The meme of the moment, which annoys the hell out of me, is “makers” and “takers”–a sneering dismissal of the plight of the less fortunate and a wholesale rejection of their labor and aspirations, not to mention their human dignity. The maker/taker formulation assumes that comfort and privilege are the result of merit and responsibility, and that need and/or misfortune is a sign of irresponsible behavior, sloth or “poor decisions.”
It is an utterly self-serving construct– a latter-day Calvinism that equates poverty with moral defect and success with evidence of God’s approval.
As long as we are labeling with a broad and unfair brush, let me offer another rhyme that “slices and dices” human society into easily caricatured categories: Thinkers and (Kool Aid) Drinkers.
Thinkers occupy a complicated world, where issues are often thorny and their solutions partial and/or nuanced. Thinkers try to make their assessments based upon the best available evidence; they employ reason and logic in arriving at their conclusions, and (in the best tradition of the scientific method) such conclusions as they reach are usually tentative and subject to revision if and when contrary evidence emerges.
Drinkers, on the other hand, have imbibed the Kool Aid. They don’t need no stinkin’ evidence, because God or Fox or Marx or whoever already told them what to believe. Every argument is tested against whatever bumper-sticker philosophy or religion they cling to; if the argument is consistent with what they already “know,” they accept it. If it isn’t, it isn’t even examined; it’s summarily rejected. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias;” exasperated Thinkers call it cherry-picking.
Every society has both Thinkers and Drinkers, but Drinkers proliferate in times of rapid social change and uncertainty. When the proportion gets out of whack–when we have way too many Drinkers (or worse, when we’ve elected too many of them)– our political institutions no longer function.
Social scientists spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make Drinkers think.
The prospects aren’t good.
I’ve recently come across some political psychology research that is extremely worrisome: when people who are invested in a belief– people who have “drunk the Kool Aid”–are presented with irrefutable evidence that the belief is false, they don’t abandon it. Instead, they cling to it even more tightly. They believe it more fervently. The “birthers” are a good, albeit extreme, example. (No birth certificate ever issued will convince them that the black guy in the White House is legitimate.) Creationists and climate-change deniers are others.
Most of us can come up with plenty of other examples, from the brother-in-law who sends those racist emails to the biblical literalists demanding that the legislature do (their version of) “God’s will,” to those who believe the world is composed of “makers” and “takers.”
Facts and evidence don’t move these folks. They don’t see shades of gray, and they are impervious to logic and reason. Show them mountains of data–most poor people work 40 hours a week, low taxes don’t create jobs, American health care ranks 37th in the world, not first– the Drinkers simply won’t believe you.
The Drinkers are driving me to drink.