deliberate cleating or kneecapping (Tonja Harding, I’m looking at you) now and then, and aside from rioting mobs of sports fans after games, no one has yet been actually assassinated over a sports game that I know of…though I bet a few umpires and referees kept a very low profile for a while after certain controversial calls (Russian Olympics judges, I am looking at you).) You can’t force people to care more, or educate those who have made up their minds and are satisfied with their choices and are rigid about them. You can post facts all day long, and those who do not care, won’t care…or they will say you are lying…or they will spread around only half of the truth because they were only told half-truths. It’s complicated…it is more “complicated” than a Facebook relationship option could ever be. Now, I don’t know enough about sports to say this is absolutely true, but I don’t think you can study the psychology of two different sets of sports fans (fans of opposing teams, for instance) and come up with drastically different mindsets.
Here’s where politics gets a little trickier than sports, and where we have to try to understand people who are just as passionate about politics as we are–but who support the opposing ideology.
People who tend to lean and vote conservative, and people who tend to lean and vote liberal have been studied and there are actual differences between them, psychologically, temperamentally, and, perhaps most interesting (and slightly frightening) of all, maybe there are even (tiny) little differences in the actual structure of their brains where conservatives may have a more developed amygdala (and “are more sensitive to fear”) and liberals may have a more developed anterior cingulate cortex (and “have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conﬂicts”). Of course, we have to be careful not to confuse correlation with causation…or vice versa.
Psychology Today says: “Most people are surprised to learn that there are real, stable differences in personality between conservatives and liberals—not just different views or values, but underlying differences in temperament. Psychologists John Jost of New York University, Dana Carney of Harvard, and Sam Gosling of the University of Texas have demonstrated that conservatives and liberals boast markedly different home and office decor. Liberals are messier than conservatives, their rooms have more clutter and more color, and they tend to have more travel documents, maps of other countries, and flags from around the world. Conservatives are neater, and their rooms are cleaner, better organized, more brightly lit, and more conventional. Liberals have more books, and their books cover a greater variety of topics. And that’s just a start. Multiple studies find that liberals are more optimistic. Conservatives are more likely to be religious. Liberals are more likely to like classical music and jazz, conservatives, country music. Liberals are more likely to enjoy abstract art. Conservative men are more likely than liberal men to prefer conventional forms of entertainment like TV and talk radio. Liberal men like romantic comedies more than conservative men. Liberal women are more likely than conservative women to enjoy books, poetry, writing in a diary, acting, and playing musical instruments.”
The Nature Neuroscience Journal says: “In a study likely to raise the hackles of some conservatives, scientists at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a specific region of the brain’s cortex is more sensitive in people who consider themselves liberals than in self-declared conservatives. The brain region in question helps people shift gears when their usual response would be inappropriate, supporting the notion that liberals are more flexible in their thinking. […] A review of that research published in 2003 found that conservatives tend to be more rigid and closed-minded, less tolerant of ambiguity and less open to new experiences. Some of the traits associated with conservatives in that review were decidedly unflattering, including fear, aggression and tolerance of inequality. That evoked outrage from conservative pundits. [… NYU psychologist David] Amodio said it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better than another. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said. Positions on specific issues are influenced by many factors, he noted.”
Slightly less fair (and definitely bound to annoy conservatives more) is the assertion that more intelligent people skew liberal politically. The counterpoint opinion (from a liberal, mind you) holds that “[t]he current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying almost exclusively on the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity foundations; conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all five foundations, including In-group loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. […] An unapologetic liberal atheist, Haidt has a remarkable ability to describe opposing viewpoints without condescension or distortion. He forcefully expresses his own political opinions but understands how they are informed by his underlying moral orientation. In an era where deadlocked debates so often end with a dismissive “you just don’t get it,” he gets it.”
Haidt identified five foundational moral impulses. Succinctly defined, they are:
• Harm/care. It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.
• Fairness/reciprocity. Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.
• In-group loyalty. People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.
• Authority/respect. People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.
• Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.
Haidt’s research reveals that liberals feel strongly about the first two dimensions — preventing harm and ensuring fairness — but often feel little, or even feel negatively, about the other three. Conservatives, on the other hand, are drawn to loyalty, authority and purity, which liberals tend to think of as backward or outdated. People on the right acknowledge the importance of harm prevention and fairness but not with quite the same energy or passion as those on the left.”
Dan McAdams at Northwestern University noted that “political conservatives operate out of a fear of chaos and absence of order while political liberals operate out of a fear of emptiness” and, when self-described devoutly religious people with either liberal or conservative political views were compared, it was their political views that had more impact on personality and their attitude about the world around them: “Political conservatives envision a world without God in which baser human impulses go unchecked, social institutions (marriage, government, family) fall apart and chaos ensues,” says McAdams. Liberals, on the other hand, envision a world without God as barren, lifeless, devoid of color and reasons to live. “Liberals see their faith as something that fills them up and, without it, they conjure up metaphors of emptiness, depletion and scarcity,” McAdams said. “While conservatives worry about societal collapse, liberals worry about a world without deep feelings and intense experiences.”
In a Seattle Times article on the same subject: “There are two cognitive styles — a liberal style and a conservative style,” said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni. […] Linda Skitka, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said it’s possible the liberals in the recent study appeared more flexible than the conservatives because the population was skewed. “We’re more likely to find extreme conservatives in the U.S. than extreme liberals,” she said.
The above quotes contain a lot of harsh medicine for both Liberals and Conservatives — and we need to be careful not to get confused when one study focuses on churchgoing religious people, one study focuses on structural differences in brains, and one study focuses on self-reported attitudes and moral beliefs, and so on — but the better we understand not only why the opposing political party “thinks” the way it does and accept that differences of opinion do not make other people automatically “bad” or “wrong” — and the better we understand our own personal gaps in understanding and our interpersonal and psychological strengths and weaknesses — the more likely it is that we can find common ground with people with whom we have political differences of opinion.
Remember, however, that some people just don’t care about politics. Some people care, but only enough to pick a party and stick with it, and not to examine why. Some people care, but only enough to pick and choose which soundbites and talking points they agree with most at any given time. Some people care, but only care strongly about a particular social issue or policy (such as pro-lifers, or people who want to legalize pot, or people who are angry about Monsanto and GMOs, or people who advocate for minorities or the disadvantaged or disabled), and will therefore vote for whichever politician seems to be most in line with their views about their pet topic, policy, or human rights issue. For those of us who do care about politics, who have the time to read and research extensively, who have the ability to step back — even if just a little — and attempt to be as objective and fair as possible, and who vote, a lack of interest in politics (or a clinging to misinformation or a lack of information, or a lack of intellectual curiosity or passion) is just as crazy and hard to believe as it is for a die-hard baseball fan who suddenly comes to the uncomfortable realization that no one but an equally passionate few care about The Designated Hitter Rule. If you surround yourself with dozens of equally passionate people who care about all the same things that you care about, you are likely to wind up surprised when you are confronted — outside the embrace of like-minded friends — with people who don’t even know what the hell the deal with your pet issue might be, and don’t care. No, they don’t want to watch a video about it. No, they don’t want your brochures. No, they aren’t going to click your website links. Almost inconceivable!
Ask any liberal how shocked they were when Bush 43 won…twice. Within the liberal monkeysphere it was inconceivable that this might happen. (Here is a humorous but informative run-down of what “monkeysphere” means — “Those who exist outside that core group of a few dozen people are not people to us. They’re sort of one-dimensional bit characters.” — from Cracked.) Outside the circle of (approximately 150 or so) like-minded liberal friends, things were a little more complicated. Liberals’ failure to look outside their personal monkeyspheres, then, is just as bad as conservatives who hunker down within the influence of FOX News and naught else and fail to do due diligence (like reading and informing themselves with sources other than Fox).
1. Not everyone even cares about politics.
2. Those that do care a little bit may pick a side (or a party) and just stop there, never questioning their choice.
3. Those that don’t stop there may not delve far afield from one source of information, which may have serious flaws (such as FOX News, which repeatedly gets criticized in studies for misinforming faithful viewers).
4. Those that draw from more than one source of information may refuse to read information that is known or suspected to have a political slant or bias opposite to that of their pet political party. (How many Liberals do you know who will willingly read a book by James Barton, Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity? How many Conservatives will read an Al Franken, Barbara Ehrenreich or Molly Ivins book?)
5. Those who are willing to read both sides’ points of view may still be filtering information through psychological / moral filters that are radically different from those of the opposing party.
6. It behooves us to expand our “monkeyspheres” to include other outside-of-personal-sphere monkeys, but it is equally difficult to do, given our limitations.
7. There will always be more people who care about, say, Shaquille O’ Neal than Bernie Sanders.