Wednesday, April 13, 2022

NY Times Focus Group with Conservative Men

My first reaction to this is that these men are certainly conservative, in that their complaints are age-old:

The men didn’t see themselves fitting into American society today. They didn’t feel free to be themselves in the culture. Seven of them said they felt like a stranger in their own country. At a time when democratic institutions are under pressure — and even under attack — and the United States feels so ununited, what causes these Americans to feel so alienated from America? . . .

Most said they believed society is headed toward increased rule breaking and a “me, me, me” culture. Crime and a sense of lawlessness came up a lot; our focus group leader, Kristen Soltis Anderson, was surprised by how much they used examples of poor road etiquette as emblematic of broader societal decay.

To that end, safety was a major theme: concern about being physically attacked and also concern about being verbally attacked for what they say. Several felt the cost of saying what they really think is sometimes just not worth it, evoking worries among some Americans about free speech and cancel culture. And they had strong views about masculinity and gender; they seemed aware that their views are out of step with modern culture and will offend some but still felt their views were obviously correct. 

Here's a good sample line from "Danny": 

Nobody follows rules or laws. Stop signs are voluntary. Red lights are voluntary. Nobody gets punished for doing the wrong thing anymore. We reward mediocrity.

And more:

Michael: I live in Orlando, and when we moved here, it was a beautiful place. Now, right down the street, people are stealing stuff, breaking into cars. And it’s difficult to engage, because you’re afraid that no matter what you say, somebody’s going to take offense to it, even though you may just be wanting to ask a valid question and understand something.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Can you think of examples?

Michael: It’s almost anything. You can’t mention Trump. You can’t mention Biden.

Joe: I feel that social media destroyed a lot of the culture that we had. Things used to be private, or people just said things, and then they regret it after.

Obviously the problem with this group is that the men were being very careful what they said, for all the reasons they said they had to be very careful what they said. You can sense racial tensions under the surface. But not, it seems to me, in a "let's have a race war" sort of way, but in a "My god it's the 21st century why do we still have race problems" kind of way.

To me, the most interesting part of this is how much of it mirrors the worries of liberals. After all, what are "micro-aggressions" but a worry about civility? One man says that after he got into an argument with an Asian woman at a homeowners' association meeting she posted a review of his business that says he's a racist, and he can't get it removed. 

There is a sense of conflict in the air, and a worry that the internet gives other people nasty ways to attack us. 

To me the mistrust, the suspicion that other people are out to get us, the worry that one mistake or random event could ruin your life, is a big part of the mood in America right now, no matter what your faction.


G. Verloren said...

These people sound so astoundingly delusional.

Increased rule breaking and a "me, me, me" culture? Sorry, are we talking about the present day, or the youth years of the Baby Boomers? Young people these days break fewer rules - they drink less, smoke less, do less drugs, commit fewer crimes (both violent and nonviolent), have fewer teenage pregnancies, get fewer abortions, have fewer divorces, declare fewer bankruptcies, and are far more liberal and concerned with issues of societal justice than their forebears ever were.

Crime and lawlessness? Crime is down, actually - it has been trending down steadily for decades. Poor road etiquette? Motor vehicles deaths are likewise down, and have been steadily trending that way since the 1970s (with the exception of pedestrian deaths, which have gone up and down at various times for reasons no is quite sure of). Fear of physical attack? Violent crime is WAY down since a peak in the late 80s / 90s.

Fear of verbal abuse in response to things these conservative men say? That, thankfully, they're correct about - unlike in past decades, they are actually facing consequences for the awful things they say and do to others, and they don't like it. I have just one thing to say to that: "Good". They've been shielded from consequences all their lives by their unearned white male privilege - now that they're being put on a more level playing field with the rest of society, they feel cheated and robbed. Pity they lack the awareness to realize their entitled bullshit and toxic behavior is the real issue. Ah, well.

The guy from Orlando is delusional - I lived in Florida for over thirty years, had a strong familiarity with the city, and Orlando has always had it's fair share of crime. That said, like in so many other places, crime is actually drastically down in Orlando compared to past decades. Perhaps this particular conservative man moved to Orlando in 1972 or something - in which case, I'm surprised he isn't also ranting about the "bad influence" of the Walt Disney company, and how they "ruined" the place. Pining for the good old days, when Orlando was nothing but orange groves and swamp, no doubt.

G. Verloren said...

"To me the mistrust, the suspicion that other people are out to get us, the worry that one mistake or random event could ruin your life, is a big part of the mood in America right now, no matter what your faction."

So you're getting a taste of how the other half lives, and are not finding it your liking?

Minorities have ALWAYS felt like their lives could be ruined at the drop of a hat, because that has absolutely always been the case. Offend the wrong white man, and your life goes to hell in a hand basket. It sounds like a cartoonish exaggeration, but it simply isn't. It is the reality that millions of Americans have been stuck living with for generations - and in many ways, continue to live with.

White men in our society are STILL massively privileged - but their privilege has slowly been eroding, and that terrifies them. They are starting to face consequences for their actions, and they don't know how to respond to that unthinkable possibility. It seems like a nightmarish fantasy to them, it's so foreign and "wrong" in their minds.

And yet it's laughable how much fear they have over such minor consequences. A bad business review which calls you a racist? (Which you almost certainly deservedly received, given how many other white people out there manage to avoid this particular problem?) Oh, the horror! How ever will you cope?! Maybe by demonstrating through your actions that the review is meritless? Presumably your satisfied customers would be happy to leave positive reviews on the same website or platform, counteracting the negative one? Why are you so worried about a single bad review, unless it has merit?

...meanwhile, a totally innocent black man doing nothing more than jogging on a public street can get stalked and murdered by white psychopaths, and the courts will find his killers innocent of any wrongdoing. But please, tell me more about how unfair your situation is! You poor white men have it SO HARD, facing minor negative consequences for the ugly arguments you start at homeowner's associations! What a terrible miscarriage of justice and decency!

David said...

"But not, it seems to me, in a "let's have a race war" sort of way, but in a "My god it's the 21st century why do we still have race problems" kind of way."

This is charitable to the point of absurdity. FWIW, what I get from these men is more "I'm tired of hearing these people complain. And I'm tired of being made to feel bad and tired of watching what I say. And I support Trump because, when he really gets going, it's harder to hear them."

In every society, some people have to watch what they say, and some people don't. These men liked it when they were in the second group.