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Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

#181: Apr. - Jun. 2022 (Non-Fiction)
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Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Divided We Fall
Chapters 1 - 5
Please use this thread to discuss the above referenced chapters.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Interestingly, the original working title for this book was The Great American Divorce: Why Our Country is Coming Apart—And Why It Might Be for the Best. Saw this on Goodreads.

I'm not sure I would have picked up this book if that were still the title. How to Restore Our Nation (the book's actual subtitle) sounds more serious and more optimistic. Then again, we do realize the author is interested in selling books and perhaps he was trying to be controversial.

In the introduction French mentions a piece written by Sohrab Ahmari, called "Against David French-ism." I haven'tread it yet, but I plan to.

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusi ... french-ism
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Divided We Fall opens with a quote from the leading philosopher John Rawls, from his book Political Liberalism:
“How is it possible that there may exist over time a stable and just society of free and equal citizens profoundly divided by reasonable though incompatible religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines?

Rawls goes on to expand this by asking “Put another way: How is it possible that deeply opposed though reasonable comprehensive doctrines may live together and all affirm the political conception of a constitutional regime?” https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10 ... p.v9.28679

This question points to a major paradox of moral logic. A founding axiom of logic is that a statement cannot be true and false. If a society is divided by incompatible propositions, it follows that there is something illogical or unreasonable in the doctrines, that they cannot be reasonable, comprehensive and incompatible. The moral relativism that insists something can be true for me and false for you is not logical, as the truth of a proposition is independent of our sentiments about it.

The existence of seemingly incompatible rational beliefs illustrates a failure in philosophy, the inability to construct a coherent and systematic logic able to assess the truth of all claims.

The problem here is that life is too complex for thought to be systematic. Doctrines are not based mainly on evidence, important as that is. Rather, our views are based on our values, whose basis includes unconscious as well as conscious factors. The unconscious influences are by definition invisible to our immediate conscious awareness, but may be visible to others, or visible as a result of analysing the implications of our values.

Rawls’ discussion of how a stable and just society can be durable and free shows the intrinsic weakness of pluralism. If I hold a belief that is not compatible with your belief, I necessarily conclude, unless my belief is weak, that your belief is false and mine is true. This situation has a tendency to evolve into entrenched community differences, where people cannot imagine there is any truth in what other people say. Accepting pluralism has to involve cognitive dissonance, accepting that it is reasonable for people to hold false beliefs. That runs immediately against the observation that a false belief is by definition unreasonable, when confronted with evidence that proves it false.

People have to construct elaborate rationalisations of false beliefs, such as the apologetic arguments for religion. But religion is just one glaring example of the psychological power of mythology. The need for people to belong to a community requires a sacrifice of coherence, since criticism of the shared views of the community results in ostracism.

The Roman Empire solved the problem of incompatible beliefs by making Christianity compulsory as the state religion. The problem was that firmly held contradictions lead to civil conflict. Military security requires some level of shared beliefs in the society, The Roman construction of Christendom only lasted for a century or so until the Empire fell. We can equally ask today how the American Empire can be sustained while opposing factions regard each other as morally evil.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Robert Tulip wrote: Sun Apr 17, 2022 9:05 pmThis question points to a major paradox of moral logic. A founding axiom of logic is that a statement cannot be true and false. If a society is divided by incompatible propositions, it follows that there is something illogical or unreasonable in the doctrines, that they cannot be reasonable, comprehensive and incompatible. The moral relativism that insists something can be true for me and false for you is not logical, as the truth of a proposition is independent of our sentiments about it.
Seems like we have had this discussion before, but I don't think the dichotomy applies to moral values. Most moral values are, in some sense, held by everyone. But because we put different emphasis on the various values, we can come out very differently in our evaluation of, say, the legality of abortion, the desirability of a strong social safety net, and the importance of acting strongly to stop global warming.

The supposed logical issue can probably be resolved with a sort of utilitarian calculus, in which the evaluation of value propositions is not based on "True" or "False" classification, but rather is based on "better" or "worse" and by how much. People will disagree, but without "violating objective logic".

The "covariance" of evaluations by various interest groups remains a major political problem. In the most extreme case, the gain of one group is automatically the loss of another. Such a zero sum evaluation of, say, capital and labor, has often dominated political rhetoric. This leads to a "take no prisoners" approach to politics. But the emotion associated with these perspectives is clearly misplaced. In practice "win-win" is the nature of reality and the art of politics is in finding that Win-Win intersection of the two sets of priorities. The Whig view of economics, in which government attention to infrastructure, education and other social resources results in gains for all concerned, has long distinguished the Anglo-Saxon approach to political economy.
Robert Tulip wrote: Sun Apr 17, 2022 9:05 pmThe problem here is that life is too complex for thought to be systematic. Doctrines are not based mainly on evidence, important as that is. Rather, our views are based on our values, whose basis includes unconscious as well as conscious factors. The unconscious influences are by definition invisible to our immediate conscious awareness, but may be visible to others, or visible as a result of analysing the implications of our values.
Well, yes, that's a major problem. Currently U.S. politics, and that of many other places, is dominated by "grievance politics." In this paradigm, nearly everything is interpreted in terms of its effect on the prerogatives and self-image of groups, ethnic, sexual or geographic. The interpretation of, say, removing Confederate statues, is interpreted primarily in terms of whether it insults Whites or Blacks. Options for responding to "#MeToo" and toxic masculinity (both candidates in the last election had been credibly accused of assaulting women, for example) are interpreted as oppressing either women or men, depending on your interpretation.

The basis for grievance politics is, in my view, a press approach which seeks out "wedge issues" to generate division, because division sells ads. (Social media algorithms are even more extreme in this regard). So it is not enough to disagree or seek out evidence on controversies. Vilifying one side or the other is much more rewarding. And when issues are framed that way, then people's self-esteem begins to be zero sum. If you agree that Confederate statues are emblems of racism, then sectional loyalty which seems natural even to non-racists leads to you the accuser being necessarily classified as extreme and divisive, in order to avoid insulting the section being criticized. Any criticism of one group leads not to correction and the effort to do better, but to taking sides and attacking the other.

Current political analysis is noting that what works in politics these days is the choice of issues that will offend "the enemy." (Ukraine is baffling to those wedded to this approach, because it doesn't fit the zero-sum worldview). DeSantis seems to be making an art of this. Trump got more votes than any previous candidate in history, but "not Trump" got even more. Giving offense is more important than making sense or appealing to actual interest, because it pushes down the esteem status of the other side, and this automatically means a boost to those whose self-esteem (for political purposes) is anchored in their superiority over those with the "opposite" point of view.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Robert Tulip wrote: Sun Apr 17, 2022 9:05 pm The existence of seemingly incompatible rational beliefs illustrates a failure in philosophy, the inability to construct a coherent and systematic logic able to assess the truth of all claims.
I don’t think logic strictly applies to John Rawls. Political philosophy is concerned with government, its public agents and institutions and the relationships between them. Human affairs are by definition very messy, emotional, not logical.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Harry Marks wrote: Sun Apr 17, 2022 10:35 pmGiving offense is more important than making sense or appealing to actual interest, because it pushes down the esteem status of the other side, and this automatically means a boost to those whose self-esteem (for political purposes) is anchored in their superiority over those with the "opposite" point of view.
Hopefully enough of us will want to try to get along for the greater good. Indeed, it reassures me that David French, a conservative Christian, argues for pluralism and liberalism. That definitely runs counter to the current Trump party populism. I’d like to think that members of both parties can get behind French’s appeal to remain faithful to the intent of the Constitution.
“David French” wrote:]I believe both tribes can and must rediscover a sense of shared community and shared citizenship. But I don’t think it’s inevitable that they will. Simply put, we now face a renewed threat to our national unity. We’re stumbling into the very state of being that James Madison addressed in Federalist No. 10: the “violence of faction.”
I didn’t realize the U.S. president “functionally possesses executive, legislative, and judicial power to a degree that would shock the drafters of the U.S. Constitution.” French will argue that this increased power, relevant to the other two branches of government, is not good for the American people.

I know things are bad right now. But we’ve experienced much greater existential threats in our history, particularly the events leading up to the Civil War. And so I’m not sure how seriously to take French’s warning of disunion and secession. On the other hand, if we stop caring about the Constitution, what else is there to hold us together?
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

The conversation is about the toppling of totems. The question is... which totems are toppled? and why?.
There seems to be a struggle with the definition of what is sacred, again...totems.
I guess with this in regard, I get and agree with the notion of tribalism, but the idea seems so stone aged that attempting to shift the paradigm results in this zero sum stalemate that permeates the modern community, which seems an age old dilemma.
Opposing forces hammering away at each other...somethings got to give.
The community suffers the indifference of individual demand.

In thinking as I’m writing it occurs to me that totems can also be built upon.
Is the greater question what should be raised higher?
There seems to be an is and ought struggle here.
Again the question of totems and who decides toppling or stacking?.
Is it might is right? Ragnar Redbeards survival of the fittest?
Social Darwinism as played out by libertarian indifference to community.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

geo wrote: Sat Apr 23, 2022 12:22 pm Human affairs are by definition very messy, emotional, not logical.
Only up to a point. No one can ever announce "I believe false claims". That is a step too far into illogic. Instead, people need to rationalise their false views by claiming that in fact they are true. That need for logic provides the entry point to assess the legitimacy of political claims against objective evidence. Rawls asks how a society can be "stable and just" while also "profoundly divided". The reality is that these attributes are not compatible, even while it may take time for the fissure to become apparent. Division creates injustice and instability.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

French describes “negative polarization”, whereby people don’t think their own side is particularly good but they do think the other side is far worse. It is often said that contempt is the leading indicator for divorce. So when political tribes are motivated by contempt, the inability to hold a respectful dialogue magnifies the suspicion and mistrust, in what French calls self-reinforcing trends of clustering, extremism, anger and fear, creating risks of secession and civil war.

Inspired by Ronald Reagan, French was an anti-abortion lawyer and Republican, but now he has left the Republican tribe because of Trump. Tribal partisans see flaws in their tribe as exceptions, and flaws in the other side as emblems. So French thought Bill Clinton’s infidelity showed what the Democrats are really like, whereas Republic indiscretions were aberrations.

From seeing the GOP as “the party of better people and better ideas”, French also saw Democrats as angry and unhinged, creating bad outcomes. As a strident opponent of “university leftism”, he then found his ideas were changed by going to Iraq for the war.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

French was able to maintain his integrity through his service in Iraq, helping Iraq to overcome its intense tribal polarisation and find a path toward peace and development. But on return to the US, he encountered the birther movement. Ideas that used to be confined to fringe crazies were now espoused by people he had thought were rational. “Birtherism”, asserting Obama was not American, provided a convenient cover for racist views, led by Donald Trump. Extremist rhetoric now saw Hillary Clinton as a mortal moral menace to the USA. This panic over cultural values fuelled social division.

The distinguished scholar Jonathan Haidt has just written a brilliant article in The Atlantic, WHY THE PAST 10 YEARS OF AMERICAN LIFE HAVE BEEN UNIQUELY STUPID, that provides a forensic analysis of this major problem of the rise of social division. Haidt explains how the rise of Twitter and Facebook has driven social division over the last decade. Sensible people have learned to keep quiet, and this has stupefied public and institutional conversations. Haidt says "If we do not make major changes soon, then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse." https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... el/629369/

My sense is that social division is a major national security problem for the USA and other liberal democracies, creating serious risk of civil war. Haidt explains how China and Russia are sowing division while the US sits back and lets them do it, while fairly simple regulatory changes could mitigate the problem. Military expenditure is fighting the last war, ignoring the new terrain of security risk in social media and climate change.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Robert Tulip wrote: Fri Apr 29, 2022 3:48 am French describes “negative polarization”, whereby people don’t think their own side is particularly good but they do think the other side is far worse.
In chapter 5 French describes his introduction to this idea that does nothing less than “explain America”. This paper, “The Law of Group Polarization” was written in 1999 by Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor. In fact, he clearly states that if there is only one thing you take away from this book, this is it. And what is its point? French boils it down to these simple words: “When people of like mind gather, they tend to become more extreme.”
This level of extremism leads not only to the nasty words on social media but also to the horrible incidents we are all too familiar with, from “Pizzagate” to the shooting at a congressional baseball game to the numerous single and mass shootings around the country.
People will be acutely aware of the violence inflicted on their allies, French tell us. But, they tend not to hear about the violence inflicted on their opponents. Each side is well informed of its grievances, and only lightly aware of the other side’s. So the narrative builds. They have wronged us, and we must fight for our lives. They are dangerous, and we are innocent.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

LevV wrote: Sun May 01, 2022 5:56 am “When people of like mind gather, they tend to become more extreme.”
Confirmation bias means a group constructs a worldview that excludes uncongenial information, accepting only confirming information.

Excuses to ignore data require rationalisation, like Christian apologetics.

People tell stories that fossilise into popular mythology to justify social values and beliefs.

The psychology involves emotional comfort and fantasy trumping logic and evidence.

Confirmation bias in politics expands when a group is isolated from disconfirming facts.

Social media has directly enabled this social process of fostering extremism.

This situation impinges US national security, creating risks of secession and war.

Jonathan Haidt's suggestions to regulate social media, mentioned in my comments above, could mitigate this danger.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Robert Tulip wrote: Mon May 02, 2022 5:57 am

Confirmation bias means a group constructs a worldview that excludes uncongenial information, accepting only confirming information.

Excuses to ignore data require rationalisation, like Christian apologetics.

People tell stories that fossilise into popular mythology to justify social values and beliefs.
The Haidt article was an eye opener. It's a shame these social media companies don't optimize their algorithms for truth instead of profits. As they are structured currently the algorithms feed on human bias and fear. David French shows us how Democrats view Republicans as enemies of the state, and vice versa. But much of our hostility towards one other is based on exposure to largely exaggerated or outright false information.

How do we learn to be critical of info delivered by mass media? I'd argue that we are personally responsible to check our sources. Limit our exposure and be skeptical, especially of things that are likely to appeal to personal bias. Now, more than ever, we need to learn to be critical thinkers.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

The Red and the Blue
French draws attention to the obvious geographic, cultural, religious and political separation that is driving a tectonic rift valley between the two cultural clusters of the USA. Most Americans now live in political “landslide counties”, a process that has been rapidly growing as people choose to live among those who share their values, termed the Big Sort. This fissiparous tendency, splitting the nation just as fissile atom bombs split the atom, has comparable destructive potential to nuclear weapons.

In sport and television, the splittism came to a head with Trump’s call to fire NFL players who took the knee, resulting in politicisation of Sunday afternoons that had previously brought people together, as viewers were forced to ponder identity politics.

Religious division involves “fundamentally different beliefs about life, death, sin and redemption.” My sense is that religion is both a dangerous factor and a potentially reconciling factor. The key message in the New Testament, in my reading, is that love of neighbour demands mutual respect and engagement, pitched to overcome the instinctive tribalism that is at the core of traditional psychology. If Christianity could present a debate about how human social organisation can evolve, it has potential to unite rather than separate. Unfortunately, traditional faith rests primarily upon fantasy. Literal acceptance of supernatural myths confronts the old observation that delusion is the main cause of suffering. Where a society supports widespread delusion, it creates significant risk of splitting apart, between those who support and those who oppose the prevailing myths.
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Re: Divided We Fall - Chapters 1 - 5

Robert Tulip wrote: Fri May 20, 2022 2:14 am The key message in the New Testament, in my reading, is that love of neighbour demands mutual respect and engagement, pitched to overcome the instinctive tribalism that is at the core of traditional psychology. If Christianity could present a debate about how human social organisation can evolve, it has potential to unite rather than separate.
My sense is that religion will always remain more of a divisive force, especially because of the small but very vocal subgroup of fundamentalist Christians who seem to eschew liberal traditions in favor of authoritarianism.

French mentions in the introduction a piece written by Sohrab Ahmari, called "Against David French-ism." Ahmari argues against tolerance and diversity, saying “the only way is . . . to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”

That line gave me a chill when I first read it. The “enemy” Ahmari talks about I guess is pretty much anyone not on board with their fundamentalist reordering of society into the “Highest Good.” That sounds to me like something out of the Handmaid’s Tale. This is why Donald Trump’s brand of authoritarianism appeals so much to them. That seems the direction we’re headed.

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusi ... french-ism

And indeed, French makes a convincing case for pluralism. Unfortunately, Americans are so split politically that we perceive each other as the enemy of the state.
“French” wrote:Again, the perception is that major American cultural institutions are angrier at their mainstream domestic political opponents than they are at actual hostile and oppressive foreign governments.
More than anything French has convinced me of the vital importance of both freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Intolerance runs both ways. It’s not good that some religious Americans feel marginalized by our culture war. Maybe striking down Roe vs. Wade can be seen as a good thing if it gives more autonomy to the states and feels right to religious right communities? Is this secular blasphemy?
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