Saturday, January 15, 2011

What I'm not saying about Krugman
Tom Smith

I wasn't really expecting an instalink regarding my latest ruminations on our dear Professor Krugman, but as there was one, I think it prudent to be clear on what I'm not saying.  I'm not saying K is schizophrenic or has any tendencies that way.  I was merely noting the rather ironic similarity (although one hopes very different in intensity) between the lack of insight a schizophrenic has and the lack of insight K displays about his confusion of genuine conscience and an overpowering sense of one's own moral superiority. Actually, I would argue being a person of conscience, let alone something like a leading conscience of one's generation or nation, is nearly the opposite of supposing oneself to be greatly morally superior to others.  Like most people, I regard people who suppose themselves to be greatly morally superior to others, especially when it seems if anything they are rather worse than most, a peculiarly obnoxious trait.  K stands out in my mind as one of these people.  

(I am not any sort of mental health expert, though for the little it is worth, I actually did represent a paranoid schizophrenic who had improperly, though probably wisely, been incarcerated in a maximum security mental facility (what used to be called a facility for the "criminally insane") and, I regret to say, got him sprung.  This was at the mental health legal clinic at the good old the Yale Law School.  I wonder what became of Chris; probably nothing good.)  My more general point is that schizophrenics in a way seem to have in a much greater magnitude traits and tendencies that many of us have to a degree.  Lots of people indulge in magical thinking, while schizophrenics seem to live in a kind of magical world, or some of them do.)

I have tried a little lately to get my arms around this idea of "I am really a kind of moral wonder; truly morally superior to most people" sense that some people have, and how it relates to politics. Happily I don't think it is a very widespread trait, but where you encounter it, it's beastly.  You see some of it on the right, in the form of certain very religious sorts who think all but themselves are bound for hell, but even there I think it's pretty rare.  You definitely can encounter it among academics but I have made such efforts to avoid it that I personally seldom come across it  -- but if I do, at an ill chosen conference or something, I just flee, as I would a restaurant with an alarming smell.  You see it sometimes among certain old school Progressives, a movement that grew in part out of fervent evangelical busy bodyness turned national movement.  But I don't have anything like a theory of it; just a wish that I had one.

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Tom Smith


No, you are not a mental health expert. Mental health experts are crazy.

Posted by: james wilson | Jan 15, 2011 10:26:43 AM

I think you've gotten Krugman all wrong. I'm quite sure he doesn't believe himself morally superior to everyone else--indeed, I doubt he considers himself morally superior to more than a tiny handful of the people he meets in day-to-day life. Of course, those people he meets are overwhelmingly good liberals like himself (or so he assumes, at least). The people he feels superior to (and probably not just morally) are this large tribe of horrible people who are completely different in every way from his tribe, and live their horrible, degraded lives at some distance from him. He would gladly leave them alone to suffer each other's depravity in their own territories, except that those territories are nevertheless part of his own country, and their ugly ways and deluded beliefs thus threaten to impinge upon his own magnificent people and their refined, elevated way of life.

If tribalism were a mental illness, world history would have unfolded very differently. In fact, tribalism is the most natural human impulse in the world, one that virtually nobody rises completely above--even, I might add, at this blog.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Jan 16, 2011 6:40:50 AM

""I am really a kind of moral wonder; truly morally superior to most people" "

This would be Thomas Friedman's self image.

Posted by: Dan | Jan 16, 2011 1:45:07 PM

When I read this article
the name 'Christopher Hitchens'
sprang immediately to mind.

Posted by: Allan Trojan | Jan 16, 2011 1:45:20 PM

Don't worry about me, Tom. I've done well. I even ended up with my own show on MSNBC. Thanks for all the help way back when.

Posted by: Chris M. | Jan 16, 2011 1:45:53 PM

"I am really a kind of moral wonder; truly morally superior to most people"

The name for that disease is "Narcissistic personality disorder" and in many ways it more pernicious than outright paranoid schitzophrenia.

Posted by: looking closely | Jan 16, 2011 1:48:28 PM

I have to wonder how much of Krugman's apparent schizophrenia is really the result of his own though processes and how much is the result of pushing from his wife. Based on the article about the two of them, published last year in the New Yorker, I have to think she pushes him to far leftward extremes.

Posted by: Steve Two | Jan 16, 2011 1:50:29 PM

Krugman and Libs like him do not assume that they are morally superior. That comes later. What they do assume is a degree of intellectual superiority (sometimes under the guise of greater "curiosity" or "sensitivity" in order to make it seem like less of a put-down to others than "I'm just smarter than you"). The correctness of their selection and interpretation of the facts is obvious and compelling beyond a reasonable doubt for all rational, intelligent people. Hence, the common Liberal confusion that the existence of different points of view is the clear result of "misinformation".

The overbearing moral superiority is a direct corollary of this, since if you disagree with what is obvious and compelling, then you're either evil or stupid, and must therefore either be brow-beaten into accepting what is good for you (since you're too stupid to know), or utterly destroyed by any means possible (e.g., Sarah Palin).

Posted by: JeremiadBullfrog | Jan 16, 2011 1:53:31 PM

I think Dan Simon has it generally right. There's a movie blogger named Jeffrey Wells who rendered his site all but unbearable with the nastiest, most blinkered lockstep lefty opinionating on Bush, Iraq, etc. He rags on red-staters for being bigots and narrow-minded while he himself is going off about how fat Hispanics laugh too loudly at stupid movies for his refined tastes. (Search Jeffrey Wells and "low thread count" for laughs.) Yet every once in a while he actually finds himself in middle America because of a film festival or a missed flight or whatever and he's absolutely astonished to discover that people are nice, friendly, helpful, not as dumb as he expected, etc. It lasts as long as his flight back to New York and then he's back to berating the heartlands as prejudiced scum who, in the name of all that is decent, need to be rounded up and put in camps.

Posted by: Michael Gebert | Jan 16, 2011 1:59:04 PM

Your modest plea notwithstanding,

"Krugman is evidently blissfully unaware that the concept of a conscience is almost the exact opposite of the disposition, on flagrant display today, one may have to always think that one is right and good and those one disagrees with are wrong and evil. If someone were to say, oh, my conscience, that’s the little voice inside me that tells me I am smarter, and morally better than others. No, Paul, that’s not your conscience; your ego maybe, but not your conscience." the Laugh-Cry line of the year so far IMO.

Posted by: hitnrun | Jan 16, 2011 2:00:23 PM

TO: Tom Smith
RE: Heh

Like most people, I regard people who suppose themselves to be greatly morally superior to others, especially when it seems if anything they are rather worse than most, a peculiarly obnoxious trait. -- Tom Smith

Seems like I heard about Someone else having that sort of 'disappointment' with such people.

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. -- Luke 18:10-14

Go fig....


[A man's pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit. -- Proverbs]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto | Jan 16, 2011 2:14:56 PM

"I am really a kind of moral wonder; truly morally superior to most people"

Krugman's problem is that he believes that he has it 'all figured out.' If people would just follow his directions, we would have a new Heaven and a new Earth.

Because HE has things 'all figured out,' any disagreements must be acts of bad faith and possibly evil intention.

Posted by: ~FR | Jan 16, 2011 2:22:24 PM

Here's the thing that's important to understand about people such as Krugman: Their political pronouncements are intended not as declarations of moral superiority, per se, but as status markers. That's all any of this is. It's about social signaling. It's about fashion: "Smart/classy/respected people at this moment advocate Thing X, and as you can see, I advocate Thing X."

Now, certainly there are genuine leftists out there, people who honestly believe what they espouse, who have derived their conclusions through clear chains of logic and reason. (We in the libertarian and conservative camps merely start with different sets of premises and thus wind up at different conclusions.) These are the people who can be engaged in sincere debate, willing to share in rigorous examination and questioning of arguments. They are self-aware and rational. We may still vehemently disagree with them when all is said and done, but at least real debate is possible, because they are interested in critical thinking, in the process of finding truth.

Among these (rare) leftists, you won't find much sanctimony. They have no need for it. But you can practically scrape the sanctimony and self-righteousness off the Krugmans of the world, because their leftism is not about sincerity or truth. It's not about anything but their own place in the scheme of things -- their standing in this particular society in this particular era. That's why it often seems so rote and kneejerk, so malleable and arbitrary. And it's ephemeral, because the standards that signal "Smart/Classy Person" -- the standards of political fashion -- are always evolving.

So whether you're listening to a low-information Hollywood type -- a Seth MacFarlane or Janeane Garofalo -- or a well-credentialed columnist like Krugman, always keep that in mind: Little they say about current events is about actual principles or philosophy. It's simply about asserting the proper public identity for themselves, a never-ending effort to ensure the right spot in the social hierarchy.

Posted by: Christopher | Jan 16, 2011 2:31:43 PM

You must not spend much time in university music, art, and liberal arts departments: They are all Krugmans there. OK, almost all.

Posted by: Hucbald | Jan 16, 2011 2:40:01 PM

Dear Chuck(le) 1-16 2:14

I don't think you read very well if you're saying what I think you are and folding that 'feeling of superiority' back on the OP.

In fact you are being somewhat the pharisee yourself. The parable is not about absolutes, it's about relative self image.

This catch-22 or even a sort of gordian knot is often the source of irony especially in regards to this sort of incident.
None of us are righteous all the time and we often attribute to others what we despise in a little corner of ourselves.

But that doesnt mean we should keep silent:

Dear Ann Landers: "I dont go to church anymore because it is full of hypocrites."

Dear Reader: "Where else would you have them?"

Posted by: Pettyfog | Jan 16, 2011 2:57:38 PM

TO: Pettyfog
RE: Reading Skills

I don't think you read very well if you're saying what I think you are and folding that 'feeling of superiority' back on the OP. -- Pettyfog

Maybe you should re-read my comment and thing again.

Hope that helps....


[For more information, please re-read this message.]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto | Jan 16, 2011 3:06:06 PM

P.S. If you care to join my Friday Morning Mens' Bible Study group, I'll give you the phone number. We meet about 0640 hours every Friday....

Posted by: Chuck Pelto | Jan 16, 2011 3:07:09 PM

I have to agree with Dan to some degree. I am tribal I suppose. I live in the vast wilderness between the coasts. I don't mind the snobbery, so much. I don’t really even mind the opinion of those who've never really done anything or built anything of value, that they know so much more about the way things should be done, then those that have built works of value. My skin has grown quite thick over the years, and the once hurtful thorns, white, inbred, greedy, racist, stupid. They're just so many gnats buzzing around. What bothers me most is the tribute demanded of my tribe by the coastal tribes to support such colossal monuments to waste and inefficiency. The armies of bureaucrats sent to enforce the will of the coastals upon those of us in the wilderness. I really just want to be left alone. More and more I wish to make the coastals come to the conclusion that they should have left the wilderness alone as well.

Posted by: BG | Jan 16, 2011 3:09:43 PM

Dear Chuck...
Either I read it wrong, and commented unfairly on your motive, or I read it right and pointed out why there's danger in making judgments on others.

So, either way... Glass Houses and all that. And we're all prone to it, at one time or another, and THAT is what I'm talking about.

And I really think that's what Tom is talking about.

Thanks for the invite... but I babble.

Posted by: Pettyfog | Jan 16, 2011 3:15:17 PM

Part of the point is tribalism may be were you are in the absence of evidence about someone. Krugman routinely asserts that no evidence is evidence, which is a lie, even when stated about another tribe. Then he tells his lies in such a way that millions of people can check him, so that he is assured that he is caught.

What does that say about Pinch et al., that they would give such a fool a column?

Posted by: Donm | Jan 16, 2011 3:24:40 PM

TO: Pettyfog
RE: [OT] Invite

The invitation stands. We'll even delve into the 'parable' with special attention to this discussion of Krugman, as opposed to our regularly scheduled discussion of Joshua.


[There are two types of people, those that know they are FUBAR and those who don't.]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto | Jan 16, 2011 3:34:44 PM

Looking at his shifty eyes and feral glee at "skewering" conservatives on This Week, I conclude that he knows he is lying and doesn't care.

Not mental, just amoral and vicious.

Posted by: mockmook | Jan 16, 2011 3:49:53 PM

"He would gladly leave them alone to suffer each other's depravity in their own territories, except that those territories are nevertheless part of his own country,..." and he needs their money to do his good and wise works.

Posted by: Claude Hopper | Jan 16, 2011 3:51:12 PM

I think the term for this is "spiritual arrogance", or at least it would be if Krugman's god wasn't Krugman.

Posted by: Caseym54 | Jan 16, 2011 5:11:49 PM

For most of the last century, all the really vile sanctimonious prudes were on the Right. Since roughly Ronald Reagan's presidency, this has changed polarities, and now it is primarily coming from the Left. And like most things the Baby Boomers do, it has been kicked up a notch. Not only do they want to be morally superior to all others, they also want to be "smarter," AND "cooler." It's the new trinity!

The Left today aspiress to be the "The Rebel" who flouts society's rules, AND the one who has their boot on everyone's neck.

Posted by: mike | Jan 16, 2011 5:19:26 PM