As Long as We’re Rhyming

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.


  1. John, I also read that. It seems to be a good example of how bad or narrowly focused decisions that are not concerned with the common good come back to bite people. I mean, this was TWO inches of snow that totally fouled up an entire city. I don’t know what the leadership is talking about in their conference rooms, but those discussions should inquire about the characteristics of a system that allowed TWO inches snow to result in such a disaster, and how to change destructive policies that only served to make bad things worse. On one level, it’s apparent that the Civil War wasn’t able to address a number of issues. On another level, it shows why it’s important to address all characteristics of a system, not just a superficial one or two. An Interstate doesn’t mean you have a functional system. Sort of like an empty suit.

  2. Glad you touched on confirmation bias which apparently works both ways and is not limited solely to the Drinkers but also rears its head occasionally among the Thinkers as per a couple of today’s posts that would link the recent traffic mess in Atlanta with the Civil War and assumed unsolved racial issues. On the other hand, one would hope the Thinkers would consider the well-documented average annual snowfall of 2″ in Atlanta as coming into play as a prominent factor in the FUBAR traffic incident.

  3. @Stuart

    Excuse me for going off on a tangent and nick picking, but it is a pet peeve of mine to call what happened to Atlanta as snow, when it was really ice that came in a package of a wintry mix that helped to “shut down” Atlanta. I realize that many people use snow as some general vague term, and so this post is not really directed at you (I enjoy your posts by the way), more so that your post reminded me of my pet peeve, but snow is not the most accurate term, and it gives people the wrong connotation about what really happened.

    There are many different types of frozen water, and “weather people” are doing a better job of distinguishing between them, although the term wintry mix is a catch-all for widely diverse types of frozen water mixtures. Even with snow, there are vastly different types of snow, for example ranging from dry to wet. Then the order of how these various water compounds precipitate can make a huge difference in impact, and minute differences can make huge differences on what is best course of action. Then there is the influence of a ton of related factors, such as ground temperature, surface conditions, levies, flood plains, wind conditions, etc. that also have to be factored. There is also the influence of planning through civil engineering that considers such things as patterns of runoff and water flow for example, the further up North, the more planning that takes place for this type of weather, because it is more typical.

    Besides the South not being prepared for weather that for them is extremely rare, there is the fact that wintry mixes do not behave the same way in more southern climates as they do further up north. Weather related products are mostly tested in Northern climates, and therefore are adapted to conditions that they are tested in, which is the North, so oftentimes weather related products do not work as well in more southern climates. That is assuming the South even has the products. These events are rare enough, that the South does not have the infrastructure in place to effectively deal with ice and wintry mixes.

    Yes, while I agree that Atlanta should have been better prepared, I have sympathy for them, this is outside of what they are used to dealing with, we take for granted the skill sets that we have. To reply to the critics that say that had two days to know about it, I think of the analogy of telling a non-math person that they have two days to prepare to take a calculus exam test. Two days is not enough to make up for years of non-preparation. Short term successes rely on long term preparation.

    It would have been nice if these events could have highlighted just how important that infrastructure and government is for Northern climates, and that people could appreciate that infrastructure and government allows them to better go about their business and go about their lives. There is also the added complication that in Atlanta and elsewhere, that the infrastructure is set-up to better benefit upper incomes, and the poor face barriers, that seem invisible to upper incomes, because the infrastructure that allows them to live their lives is taken for granted.

    We would not thrive as a country if every city was affected as much as Atlanta was which should make us grateful for what we do have in terms of infrastructure and government.

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