Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reality testing Naomi Wolf.

I like to think of myself as well-informed. I read a lot. I follow the news very carefully, even obsessively. But until I started using Twitter last year, I was blissfully unaware of just how bitter the split was between Center Left Democrats and the Hard Left.

(this and unlabeled images from Wikimedia Commons)

I knew the split existed, of course. I spent the entire 8 years of the Bush administration bitching about Nader voters who delivered our country into the hands of the neocons and Wall Street grifters. But as I figured Twitter out, and began to find people to follow, I realized that many of the people on both sides of the divide *REALLY* hated each other. Fairly prominent people on the Hard Left, some of whom are national figures, refer to supporters of President Obama as "Obamabots", and regard them as sell-outs and dupes of an administration that is just as deeply in the tank for the 1% as any Republican. 

Some on the Center Left refer to people on the Hard Left as "Emo-progs", and regard them as hopelessly impractical, naive, and unwilling to do what must be done to gain control of the public policy machinery that will allow the Left to move the country in a more civilized direction. And some of them are pretty quick on the draw with accusations of racism if they feel the President is being attacked (at least from the limited perspective of a white guy who's never had to face racism).

It's a stupid fight; the two sides need each other and the fact that the split exists is evidence that ANY group of human beings will divide into smaller sub-groups when the environment has them focusing within the group rather than externally to the group. But that's not what I want to talk about at the moment...

Twitter was a great place to be during the height of Occupy Wall Street last year. It allowed me to follow the movement without the mediation of the corporate media. It introduced me to the breathtaking possibilities of social media as a tool of social change. It introduced me to the incredible power of citizen journalism. And it provided a window into the thinking of other Leftists.

It also exposed just how shallow, conspiratorial, badly informed and knee-jerk some of that thinking was. There's an entire faction of Center-Leftists that simply freak-the-fuck out at ANY criticism of the Obama Administration. And there's an even bigger faction of Hard Leftists that will not give this President ANY credit for any of his incredible achievements.

Many of these Hard Lefties are particularly angry about the Administration's intensification of the use of drone strikes, but they're pretty angry about damned near everything. These are the people that stopped fighting for ACA when we didn't get the single-payer bill we would have preferred. These are the people that cited the President's signature of NDAA as proof he was no different from the Bush Administration. And these are the people who swallowed Naomi Wolf's utterly fact-free assertion that last November's crackdown on the Occupy Movement was coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security at the behest of Congress, who were afraid that somehow OWS was going to keep them from using insider knowledge to engage in insider trading.

I had some good arguments with people on Twitter about this claim. I had some bad arguments too, but that's the nature of social media. Rather than rehash them, I refer you to  Joshua HollandAngry Black Lady and Karoli, all of whom ably refuted Wolf's assertions at the time.

This is an old story; months have passed and the entire controversy has been buried by the controversies over NDAA, and forced trans-vaginal ultrasound, and the Republican primary battles. But yesterday, President Obama signed into law the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge" Act, or "STOCK" Act for short.

It's NOT a great bill, any more than ACA was an ideal solution to the healthcare crisis in this country. But like ACA, it represents an improvement in the status quo, which is really all one can hope for in a polarized country with a largely apathetic and inattentive electorate. It's an incremental step towards a much more ambitious goal.

But it represents a complete falsification of Wolf's hypothesis. She posits a Congressional reaction to a perceived threat to their ability to make money on insider knowledge. That reaction was so strong that it lead to Congressional orders to DHS to clear the OWS campsites. And yet we now have the passage of a law that limits the ability of Congress to do that very thing.

I have no faith that members of the Hard Left who swallowed this particular fish will change their mind. The speed with which Wolf's charge spread, and the uncritical acceptance of it by so many, tell us something important. The image of a nefarious conspiracy by rich politicians against an heroic popular movement is one consistent with the existing beliefs and value system of the Hard Left. They WANT to believe this; if true it would represent an affirmation of everything they believe about our society. But it's a simplistic view, as conspiracy theories always are. And Wolf's theory; of a "chain of command" that goes from DHS through Peter King (?) to Congress, is simply not consistent with the passage of STOCK.

This will convince no one who wants to believe. Cognitive Theory tells us that information inconsistent with existing beliefs is either altered so as to become consistent, or is forgotten entirely. But at the time I was having all those arguments on Twitter, I engaged in "expectational disconfirmation". I asked people who believed Wolf's interpretation of events to predict what would happen next. And every one of them predicted more action by DHS, increased illegal surveillance of the movement and the rapid movement of the United States towards a police state. Not ONE of them foresaw any action by Congress to limit their ability to act on insider knowledge.

This is why we call it Social SCIENCE. You observe, hypothesize, predict, and then you TEST YOUR PREDICTIONS. If your predictions are inaccurate, you revise your hypothesis. If subsequent events are inconsistent with your views, you admit it.

At least, that's what you do if you have any intellectual integrity.