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Should Republicans do more Yoga?
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By Amy Willis
By Amy Willis, Aug 22 2018
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Should Democrats go to more NASCAR races? How can we connect with others who don’t share our political views in non-political settings? This question is explored toward the very end of this conversation between EconTalk host Russ Roberts and University of Maryland political scientist Lilliana Mason. Mason’s new book, Uncivil Agreement, was the episode’s focus, which dovetailed nicely with other recent episodes, such as Kling on Morality, Culture, and Tribalism; McArdle on Internet Shaming and Online Mobs; and Roberts’s monologue, The Information Revolution, Politics, Yeats, and Yelling.
Mason and Roberts agree that we seem hard-wired to form and identify with our social groups, but both note a shift in the way such groups are composed in America today, particularly in relation to political parties. Both fear the “darker side” of our group affinities and our tendency to look down on “The Other.” Mason asserts that social groups do not create conflict, only preferences. That is, while we always tend to think our group is the best, once conflict arises it becomes more important to dislike the other group(s).
Use the prompts below in the best way you see fit… As an assignment for your students, a dinner conversation with your kids, or better yet- at that yoga class or NASCAR race you’ve been meaning to get to.
1- Mason describes the landscape today as characterized by less polarization on particular issues and increased partisan animosity. How has this come to be the case, and how does this differ from earlier parts of American political history? (Note that both agree the last time there was as much animosity in the air was in the 1960s…)
2- Mason (and Roberts) bemoan the changing nature of elections in becoming more like a sporting event. Mason says, “there is a disconnect between what the people actually want government to do, and what they are willing to allow government to do in order to protect their sense of victory.” What does she mean by this? To what extent do you think the rise of tribalism has affected the actual process of legislation?
3- In discussing those who pay the most attention to politics, Mason’s work gives Roberts a surprise. He says, “it flips on its head the idea that, you know, people who are uninformed, you kind of hope they don’t vote much. But, maybe they are the ones who are the less vulnerable to this.” What does Roberts mean here, and can it possibly be true? Should we prefer less to more informed voters in our elections? Why or why not? (Bonus question: What would Bryan Caplan say???)
4- Mason suggests, as noted above, that the best way to combat partisan hostility is to find a way to connect with your political “opponents” socially (and not discuss politics!). She also notes that those who would benefit most from such a practice are the least likely to try it. She goes so far as to suggest, “maybe we should just enforce it somehow on a national level, like have some kind of some kind of national service.” What are your thoughts on this suggestion? Can you offer an alternative? What effort(s) have you made to reach out to other who are different from you? What has been the effect on you? What recommendations might you offer to others who desire to do the same?
5- As seems to have become his habit, Roberts saves his zinger question until the end. How would you answer it” Do you think [given the current level of partisan animosity] that America is at risk of a civil war? Explain.
6- Regular Econlib columnist Arnold Kling reviewed Mason’s book in our August edition. Kling suggests that Mason misses many of the implications of her provocative work. (He lists these at the end of his column.) After listening to her conversation with Roberts, which (if any) of these implications do you think were addressed? To what extent do you think Kling would find himself in agreement with Mason, and why?
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Anthony Cooling
Sep 10 2018 at 8:55am
This is the letter I sent Dr. Willis, I’m still waiting on a reply:
Dr. Mason,
I appreciated and enjoyed your podcast episode of EconTalk.  It was fascinating to listen to an extension of the Fioria and Abramowitz debate and how it fits in with Levandusky’s The Partisan Sort.
Nevertheless, I was shocked at some of what you said, but not in a good way.  Interesting that you admit that you’ve never been to a Nascar race and yet think that it would be dangerous for a black American to attend one.  At least you had the humility to admit that you’ve seen a race.  Russ was right to call you out, even having never attended a race himself either.   I’ve never been to a race either, but it does show what you think about your fellow Americans that you presume that a person’s physical safety would be in danger as a fan at a car race.  A quick internet search shows pics of smiling black Nascar fans and a decent article about notable black drivers going back to the 1960s.
As a conservative who is ABD in political science and slogging through my own dissertation, I’ve been exposed to liberalism and progressivism in all its forms, and both good and bad proponents of both through the process.  I don’t want to presume, for you may have grown up in a conservative household and rejected those beliefs at college, but have you ever been through a system, long term, where you must constantly defend your fundamental beliefs about individual rights and limited government?   Imagine Thanksgiving dinner with those conservative relatives, except all semester long.  For years.  At work, I have to bite my tongue and smile frequently when someone makes a dig.  The point I make here, is that a conservative *has* to get along with both sides because he requires his daily bread, whereas a liberal doesn’t.  There are exceptions, to be sure, as in most things, but free speech is a privilege of the economically independent.   Do you, as a professor at the U. of Maryland, ever have to worry that a wrong comment at the wrong time that is not politically correct may cost you your job?
Like the cobbler’s kids having the worst shoes, you seem to be the type in your research that needs to branch out more.  Perhaps I’m wrong.  In fact, I’d love to be, and would appreciate some professional correspondence with you on the matter.
 
Rebecca Goff
Sep 19 2018 at 11:59pm
Frankly, I was disappointed in how easily both speakers in the discussion stereotyped Republicans as people who don’t engage in yoga and do attend Nascar; both seemed so quick to lament that persons who might call themselves Republicans are less than broad-minded because they might have the above tendencies, thus revealing how isolated the speakers are becoming in their ivory towers. I find their panic about public discourse disconcerting because they think they have to do something to correct it and of course that would end up being some sort of  top-down correction, wouldn’t it?
Calm down and get out more among the commoners who do listen to shows such as yours. I consider myself a conservative and therefore usually vote Republican; are you surprised to hear I have an art degree but also took several economics courses in college in which I did very well but not so well in art because at the time in the mid-70’s, minimalism was just coming into vogue (or least it was in the art department of my college) and I had the naive notion that as an art major I would be offered instruction to help me become better at the craft of painting and drawing realistically. I’ve never attended a Nascar race; I frankly think it’s a mindless activity but I started learning yoga in 6th grade by checking out a book on it from my small Southern hometown library and teaching myself various poses. I enjoyed standing on my head on lot.
Mike Riddiford
Sep 22 2018 at 10:43am
Having just listened to the podcast, I must admit, I too, was quite taken aback at the casual assumption by the interviewee that African-Americans would be unsafe at Nascar events, and the equally casual assertion that there is a “white supremacist wing” of the Republican party.  At the very least, that is an extremely partisan assertion, akin to saying there is a Bolshevik wing of the Democrats (for the record, I think allegations of extremism against both major parties are overblown, historically inaccurate and tedious)
At that point the interviewee lost quite a bit of credibility for me (i.e. if she unintentionally revealed this kind of prejudice, I did wonder what other kinds of attitudes she might also hold, and how that might have shaped her work).  Which was kind of a shame, because both her and Russ did raise some interesting points about what is happening to the political process in the US.
Perhaps the best that can be said is that the revealing comment by Professor Mason inadvertently demonstrated the very phenomenon she was seeking to document in her book.
 
 
Amy Willis
Sep 24 2018 at 1:08pm
Thanks, Mike. I think a lot of listeners would agree with you!
Paul Mantyla
Oct 18 2018 at 11:24pm
When the talk turned to violence, Ms. Mason suggested that the Right is more violent, has the guns, and has the support of many militias whereas the Left does not own guns and engages in mostly peaceful protests.
It was frustrating that Russ didn’t bring up Antifa or violent anti-conservative protests at universities to provide solid counter examples. This article describes how much it costs in security to host conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter. Which left wing speakers require that much security when they speak at college campuses?
Russ asserted that both sides engage in violence, but without examples, it came across as weak moral equivalence.
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This episode was a rare treat. Our EconTalk host Russ Roberts delivered a monologue based on an essay he posted on Medium. In both, he gives his take on why political discourse has gotten so much angrier today. The growth in outrage and intolerance troubles Roberts, and he casts a great deal of the blame for it on the changing nature of the news media in the digital age.  But why should we care what others are watching on the Internet? If you want to watch cat videos and I want to watch Shakesp...
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