Gnome Chomsky

gnome in the likeness of noam chomsky
gnome in the likeness of noam chomsky
Gnome Chomsky, semanticist and intellectual from MIT.

This garden gnome in the likeness (more or less) of Noam Chomsky has been with me for about 15 years. The name on the front, which is under the snow in this picture, says “Gnome Chomsky,” I am particularly fond of this gnomic icon of an American intellectual icon.

We don’t have that many of them, I’m sorry to say. Public intellectuals, that is. The larger pantheon of American heroes encompasses primarily people with money.

Gnome began existence in our yard in New York and now adorns our property in Wisconsin. (If you’re thinking, boy, what a contrast, New York to Wisconsin…yes.)

Out of all the years Gnome has been on display no one has ever commented on him or made mention of him. I guess I don’t know the right people.

charles e. henderson, ph.d.

Grip stick

Dowel with tape wrapped around it for hand strength.
One inch dowel wrapped in foam and tape for strengthening grip.

Injury to my right wrist and hand has weakened my grip so I made this grip-stick to exercise with. I hold it tightly while doing other parts of my workout. We may someday be back to handshake greeting and I want to be in shape when that time comes.

Looking at the picture of my hands reminds me I’m not twenty anymore. (That was loooong ago, I’m afraid.) But that does not bother me. I don’t seem to have that gene that makes a person willing to move heaven and Earth to avoid showing any signs or symptoms of age. Just because we live in a culture that reveres youth does not mean it is worthy of reverence.

So I’ll try to make my hand better but I’m not interested in making it look younger. Or any other part of me, for that matter. I find it interesting that I looked older than my age when I was young and now I look younger. Sometimes people don’t believe me when I tell them my age (not that it comes up all that often). My response to that is something I heard someone say when I was a kid: “You’ll believe it when you hear me get up.”

charles e. henderson, ph.d.

Covid-19 hypodermic needle

Covid-19 vaccine ready to jab.

Being essentially essential and all, I just received my second injection of the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.

I’m confident that by now everyone is familiar enough with all the terminology it is adequate to just say “covid.”

This as we are turning 500,000 covid deaths in the US. Outrageous!

It surprises me the number of people who still believe the pandemic is a myth conjured up by who-knows-who to do who-knows-what. That there are still people who remain so abysmally ignorant as to believe that mandated mask-wearing is an infringement of their freedom.

Well of course it is. Just as speed limits and taxes and laws against child rape are an infringement. Education has obviously fallen down somewhere along the line for these people who do not get it that laws and regulations are necessary to protect people from idiots.

Speaking of which, Texas has certainly got their comeuppance with this cold snap that has destroyed their basis for believing themselves to be special. Their belief in their exceptionalism has always been laughable. I know this first hand. I was born there. I know Texas. Which is why I will never go back there.

So now that the covid vaccine is being made available in greater numbers and maybe the end of the pandemic is in sight, will there be — as many are speculating — another Roaring ’20s? I’m guessing not. Or if there is, it will be cut short by something else. Living in dangerously warming climate in the grips of predatory, end-stage capitalism, there will be no shortage of potential disasters.

charles e. henderson, ph.d.

Pandemic Puzzle

“Houseplant Jungle.” One thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. Galison puzzle company.

We have worked several jigsaw puzzles over the past year as we have kept ourselves isolated from social contact.

I’m not that good at puzzles but Chris has excellent figure-ground perception and color vision. If you look at the picture you will notice that the upper right portion is almost completed. I did that part. The lower HALF of the puzzle is nearing completion and that’s Chris’s part. We have both spent about the same amount of time working on the puzzle.

The table under the puzzle board was painted by Chris. I provided the table. It is the table my sister and I grew up eating on. (Well, eating on plates on the table. You know.) We did our homework on it, too. When we did homework. Growing up in the Texas-Oklahoma panhandles you don’t have to do much homework if you’re good at football. (I was, Sis wasn’t.)

Chris might be pulling a Penelope stunt on this puzzle business. I suspect she sometimes gets up in the middle of the night and takes apart some of the puzzle she has completed. I suspect that because otherwise puzzles around our house would be completed much more quickly than they actually are.

charles e. henderson, ph.d.

Houseplant puzzle solved

completed puzzle of many houseplants

The “Houseplant” puzzle solved. Would that our more pressing problems could be solved as easily.

Who would have thought, a few years ago, that ordinary people in the state of my birth,  Texas, would be freezing and dying because of weather?
I guess it is a good thing global warming is not real, right? Maybe you guys could pray your way out of this. That’s what the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, suggested. Right before ye resigned in the middle of a mess.

The current weather in Texas reminds me of an old James Garner movie. He was a grizzled sheriff who, with two deputies, were out tracking some desperado. The weather was cold and awful and the two deputies kept up a constant litany of woe about their misery. Garner’s response was, “It’s just weather.”

I don’t suppose the folks in the Southwest would care to hear that right now. Twenty years or more of end-stage predatory capitalism has rendered the electrical grid in Texas only marginally functional in the face of “just weather.” It will be interesting to see if they have learned anything from this life-threatening utility debacle. (But hey, ya’ll ain’t regulated by the Feds!)

My guess is this will all slither down that slippery slope into the pit of forgotteness when the temperature goes up.

charles e. henderson, ph.d.

The Ashlawn guard rabbit

Ashlawn rabbit

This rabbit lives in a burrow—its entrance is about eight inches from the rabbit’s nose—just a matter of feet from my office window. I joke about it being our guard rabbit but in reality it is a rather meek animal. Rabbits come and go around here with regularity. It occurs to me their well-known fecundity is nature’s way of provide and abundance of fodder for more predatory creatures like raptors, coyotes, foxes, and so on.

I like seeing this rabbit, even though the little rascal’s eating habits are not kind to our shrubbery and bushes. Even though we put out vegetable scraps in the harder winter months, we know that when spring comes we will have landscaping fatalities caused by rabbits’ culinary indiscretions.

Ashlawn rabbit (name and rank unknown) on guard duty outside my office window.

There used to be more wildlife around here. We would occasionally see foxes go trotting by; hear an owl at night; see deer herds moving across Cemetery Ridge just above us; eagles, hawks, vultures, and lots of other birds, during the summer; squirrels and chipmunks of course; and lots of sandhill cranes. But not so much anymore. Residential development has driven most of the wildlife away.

But, for now anyway, we still have our guard rabbit.

Hazardous airports in populated areas

airplane debris sitting in a yard in broomfield colorado where it fell off a plane in the air.
Debris dropped in a populated area from a United Airlines plane February 20, 2021.

Today a United Airlines plane dropped several pieces of debris in the populous are of Broomfield, Colorado. It could easily have killed or injured someone or a pet, or done serious damage.

Airliners and in fact all aircraft, including military craft, should be routed away from populated areas. If airports have to be moved to do that, then move them. It is unreasonable for all of us to be subjected to the threats posed by air traffic, and to the noise and pollution they create.

We have a small private airport in our town and one end of the runway is only about 300 feet from the high school. That makes no sense.

Parents always seen ready to do battle for real or imagined threats to their children. Does it take a genius to see the unnecessary threats posed by aircraft?

C’mon, folks, let’s start trying to shape things up in this country.

charles e. henderson, ph.d.

Hypocrisy rampant on a field of duplicity

hyprocisy word on background of reddish texture

Hypocrisy used to have a bad odor. When someone was accused of being a hypocrite they would either deny they were or try somehow to free themselves of any justification for being called a hypocrite.

However that seems no longer to be the case, at least with people in the public eye. Some people staunchly support and defend one set of principles or practices, then oppose them and deny their truth or validity when that is more convenient. Classic hypocrisy. You would think everyone would know that. Know what hypocrisy is, recognize it when they see it, and at the very least try to hide their own hypocrisy if and when it crops up.

Three questions . . .

One, what is it that makes hypocrisy such an undesirable characteristic in a person?

Being now in numbering mode and all, I would have to say there are three qualities that give hypocrisy its badness:

1. Hypocrisy is unfair.

Fairness ranks pretty high on my scale of desirable qualities and hypocrisy is nothing if not the epitome of not-fairness, of being unfair. To use a sports example: the height of hypocrisy, and therefore unfairness, would be a sporting event where there was one set of rules for the home team, and another set of tougher rules for the opponent. No good American would accept that, so why is hypocrisy so broadly engaged and accepted these days?

“Playing by the rules” has become a common mantra. We want everyone to play by the rules, and we want the same set of rules for everyone. Basically that means no fair rigging the rules to suit your agenda. We don’t like cheaters, and we don’t like hypocrites because hypocrisy is a form of cheating.

2. Hypocrisy is dishonest. 

How can you trust someone who thinks it is okay to be unfair? If a hypocrite can take opposing positions on one issue, there is no telling when they will do it again. When the only reliable aspect of a person’s value system is that he will assuredly act in his own interests despite how bad the behavior is for someone else, that person is surely an undesirable. Undesirable as a friend, undesirable as a mate, undesirable as an employee or employer, and so on. Liars don’t make good anythings in the Western canon of human value.

3. Hypocrisy is insulting.

No matter the good values or qualities of a hypocrite, none of them can be counted on. If a person can hold opposing values on one subject, they can do it with others. That makes everything they say potentially duplicitous and devoid of logical reason. Their story varies from one audience to the next, from one situation to the next. Such treatment is an insult. There are more than enough insults to life on this planet without having to put up with hypocrites.

So, yeah, hypocrisy is a bad characteristic in a human being. More negatives could be generated but for me these three are enough to put hypocrisy clearly in the undesirable column.

Two, what’s going on in the hypocrite’s mind?

Does the hypocrite know what hypocrisy is?

The answer to this question depends, for the most part, on education. Some of the most egregious hypocrisy I’ve witnessed in the last decade or so has been perpetrated by Republican politicians. Most of them have been through the educational system, many with advanced or professional degrees, and must surely know the fundamental dictates of logic. They certainly must know what hypocrisy is.
On the other hand there are the woefully under-educated classes in America who probably slept through the class on hypocrisy. They probably know not what they do when they hypocrasize.New word. Neologism, if you please. You first saw it here. These are the people who, when accused of being hypocritical, probably respond with something like, “I can criticize whatever I want. This’s a free country!”

Does he know when he is being a hypocrite?

Is he aware of his hypocrisy? Formal logic is one of those categories of knowledge that is very hard to come by. I taught argumentation and debate at both the undergraduate and graduate level and I all-too-infrequently sensed that very many of the students were getting it. That might have been because of limitation in my teaching skills, but there is no doubt that in general students don’t enjoy, and certainly few grasp, the fundamentals of formal logic.

To avoid hypocrisy requires the tools of logic. One of the key ingredients is the syllogism. Syllogistic reasoning is deductive and involved in something like this (sort of): All human being are mammals. Mervin is a human being. Therefore Mervin is a mammal. Pretty simple stuff, and true. If you are reading this, take it from me, you are a mammal. Okay, if this statement jimmied your jammer, you are a clever devil and indeed onto something. Nothing in my example syllogism said anything about reading. We would need another premise or two to get to that. But you know it is true. If you don’t…were you one of my students?

If there is self-awareness, is the hypocrisy a strategy?

Not being aware of their hypocrisy, or that hypocrisy destroys credibility among those who are aware of it and despise it, is likely existent only among people with less education. Those more educated are likely to know what they are doing. That is, they know they are talking out of both sides of their mouth. Thus it must be a strategy.

At this point I am relying primarily on logic and reason; I have no empirical evidence about who does and who does not understand hypocrisy, nor can I speak with any scientific authority on what self-aware hypocrites are up to. I can only guess. But of course my guess is predicated upon nearly a lifetime of observing, studying and experimenting with human beings’ beliefs, attitudes and behavior at the highest formal research levels.

If you don’t have any idea what I mean by this, then it would not help you to know. So here’s my guess, and it breaks down into two parts:

Part 1. Human beings have an almost infinite ability to delude themselves.

It never ceases to amaze me just how completely some people can blind themselves to inconvenient facts. They can “fail” to see their hypocrisy relative to two opposing positions they hold, although they may be singularly astute when it comes to detecting hypocrisy in others.

Case in point. I was once part of a faculty that included one of the world’s foremost authorities on human communication and also an authority on scientific research methods. God help any of his graduate students who did not adhere rigorously to scientifically demonstrable evidence and the strictest use of logic and evidence in theory construction and hypothesis testing.

Yet this world renowned scholar and scientist was an unreconstituted, born-again Christian. In his professional life he could accept only a rigorously lawful universe in which everything was lawful and, if you knew enough, predictable. Yet in his religious life, steeped in Christian theology, anything was possible. Virgins can have babies, the dead can come back to life, magic is real, and so on; his “lawful universe” was put on hold when it came to his personal theology. This man epitomized the highest form of hypocrisy, one in which two mutually inconsistent forms of systematic thinking can exist side by side.

It is obviously possible for some people at least to compartmentalize various intellectual domains. Especially if one of those domains is the person’s religion. Somehow “religion” or “religious belief” has, in the Western world anyway, taken on a kind of untouchable status that makes it immune to criticism or questioning. It exists in a different part of the person’s intellect and is not subject to the same requirements as other internal belief systems.

This is how the scientific or religious hypocrite is untroubled by what would otherwise be sheer hypocrisy. In the mind of the true believer It is somehow okay for God to crap in his own nest; the world has to be lawfully predictable for us but anything is fair game for him. Or her.

My guess, part 2.

This involves what might be called strategic hypocrisy. It can be found in many forms perpetrated by just about everyone who is in any kind of authority position. It is practiced most egregiously by politicians. In my experience, when someone engages in strategic hypocrisy, they are counting on their audience not knowing about their other (oppositional) beliefs. Or proclamations.

In some cases — and we see this most obviously in extremists who believe only what they want to — it makes no difference that the person’s hypocrisy is obvious and publicly known. As long as the intended audience, the audience most important to the ends and goals of the speaker, determinedly will not believe the other side of the story. To them the part they don’t want to believe is fake news or its equivalent, so the hypocrite is safe. He can say one thing to one audience and the opposite to another. His auditors have been verbally drugged, either through propaganda or as a product of their own devising. They are the willfully gullible (but only by the ones they have been conditioned to follow).

Three, What’s to be done about hypocrisy?

In some respects hypocrisy is built into the human psyche so it is never going to be eliminated. But ignoring it is not an option when it is detrimental to a cause or relationship or a child’s psychological and moral development.

Exposure of hypocrisy is the best tactic in situations where that will work.

When a hypocrite knows he is being watched, and that his hypocrisy will be exposed if he engages in it, he is much less likely to be hypocritical. Let the hypocrite know you are watching him and it might change his behavior.

Unfortunately there are many situations in which exposure will not work. Another strategy is to sneak up on the hypocrite through successive probes of his latitude of acceptance.

Before getting into that, though, here is the absolute worst way to convince anyone of anything: Make your first statement something with which the other person strongly disagrees. Whenever you make such a statement, regardless of whether it is correct or not, you effectively turn off the other person’s perception of anything you say after that.

It is almost always a bad idea to make strong oppositional statements to anyone you want to convince of something.

Here is an example from an article on the pros and cons of COVID-19 vaccination, written by a medical doctor who bills himself as “an expert in the field of preventative [sic] cardiology and has published seven books. He gives lectures nationally and internationally.”

“It is my opinion, not shared by an ignorant, ill-informed few, that vaccination was the greatest advance in medicine of the last century.”

I don’t know what kind of cardiologist this guy is, but he knows bupkis about persuasion. His very first sentence not only confronts head-on anyone who might not agree with him, it also insults them by calling them ignorant and ill-informed. The only people who will read beyond that faux pas are his choir.

Graphic showing latitude of acceptance for Covid-19 vaccination.

As I said, approaching another person’s belief structure with a view to changing it can be done through his latitude of acceptance. Do an Internet search for this term and you will come up with a lot of information, but here it is in a nutshell: The latitude of acceptance is a window of receptivity to certain ideas. Here is an example using receptivity/opposition to Covid-19 vaccination.

The latitude of acceptance for this person begins at “A few vaccinations might be acceptable for healthy adults” and ends at “Vaccinations are okay for healthy adults. Beginning your campaign of persuasion with anything stronger will be immediately rejected. Plus, and this is important, rejection tends to be sticky and hang around for a long time. So be cautious and avoid outright rejection.

Very often there is no window of opportunity to shift a belief or attitude; the person is closed off to anything related to the topic. Sticking with the example of vaccination acceptance, suppose even the mention of vaccination was not in any way acceptable. In this case you will have to go around back and sneak in another way. by finding a bridge topic with a latitude of acceptance.

Say for instance the person has a pet dog of which he is quite fond. The dog periodically requires a rabies shot. This is, approached gently, a possible opening for the discussion of vaccinations, beginning with the dog’s and advancing eventually to vaccinations for people. This is a bridge topic that might, with a soft and gradual approach, lead to the acceptance of vaccinations for people.

This vaccination issue, by the way, is not simply an academic exercise, a mute point, or strictly hypothetical. Being the reasonable, intelligent person you are — you are, after all, smart enough to be reading this — you might think hey, why wouldn’t someone want a Covid-19 vaccine? So far over half a million people have died from the virus. But of the 75,000 people who were vaccinated, a month later less than five percent had contracted the virus, none were hospitalized, and none died.

Yet there remain about a third of American adults who either don’t want the vaccine or remain undecided about whether they will get it. That’s over a hundred million people on whom you can hone your persuasion skills.

If you agree, that is, that everyone needs to be immunized to bring this virus under control. If you are not convinced, please bear this in mind: Scientists, epidemiologists, physicians and other healthcare workers — virtually all (99.6 percent) say everyone must be immunized before any of us is really safe from this deadly disease. If you are not in one of the groups I just listed, you have only two choices. One, accept the word of highly educated, trained, dedicated specialists, or two, take advice from someone who probably would not know a virus from a Quonset hut.

Your choice. Make it as if your life depended on it. Because it just might.

No, I have not forgotten that this article is about hypocrisy. To bring it to a close let’s consider just one example of extreme hypocrisy related to the Covid-19 vaccine. Most parents claim to totally love their children and say they would do anything to protect them and keep them safe. Yet some are willing to withhold vaccination from their children based on what Derek Thompson of The Atlantic calls “a constellation of motivations, insecurities, reasonable fears, and less reasonable conspiracy theories.” (What Thompson calls “reasonable fears” are not so reasonable when they are dissected.)

Such parents should be put away and their children raised by more reasonable folk. Unless you can bring them around to a sensible position vis-à-vis vaccination.

There is a lot more that could be said about hypocrisy and ways to deal with it. So this article is certainly far from exhaustive. But it does perhaps give you some indications of the psycho-dynamics involved and ways to approach a deeper understanding of what hypocrisy is, where it springs from, and tactics for dealing with it.

As a postscript let me say that the subject of hypocrisy would be worthy of consideration by any academic or scientist looking for a research area. It should appeal to many disciplines, including philosophy (especially from a logic perspective),  and any of the social or behavioral sciences.

charles e. henderson, ph.d.

Credo phone crapola

credo emblem behind no sign

Like many people I have become more than weary of the incessant greed and profit-driven cynicism of American business. Everyone constantly has their hand out and evidently lies awake nights coming up with ever more devious schemes to filch a little more (and a little more…and a little more…) profit out of every transaction.

We’ve all become wise to product improvements. “New and improved” usually turns out to be basically an improvement in the company’s bottom line and a disimprovement for us customers.

Container walls are a particular peeve of mine. They have become thinner and thinner to the point that a bottle of mouthwash cannot be picked up with the lid off without collapsing and squishing out its contents. Labels have been replaced by printed information on clothing. A food container that used to contain 16 ounces is reduced slightly, like to 14 and a half ounces, but the price remains the same. It looks the same, just slightly (and the company hopes unnoticeably) smaller, but more profitable.

I have visions of company executives winning a (pre-Covid) week in Barbados for coming up with ingenious ways to wrest another penny or two profit on their products.

Greed has become the American national passion. Too much never seems to be enough.

Back in the old days most businesses, especially large, national ones, could be relied on to be basically honest. Not any more. The advertising and marketing pressure, coupled with corporate cynicism, have made consumer cynicism de rigueur. As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” Amen to that.

Hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t set me off. This morning it was Credo Mobile.

A few years ago my wife and I moved our telephone accounts to Credo Mobile because they claimed to be “America’s only progressive cell phone company.” On their web site they say they have donated more than 80 million dollars to progressive nonprofits. Their CEO says they support repeal of the Patriot Act and other measures that appeal to us.

They talk a good story and I don’t doubt their sincerity. And yet…

And yet they still use measures that tick me off.

Their procedure for paperless billing, for example. It seems obvious to me that it is all designed to get customers to pay online. But not with a credit card; you have to give them access to your bank account. And pay early. They love the float. Here’s the way they work it:

They send an email telling me the bill is available to be paid, several weeks in advance. NO amount, NO due date, NO other information (unlike other online billers). UPDATE: I don’t know whether it is because of anything I’ve said to them or not, but now the emailed bill notification shows the date due. But only that. That is an insignificant improvement because it does not eliminate the necessity to go to the site, sign in, and negotiate several pathways to finally get the amount of this month’s bill.

I have to sign onto the account in a browser, pull up the account which shows the amount but NOT the due date.

So I have to pull up a pdf of the statement to get the due date, then
Log onto my bank’s billpay and pay it.

This is a pain in the butt. I wanted to switch back to paper, which is a lot easier for me, but—TA DAH!—that costs an extra two bucks a month.

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The options:
I want paperless billing.
I want to receive paper bills. I understand that I will be charged a $1.99 monthly fee.

And they absolutely do not want to hear anything from me about being dissatisfied with their procedures—I was unable to find any way to contact them other than CHAT which in itself discourages communication because of the anticipated lags between responses, PR blather in a thick Indian accent, and the knowledge that it is all ultimately going into the trash anyway.

A mugwump’s discourse on Republican dystopia

batcons at a trump political rally

I write this at a calamitous and dystopian time in America. A troglodyte Donald J. Trump of immensely meager quality occupies the U.S. presidency, a national election is just two weeks away, and he has threatened nothing less than a coup if he is not re-elected. He and his Republican enablers are busily destroying democracy at home with OrwellianBritish author George Orwell who wrote a dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was published in 1949 and contained many social and political dystopes that have recently come to pass. It is generally considered a bad thing to be Orwellian. tactics and vilifying us abroad while their corporate and Wall Street masters loot and pillage. Meanwhile the Democrats remain true to form by seeking safety in cowardly inaction. They back away from every fight so they can live to not fight another day.

“What’s wrong with these people?” Indeed, what is wrong with them?

Note: Role the cursor over underlined wordsSee what I mean? for further information.

Naive and uninformed voters

Driving past a neighbor’s house the other day I was surprised to see a re-elect Trump poster in their front window. They are both retired public school teachers, educated, reasonably intelligent-seeming, with grandchildren who are the focus of their lives. Those are all qualities one would like to think militate against being a Trump supporter.

One of them, when challenged about their Trump support, reportedly said, “What difference does it make? They’re all alike.”

That comment struck me as extremely naïve and uninformed, to put it charitably. How many other people I know, I wondered, are in their category (for lack of a better term). It reminded me of my long-ago experiences in Europe. I was a musician and worked all over Europe, but my home base was in Germany. So I was around, knew and interacted with a lot of Germans. This was in the 1960s, which was not really all that long after the end of World War II.

Germany’s Nazi past

Whenever I met a German for the first time, if the person was old enough to have been an adult during the war, I would wonder if that person had supported or been a member of the Nazi Party. Many of them must have been because just before the war 43 percent of German voters voted for Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party (the Nazi party). But there was really no way for me to know who had and had not been a Nazi because they never voluntarily talked about the past and it would have been a social faux pas for me to bring it up.

Hearsay was the only way I learned anything about Germans’ political positions before and during the war. A fellow musician, Igon, for instance, told me about three close members of his family who had survived the war. His older brother had been in the Hitler Youth, a Nazi organization infamous for its National socialist propagandizing of its members. His brother was still, at the time I knew Igon, fervently in support of Nazi ideals, although he was quiet about it and only his closest family members knew. The Catholic Jesuits would understand this. They’re the ones who say “give me a kid till he’s seven and we’ll have him for life.”

Igon’s uncle and mother had believed in the tenets of the Nazi Party up to and into the beginning of World War II but later came to regret their support. Like Igon, most of the Germans I knew who were too young to have been Nazis had stories of relatives and other people they knew who had at one time or another been Nazi regime supporters. I eventually concluded that there were three reasons — either altogether or singly — people came to regret their Nazi involvement or support: Guilt, embarrassment, and political correctness. But they felt that way only after their world began to crumble and the writing on the wall became evident to all except the most ardent supporters of the Third Reich.

About the Germans back then I was mostly just curious. Today my curiosity about Republicans is much more serious because it appears to me the United States is in a condition somewhat similar to Germany of the 1930s when the National Socialists were forming and coming to power.

“Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt.” Germany, Germany, above all, above all in the world. This is the first verse of the German national anthem, and it is now illegal in Germany to include it when the anthem is sung. “Germany above all.” That kind of sentiment is implied by “Make American great again”: Amerika über alles. And here is a typically Republican phrase from our own national anthem: “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is justLyric from the full version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” (And you thought you knew all the words to the U.S. national anthem.).”

The total social, civic and political disruption in Europe that resulted from fascism and nationalism has already begun in the Western world. Many find it easy to ignore reality and pretend everything is alright. It is not. Malevolent menMostly men, but there are plenty of malevolant women, too. have been elevated to positions of power, abetted by a largely somnambulant electorate in thrall to corporatists and thugs. There is in fact a national malaise that defies any description I can come up with. Today my fellow Americans are unhappy in a deeply unAmerican way. The country has drifted away from the sense of purpose and optimism that used to be its driving force. Its élan vital.

Liberal democracies and authoritarian tyrannies

Liberal democracies all over the world are giving way to sinister, horrifying authoritarian tyrannies. Barbarians are in the ascendance, breathing new life into fascist hype and blather, subverting language, eviscerating values, punishing courage and replacing it with their own loutish bullying, and blurring vision and critical consciousness with a relentless stream lies and obfuscations.

So who are these perpetrators of barbarity, and who are their supporters? What makes them tick? What can be done about them? These three questions have been on my mind a lot the last several years — since 1979, actually, when the Brits elected Margaret Thatcher, and 1980, when the U.S. elected a vacuous actorRonald Reagan who immediately began dismantling everything. The political road has been downhill ever since. The coup de grâce came in 2016 when America went berserk and elected a vile, phony dipshit president. That is, it will prove to have been the final, killing blow if Trump is re-elected in a couple of weeks.

[Update: Since I wrote this the election has been held and Trump lost to Joseph Biden. Trump is now busily proving his insanity by denying he lost. The Electoral College certified Biden the winner of the election and Trump has become the whiny Loser-in-chief.]

We know who many of these barbarians are, whether we want to or not. There are plenty of mad-eyed citizens loudly proclaiming their conservative convictions at the drop of a MAGA cap. Many are armed and dangerous. Not all conservatives are loudmouths, of course. Many are not first- or even second-brick throwers; they are malevolently quiet; lurking, mewling, say, in the anonymity of a Trump political rally or watching it on TV in their darkened homes. And there are clearly many who are closet conservatives and only occasionally feel strong — or deranged — enough to make their political position public. Like my neighbors who surprised me with the Trump sign in their window. After being challenged they removed the sign and have not been seen since. That was a disappointment because if people insist on being stupid I would like them to at least have the courage of their convictions.

There are conventional conservatives who strongly dislike Trump but who will vote for him because they prefer the poison they know over the poison they don’t. As far as I’m concerned that is an operational definition of shit-for-brains. Far too many on the political left also fall into that category, voting for whomever the Democratic Party tells them to. There is plenty of that kind of ignorance around; ignorance has become the primary stanchionWhen I was growing up in farm country a stanchion was a frame that held the head of a cow in place, especially to facilitate milking. Think about it. of American Society.

Mussolini and Hitler standing side by side.
Benito Mussolini of Fascist Italy and Alolph Hitler of Nazi Germany, c. 1939.

Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, said “know your enemy.” Americans don’t. Liberals don’t know much about conservatives and conservatives don’t know much about liberals. In my early adult years I was what today would be called a political operative. I ran, co-ran, and helped in numerous Republican electoral campaigns ranging from county commissioner to governor. In those years I had plenty of opportunity to observe Republicans of every stripe. My conclusion about them was that conservatives are hardly ever deep thinkers. They would almost always rather spend more of their time in action than thinking. Democrats, on the other hand, are more devoted thinkers but seem to have never seen a fight they couldn’t run from.

Based on my own experience — and on his high esteem among conservatives — I would say Russell Kirk’s 1953 landmark book The Conservative Mind is a good source of information about how conservatives think, their principal beliefs and principles in general, and how they differ from liberals. A brief and more concise online overview of Kirk’s idealized version of conservative values can be found in his article, “Ten Conservative Principles.” You can read a brief biography of Kirk in “About Russell Kirk.”

My reference to Kirk is simply to provide a readable source on mainline conservative values. In my opinion he was (he died in 1994) a middleweight thinker who, along with William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Kristols, did much of the (shallow) thinking for a long list of conservatives. (Frank Meyer, George Stigler, Milton Friedman, Phyllis Schlafly, George Will, Peggy Noonan, Nixon, Thatcher, Reagan, Bush … need I go on? Trump is not mentioned in this list because he does his own, well, whatever it is that passes for thinking with him.)

Conservatism and liberalism and the anterior cingulate gyrus

Mainline conservatives and liberals (as distinct from the radicals of either direction) differ in ideologies which in turn stem from differences in perception. We now have plenty of neuroscientific evidence — particularly in the form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — that brain physiology contributes to, or even determines, conservative or liberal orientation. The cognitive styles of each are different and correlate with the size of the anterior cingulate gyrus (smaller in conservatives) and the right amygdala (smaller in liberals) in their brain. These differences are present very early on, perhaps at birth.

Correlations have been found even in very young children. Whether the differences are there at birth, or are the result of environmental influences, is not yet known. But this goes a long way toward explaining the hard-headed stubbornness of conservatives to any form of rational argument against their beliefs.

People with a relatively larger cingulate gyrus have shown in research to be more amenable to belief change. But not a lot! Take any fundamental tenet of conservatism and try to get a liberal to agree it has any merit at all. You will see the same intellectual brick wall for which conservatives are notorious. They just won’t pull a gun on you.

ambiguous figure-ground image
Ambiguous figure-ground. Some people see a vase, while others see two faces in profile.

The (probably) genetic differences between conservatives’ and liberals’ cognition explains why they see the world differently. Liberals see the glass as half full while conservatives see it as half empty. A more subtle test might be the way people see ambiguous figure-ground illustrations. Looking at the illustration on the left, the conservative initially sees a vase while the liberal sees two faces. I just made that up — which sees one or the other — but I’m probably right.

On the other hand, if one looks at an ambiguous figure long enough it tends to flip back and forth. One minute you might see the vase, then suddenly all you can see is two faces. Then it might flip back again. And so on. Does this mean that people can be conservative or liberal at will? Or if a liberal stares at at conservative long enough does he begin to look like a liberal? Nah. Not a chance.

Unless you can get them to look you in the eye for an extended period of time, and you do the same to them.

Eye-to-eye bonding

Eye-to-eye gazing causes positive affect and social bonding. You see it happening between just-born children and adults, and between pets and their people. Although it usually drives pet people nuts because they can’t figure out what their dog wants, just quietly staring at them. The dog doesn’t want anything, he’s just adoring you. Stare back and he’ll love it.

Just so you’ll know there is science behind what I am saying, here’s what happens. The eye-to-eye gazing causes the amygdala to produce oxytocin which is secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. This is sometimes referred to as the cuddle hormone. “Cuz that’s what makes ya wanna do it, Dopey.”

Don’t try this eye-to-eye gazing with just anyone. Pick the wrong conservative and you might get shot. There’s a lot of that going around.

This might be a more practical example of the difference between conservative and liberal thinking: Observing themselves and fellow human beings, conservatives come to the conclusion that humankind is not perfectible and therefore must always be kept under control by external forces. On the other hand, the same observations by liberals convince them that humans are infinitely malleable and utopia is possible along with great individual liberty and freedom.

Cognitive predilections of liberals and conservatives

Cognitive predilections do indeed have a profound influence on what we perceive. We might see the same things but what we perceive can be quite different. We don’t see eye to eye, as the expression goes.

Liberals are optimistic about human potential whereas conservatives believe Edmund Burke was correct when he wrote, “…nothing could be more fatal to mankind than his success.” This at least partially explains the strong dislike conservatives have for anything that smacks of socialism. Liberals generally have less trouble with it. In fact, the Republicans have made themselves so hated by the thinking classes that there is now a whiff of democratic socialism in the air. Populations here and around the world are beginning to rebel against the predatory capitalism of neoliberalism which has concentrated much of the planet’s wealth in the hands of a hateful, undeserving financial elite.

The financial elite have found willing henchmen in evangelical Christians and batshit crazy conservatives like Moscow Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and William Barr. I avoid listing Donald Trump because he is mentally disturbed and belongs in either an asylum (other than the White House) or just, you know, dead. [Update: Barr just resigned. Good riddance.]

Modern Republicans’ characteristics

Today’s Republicans are despised by the Left and frankly by everyone capable of finding their way out from under a MAGA cap in the dark. You know a Republican when you see one, but you might not have taken the time to inventory their characteristics. I’m about to do that. Keep in mind that no one is likely to be all of the things at any given time. Also keep in mind that there can never be a complete list because Batcons What else could we call them? They’re just batshit crazy conservatives, as opposed to just garden variety conservatives. lie awake nights thinking up ever new ways to be mean and obdurately stupid.

  • Facts are foolish. Batcons will always choose alternate facts when they don’t like the real ones. In fact, most facts are anathema to them because facts force reality to intrude on their fevered dreams.
  • Government is bad. The less there is of it, the better. Which goes to show the Batcon’s almost total absence of rational thought in light of the next point.
  • Batcons MUST have a leader. Clearly they will follow anyone who can properly feed and maintain their self-delusions. The only requirement is that the presumptive leader must (1) already wield some power; (2) be willing to throw the first brick; (3) be male; (4) be annoying, painful or destructive to everyone and everything hated by the Batcon (and that’s just about every intelligent, civil and worthwhile human on the planet); and (5) be generally as batshit nuts as they are. (Cf. Trump.)
  • Global warming is a myth concocted by prissy liberals “who think they’re so damned smart just ’cause they got college degrees and shit like that.” After all, climate change is normal and to be expected and, anyway, even if there were such a thing, it’s certainly not our fault.
  • Everyone but us is lazy. People have to be forced to make their own way. Nothing should be free. Anyone can get a job who’s willing to work and lift themselves up by their own goose-stepping bootstraps. Hence any form of welfare (except bank and corporate welfare, of course), free healthcare, or any other form of freely given largess will only subvert capitalism and put a dent in human ambition. Any weakening in a leftward direction must be resisted.
  • The death penalty is good. It helps cut down on the number of Negroes and Mexicans running loose, and other elements of the surplus population. An additional bonus is that it feeds the Batcons’ insatiable need to hurt and kill anyone who disagrees with them. (Why else would firearms be such a fetish, and absolutely essential, for them? There are other bases for a fascination with guns, of course, but that’s an unrelated topic.)
  • Commies, queers and darkies should be killed when they riot. And every left-leaning demonstration is to be considered a riot. What else are we supposed to do with all these guns? Oh yeah, and Mexicans too. In fact everyone who ain’t white like us. Probably Gypsies too [spit]. And the towel-heads (that’s Muslims to you, you over-civilized mugwump). [Okay, my bad. No Batcon is likely to know what a mugwump is. I’m a mugwump. A person who remains aloof or independent, especially from party politics.]
  • Socialists should also be killed. Capitalism, although only dimly comprehended by your garden variety Batcon, is the only acceptable system. Free markets and corporations should be unhampered by taxes and government regulation.
  • Guns are good. They are not to be controlled in any way, in case this needs repeating.
  • No universal healthcare. Like Medicare for all, for example. Again, in case this needs repeating: Freeloaders must not be encouraged. (Keep in mind that this sentiment is held even by the Batcons who are on Social Security and Medicare. They are supremely ignorant of almost everything except what they have been told to believe. And, being true believers, they believe fervently.)
  • The United States is a Christian nation. Everyone should be Christian just like us. A Christian theocracy in the U.S. would be just fine. Forget all that science and all those fake facts. Just pray (beats the hell out of having to actually think about anything because thinking is hard!).
  • Same-sex marriage and all forms of gender difference are bad. Forget all that alphabet crap lgbtqrsdbd…argh!
  • Batcons really, really hate logic, reason and rational discourse. Thus they deprive themselves of even the simplest understanding of civilization’s foundations and everything that is the result of several millennia of human thought, value and work toward a civilized world.
  • Batcons are driven by anarchic impulse. The world is so screwed-up, in their opinion, so far from being the way the garden variety Batcon would like it to be (not that they really know in any detail how they would like it to be), that only destruction can produce improvement. Anarchy is welcome.
  • Equality is unrealistic and unachievable. [A belief also commonly held by mainline conservatives.] That goes for every kind of equality. No two things in this world are exactly alike. You want to be equal, you should have been born a white male. If that’s not what you are, go back where you came from. And if you are a white Christian male, and you don’t agree with me on every single point, drop dead. Here, let me help you with that…
  • Utopia is impossible. [Related to the point above and also commonly held by mainline conservatives.] Not only is the concept of utopia unrealistic, it would be fiendishly boring if ever achieved. If no utopia is possible then any effort in that direction is a waste of time. THIS IS A KEY TENET IN BATCON THINKING! All attempts at liberal achievement are considered a waste of time, energy and — this is particularly important — resources, some of which either belong to the Batcon or are provided through taxes. Therefore they are to be stopped and eradicated at all costs. This partially explains why Batcons are so mean, cruel and despicable. At least in the view of anyone with even the slightest leanings toward Enlightenment values.
  • Batcons have a Manichean vision of the world. They are in an irreducible struggle between good (themselves) and bad (everyone else). There are no shades of gray.
  • Private property ownership is the foundation of all great civilizations. [Another belief held also by mainline conservatives.] An attack on the concept of private property is an attack on civilization. That is, civilization as interpreted by Batcon warped metrics, of course.
  • Compassion is for sissies. Don’t bother me with all that touchy-feely crap.
  • Wisdom is whatever I say it is.
  • Meta-cognition is stunted. Okay, this one is a toughie to explain to anyone who is not a cognitive scientist. It is the collection of mental processes that guide our thoughts. In addition to emotions, motives, and visceral responses, thoughts are also influenced by other thoughts. That is what meta-cognition is about. Meta-cognition helps us:
    — Check ourselves when we are wrong.
    — Investigate complex issues to gather a broader range of perspectives other than our own. Legitimately consider the diverse perspectives of those with whom you don’t agree.
    — Construct a big-picture view.
    — Recognize the limits of ones own knowledge and experience intellectual humility.

These, then, are at least a beginning list of the primary descriptors and characteristics of Batcons. There are others. There will always be others because Batcons do not have values. They entertain only the unfounded beliefs that have been handed to them by those who know how to manipulate and control them to forward their own selfish ends. Batcons readily and willingly serve the wealthiest, elitist elements of society.

Batcon mentality

A Batcon’s mentality can only be comprehended through an understanding of the mentality of his masters, whom Batcons will unquestioningly follow. No assault upon a Batcon’s beliefs and attitudes will change them except in the unlikely event the assault is from Batcons’ enablers. Batcons are notoriously hard to proselytize, once they have committed to their leaders, because they have been inoculated against any information that (1) deviates from their received dogma or that (2) does not come directly from their leaders.

Just as measles virus cannot invade an inoculated host vaccinated against it, new or opposing ideas cannot gain purchase in the mind of a Batcon inoculated against them.

Reasoned discourse with Batcons is a fruitless waste of time. The inoculation of Batcons has rendered all forms of logical discourse and reasoning ineffectual.

The recruitment of Batcons in America takes place primarily through conservative talk radio, Fox News, and social media (Facebook and Twitter). How talk radio came under the total control of batshit conservatism is a story in itself, and Fox News has long been recognized as a primary Batcon propaganda ministry. Batcons have voluntarily subjected themselves to thousands of hours of far-right-wing propaganda spewing out of these media sources. Few humans can withstand that kind of sustained, withering brainwashing.

Nascent Batcons are initially attracted to illogical tenets of batshit conservatism because it seems to offer them strength to compensate for their own unacknowledged weakness and vulnerability, and retribution against those they have come to hate. They are quickly and easily hooked. The daily media doses of far-right drivel indoctrinate them beyond redemption. Thus is constituted both their instruction and their inoculation against any and all opposing views. Like the citizens of North Korea they are soon beyond saving. There is no logical, reasonable, humane way to break through their self-chosen bubble of irrationality and hatred, and their sense of invincibility.

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They are frightening. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the many conservative talk radio stations are frightened by their audience. They live in terror of the monster they have created.

Censorship, though, is not the solution. The way to combat bad ideas is with good ideas. But it is now obvious that Fox News and talk radio must be dismantled if we are ever to get control over the Batcon epidemic among the susceptible.

One of the reasons there is such a large susceptible segment of the American population is the failure of our educational system. It must be reconstituted and begin teaching children the Enlightenment values so essential to the kind of culture and society in which most people prefer to live.

So how many Batcons are there in the world? This brings me back to my earlier comments concerning my curiosity about how many of the Germans I met were ex-Nazis. How many Americans truly fall into the Batcon mental sewer?

There is no way to be sure and the number is constantly changing because, as with any structurally defined population unit, there will be at least a few on the fringes who slip in and out of the defined group, depending upon how they think the world is treating them at the moment. But here’s an educated guess.

Standard normal distribution curve showing conservative and liberal distributions
Standard normal distribution curve showing possible percent of Batcons in the larger society.

Begin with the assumption that the genetic tendency toward conservatism or liberalism is normally distributed in the population. As you can see from the normal distribution curve on the left, half of the population is conservative leaning and half is liberal. The beliefs and behavior of those in the very middle region of the curve might be hard to distinguish one from another, while those who fall into the farthest right and left are the more rabid cases; liberals on the right side conservatives on the left. On the farthest left are the Batcons. (Please note the intentional reversal of traditional “right” and “left” in the diagram.)

Considering the best evidence I have found (certainly nowhere near conclusive), I estimate the percentage of the American population that are Batcons to be nearly ten percent. About 75 percent of Americans are 18 or older. With a total U.S. population close to 330 million, that puts the adult population at roughly 250 million (or near-adult population, one could argue).

According to my estimate, then, there are close to 25 million Batcons in the U.S. I don’t think they are evenly distributed around the 50 U.S. states but if they were that would be about 495,000 in each state. You can see by the U.S. map below the political ideology of the population in each state. Whatever the distribution of Batcons actually is, there are plenty of them to go around.

Map of U.S. political ideology by state in 2020
United States political ideology by state in 2020 according to Gallup information.

To say that one out of every ten Americans are Batcons might seem a lot, but frankly I have the impression they are everywhere. Maybe it just seems that way because they are so noisy and obnoxious.

There used to not be nearly as many as there are today. About a half a century or so ago when I was active in conservative politics there were a lot fewer Batcons. As noted above, conservative talk radio and Fox News have really done a number on the American population, serving to divide as nothing else has since the Civil War.

And keep in mind that over and above that number are the hard-core conservatives who can still be plenty unreasonable. They are the people represented in the right-hand side of that 13.59 percent part of the curve (the second gray section left of center), between minus one and minus two standard deviations from the mean. (You don’t have to know about standard deviations if you don’t want to, just know that “deviations” in this context is a statistical term, not a slur on conservatives. At least, not intentionally.)

Batcons’ threat to society

Batcons are clearly a threat to civil society, a kind of threat that extreme liberals will never be. Not from overt aggression, anyway. It is the Batcons who are the domestic terrorists (they fashion themselves “militias”), killer cops, and kamikaze drivers into crowds of demonstrators. Most of them are too far gone to be converted into compassionate, thinking human beings. And they cannot be allowed to run rampant over everyone else. They can only be subdued, and to do that requires a massive, concerted effort on the part of those who recognize Batcons for the miscreants they are.

The more rational conservatives have already begun attempts to reign in the Batcons. There is widespread awareness that conservatives’ fortunes are sinking and American culture is turning against them. Their views, commonplace only yesterday, are coming under more and more condemnation. American conservatives’ redoubt, the Republican Party, has show itself willing to tear the country apart rather than face a bleak future of failure to win elections. Their main strategy is to narrow the electorate to give it a better chance of winning legislative majorities with a minority of votes. They have stacked the courts with incompetent, Batcon-leaning judges who can be relied upon to vote as their corporate sponsors direct. The henchmen of this disturbed and sinking order are the Batcons, and they must be constrained.

To get moderate conservatives on board with this will require shunning of Batcons, ridicule of them, and outright rejection by the rest of society. Only when Batcons are widely shown to be foolish and inept — and only when the Batcons themselves realize how foolish and inept the rest of the world considers them to be, even though they will never agree — will they pull in their horns and go back into philosophical and political hiding. They have to be forced back under the rocks from whence they came.

However, it is extremely important that things not be made to look hopeless for the more moderate conservatives. If they come to the conclusion that they will be permanently excluded from government by electoral politics, they may well reject democracy altogether. Some of the more benighted Republicans in Congress are already making disparaging remarks about democracy and representative government. Some of them would clearly rather bring down the whole national edifice than lose their cushy jobs and preference.

What it will take to get America’s Batcons on the run

The kind of concerted social demonstration needed to send the Batcons running will require participation by moderate conservatives, and to get them onboard will require a minimum of two things:

  1. Conservatives must not be made to believe that all conservative causes and concepts have forever been plowed under. There must remain a glimmer of hope for them and they must be made to believe that losing elections in a democracy is preferable to winning in a state of anarchy. Some might of course actually prefer anarchy under the delusion that their own personal “specialness” and exceptionalism will keep them on top of the heap. They must be disabused of such thoughts.
  2. Liberal extremism must be toned down. Liberal principles need not be abandoned, merely moderated and made less extreme. This does not mean there should be movement toward the middle in the way the DNC and mainline Democrats would like to see. That would merely be continuing to kiss the collective ass of the One Percent. Mainline Democrats — but not progressive Democrats and some Independents — have been doing that for too long. It is that prolonged butt-smooch that has contributed in large measure to what got us into the current mess in the first place. It must be avoided at all costs.

So changes will have to be made on both sides of the divide. But the biggest, most important changes will be required of the conservatives. They have already damaged their standing and reputation, perhaps beyond salvage. Already there are clear signs of many Republicans trying to distance themselves from Trump and his ilk. But whatever their fate, they must re-join the more humane segments of the people and embrace the tenets of liberty, equality, and reason. Batcons must be vanquished and dispersed, and anyone who sides with them should suffer the same fate.