Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The stupidest thing ever

I seriously think this quiz might be it. (Via Digby.)

The quiz, by the authors of a book called "Applebee's America" that sounds like a true steaming pile of crap, is premised on the idea that Americans are not ideologically and culturally divided in the simplistic way the media's red state/blue state divide would suggest. No, the situation is far more complex: we're divided into three "tribes": the red tribe, the blue tribe, and the "tipping tribe"--the swing voters, who the authors seem to think form a kind of semi-disenfranchised majority. The idea seems to be that America is really a "moderate" nation, politically, and, thus, that the Democrats ought to take a more moderate, bipartisan approach to governance now that they are back in power in Congress. (As Digby points out, books like this never seem to be directed against the Republicans...)

Now, I'm willing to accept this up to a point. I do disagree with the idea that America is as rigidly and radically divided as the primary-colored maps suggest. I do not, however, think that this is because most of us are part of some happy middle ground that eats at Applebee's and somehow has no real representation in national politics; I think it's because most Americans are apolitical. Apolitical people are not "moderates": they cannot, as a matter of basic logic, be represented in national politics. It may be true that most apolitical Americans would like to see a more civil tone in Washinton and more bipartisan cooperation and soforth. But, coming from apolitical people, this cannot be taken as an ideological preference. (Indeed, I'm not sure it even makes sense to think of it as an ideological preference.) It may be no more of a preference than my preference that baseball players don't cheat or use steroids or get into fights or abuse their spouses. I don't care a whit about baseball and don't follow it, but hearing that players are doing these things is still somewhat upsetting: baseball is a small part of the image of America itself, and what its players do reflects in some small way on us. The preference for comity in politics, etc., that apolitical people have may be different in degree, since obviously national politics is more important than baseball, but I don't see how it's different in kind--and that kind of preference simply is not worthy of serious consideration in policymaking.

Anyway, to get on to the true stupidity: The quiz is meant to inform you what "tribe" you belong to yourself. It asks banal questions about preferences in soft drinks, sports, and cars. To tell you whether you're culturally a Republican, Democrat, or "tipper". Huh. Asking questions about seemingly unrelated things can be a legitimate technique in a quiz in some circumstances, but certainly not in this way.

How do I know? Because I, of all people, am apparently part of the "tipping tribe".

I, who have never voted for a Republican and never will short of a currently-unimaginable political realignment. I, who attended Michael Dukakis' alma mater. I, who spent hundreds of hours planning activism against the Iraq war. I, who am a militant atheist. I, who am the child of hippies. I, who read Marx for pleasure. I, who work in academia. (Well, a community college...) I, who had a fantastic time at the Democratic Party bash on election night. Even on a more superficial level: I, who am a proud native of (the People's Republic of) Portland, Oregon! I, who love brie! I, who have close gay friends! I, who can't stand NASCAR! I'm not in the blue tribe? Who the hell is, then?

I actually went back, after giving my own answers to the quiz, and tried to fill in what I thought to be the most stereotypical Blue answers, and still got "tipping tribe". What does it take?

As far as I can tell by experiment--I'm not willing to put a whole lot of time into this--all the top choices are Red, all the bottom choices are Blue. This means that apparently Dr. Pepper is a Red State drink, while Sprite and Pepsi are Blue. Why would this be, exactly? I genuinely have no idea. I can see why Coors is Red and Budweiser is Blue, because Coors is owned by right-wing wackos and Bud is union-made, but I don't get the soft drink thing. The authors also seem to be saying that Red people prefer bourbon or scotch to Blue people's vodka and gin. Why? I don't even see how this works on the level of stereotypes. In one case, they even get the stereotype dead wrong, in my opinion: in the question about choice of bottled water, "Ozarka or local brand" is the Red choice and "Evian or Dannon" the Blue. Isn't it beyond obvious that true liberals are always going to prefer the local brand to a giant corporate brand? I certainly always do. (In Portland, I try to get Earth2O, from Opal Springs--it's good stuff.) Perhaps the idea is supposed to be that Evian is French and therefore culturally liberal. But being liberal, even in a cultural sense, doesn't have anything to do with preferring French products, even if it might have something to do with preferring French health care policy to our own. I would have thought that this was something so obvious that it would never need to be said, but apparently I'm wrong.

That these authors are getting mainstream attention--and may even have some affect on political dynamics in Washington--tells you just about everything you need to know about the health of our republic.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Speaking as a fellow Tipper (and overcoming my shock at apparently being one), I agree that the fetish for centrist or "moderate" positions runs very deep. I think there's an aversion to conflict, especially in the form of messy dissents during wartime, that is difficult to reconcile with the radical democratic roots of the American revolution. People seem to prefer that their politicians stop shouting and just agree, then leave them alone (except on the rare occasions when they might do something to further their private interests). It's almost (but not quite) enough to make me nostalgic for Barry Goldwater's formulation back in 1964: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."