Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Coronavirus Partisan Divide

Thomas Edsall has a roundup of thoughts about the politics of Covid-19 in the Times. This is from sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox:
Progressives have grown more likely to embrace a culture of “safetyism” in recent years. This safetyism seeks to protect them and those who are deemed the most vulnerable members of our society from threats to their emotional and physical well-being. . . . progressives are willing to embrace the maximal measures to protect themselves, the public, and the most vulnerable among us from this threat. . . . [In contrast} many conservatives are most concerned about protecting the American way of life, a way of life they see as integrally bound up with liberty and the free market.
Because many on the political right see the lockdowns as impinging “on their liberty, the free market’s workings, and their financial well-being,” he continued, “many conservatives want the lockdowns ended as quickly as possible.”

In addition, Wilcox noted, “some (especially male) conservatives see the lockdowns and mask wearing as expressions of cowardice that they reject as unmanly.” . . .

Peter Ditto, a psychologist at the University of California-Irvine, wrote me that "there is good evidence of sex differences in responses to the coronavirus; women are more likely to report favoring and practicing social distance measures than are men."

This, in turn, fits with “the general sense that liberals are the more ‘feminine’ of the two parties,” Ditto argues, which results in the following pattern: "While liberals adopt their nurturant role, bemoaning the climbing infection and death rates and are willing to accept economic carnage in favor of minimizing the loss of human life, conservatives are more likely to, in effect, tell the American people to “walk it off,” increasingly staking out the position that some loss of life must be endured for the greater economic good."
I think much of the tone of 21st-century politics, if not necessarily the content, can be explained by this dichotomy between a masculine/tough/aggressive conservatism and a feminine/care-taking/safety-first liberalism. Many American conservatives love Trump, not because of his policies (which are all over the place) but because he embodies a tough, aggressive, masculine approach to life and politics, with clear winners and no coddling of whiners.

Add in the demographic facts that liberals are more likely to live in crowded cities and use public transit, and conservatives are more likely to live in less crowded areas and drive, and you can see why this was inevitably going to become a partisan issue once the first jolt of fear over the soaring exponential curve of infections was past.


Mário R. Gonçalves said...

You write frequently, and rightly, 'some' liberals, 'some' conservative. *Some* does not mean the majority, but a few. So I think any statistical inferendos are hastily and mistake inductive.

I don«t believe, anyway, in characterising as 'political' the social human behaviour; that is what marxist analysis does, and wrongly.

David said...

@ John

I think your statement about the tone of 21st century politics is absolutely on the mark.

But perhaps it's also worth mentioning the later part of the article, which talks about the conundrum that, according to one much-cited theory with *some* support in the research, conservatives are more prone than liberals to the emotion of disgust and to concerns about purity, which would seem to indicate a greater conservative embrace of things like fear of infection. Here the commentators remark that, to some degree, conservatives are so devoted to Trump that they are simply following his lead against some of their own deep psychological tendencies (and here it's worth remembering that Trump himself is a famous germophobe).

I'm reminded of the very different conservative reaction to AIDS, which in this country of course raised other issues of masculinity and effeminacy and fears of specifically sexual pollution.

As one of Edsall's interlocutors says, “In 21st century American politics, truth is tribal.”

G. Verloren said...


I also feel it's completely on the mark.

A comparison I've sometimes used is that some people want to be "wild", while the rest of us are more than happy to be "domesticated".

In fact, often the people who are most macho and obsessed with personal freedoms directly use terms like "alpha male", "lone wolf", et cetera, to describe themselves. But the thing is, these people don't have the first clue what they're talking about. They don't actually understand the real dynamics of wild wolf packs.

They seem to think that "Alpha" means "King" or "Lord", or otherwise denotes a wolf who gets to live above all the others, doing whatever it wants with no consequences, by virtue of the fact that it is "tougher" or "stronger" or "more dominant" over the others and bullies them into line. But that's totally wrong.


This warped understanding of wolves constantly vying for dominance over each other comes from pop culture interpretations of an actual study performed on gray wolves in the 1940s - but that study itself was fundamentally flawed because it was conducted on captive wolves who were completely unrelated to each other.

The animals being studied were strangers to one another, and lacked the normal family bonds of a natural wild wolf pack. They also were not healthy - they were deeply stressed by their confinement, and their behaviors were warped by their situation. Compare how a family man acts at home toward his loved ones, to how he might act in prison when dealing with other inmates.

In actuality, the only thing the term "alpha" denotes is that a certain wolf is a parent. Wolf packs are nuclear family units, and the alphas are the parents of the other wolves in the pack. As the children grow up, they may break off to form mated pairs and create their own packs. It's just that simple.

Exerting dominance through use of force only crops up in unnatural scenarios where unrelated wolves are taken from their families and forced to co-habitate in far too small of an area. Wolf packs instinctually avoid each other's territory, and prefer to stay far away from unrelated wolves. Forcing wolves from many different packs all into the same far too tiny territory is a recipe for unnatural violent conflict.

So anyone who claims to be an "alpha" doesn't have the first clue what they're talking about, and just wants an excuse to be a selfish and violent asshole.

G. Verloren said...


"Lone wolves" are similarly misunderstood, although to a lesser extent.

You do find lone wolves in nature, but they aren't really something to be celebrated. They are exiles, forced out of their packs for antisocial behavior and not being able to get along with the rest.

Lone wolves face tremendous disadvantages. They don't have any of the protections or benefits of being in a pack. They are forced out of the territory of other packs, and have to live on the margins, in the worst terrain with the least access to food. They can't hunt in a pack to take down large game, and have to scavenge from the kills of others, or settle for smaller game.

Their lives are incredibly difficult, which means only the strongest or most aggressive lone wolves manage to survive - which is where the popular perception that a lone wolf is more dangerous than one that lives in a pack comes from.

The thing is, lone wolves are rare to begin with, and most of them die very quickly. But that fact typically gets ignored by most people.

So then we get macho meatheads who think "Hell yeah! I'm a lone wolf! Totally independent! I'm strong and wild and free!", but then they complain about how society is pushing them to the fringes, and not offering them the same benefits and opportunities that others enjoy.

They want to be "lone wolves" who are strong and independent and antisocial and free to do whatever they want without regard for what others think, but then they also still want to get fed and cared for by the pack, as if they weren't an exile.


Or to return to the "wild" vs "domesticated" angle I mentioned initially, they want to be wild dogs who kill and eat other people's sheep, while the rest of us are domesticated dog breeds doing valuable work like herding, guarding, and caring for those same sheep, and receiving all the benefits of doing so: regular food, safety, shelter, and the company of others.

You want to be "wild"? Go right ahead - but that means you're going to be living alone up in the hills, or in the desert, or in some other remote and inhospitable place, and it means living without help from society.

Don't come crying to the rest of us if you get hurt and need medical attention you can't provide for yourself, or if your food stores aren't enough to get you through the winter, or if you want to make use of our land for your own needs.

You want to be a lone wolf? Then you get to live like one - enjoying the short, harsh, miserable life of an exile.