Who's crazier–me or Sarah?

I despise Sarah Palin.  I have a bumper sticker on my fridge with her picture that reads “WTF?’  When I see her on the cover of the magazine in the supermarket line, my lip automatically curls into a sneer and I give a patronizing shake of the head. And my voice rises ten decibels whenever she enters any conversation.

This puzzles me. I am not really a hater. Sure, I am loud and opinionated, but I don’t really mean much of it. And anyway, when you hlate anything or anyone as much as I hate Sarah, it must say something not just about the hatee, but the hater.

Of course, she is a self-serving hypocrite with odious politics, airond based on her Tweets to Dr. Laura, a low-grade racist.  But as self-serving odious right wing hypocrites go, she’s not particularly stinky.

Her lies and misstatements are merely fibs compared to the whoppers told by Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly, all of whom are competing to see who make Joseph Goebbels look like Walter Cronkite.

She’s hypocritical, but she hasn’t scolded a President for adultery while having an affair herself, like Newt, or wished Jerry Garcia death because of his drug addiction and at the same time been so oxy’d up he was drooling on his microphone like Rush, or bashed gay rights from a comfortable love seat in his closet, like Mehlman and Haggard. (Come to think of it, who in the conservative movement is not on that last list?)

Sure she took the money and ran from Alaska, which is self-serving, but any of us would probably have done the same, really. In fact, there’s even some evidence that she has principles—real ones.  Bringing a Downs Syndrome baby into the world because you oppose abortion takes some courage and fortitude.

I mean, she’s bad, but there’s no evidence she’s genuinely evil, like Dick Cheney or Rupert Murdoch or the Koch brothers.

My wife says it’s misogyny on my part. There may be some truth in this. As I have argued before, I think we’re all racists. It’s just a matter of degree and self-awareness.  Along the same lines, I think most of us are sexists, at least to the extent we tend to explain the capabilities and behavior of individuals as a function of their sex, e.g., when I tease a young female colleague of mine about her shoe shopping and she jibes me about sports. My wife says I am overly critical of opinionated females. Maybe, but I have successful stayed married to one opinionated female for 32 years come Thanksgiving. I also have a daughter on whom I dote who is certainly not shy and withdrawn. And I don’t have the same hatred for Ann Coulter or Liz Cheney that I do for Sarah.

My friend says it’s a class thing. I am of the same trailer park trash heritage as Sarah, having grown up in the projects in Waycross, Georgia. And it took some considerable effort on my part to leave all that behind.  He says she reminds me of something I am trying to bury in myself. Thank you, Phil Freud. Of course, it could be true.  I am a little embarrassed by the South and my Southern roots. Whenever the news channels need someone to say something really foolish, they head for the on-ramp to I-95S and look for someone with a drawl.  However, this explanation seems a little deep to me.  I mean really, I look in the mirror every morning and see Sarah? That’s creepy.

I think the real reason is something more basic.  I think our modern world divides into two groups, not black and white, Islamists and Christians, Democrats and Republicans or religious and secular, but rather thinkers and believers.

I am a thinker.

Now, I am not a great thinker.  From time to time, I’ve been in the room with great thinkers and seen what a 700 horsepower mind looks like, and I am not that. I am a good enough thinker that it paid my way out of Waycross, Georgia.

But less important than my qualities as a thinker is that I fundamentally trust the thought process. (And the scientific process, and knowledge and phd’s.)  I use it all the time. When I read something about a petition signed by every scientist on the planet supporting the climate warming hypothesis, I click on the icon and go to the graph and scour the data. I trust my ability to process the information more than I trust a group of experts, even though I acknowledge their expertise.  I consider passion and emotion to be states created my chemicals in my brain, and like all drugs, they should be used in measured amounts and only to good purpose—to enhance reality rather than to escape it.

Sarah is a believer.  Like all evangelicals (and all religious people, actually,) she believes in things because she believes in them.  She believes there is a rule book somewhere written by someone and that book is to be followed. They call it faith, but it doesn’t matter what they call it. It is a willingness to accept and commit to a path of action based on an emotional buy-in to something someone else has said is true.

Most people are believers. They believe in religion or politics or food supplements or sustainability or runs of luck at the slot machine.  People in my yoga class believe in mysterious currents of energy that flow through the body and get blocked by stress, and that there is an ancient system of exercises that will unblock them. My friends who do Ironmen carry around well worn copies of Colin Friels and talk about the benefits of periodization. My deeply left-wing friends more or less believe in Marx, although they don’t think of it that way, and my right-wing friends in a strangely misinterpreted version of Adam Smith.  All these folks are believers, who chose their belief system first and now select their answer to any question based on how well it lines up with the principles of that system.

I try as hard as I can not to do that.

I despise Sarah for the same reason that rabbits despise snakes, because we are completely different species, both competing for scarce resources and trying to pass our genes along. At some deep visceral level, we know that we are not on the same side and will never be, even if we happen to agree from time to time.

I realize that I am drawing the line overly fine here.  No one can or should use thinking to guide every decision. Doing so would be slow, stupid and exhausting. I mostly listen to my doctor and always to my auto mechanic. Even believers do try to think their way through some things, although as George Will has proved, there’s not much evidence they’re any good at it.

Sadly, of course, we are not in good times for thinkers. That’s fair, in a way. These things cycle.  During some historical periods thinkers have been ascendant and in others the believers have held sway. The twentieth century, for the most part, was a century of thinkers. Maybe we’ve had our turn, and it’s time for those who use the back section of their brain to drive the historical bus for awhile. If you believe in progress, then we will get our turn again.

At least, that how I think about it.

11 replies »

  1. There’s a lot here that I wish I had said first. Yes, these are hard times for thinkers, and getting worse. I hope you’re right about that cyclical thing.

    What bothers me the most, though, is that thinking and believing don’t have to be opposed states any more than thinking and feeling are. I think deeply and feel passionately. I also think deeply and feel profoundly, but the belief has to emanate from the thinking. Too much of my Southern Baptist upbringing was about unconditional belief. Unquestioned belief. Belief comes first, and all data is then interpreted in light of the dogma.

    This is why people like CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien were of such potential value. As I’ve noted before, I think Dawkins and Harris are right, but that doesn’t mean that all ways of thinking about gods are intellectually equivalent. With Lewis and Tolkien, rationality came first. You didn’t talk about faith until you had thoroughly exhausted the possibilities of the rational.

    Still, we’re in times of dramatic change, and change scares people. The less intelligent and educated they are, the more likely they are to be fearful. And I wonder if there have been empirical studies on what fear does to higher-order brain function.

    If not, I have a theory….

  2. Oh, I know why I hate Sarah Palin, it’s her followers. They act like she’s the 2nd coming when in fact she’s a rather sarcastic, short-sighted, and dimwitted parasite. I don’t think she actually wants any political office or to do any actual good in the world, she wants the spotlight. That’s why we get tweets about every damn thought that crosses her mind. I know when the Dr. Laura fiasco started the first thought I had was “please Palin, tell us what to do!!!” Sigh.

  3. I dislike her for this simple reason, she doesn’t feel the need to apply critical thinking, and she’s actually proud of that.

    Of course her reaction in this is also very telling.

  4. I had dinner with my wife and brother and sister in law. Because of the blog the dinner topic was “Why do I hate Sarah?” Concensus was around Lara’s point–she’s charismatic and rudderless, and attracts a dangerous set of followers. However I am more on the side of Darrell.

    And by the way, of course Sam the First’s argument is intellectually correct, I drew the line sharply to make a point.

    Thanks for the great comments.

  5. This just in from the jackpined edge of The Heartland…as unfortunate as it is, there are people out here who don’t differentiate. To believe is to think*. So Sarah’s beliefs constitute thoughtful policy. People really do think (by which i mean believe) that she’s smart. And if people out here believe that they’ve come to the thoughtful conclusion that Sarah’s one smart thinker because she holds irrational beliefs, then what does that say about the future of America? We can’t all get rich from teen pregnancy.

    *Have we grown confused because we preface opinion with “I think that …”?

  6. Sarah is a simpleton who was given a shortcut to the spotlight.

    She is the female equivalent to George Bush. The believers love having a ‘folksy’ person in charge. Someone who speaks at their level and praises god at every turn.

    I’d rather elect the smartest guy in the room.

  7. i’m a thinker and a believer, based on my belief that believing without thinking is dangerous. perhaps i may not be any good at it either, but i hang on to my sense that the two need not be mutually exclusive with practice.

    it is misogyny that brought us sarah palin in the first place. a powerful white male politician chose her for a subservient position as his running “mate”, only because she was pretty and charismatic. Her looks and charm outweighed any need to vet her beliefs, or even verify that she could speak in sentences. her “job” was to look good and brighten up the ticket.

    sadly, i doubt anyone has learned a lesson here, and too many women confederates make this one of the saddest situations in decades.

    • Beth: exactly. I mean, the corner of the political spectrum that gave us Palin hardly emphasizes intellect in anyone, male or female, but her selection is as sexist and patronizing a move as you’re likely to see.

  8. It’s as simple as “I think, therefore I am – appalled by Sarah Palin” (with apologies to Descartes)