Monday, October 14, 2013


Yesterday I meant to flag this bit of both-sides-do-it idiocy from Gregory Mankiw, who regards himself as an expert on partisanship-as-blood-sport because he occasionally has awkward conversations about the fact that he's a Republican at Harvard:
... A classic result in social psychology, called the Robber's Cave experiment, sheds light on the current dysfunctional political dynamic. It was conducted in 1954 by the psychologist Muzafer Sherif.

Mr. Sherif took a group of 22 boys, 12 years old, to a summer camp in Robber's Cave State Park in Oklahoma. The boys did not know one another but came from similar backgrounds.... The boys were randomly split into two groups.

During the first week of camp, the groups were separated.... The two groups named themselves the Eagles and the Rattlers.

In the second week of camp, the Eagles and the Rattlers were brought together for competitive team activities like baseball and tug-of-war. Even though the boys had similar backgrounds, the competition was far from friendly. Taunting, name-calling and vandalizing the other team's property were common. The teams were so aggressive that the researchers sometimes had to physically separate them. When the boys were later asked about the experience, they described their own team as virtuous and the opposing team in much more negative terms.

In short, group identity and competition led to irrational and self-righteous hostility. Doesn't that sound like the political rhetoric we hear on the daily news?
It certainly doen't sound like how we arrived at the political rhetoric we hear on the daily news. The Republicans who've brought us to this crisis weren't randomly selected; they were chosen by voters precisely for their extremism and intransigence. They haven't been arbitrarily placed on one side of a divide for a couple of weeks after previously having no ill feelings about the boys on the other side -- they've imbibed a group ideology for, in most cases, their entire adult lives, and often from adolescence, one that tells them that their opponents are pure evil.
... Mr. Sherif ... did manage to return some harmony to the Eagles and the Rattlers. After the period of zero-sum competition was over, the boys faced a series of "superordinate" goals that transcended group concerns. For example, the boys had to deal with an interruption in their water supply, a problem that could be solved only if the two groups worked cooperatively. After several joint activities, the animosity lessened. When the camp was over, the boys agreed to return home on a single bus, and they happily socialized with members of the other group.
That's similar to Paul Krugman's idea that an alien invasion of earth would bring about an economic recovery, because we'd all agree that the invasion must be repulsed, and so we'd spend what's necessary to get the job done (which would be economically stimulative).

This, however, has nothing to do with the situation we're in. Our situation is one in which the Rattlers have persuaded themselves that the Eagles are utterly satanic, and the only way to stop them from destroying the camp as we know it is to interrupt the water supply themselves, then demand concessions from the Eagles so that everyone in the camp won't die of thirst. They hit upon this plan when they realize that the bylaws of the camp put the water supply in their control.

Sorry, Greg -- not quite the scenario you're imagining.

1 comment:

Victor said...

And it’s helpful to your cause, if you have no regard for rules, to change the rules you don’t like:

Not helpful for democracy.

But why trifle on such insignificant details?

Also, too - the rube-ification of America: