Tuesday, January 26, 2010

All I know is: If you’re for it; I’m against it

We have become a society so blinded by our partisanship; we are slowly coming to a standstill. We spend all our energy preventing our perceived enemies from progressing that we no longer get anything done but debate.

We live in an “us vs. them” world—this isn’t a surprise to anyone. Nor should it be. The survival of one’s species depends on the ability to determine what is “friend” and what is “foe.” We wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t tell the difference between the “us” of friendly animals and the “them” of not friendly animals and sharks. Especially sharks.

Our social make-up results in the desire to associate with similarly situated people. Parents with small children gravitate to having friends who are parents with small children. The clubbing crowd hangs out with other clubbers. And, of course, Republicans with Republicans, Protestants with Protestants, etc.

By virtue of this associate, we create the “us vs. them” scenario. We team up on atheist blogroll to be an “us” of atheists as compared to the “them” of non-atheists. Baptists join Baptists churches to be the Baptist “us” instead of joining the Methodist “them.” There is nothing wrong with this; it is naturally part of who we are as humans. No matter who you are reading this blog, you fall into both an “us” or a “them” category as compared to others reading this blog.

You may be an “us” right hand dominant as compared to a “them” left hand dominant. Or vice versa. (Or some smart aleck who is ambidextrous who is a “them” to all of us who are not.)

I notice a common curious attribute developing. We view the comparative beliefs on a scale. As if everything bad that happens to “us” weighs us down, tipping the scale up for the “thems.” And, alternatively, anything bad happening to “them” tips the scale in our favor.

Therefore, we support anything bad for “them.” Because it must be beneficial for us, right? And we must oppose anything beneficial for “them.” Because that must be harmful for us, right? And anything those “them” want, must be something they think is beneficial—oppose it! If those “them” don’t want it—support it! It must be beneficial for us.

We spend our time watching the other side, countering their every move. Not because we have a moral mandate, or justified reason; but because we think if they want it/don’t want it—we must demand the opposite. To support “us.”

Slacktivist wrote a great blog entry regarding health care reform. His point, to summarize, was that taxes are actually down, and health care costs are up. Yet your average tea-bagger is screaming to high heaven how terrible their “them” is—how awful Pres. Obama is to America. Yet if you asked these simple questions:

“Do you want taxes lower?”
Tea-bagger: “Yes.”

“Do you want health costs to increase?”
Tea-bagger: “No.”

They would discover they actually support the proposed solution under the current Administration! (I know that is overly simplistic, but on these two points it is bottom line correct.)

See, they don’t think. All they know is their leadership, in the form of media personalities, is whipping them into a frenzy of how the Democrats want to do….something. How the President proposes…something. Because the Democrats and the President is a “them”—they must oppose it! Not for what it is; not for a certain ideology. But because the other side wants it.

I read Sarah Palin’s facebook page. She posts a note, and 1000’s of people file responses. Most are what you would expect. I often read a comment like this, “Boy, Sarah, you sure made the media angry. That shows how right we must be.”

Do you get it? Because the media (“them”) was unhappy, it validates the Palin crowd (“us) position. If the “them” was happy, the “us” must be doing something wrong! Likewise, if the “them” is unhappy, the “us” must be doing something right! We validate our beliefs on how unhappy the other side is!

Using the same logic, a murderer must be doing something right, because their victim is unhappy!

I see this all the time practicing law. All. The. Time. If one side wants Expert A to be chosen; the other side immediately objects. Why? Simply because the enemy—“them”—wants it, so we—“us”—must not. If I propose a former Judge to be a facilitator; the other side immediately rejects him or her. They assume my wanting it necessarily translates to them not.

I could tell countless stories as illustrative; I will tell one on myself.

I represented a woman who was looking for past child support due from an ex-husband. He was claiming he was too poor to have paid support. During the hearing, his attorney approached him with a document. It was a letter, sent by Social Security Administration detailing his reported income for the past ten years. (For non-Americans, we pay taxes from wages into Social Security, and once a year, the SSA sends out a notice indicating how much wages were taxed toward Social Security.)

Because the amounts were minimal, his attorney felt this was support for his being too poor to pay Child support.

His attorney moved for the admission of the letter. I objected. Because he wanted it in; I assumed I (the other side) did not. I knew he had not followed the Rules of Evidence, and could not get it admitted the way. I was right—the judge would not let it in.

The attorney tried to get it in another way. I smugly objected again; he was still doing it incorrectly. Again the judge ruled in my favor.

Look at me: winning because the other side was not getting what it wanted, right? Wrong.

It came time for me to present proofs. One basic element necessary was to demonstrate the ex-husband had received wages--any wages--whether it was $1 or $1,000,000 in the last 10 years. Now…wouldn’t that letter have been just the ticket to do that? Now I was stuck with going through complicated proofs, when all I would have had to do (if I hadn’t been so cocky objecting to that letter!) was point out that they had proved this element for me! The letter that they put into proofs would be sufficient.

I fought what “them” wanted, not because of the content, but simply because I was thinking if “them” wanted it; I must not. Luckily, as an epilogue, I was able to introduce the same information through the ex-husband by using the letter to “refresh” his memory. But it was still an unnecessary, extra step.

A basic rule of objecting is to FIRST ask yourself the question, “Does the evidence I want to prevent help or hurt my case?” Not, “Can I win the objection?” Not, “If the other side wants it, I must not.” I had forgotten this rule.

Certainly there are issues we oppose “them.” I support gay marriage for various reasons, not because the “thems” oppose it. But I often see, in blogs and debates and discussions, people so readily oppose what the other person says…blindly…almost instinctively…without thinking why they oppose it, other than the fact their enemy—“them”—wants it.


  1. Once, I read a little book named "The invaders." It was about a family who lived in opulence why the servants and surrounding neighbours were basically starving.

    One day, the poor neighbours invaded the "palace," destroyed everything, and now everybody had nothing.

    You're right. We don't live in a bubble. What we do or don't does affect everyone else. And even when it happens to "them" it will work against "us" in the end.

    As in, for instance, keeping the Cuban government restricted makes more people escape to Florida, and they end up being the US government's problem in the end.

    Most situations come full circle sooner or later.

    ** Lorena **

  2. Dagwood,

    Great post illustrating very clearly the current state of political and social conversation in the US.

    As an ex-fundamentalist I wonder sometimes if fundamentalism is our problem across the board. (politically, socially, religiously)

    Fundamentalism blinds us to anything the "other" side says. "Us" vs "them."

    I find it harder and harder to function in such a climate. Civil discourse. Weighing competing truths. Such things rarely happen.

    Now , it is kill or be killed. Throats cut at the slightest disagreement.

    Reminds me of the scene in Mars Attacks! The martians meet with the Congress and the President says "Can't we all just get along?"

    Martian whips out ray gun and starts shooting.

    Question answered.


  3. I am a smart aleck.

    ~Zoe ...

  4. With all due respect, you're just wrong. You're wrong that mindless oppositionalism is a general problem, and you're even wrong that the right wing is dominated by mindless oppositionalism.

    First of all, the Democrats and the liberal faction of the capitalist ruling class (i.e. your faction) displays the complete opposite of mindless oppositionalism: mindless agreement, so as not to be accused of oppositionalism. As they are discovering, the more you bend over backwards to agree, the more you are accused of mindless oppositionalism when you finally do disagree over anything, however trivial.

    To a certain extent, the right wing is engaged in a large degree of reflexive oppositionalism, but there are some good instrumental reasons for doing so.

    First of all, in an adversarial situation, it's a pretty good principle in general to deny an opposition request even if you're unsure of the consequences. It'll backfire from time to time, but that's always the case for general principles. I'm guessing that nine times out of ten denying an opposition request on GP will help you, but it's a known cognitive bias that we remember and give more weight to the exceptions.

    How might things have turned out, for example, had the prosecution reflexively answered, "No!" on general principles when Johnnie Cochran insisted that OJ Simpson try on the glove.

    Obviously we should try to think everything through, but it's well known that it's physically impossible do so. We must depend heavily on abstract general principles, principles that aren't universally true, otherwise we'd be unable to choose a pair of socks. I suspect that you yourself have often picked one trial strategy over another, not because you knew that the strategy definitely would be known to be best in this particular case for this particular jury, but rather because one strategy "felt right" or was generally superior (but sometimes inferior).

    And you're wrong about the right wing. You are making, I think, a very common liberal fallacy: that those on both the "left" and "right" (the people, at least, and those people in the mainstream, excluding wild-eyed radicals such as myself) have the same common goals, and disagree only over how to achieve those goals. I do not believe this to be the case. The left-right division is much more like a war, a deeply zero-sum game where one side can win only by eliminating or utterly subjugating the other side.

    The "tea-baggers" do not care one way or another about health care. They do not care one way or another about taxes. To them, the entire health care issue is tactical and strategic; it's about what will further their larger interests. I'm not sure precisely what those larger interests are, but they are much too coordinated and disciplined to be driven by any motivation as simplistic as mindless oppositionalism.

  5. My eyes, ears, and brain tell me that mindless oppositionalism is indeed quite common here in the Midwest, the heartland of America. Maybe it is different on the coasts the big cities, but around here "Going Rogue" is considered a monumental work by a literary genius. FOX News is considered news. Glenn Beck is prophet, Sean Hannity is priest, and Rush Limbaugh is king.

    Teagbaggers, try as they may to suggest otherwise, are just the extreme, fanatic wing of the Republican party. While certainly there are thoughtful people within the movement, but around here they are shrill, single minded, shit-stirrers with little regard for what is best for America. Their "agenda" is at that matters.

    I could say "With all due respect, you're just wrong." (and most often when someone says with all due respect it means they have no respect at all for your views) but I think it vitally important that liberals like myself interact with people who hold to views like yours. It is OUR country.


  6. and most often when someone says with all due respect it means they have no respect at all for your views

    Just so you know, Dagood is my friend, I like him and I respect his intelligence and perspicacity. And I respect him enough to be forthright when I disagree with him.

    Sorry to be rude*, Dagood, I really take offense when assholes like Bruce try to psychoanalyze me without one fucking clue about what's actually going on.

    *Not really, but it's the thought that counts.

    It is of course up to you, whether or not you want to take offense at some doofus trying to defend you when you're fully capable of defending yourself. Personally, I can't stand it when someone chides the commenters on my blog: that's my job.

  7. I could say "With all due respect, you're just wrong."

    Which is BTW perfectly fine if you follow that statement up with an actual argument.

  8. All of your posts are so insightful and this one doesn't disappoint. At times, I've been guilty of the precise thing you discuss.

  9. Certainly, you have my apology. I was unaware you and Dagwood had a history. No offense intended.

    That said, I gave you a reasoned response. From my own personal experience here in Ohio, the Midwest (and having been on both sides of the political spectrum) mindless oppostionalism is quite the norm. (especially from the right)

    That said, I was not defending Dagwood. I am well aware he can defend himself.

    Shall we try again?


  10. I am currently involved in protracted litigation where, for certain reasons, opposing counsel absolutely despises me. I ask to do a deposition, she says “No.” I force the issue. Eventually I get the deposition. Want it in the morning? No. Want it at my office? No. Want documents with it? No.

    Literally every single thing I ask for, she is saying “No” before I can finish the sentence! The case has completely bogged down, and was the impetus for my first paragraph of this blog entry. We are coming to a standstill in the case because we spend more time arguing insipid minutia rather than the case itself.

    Perhaps I am blinded by the coincidence of repetition to claim it happens as a general principle

  11. A few points to ponder:

    The Barefoot Bum: First of all, in an adversarial situation, it's a pretty good principle in general to deny an opposition request even if you're unsure of the consequences.
    That depends on the situation, and consequences are always unsure. I agree, if you are in a complete unknown, and there is an adversary, the first tactic to take (assuming reconnaissance is unavailable) would be to deny the adversary’s desire. If you are in a battle, and the enemy wants to take a hill, absent any other information, you should deny the enemy the hill.

    But how many times are we placed in such situations? Where there is little time to gain information and decisions must be made?

    Again, using litigation as an example. Prior to evidence being offered, we have plenty of time to research the entire scope of the matter. We have discovery requests. I disagree that 9 times out of time, on general principles, it will help me to deny my opposition’s request. Because by doing so:

    1) I have focused opposing counsel on the problem;
    2) I have increased costs for my client and;
    3) The Judge will likely order it anyway.

    In this current problematic litigation, I requested the other side’s banking records. Of course, the attorney had a fit. They refused to give them to me. Absolutely not; no way. She indicated these documents are privileged. (They are not, but that is beside the point.)

    As it turns out (and I knew this)—I don’t need them. Now she is also claiming, on a counter-claim, that her client is entitled to interest because certain payments were late. The record of this? Well…as it turns out…it happens to be her own client’s bank records. However, there is a Michigan rule stating that you can’t deny the opposing party access under privilege, and then later introduce those records.

    She (unknowingly) has shot herself in the foot. This is what I mean by it depending on adversarial situation.

    Further, consequences are unclear. It is long been known that it is not necessarily what you object to, but how you object to it. Allowing evidence in that is prejudicial to your case, but is going to go in anyway, is the better tactic than objecting to it. By objecting to it, one of the consequences is that you have highlighted it. It is the difference between:

    Counsel: I move for the admission of Exhibit 1.
    Opposing Atty.: No objection.


    Counsel: I move for the admission of Exhibit 1.
    Opposing Atty: Objection!
    Judge: Overruled.

    Jurors sit up and take notice of the second situation. Why didn’t they want it in? What was it about this particular item? See, those consequences are unclear. The jurors are almost salivating; they are dying to see what this damning piece of evidence is the other side didn’t want.

    (By the way, Darden committing a tactical error in having O.J. try on the gloves. A classic rule of cross-examination is NEVER ask a question you don’t know the answer to. In Darden’s defense, he later claimed they tried on similar gloves with a person of similar size, and they did fit. However, if I remember correctly Clark has claimed they told Darden to not do the glove trick. There is some revisionist history going on here.

    Cochran claims they goaded Darden to have O.J. put on the gloves, which actually makes my point. If that is true, Darden would have been better off ignoring them, rather than, “I’ll show YOU. You think I’m afraid to have him try the gloves? I’ll do the opposite and have him try the gloves.”)

    I do agree, The Barefoot Bum, that the Democrat leadership have assumed a compromise position, rather than an opposing position. I will take your position on tea-baggers under advisement. I see little beyond mindless opposition (although I don’t think even they know exactly what they are opposed to, beyond Democrats, atheists and abortionists.)

  12. I don't think there's any argument that there are specific circumstances where oppositionalism can be contrary to one's own interests and known to be contrary; in these cases oppositionalism is mindless. Every general principle will have exceptions, which is why we label it general, not universal. But equally an exception is not by itself a sufficient argument that the principle is generally invalid.

    Furthermore, only the mediocre are always at their best. It is absolutely inevitable that the most competent in any profession will sometimes make mistakes that would have been preventable with their ordinary standard of care.

    (Note that I intended to assert that opposition on general principles will be correct 9 times out of 10 when you don't know the outcome; a probabilistic assessment is entirely invalid if you do know or should reasonably know the outcome.)

    I think you're trying to make a point larger than just "be careful" or "general principles have exceptions." It is with this larger point that I disagree.

    With regard to your most recent example, the fault of opposing counsel seems to be not that they are denying everything, but rather that it is not in their client's best interest to deny everything. In other words, we can't know that any opposition is warranted or unwarranted without reference to the underlying interests. You make this case in both your latest comment as well as in your original post.

    One important element of my disagreement is that the Republican party leadership is opposed to the bill just because it is Democratic, but that pure partisanship is (or at least might well be; I'm not even an informed layman regarding the details of political tactics and strategy) both rational and warranted. The interests of the Republican party leadership is not to enact a Republican agenda, but to elect Republican party officials. Allowing the Democratic party to enact an element of the Republican agenda is prima facie contrary to that interest, unless the Republicans can spin the passage as a result of their own efforts. (And indeed, I'll bet dollars to donuts that if the bill does pass, the Republicans will indeed claim credit for its passage and content (as well as taking credit within their base for keeping it from being much worse); they could not have done so without all the drama they have so far displayed.

    Another important element is that although the right-wing popular support is indeed against the health care bill, I'm not convinced that they themselves are against it just because it is a Democratic party initiative or is being considered under a Democratic party administration and congress.

    Indeed even a superficial analysis of the debate shows a massive amount of propaganda promoted not to label the bill as Democratic and ipso facto bad, but rather to promote false truth claims about the bill: It will raise taxes, it will raise health care costs, it will reduce choice. (IIRC I read somewhere recently that 75% (85%?) of people falsely believe the health care bill will worsen the deficit.)

    I agree that the voters are irrational, they are not mindlessly oppositional, but rather deluded about the facts. These are different kinds of irrationality, and require different kinds of a response. Indeed, delusion requires more opposition, rather than less, especially as the Democratic party has seemed reluctant to oppose even the most egregious instance of delusion-inducing propagand precisely so as not to be seen as mindlessly oppositional.

  13. Bruce: Bygones.

    Keep in mind, however, that mindless oppositionalism is a conclusion; it is not itself an item of evidence that can be directly introduced by testimony.

  14. I think this is a fascinating topic. (was that a double entendre quip about "sharks?")

    I think your profession can focus you on the "us vs. them" social dynamic because that's what you do for a living (i.e., combat "them").

    You make your 'living' winning arguments. My general perception of our legal system is that it is more concerned with winning the argument than establishing what is right (loaded word, I know) It seems to me that modern society, while more sophisticated than the cave days, still functions on the dynamic of 'might makes right' (even if we are speaking of intellectual prowess). At the end of the day, we still have our rocks and sticks to fall back on as a means of 'winning' the argument (except now we employ police and soldiers to "protect our way of life.").

    Has society become "blinded" or is there a willful attitude that develops into a habitual practice of closing the eyes in order to win the argument? Is there a mindful choice to close the eyes and acquiesce to "reflex?" Use the force Luke.

    It seems to me that "generally" speaking society is not blind or mindless, but asleep. We 'hire' lawyers, politicians and pastors to do our arguing so we can go to the football game. I am not sure some or most of those we hire are even "mindful" (i.e., if mindful is occupied with survival of the species). But then, I admit that's just me hoping that aware people would be more concerned about doing right (damn that word) than they would be about solely winning the argument. A part of me suspects 'they' are not. That they are occupied with making their living (i.e. individual survival?), but not mindfully so.

    One of my favorite lines from a book (sorry, cannot remember author or title, I have a lousy memory for such): "... a Republican is just a Democrat who has never been arrested...."

    We humans are all part of the same "species." Perhaps our species survival depends on the ability to be mindful of that and acting accordingly.

  15. "a Republican is just a Democrat who has never been arrested..."

    ... And a Democrat is just a Republican who's never been mugged.

  16. "... And a Democrat is just a Republican who's never been mugged."

    lol, yes indeed.

  17. I've been mugged and arrested: I'm now a communist.