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It's a Mistake to Think of our Fellow Americans on the Right as "Stupid" People

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I've often heard it said that the people in the Republican base, who believe the patent falsehoods purveyed by their leaders, are "stupid." But I don't think that's how they're to be understood. I've known too many people who buy the almost transparent lies nonetheless show real intelligence in other areas of their lives.

Here's what I think we're looking at that may look like "stupidity."

A person's consciousness --- the form their awareness takes --- is not all of a piece, not identical in every situation. We tend to operate differently in different contexts, to have different capacities that get engaged in different aspects of our lives. We might think of people as having different "modules" of consciousness that kick in depending on what "programs" they've learned to apply in each realm of their lives.

With the people on the right, in our times, what I believe is that they've been taught over time to bring a far-from-best self into the specifically political realm.  Part of the teaching has been from the deep, long-established culture, which inculcates in those who grow up in it certain ways of dealing with issues of power and authority and rage and pain. But, most recently and most visibly, they've been systematically taught -- for a full generation now by skilled and completely unprincipled propagandists, like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove -- how to be members in good standing in the right-wing political culture.

These propagandists have worked to get people to look at politics through a particular, warped lens. Feeding their fears and hatreds, and turning off their intelligence in the political realm.  Over the years, a module has been constructed in their minds for how to think and feel when the cross into the political world-- a module that gradually transferred a bunch of sane Republicans into a bunch of people who support the very opposite of what they think they're supporting.

Mistaking the evil for the good is surely a manifestation of profound brokenness. And the error is built upon brokenness.



Among the various components of that political module the right has cultivated -- rage, resentment, feelings of victimhood, compensatory feelings of superiority, etc. -- one essential component involves shutting off the kind of intelligence that they'd apply to other circumstances. Going into crazy, broken, destructive pictures of the world generally requires parking one's intelligence at the door. People can be taught to be stupid. (Indeed, a famous psychological work once defined neurosis as a form of "learned stupidity.")

The force that serves the Spirit of Brokenness constructs this module in order to open the way for that force to suck the power out of the people for the force's own use. Those who have been conned, who have been manipulated into being so governed by their well-fed fears and hatreds and resentments, are led by the lies into giving away their power to a force that will only do it ill.

Turning off their intelligence with the Political Module is necessary. They'd never be as easy to deceive and manipulate if they brought to their political decisions the kinds of intelligence they'd use in making their business decisions.

A certain amount of the division of consciousness in human life into different modules is probably natural and inevitable. But the more that brokenness is dominating the scene, the more pronounced this "modulization" of consciousness will be. And that's certainly true about the scene being enacted on the right today.

Two levels of brokenness are relevant here: 1) the brokenness that is at the heart of the spirit that animates the right; and 2) the brokenness that was already there in the psyche of those people who have been rendered, by their socialization, most vulnerable to being misled and misdirected by the Limbaughs etc. of the world.

Brokenness works through brokenness.

I've heard that sometimes people with Multiple Personality Disorder can be so split that it's possible for one of the personae of an "individual" to have an allergy that another of their personae does not. If that's true, then it should not be inconceivable that in people who are not that fractured, but who still have unsolved issues impeding real integration and integrity, there would be a consciousness module (a persona, if you prefer) that is intelligent, and another in which the faculty for intelligent critical thinking and the spotting of nonsense as been blocked.

Perhaps such an understanding of the problem -- smart people with their intelligence turned off, not stupid people -- will suggest more effective strategies for bringing our fellow Americans back into alignment with reality. Perhaps ways can be found to help them switch their intelligence back on for use in the political context.

 

Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)
 

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I think you're probably on to something here, but ... by intotheabyss on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 1:47:39 PM
I, along with probably progressives and anyone wh... by Vel Santic on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 2:12:19 PM
Therefore, all of us who are either progressives ... by Vel Santic on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 2:12:46 PM
I go for both.I.e., I agree with you that "it is c... by Andrew Schmookler on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 3:54:04 PM
[transfers] a bunch of sane Republicans into a bu... by Robert S. Becker on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 2:55:58 PM
Yes, conservatives shoot themselves in the foot, ... by Robert S. Becker on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 3:26:55 PM
What does it mean to "suffer" from moralism?Does t... by Andrew Schmookler on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 3:49:42 PM
Not at all, though I sensed you were oversimplify... by Robert S. Becker on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 4:34:56 PM
With respect to what should or should not be call... by Andrew Schmookler on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 9:24:56 PM
Fine but linguistic context matters and "evil" com... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 12:16:10 PM
[contd.] BTW, Mr. Becker, you seem to have jumped ... by Andrew Schmookler on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 9:27:44 PM
Thanks for the clarification as your piece fluctu... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 12:20:50 PM
I will stand by that statement you regard as too... by Andrew Schmookler on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 9:30:14 PM
I think we agree on the deception involved but, fo... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 12:26:41 PM
The issue of "demonization" is an important one. ... by Andrew Schmookler on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 9:43:47 PM
My regrets if anything I said (anywhere) implied ... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 12:47:50 PM
You've been fine, Robert. I've been putting the w... by Andrew Schmookler on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:28:30 PM
I recall prior discussions about what I find less... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:42:27 PM
when you said " Tea Partiers dream of 20 years ag... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 12:08:43 AM
That's is? Not good enough for many patriotic real... by Bill Johnson on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 7:21:07 AM
quoting "They favor what we perceive as selfishne... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 12:05:54 AM
Ultimately, from my reading here, all, with the ex... by Doc McCoy on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 7:47:03 PM
Thanks and I am sure we both agree you mean those... by Robert S. Becker on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 8:25:55 PM
sorry, only to this Nope.  this country'... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 5:24:04 PM
@Andrew Schmookler, I totally agree with your sub... by Vel Santic on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 10:59:41 PM
In USA yet, of all the contemporary western devel... by Vel Santic on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 11:01:52 PM
I have read this article and comment stream with h... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:06:44 AM
You said many things exactly. It's just that I th... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:20:52 AM
[Continuing]The wikipedia article defines postmod... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:21:29 AM
[Continuing]Can we say that these wingnuts could ... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:30:10 AM
Me as a person who happens to be a civilian refuge... by Vel Santic on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014 at 11:38:56 PM
I fear you paint with a very broad brush - broader... by Doc McCoy on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 2:24:15 AM
All that I have ever gotten from the left is the ... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:17:45 PM
In minimal ways I have been impacted by liberal pr... by Doc McCoy on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 5:26:35 AM
Thanks for the complete response.  Of course... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 9:37:59 AM
See, this is why I don't like being addressed by ... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:50:07 PM
-continuing- I was specifically told by a work... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 2:10:44 PM
-continuing- At a job in a department store tha... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 2:19:41 PM
-continuing- and then atop of that you Mr. McCoy ... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 2:42:59 PM
-continuing- then, you Mr. McCoy go on saying " A... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 3:24:49 PM
-continuing- Responsibility, that you Mr.McCoy at... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 3:38:01 PM
My heart goes out to you, Mr. Santic, for what yo... by Andrew Schmookler on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 9:36:07 AM
And, talking about fears, the fears are imposed o... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 12:42:01 AM
My comments above were addressed only to the poin... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:55:24 AM
I understand.  My initial reply to you was t... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 2:14:48 AM
I can assure you Mr. Santic that right wing views ... by Doc McCoy on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 4:45:09 AM
Seems like topic drift usually tapers off and ends... by Charles Roll on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 12:04:22 PM
So, please, Mr. Becker, let's not embellish nor ... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 1:31:40 PM
Only to reply with respect to Mr. Becker. I tota... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 4:34:18 PM
@Andrew Schmookler, I thank You for Your honest a... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 3:38:44 PM
Sorry you have to withdraw as you provide a power... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 5:57:32 PM
Mr. Becker, I already said- I've had misfortune to... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 7:02:28 PM
And, he i.e. MCCoy made indeed very incorrect ass... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 7:14:23 PM
Thanks, forgot about the short snippet from Mr. J... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 8:20:34 PM
oh, "thanks" for making excuses for McCoy's behav... by Vel Santic on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 1:23:31 AM
Fine, you appear to take everything that disagree... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 9:11:55 AM
I seem to have struck a raw nerve with you Mr. San... by Doc McCoy on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 9:06:22 PM
Continued from above:People compartmentalize othe... by Doc McCoy on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 9:21:44 PM
You have a total and elementary misunderstanding ... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 11:07:27 PM
You McCoy not only don't want to take into accoun... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 11:30:04 PM
I agree with your tone and conclusions and have so... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 9:15:25 AM
Why move to china, do McCoy?  God know it's n... by Mary B Newkirk on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 7:14:32 PM
In a nutshell:  My goal was to retire by the... by Doc McCoy on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 10:01:01 PM
There you go, a typical continuation of your tira... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 9:56:57 PM
Prior to your condescending and paternalizing firs... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 10:18:55 PM
A civil question sir:  Why is it so important... by Doc McCoy on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 10:51:56 PM
A civil question (that I already asked you, btw.)... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 11:53:11 PM
Didn't I already say that the more I tried to "ig... by Vel Santic on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 12:17:34 AM
(I'm only compartmentalizing my replies like this... by Vel Santic on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 12:37:58 AM
Regarding your nonsensical "your control over me"... by Vel Santic on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 12:38:27 AM
Regarding dislike for immigrants, you are only st... by Vel Santic on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 10:42:13 PM
An interesting concept of a "broken" Right, and I... by E. J. N. on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 4:43:55 PM
There are no elements here in the picture that we... by Andrew Schmookler on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 5:18:32 PM
Thanks for that clarification. It shows we mostly... by E. J. N. on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 7:16:40 PM
I don't deny that Reagan and his presidency had a... by Andrew Schmookler on Monday, Feb 24, 2014 at 10:01:39 PM
I find this an importantly insightful article. I ... by Patrick Walker on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 11:25:47 AM
Thank you for your appreciative words here, Mr. Wa... by Andrew Schmookler on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 12:30:01 PM
Your article fully deserved the kind words. Pleas... by Patrick Walker on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 2:22:58 PM
A P.S.: I would never try to defend the honesty o... by Patrick Walker on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 2:50:53 PM
I agree, Patrick, that O is more overtly, rhetori... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 at 8:16:37 PM
Far upstream, supposing that the comment stream wa... by Charles Roll on Wednesday, Feb 26, 2014 at 2:42:04 AM
In excerpts of Schmookler's comments, above, I ha... by Charles Roll on Wednesday, Feb 26, 2014 at 2:59:22 AM
McCoy represents exactly the "inner-directed" pers... by Charles Roll on Wednesday, Feb 26, 2014 at 3:22:44 AM
I agree with everyone here. If you are hoping to '... by Charles Roll on Wednesday, Feb 26, 2014 at 3:25:16 AM