Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Oppositional Defiant American Male

I've been mulling over a challenge that Martin Longman has placed before Democrats: How does the Left appeal to white men?

The midterm dynamic is what it is, but there has to be an effort to blunt this dynamic.  If Democrats are going to win back the House before 2022, they need to win more white male votes than they have been.  Appeals to economic populism have not shown to have the sort of traction among men that they frankly should have.

Rather than think of what might appeal to white men, why not see what drives them away from liberal politics?  I say this as someone with a life long experience of being a white male, though I'm certain my experience is not typical.  Also, please note that I will be speaking in gender stereotypes, because I'm talking about large groups.

I think a key psychological aspect of the Y chromosome is oppositional thinking to authority.  It defines a great deal of behavior we associate with young men, in particular.  If you tell me to do "X", then I'll do "Y".  You can probably enlist evolutionary biology to explain this, as men were needed to be risk takers and boundary pushers to help in survival.  The hunters needed to push over the horizon, while the gatherers needed to protect the young, the weak and the elderly left behind.

So, you get men who feel the need to challenge authority.

When I think of Teanderthals, what I see is a giant, plaintive whine against a paternalistic state.  From the point of view of the Teanderthals, paternalism is bad, unless they are the fathers.  They are fine with paternalistic relationships with women and minorities, but they are most definitely NOT fine with a state that acts paternally towards them.

The ACA is a great example of a benign form of paternalism that comes across as tyranny to white men.  This is the same demographic that won't go to the doctor for regular checkups.  This is the same demographic that responds to global warming with "coal rolling".

Now, this is not unique to right wing males.  The Left is also anti-authoritarian, they just define authority differently.  It's corporate power or the security/surveillance state.

The fact is that on either extremes (and I'll define that as roughly the 15%-20% of the population on either end of the spectrum) you will find a great deal of hostility to authority.

But you're not going to win over Teanderthal votes anyway, so why bother?

I would argue that it's about denying the non-Teanderthal white men with easy targets.

Two things that come to mind are "trigger warnings" and the new California university sexual conduct codes.  These are well-meaning attempts to address problems, especially the epidemic of sexual violence in universities.

But the minute you create "rules" you create authority.  And you create an impulse to defy that authority.

One of the greatest successes the Left has had is actually exactly what the Right has accused the Left of doing: indoctrinating students in our schools in certain liberal ideas: tolerance, diversity and acceptance.  What works better than rules is the education of people as to why behaviors are important.

While there have been instance of successful prohibitions - the "N" word - they don't work as well as education.  Because while we say the "N" word, your oppositional figure is going to say, "Well, how come blacks can use that word and I can't?"  And if all you've offered them is a prohibition rather than an education, then you've just created an opponent instead of an ally.

Recently, we had a speaker come to address the student body.  He was transgender and had gone to Exeter (a rival school) when he came out as male.  He was a remarkably engaging and empathetic speaker, witty and open.  For me personally, I've come a long way on LGB issues, but the T was always one I had trouble understanding.  Transgender is pretty rare, so my experience was pretty limited.  I didn't feel icky about transgender issues, I just didn't understand them.

That was education.  Now, you can combine some prohibitions with education if done right.  We've told our students that the use of "gay" or "fag" as an insult is unacceptable, but we've also explained why.  Same goes for "retarded".  I've used all those terms in my life.  I don't use them anymore (at least not as a slurs), but I always responded better to explanations than prohibitions.

One of the reasons why, I think, young people are much more liberal on the culture wars is that they have been educated on why discriminating against minority groups is bad.  Why can't a gay couple get married?  The recent breakthrough on marriage equality is not a case of the Left prohibiting something, but the Right prohibiting something.  And it isn't working for them either.

So, taking the sexual violence crisis as an example, how do you educate young men about proper sexual respect?  Rather than legislating sexual conduct, as California is trying to do, how do you educate young men that not only are the responsible for their own sexual behavior, but those of their friends?  And probably some prohibitions are necessary.  Maybe it's time the all-male fraternity died.  Especially if the entire system gets put on warning and fails to live up to its responsibilities.

But when trying to reach men who WANT to rebel, maybe you need to show them why they should change certain behaviors rather than demanding it.

As Charlie Pierce said, the great thing about #occupy was that they were shouting at the right buildings.  The worst thing about #occupy was its obsession with political correctness.  Meetings would degenerate over the use of generalized male pronouns.

To me, the challenge of reaching out to white men is get them to shout at the right buildings.  It won't work to hector them or lecture at them.

You don't need to win over many white men.  The Left is crushing it with minorities and single women.  But you need to erode the GOP advantage, and at the very least, you need to stop driving them away by screaming about hetero-normative language and gender imperialism.  If you try and educate and converse with them, you'll stop driving some of them away.

And maybe then, they will start shouting at the right buildings.

(I thought this post would be better.  I've been germinating this idea for over a week.  I'm pretty disappointed at the final product...)

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