Have a political Christmas!

(EDIT: Post trimmed as much as possible to save length)

So yeah. Its Xmas day here. My family has some friends over for dinner. All is good. But not quite, one of the people at the dinner loves to talk.

Now I should preface this rant by explaining that this guy is a normal person. Some strengths, some flaws, just like everyone else. But he just happens to be unbelievably biased when it comes to foreign politics. If there was a kingdom named Opinion, then he would be King Toobias of the Uneven Throne. Case in point: China. He can't shut up about China. Every time we just happen to be sitting in the same place, out comes the China monologues. CHINA STRONG. CHINA CAN DO NO WRONG. WISE COMMUNIST PARTY. It would be a discussion, except I learned long ago that any response at all just extends the conversation. I have tried many times to explain that talking about politics makes me uncomfortable, but that just makes him default to Rant B, which is YOU SHOULD KNOW, PEOPLE MUST BE INFORMED.

His worldview is based on three primary sources of information. CCTV (Chinese Central TV), CNN, and BBC. Yeah. He despises BBC for being horribly biased. But seems to watch them simply to validate his opinion that CCTV is incredibly fair and equal. And he only watches CNN so that he can sneer at the (admittedly baffling) web of American politics.

So of course he would talk about China during Christmas dinner.

He began about the time the usual "this food is great" comments died down. He was still stalking about China by the time we got to the pie. Which no one mentioned because they couldn't get a word in edgewise. Heavily paraphrased, one part of the dialog went like this:

- Us:(Another visiting friend in this case) Did you hear about that town in rebellion about the sale of land to developers? There seems to have been plans to build a power station opposed by the townsfolk.

- Him: "Oh yes, China's economy is very strong. There are many opportunities for businesses to expand and bring developments to rural towns."

- Us: "But supposedly the sale of the land was not fair. Either the villagers were opposed to selling the land in the first place or they received very little compensation."(maybe both? I don't know much about it).

- Him: (I don't remember the exact response, but it basically amounted to a "needs of the few vs needs of the nation" spiel")

- Us: "But now the government has declared martial law, and the negotiator the villagers sent to talk later died in police custody."

- Him: "If there is corruption then this is a good thing, because now the central government is aware of the corruption and will take steps to deal with it. This happens all the time."

Boggles the mind doesn't it? He sounds like a propaganda poster, but ONLY on this very specific subject. Part of what makes it so difficult to converse with him is that when it comes to politics any flaws in his arguments or blemishes on something he tries to uphold are simply ignored. That or be brings up another point which is somehow supposed to excuse it.

... speechless.

How do people become like this? It it because information is so readily available and some people just can't process it all? Or is it because every single source of information can't help but be biased? When you speak of an event, you can attach whole pages of connected facts. This gives you great control over the tone of what you say, even if the facts do not change. We call this concept "spin", and those Big Three news outlets I mentioned earlier are full of it. Let me give you an example.

- Woman hit by car, dies in hospital. (bare bones information, this is how a robot computer would record it, a statistic)
- Woman hit by car, alchohol or drugs may have played a part (Dohoho! Whats this now? I think "may" and "maybe" are the most overused words in news reporting)
- Jaywalking woman hit by car, driver traumatized.
- Jaywalking woman hit by car, driver talking on cellphone
Etc.

Its gotten to the point where I honestly don't give a sh*t about news these days. But some people can't seem to get enough, no matter the quality.

To be fair, I once had the equivalent of this conversation about how to make a pizza with someone just as opinionated.

Rant over I guess. So have a merry christmas! And call me back when we land a human on Mars. Maybe then I'll turn on my tv.

Well, what you're seeing there is clashing narratives. Everyone likes to tell stories.... arguably, this is what makes us human, more than any other single trait. Stories are a major part of how we deal with and transmit information about other people. Because people are too complex to fully understand, we tell stories about them.

This a pretty good shorthand way to deal with things, and it can be a good way to encapsulate motives. But people don't like to give up their stories; once they've told a story about someone or something, it takes a LOT of effort to make them tell a different one. Some people, once they've arrived at a story, will never change it for any reason, and in fact get pleasure out of sticking to their story despite evidence to the contrary; the stronger the evidence, the more pleasure they derive from ignoring it and sticking to the story. I consider this pathologic behavior, and I see it almost exclusively among conservatives, but it pops up sometimes on the liberal front as well.

Consider the comments about Ron Paul in the elections thread. There are competing narratives about the man, and the mainstream media is trying very, very hard to implant strongly negative ones. Most recently, Ulairi thinks he's a terrible racist, but I'm much less convinced. But neither of us can tell what the actual truth is, so we tell stories, and invent motives, and try to imagine who Paul is. I'm inclined to take him at his word, because he's been so remarkably consistent over the years; Ulairi is inclined to condemn him through association.

In the case of your father, he has the idea that the Chinese government is benevolent and working on behalf of all their people. And the problem with assigning motives to extremely large groups of people, like governments, is that they can have multiple motives at the exact same time. We forget they're made up of groups of people. So you can have nasty corrupt assholes who kill innocent civilians in the same government with people who want to protect them. It's hard to come up with a coherent narrative for governments, and it takes more ignoring of salient facts. You and I see all the horrible things happening to individual people; he sees the economy growing like crazy. We think they're bad guys, he thinks they're good guys. It's quite possible both sides are correct.

Another example of narratives about government is the "Kim Jong Il is dead" thread, where I and a few others are ascribing really awful motives to the US government, and someone else showed up with an alternate explanation. Both sides could be right, because so many people are in the US government, but each side ignores information supporting the other narrative.

You're also seeing it in the Police State thread, where no matter what the government does, some people will excuse it, and some people will condemn it, because that's how their narratives are constructed. That's the filter they see the facts through. And the argument there is about changing people's filters, coming up with alternate explanations for why things are happening.

People do not like to change their narratives, and this is what causes a lot of the heated disagreements in politics.

I think the narrative + confirmation bias thing that Malor mentioned is also exacerbated by the ease with which the internet allows people to both find echo chambers and ignore/avoid compromise with dissenting opinions (or outright disinterest) in a way that's hard to do in face-to-face conversations.

Him: "This pie is pretty good... but it'd be better... IN CHINA!"

You should try to find some way to get it in his head that China is not communist. It's capitalist shrouded in communist rhetoric. He said himself that China offers opportunities for businesses. Might be a good starting point.

Want me to talk to him?

Sonicator wrote:

I think the narrative + confirmation bias thing that Malor mentioned is also exacerbated by the ease with which the internet allows people to both find echo chambers and ignore/avoid compromise with dissenting opinions (or outright disinterest) in a way that's hard to do in face-to-face conversations.

I've heard this used to explain why a couple video game review sites seem to find a niche in hating everything. People love it when others agree with them.

LobsterMobster wrote:

You should try to find some way to get it in his head that China is not communist. It's capitalist shrouded in communist rhetoric. He said himself that China offers opportunities for businesses. Might be a good starting point.

Frankly it hurts to see someone piled under such a weight of misinformation. I've tried before to get him to question what he watches a bit more. But at this point I've pretty much given up.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

Want me to talk to him?

What would you say?

Staying in character, I'd expound upon the glory of the Great Leap Forward, the wisdom of the Cultural Revolution, and quote heavily from my little red book. Actually we'd probably end up being baijiu buddies, nevermind.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

Staying in character, I'd expound upon the glory of the Great Leap Forward, the wisdom of the Cultural Revolution, and quote heavily from my little red book. Actually we'd probably end up being baijiu buddies, nevermind.

The very least you could do is upgrade to maotaijiu.

I ran into a couple of these odd political Christmas moments myself this year. At my mother's house for Christmas lunch my great aunt is asked to say the blessing before we all eat. In the middle of all of the normal "thank you for this time with our family" etc, she throws in a plea to God to protect Israel and for God to save our nation from our current leader. Now, mind you, we were sitting in a little house in Alabama full of a bunch of non-Jews and an 80 something year old little lady, who I've never heard really talk about politics before, is praying to protect Israel and save us from Obama. After the prayer I wisely kept my mouth shut but my wife asked my aunt if she had a lot of Jewish friends or something to prompt the prayer for Israel. At this question my aunt, mother and grandmother all answered simultaneously that since they're Christians it makes them all Jewish because they are now part of God's chosen people. My wife quickly looked at me and I just gave her a small shake of the head and we let it drop. Close call on entering a political briarpatch.

The second instance was with a close friend of mine. She was talking about taking on a 3rd job so that she could pay all of her bills and afford the thousands upon thousands of dollars in medical care she requires every year that is not covered by her insurance. Somewhat jokingly I said "It's a shame we don't have nationalized healthcare because if we did you wouldn't have all those bills." The sheer force of her angry retort shocked me. She ended by saying she would rather be forced to declare bankruptcy and die than endure nationalized healthcare. I meekly asked her what was so bad about nationalized care and she immediately jumped to "In Canada people are forced to wait for months for even routine treatments and they all come to America so they don't have to wait!". So by her logic she would prefer to be forced into bankruptcy and die from being unable to afford treatment than pay slightly higher taxes and wait a little while for non-emergency care. My mind does not comprehend.

I thought during the holidays we were just supposed to talk about snow, presents, old Christmas music and cocoa.

Kehama wrote:

I ran into a couple of these odd political Christmas moments myself this year. At my mother's house for Christmas lunch my great aunt is asked to say the blessing before we all eat. In the middle of all of the normal "thank you for this time with our family" etc, she throws in a plea to God to protect Israel and for God to save our nation from our current leader. Now, mind you, we were sitting in a little house in Alabama full of a bunch of non-Jews and an 80 something year old little lady, who I've never heard really talk about politics before, is praying to protect Israel and save us from Obama. After the prayer I wisely kept my mouth shut but my wife asked my aunt if she had a lot of Jewish friends or something to prompt the prayer for Israel. At this question my aunt, mother and grandmother all answered simultaneously that since they're Christians it makes them all Jewish because they are now part of God's chosen people. My wife quickly looked at me and I just gave her a small shake of the head and we let it drop. Close call on entering a political briarpatch.

The second instance was with a close friend of mine. She was talking about taking on a 3rd job so that she could pay all of her bills and afford the thousands upon thousands of dollars in medical care she requires every year that is not covered by her insurance. Somewhat jokingly I said "It's a shame we don't have nationalized healthcare because if we did you wouldn't have all those bills." The sheer force of her angry retort shocked me. She ended by saying she would rather be forced to declare bankruptcy and die than endure nationalized healthcare. I meekly asked her what was so bad about nationalized care and she immediately jumped to "In Canada people are forced to wait for months for even routine treatments and they all come to America so they don't have to wait!". So by her logic she would prefer to be forced into bankruptcy and die from being unable to afford treatment than pay slightly higher taxes and wait a little while for non-emergency care. My mind does not comprehend.

I thought during the holidays we were just supposed to talk about snow, presents, old Christmas music and cocoa.

I guarantee your great aunt spends her free time listening to the teachings of Rush, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck.

My family is big on thanking the troops, which I totally get, but I broadened it to all those who have and do sacrifice for our benefit when I said grace for the fam this year.