THE NORMALIZATION OF DEVIANCE

A century of research in psychology offers ample evidence that with enough time, repetition, and peer pressure, people can convince themselves that just about anything is normal, socially acceptable behavior. The dumpy guy in the next cubicle or your cookie-baking mom are perfectly capable of rounding up the Jews or surrendering their lives to the Great Leader if enough people around them are doing likewise and there are enough messages that it's OK. Hannah Arendt wrote extensively on the banality of evil – the idea that Nazi Germany, for example, was composed of normal, even boring people for whom the deviant had simply become normal. After a few weeks they don't even notice the smell of the crematoria.

That said, please recognize that the use of a Nazi example does not mean that I am about to imply that Republicans are Nazis. They've just created an atmosphere in which the aberrant has become so normal that no one even questions it. Surround yourself with enough crazy and apparently no one stops to wonder, "Hey, are we completely goddamn bonkers?" after a while. Or they ask someone even crazier and are reassured accordingly.

I don't believe that DailyKos/Research2000 is the finest of all polling organizations, but the operation is pulling large enough samples for all of us to be sufficiently alarmed by their recent poll of self-identified Republicans. In short, there are about 1/3 of Republicans who have some grounding in reality. They believe President Obama was born in the US. They don't believe he should be impeached given the complete absence of Constitutional cause for doing so. About 40% of them don't believe "President Obama wants the terrorists to win."

The other 2/3, well, they're quite the other thing. They hold some seriously wacky beliefs. Beliefs of the "The moon landing was faked" variety. As you examine the poll results the raw numbers are startling enough – 24% believe the President "wants the terrorists to win" – but take a look at the "not sure" category. Another 33% are not sure. They're entertaining the idea. It's plausible enough to avoid ruling it out.

Almost 80% believe or aren't sure that Obama is a socialist. Three out of five don't believe he was born in the US. 20% believe ACORN "stole" the 2008 election and a whopping 55% consider it plausible. 86% think or aren't sure that Palin is more qualified (although that's technically subjective, so let's let it slide). 64% think he is or may be a racist who hates white people irrespective of the fact that he is, you know, half white. A whole 58% – look at that, a modest majority! – believe their state should not secede from the union. 21% demand immediate secession while another quarter, well, they're a-thinkin' bout it. 8% think gays should be allowed to teach. A majority oppose (or aren't sure about) teaching sex education in schools. Any kind of sex education. I'll tell you what 77% do think should be taught, though…creationism! 31% (plus 13% unsure) believe contraceptives should be illegal. Well, that should help things!

This should alarm Republicans. It probably does alarm the 1/3 of them who, you know, understand the difference between reality and paranoid conspiracy theories peddled by sweaty idiots on cable. They feel outnumbered and rightly so. These are the kinds of beliefs that belong on the lunatic fringe of any respectable political movement, yet pure insanity is now the solid majority of the GOP. It is mainstream. Hear enough conspiracy theories about how some dime-store group called ACORN could "steal" an election won by 150 Electoral Votes and it becomes, well, normal.

33 thoughts on “THE NORMALIZATION OF DEVIANCE”

  • Crazy for Urban Planning says:

    Spot on Ed. Their is underlying good news here, I think the future is bright for smart people. If this poll really asked self – identifying Republicans these questions they basically were asking lots of suburban old white people who pre-dominantly live in the sunbelt. I blame the suburbs for limiting the opportunities these people have for actually talking to other people, they spend every day listening to Rushbo, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck – what can you expect? The only time they leave their homes is to get in a car and go shopping for plastic crap from China and corn enriched crap food. So if your entire life is consumed with white guys making you angry and paranoid about every single thing, every single day, you are going to gradually lose your capacity for critical independent thought. Once they all die the country may have a chance.

  • The sanest conversation I've had with conservative republicans since election day 2008 was on the topic of Afghanistan during the sort of party that only happens when someone comes back into town and seven different social groups converge to welcome him/her back. Specifically, it was with two Iraq war veterans who were both angry with the progress of the Afghanistan war.

    One fit the stereotype: convinced that ACORN stole the 2008 election with illegal alien votes and that without McCain running the war we were going to lose. He believed emphatically that if only we "took the gloves off" Israel and the US would be able to "take care of business in the entire region."

    The other Vet injected a relative amount of sanity by pointing out that while we certainly could win the war, doing so would require us to essentially kill everyone in Afghanistan which we couldn't do for the same reason we didn't nuke Vietnam. His logic was that our military isn't built for spreading democracy and that a nation that had elected Obama wouldn't accept killing civilians in biblical numbers.

    I mentioned to the saner of the two that liberal opponents of the Iraq war found themselves in the strange position of making arguments not that distant from Nixonian realism. (e.g. Steve Clemons). He agreed with that and also with the fact that Reagan's position of torture was antithetical to those of contemporary conservatives.

    What struck me more than anything were the assumptions built into their world view. They assumed that as a liberal I would be an anti-military pacifist that didn't believe the US should ever use force and therefore wished to see the military completely dismantled. They also figured that I wanted to convict everyone who fought in Iraq for war crimes and that I wanted Israel to be given over to "The Muslims".

    Some of this was stuff that I'd never ever heard before. Minnesota is the home of Michelle Bachmann so it actually surprised me that they'd bought into a whole host of memes that even the Powerline guys won't espouse.

  • These number really only verify what we all suspected: the preponderance of voters (and not just Republican voters) are deeply misguided, if not wholly detached from reality. We really do live in an age of mass disinformation. The political powers that be, and often the corporate interests underwriting them, freely and easily spread misinformation, shape beliefs, and invent facts. Thanks to the Supreme Court, corporations will now be even freer to manipulate public opinion to their selfish ends.

    Reasons? Insane campaign finance laws. Piss-poor public education that no longer teaches civics well, if at all.

    But, along with these two reasons, Americans seem to be devolving into solipsistic isolation, divorced from ideas, views and facts that might challenge their pre-existing prejudices. Conservatives watch Faux News, Liberals watch John Stewart. Few read newspapers anymore; most derive the "news" from heavily slanted blogs. We all choose the "news" and the facts we want. Maybe this all doesn't matter if you think, like, say, Nietzsche, that truth is just a mobile army of metaphors.

    But Arendt's horribly mis-used and overused notion of the banality of evil is still relevant, even though I would prefer the phrase to never be used again by anyone who has not read her work. In her book on Eichmann, she points out that Eichmann's "evil" really consists in his inability to be self-critical, his facility with rationalizing his own actions. She describes how he was armed with a set of stock-phrases, defenses, that he would quickly marshal whenever he would be accused of anything. This insulation from external critique, this skillful and willful blindness, is precisely the pathology of contemporary America and the reason why one half of the country thinks the other are "Socialists" (though I wouldn't press them on the precise meaning of that term).

    In sum, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

  • baldheadeddork says:

    Good piece, Ed.

    Any bets on if the DNC and the congressional campaign committees have the balls and the brains to use this as a wedge between independents and the GOP? Will they take this amazing gift, wrapped in a bow and delievered on a platter, and define Republicans with it?

    Or will they pretend it doesn't exist because being mean would offend the Blue Dogs and Conservadems?

  • I'm hesitant to say how stupid the Republicans are because I have a well-founded fear that Democratic voter rolls are filled with some dimwits as well, as I'm certain some Regnery Wingnut Welfare recipient will soon show as "How Loony is the Left" will probably be published about a week before the Kos book.

    There will be polls.

  • @Crazy, that 1/3 is not totally made up of old farts in the burbs. There are a lot in their 30s and 40s (like the DittoHeads) that fall in that group. Think you can outlive all of them???

    While the Republican'ts aren't exactly like the Nazis, they have learned from the Nazis how to sell the Big Lie!!

  • @Sam:

    What you experienced is, sadly, all too common in America today. It is the end result of modern combative politics — namely, the belief that anyone who is not of my ideology is completely opposed to everything about my ideology in the most extreme way possible. It is the politics of straw men, and the farmers in Washington have perfected the art over time.

    Most conservatives believe, with all their heart and soul, that every single liberal in the nation wants the immediate and total dissolution of the military forever, because they are opposed to current military actions. This is obviously not true, but it is what has been preached to them as the sacred truth every day by every political power they identify with.

    Similarly, most liberals believe, with the exact same fervor, that no conservative will be satisfied until the entirety of the world is crushed beneath America's boot and forced to pray to Jesus every day.

    The truly sad part is that any attempt to present this idea to them results in immediate accusations of bias in that hated direction. Our current political power players have established rabid cults of personality, and it has forever destroyed political discourse in this nation.

  • A failure to communicate is an understatement. Looking at this poll reminds me that some people just hate those that are different than them. I used to think that all we needed to do was talk to each other and learn about what's similar in us rather than focus on the differences.

    Those days are over. I bet you some of these people in this poll are professionals, rich, and/or fine, upstanding people in their communities. I refuse to believe they are all idiot hillbillies despite the stereotypes. Some of these people are just crazy, hateful bastards. No amount of talking to them, reasoning, logic or education is going to make them not crazy.

  • Ah, Rosa; you should work for the Washington Post. In short words, then, here is the difference – Jon Stewart is relatively sane and holds (or at least speaks) beliefs which I find to be pretty accurate, in an objective sense. I speak, mind you, as one of the former Republicans who have been squeezed out of the party in its relentless quest for ideological purity, not as a wild-eyed DFH. It's a lack of communication perhaps, but when one entire political party is covering its eyes and ears and shouting "LaLaLa I can't hear you!" at reality, I don't think the breakdown is in both directions.

  • Do you remember, in the mid-80's, Antelope, Oregon had had such an influx of the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh that they were able to alter the charter and change the town name to "Rajneesh"? The town's original residents resisted, and they are Antelopers again, and the interlopers are gone.

    The Republican Party has (at least) two parts: old wealthy white people, and oddballs they would never meet playing golf. The OWWP are not going to distance themselves from the People of Wal-Mart, politically, because they vote the right way; also, many of them used to be Democrats, before abortion, prayer in schools, and other non-issues replaced public programs and "help the little people" in their hearts.

    Sarah Palin lingers because she is accepted by both camps — the Phyllis Schlafly crowd and the "heart over brains" crowd. Last year I saw more Republicans looking for a new party; lately I've seen more Democrats. I think that some registered voters no longer identify with either party, but want to consolidate power rather than fragment it — the lessons Ralph Nader taught us. People need to remember that one man, one vote is not the same as betting on the horse you think will win.

  • As you all no doubt know, after WWII many psychologists became very interested in the puzzle of the Good German. Bringing up the Nazis is necessary here because the war was an impetus to study why so many people were indifferent to horror. A common excuse was that the Germans were afraid of the Nazis, but that only went so far–not everyone was in that position. Stanley Milgrim theorized that we ignore and participate in horrors because we are conditioned to obey authority. Alice Miller added that the conditioning started in childhood. The result was a population trained to obey any authority, first by authoritarian parents and then reinforced by an authoritarian church, military and culture.

    Because authoritarianism is installed by parents, we associated obedience with being loved. If we obey, our parents will be happy with us, our church will call us Godly, our military will promote us, our elite will let us hold office. If we disobey, we are emotionally cast out of the family or church or unit or social group. Authoritarians are terrified of rejection, because it brings back (sometimes deeply repressed) fears of being rejected by their parents.

    People will lie to polls to be part of the (rigidly dogmatic) group, no matter what they actually believe. Or they'll just believe whatever they're told if they're not very bright. They'll let the police round up illegal aliens and put them in detention centers. They'll let them blow up children in Iraq. They'll sit there supine and indifferent, and let them wreck the financial market while racking up billions. And they most certainly will let them round up Arabs, put them into camps, and kill them when the economy gets bad enough.

  • I wonder if there might be a selection bias here – that is, self-selection as a republican. To be more precise: in my experience, a lot of people who self-identified as republicans several years ago now identify themselves as independents, although they still vote republican. I perceive (rightly or wrongly) that those who now identify as independents tend not to believe the batshit crazy conspiracy theories polled here, but those who continued to self-identify as republicans were more likely to believe said batshit crazy things. I don't think this is unrelated to the shoring up the "base" that the party has been actively engaged in over the past 5 years or so. I would guess that if the poll was done not on those who self-identified as republicans, but on those who generally vote republican, there would be a huge difference. As a liberal, I don't think that's a bad thing: the crazier and smaller the republican party gets, the more they alienate moderate conservatives and push away votes. Or so I hope.

  • I decided I had some time to waste today. So, I became Arthur B. Robinson (global warming denier), and went to vote on the great ideas for the Teabagger's Contract From America!

    http://pro22.sgizmo.com/survey.php?SURVEY=6E6ECK2S93A1UZAFSKY3RRP5MMS4E3-220342-62750757&pswsgt=1263965334&sg_r=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.spiritof94.org%2F&sg_g=fdcfbef5d2e202d9612729adeebc290e&_csg=34gd07azxte12&notice=DO-NOT-DISTRIBUTE-THIS-LINK

    Not sayin' any of you might want to do that, lessin' y'all wants to!

  • Puts a whole new slant on "Standard Deviation" doesn't it!

    Queen.
    I don't think it's selection bias. The survey wanted the opinions of the diehards, and that's what they got. There's a solid 20 to 22% of any population that are authoritarian followers. That's one hell of a voting block. It's easy to write these people off a cretins, but the phenomenon is more or less orthogonal to intelligence. I'm guessing, but with a lot of confidence, that these people are the teabaggers, the religious right, the faithful listeners of Rush, Glenn and Sean.

    Rosalux
    Solipsism is its own reward.

    We are so screwed.
    JzB

  • I've posted about this too, but what I'm starting to wonder is if this level of stupidity is really any different than in the past. After all, there was a time when our politics were driven by out-and-out racism (e.g., segregation)–which is a pretty idiotic belief.

    Maybe ~30% of the population is just stupid, always has been and always will be? They'll just be stupid in somewhat novel ways.

  • Wow. If you don't like poll results, simply pull out the Nazi card and explain it by the normalization of deviance.

    If the poll was skewed the other way, would you say the same thing?

    Claims that people with differing opinions have been duped into believing a false reality, as so many of the other comments state as well, is not even an attempt for an honest understanding of people or the sides of issues. It is simply trying to reinforce beliefs by telling yourself "They're all deluded, my reality is the only reality"

    In reality, arguments like that swing both ways. I'm saddened to see how far down political thought has become it all you have is the alienation and vilification of anyone who disagrees with your world view.

  • I sometimes think that the only difference between conservatives and liberals is that liberals know the difference between fact and opinion. It's taught to every child, yet so many never seem to figure it out.

  • I have nothing but derision for the "worldview" encompassing "President Obama wants the terrorists to win" and a complete inability to grasp basic facts. Guilty. I'm not morally or intellectually obligated to respect the opinions of the "Flat!" side of the debate over the shape of the earth,

  • Yeah, there's plenty of room for legitimate left/right disagreement, but those disagreements cannot lead to anything fruitful if one side is willing to completely divorce itself from the basic underlying reality.

    You might think vanilla cake is better, I might think chocolate cake is better, but we'll never settle on one to order for the party if you scream that every option I bring up is poisonous and will kill children and I'm only trying to order it because I hate freedom.

    And if we take those positions in present America, the media just reports "X says vanilla cake is nice, Y says it kills children" and they don't bother sending it to a lab to test… and even if they did that, they wouldn't hold the person screaming "poison" responsible for trying to create irrational fear and panic.

    And so our political debate is poisoned with lies and madness. And people like Corey who come in trying to pretend otherwise are not helping, they're feeding an unhealthy fiction that is derailing the country's ability to function on even a basic level.

  • @Corey per @Ecks

    I noticed in the news today another suicide bomber in Pakistan killed a lot of people. And in the past years, we've had abortion clinics blown up and doctors murdered. Let me repeat that so you understand what's behind the poll numbers, not a little batch of cells removed from a uterus and "Oh dear, the little soul must go back to heaven now and find another fetus, and let's hope it isn't a black one", but a real live person with their brains and blood sprayed out all over the place with friends struck with the news like a handful of gravel in the face, families cut apart, children orphaned, communities torn down by one person. It's about lives, Corey. People's lives that they live with other people – not whether someone didn't like chocolate cake.

  • Oh, and if you think this is just another bleeding heart hysterical diatribe, or that I've had a bad day. No. Politics, ultimately, whether we like it or not, effects lives. People lives. REAL people. This isn't some academic debate about the consequences of harm. This isn't some pasty-skinned, soft- pampered-ass-visibly-spreading-on-your-ergonomic-computer-chair where people, in their best Comic Book Guy impression, ape lawyerly poses while spewing out "Ad hominem, so there!", or "Non sequitur, so there!", or "Strawman", or "Fallacy of the Excluded Middle" and thnk that they have in any way demolished an argument or exploded a theory. No, this is a passionate understanding that Ideologies Have Consequences. They have consequences that can end in a real excluded middle with a gate that has the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" above it.

    Oh, and Corey, your argument is basically a child's excuse. "I know you are, but what am I".

    And if anyone uses the word "meme" again, I'm going to kick them right in the nads.

    And that goes for "tipping point" as well.

  • As usual, Ed's written something articulate and right.

    And it pre-empted my plans to write an article about how the genesis of genocidal fascism has always been scapegoating and fear-mongering.

    A downtrodden group collectively agrees to scapegoat some other group for their problems, and the next thing you know, the "other group" must pay.

    – The economy's in shambles and you lost your job? Stupid liberal tax policy!
    – We were attacked (on 9/11 or at any other time)? Liberal military softness.
    – Other folks have nicer personal electronics than you? (insert some inequity that you can blame on the gays)
    – You can't afford to consume (petroleum, food, etc.) due to economics or health or whatever? Damn hippie environmentalists and wacko vegetarian lobby.
    – You ain't gettin' laid?
    – Your kids are miscreants? The decline of public education and removal of prayer from schools.
    – Your football team lost? The president was born in Kenya.
    – You feel stupid when you can't understand what he says? He's a poo-poohead intellectual, and you'd be better off with the kind of experience Sarah Palin hs
    – Your candidate didn't win? The other side "stole" the election.

    The point is this "disenfranchised" minority is actually large if they can rally together. So I don't want to laugh at them…I worry…rectitude, rationality, and skill ain't no match for a blaster/gun at their side. This sort of communal frustration is the thing revolutions and genocide are made of.

    Also, meme tipping point. (I'm in California, Pan Sapiens. Hi!)

  • My question for the daily kos poll is this (and forgive me if someone else already made this point): given the fact that it is of an overwhelmingly liberal perspective and most likely consumed by liberals, is it not possible that many liberals took that quiz in jest and identified themselves as the crazy republicans they laugh at so much? I ask this because it's exactly the sort of thing I would do.

  • is it not possible that many liberals took that quiz in jest and identified themselves as the crazy republicans they laugh at so much?
    Julie, yeah it's possible but, frightening as it is, there is a vast illogical neuroticism infecting the US, especially in the right wing. Glenn Beck is right behind Oprah in popularity and anyone who grants him an iota of reasonableness or common sense is as neurotic as Beck is.
    Bill the Thug O'Reilly commands big regular audiences. A myriad of sneering media assassins pour bile and contempt into the American airwaves every day and

  • sorry… I don't know what I did wrong. I was going to add how crazy evangelicals can be but what the hey, everybody knows.
    Good luck with this one Barry.

  • How long before the 1/3 succumb or capitulate to the Nazi phenomena and join the 2/3?

    I've always wondered how all the die-hard republicans in my area, who are almost exclusively engaged in the oil bidness, reconcile creationism with the geology they see and exploit every day.

  • Major reasons for rightwingers to be loony: (1) nearly all talk radio is conservative, (2) the mainstream media is more entertainment than news, (3) people read, listen, and watch whatever reinforces their beliefs.

    Whenever I travel by car, I listen to the radio. I have spent six hours traveling through four states, and all I can get is a conservative talk show host who tells me the Liberals and the Democrats are to blame for everything. Limbaugh does this all the time, as if the Republicans don't even exist and certainly have nothing to do with government.

    I have heard conservatives carry on about death panels, birth certificates, the global warming hoax, atheists, abortion, gay rights, and just about every push-button topic that distracts from reality and real solutions. Facts are never in evidence, The people who deliberately choose to listen already believe what they hear. The rest of us are a captive audience and it takes knowledge to fight back. I'm still waiting for the spineless Dems to grab more microphones and fight back.

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