Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Saturday, September 19, 2015

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE



If news reports are to be believed, 54% of Republicans believe that President Obama is a Muslim [and 100% of them, I assume, consider being a Muslim an especially bad thing.]  When I read reports like this, I despair for my fellow homo sapiens.  The scores of millions of Americans presumably represented by the poll respondents hold critical jobs -- as traffic policemen, as bus drivers, as doctors, as lawyers, as chicken pluckers.  If the polls are to be believed, a sizeable fraction of the cars approaching me on Interstate 40 at a combined speed of 160 miles an hour are, especially here in North Carolina, driven by motorists completely unhinged from reality.  Is it safe for me to drive?

Thus troubled, I looked within for reassurance.  Deep in the far recesses of my memory I found a faint trace of an article written almost seventy years ago by two of the great figures of mid-twentieth century American sociology, David Riesman and Nathan Glazer.  I am sure those names are completely unknown to you, although you may be familiar with some of the terms they gave to our conversation about public affairs -- "other-directed, "inner-directed," "inside dopester."

With remarkably little effort, I located this essay by means of Google and a few key words:  "The Meaning of Opinion," by David Riesman and Nathan Glazer, Public Opinion Quarterly, Volume 12,m No. 4 [Winter 1948-40], pp. 633-648.  Read it!  It is so far superior to anything written by sociologists and public opinion pollsters today as to take one's breath away.

How can it be that 54% of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim?  The answer -- not simple at all -- is that public opinion polling is a socio-psycho-dynamically complex interaction between the poll-taker and the respondent in which the manifest content of the question and answer are a very imperfect representation of the latent interactive processes taking place in the polling.

In the simplest terms possible, I suggest that the answer to my despairing question is this:  When a pollster asks a respondent the manifest question "Is President Obama a Muslim?," the respondent at some level experiences this as the quite different latent question, "Do you like President Obama?"  The respondent understands quite well, even if not consciously, that to give the patently true answer "No" to the manifest question would actually be to give the answer "Yes" to the latent question.  So the respondent answers "Yes" to the manifest question, not wanting to be trapped into expressing any sort of support or sympathy for Obama.  The poll taker dutifully records this as a "yes" to the manifest question rather thasn what it really is, a "No" to the latent question.

I am quite confident that if a polling organization were to ask a statistically representative sample of Republicans  "Does President Obama have horns?," a significant percentage of respondents would say "Yes," even though all of them have seen Obama on television many times and know quite well that he has no horns.

Riesman and Glazer would have understood this perfectly.

8 comments:

Chris said...

If you've kept abreast of the musings by Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Dawkins, and others, it's pretty clearly "liberals" are quite anti-muslim, and bigoted too.

Chris said...

http://www.ora.tv/rubinreport/2015/9/10/sam-harris-racial-profiling-muslims-dave-rubin

T Verga said...

Sorry to go off topic, but has your opinion changed about Bernie Sanders' chances in the past few days? The polls in the early voting states are quite incredible. Living in the UK, I have been so overwhelmed by the election of a socialist to Leader of the Labour Party that I think anything is possible now. Granted, Jeremy Corbyn was chosen by a small electorate, expanded by many people who registered/turned up so that they could vote for him (e.g. me). But the same might be said of Sanders.
And seeing how weak the GOP is, in terms of candidates, support among anyone who is not a middle-aged white man, and policies, I think that if Bernie does get the nomination, he would have a very good chance of becoming president.
What are your thoughts?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I don't think Sanders can accumulate as majority of the convention delegates without substantial support from African-Americans and Latinos, which he does not now have at all. Given the insanity of the Republican Party, they might very well nominate someone whom Bernie could beat. But I would still bet hesvily that Clinton will win.

T Verga said...

Thanks for weighing in. I really hope extra visibility (perhaps after winning early states) will allow him to make inroads with non-white voters. God knows he'd represent their interests (and the interests of the people, generally) much more than Clinton.

C Rossi said...

The mention of Nathan Glazer brought to mind the wonderful film "Arguing the World," about four New York Jewish intellectuals who influenced 20th century political thought: Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, and the odious Irving Kristol. The film follows their development from the 1930s as leftists at CCNY during the political ferment in New York to their changes responding to the political life of the late 1900s. The early part of the film showing the beginnings of their political life is wonderful (Bell mentions that his mother worked in the garment district and he grew up believing that there were two seasons in the year: busy and slack.) The later part show Kristol's movement into Reaganism, Glazer's conflict with the student movement at Berkeley, and Howe's conflict with the new left. A wonderful film if you haven't seen it. It's available for free on Amazon Prime or for a few dollars on regular Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B00IRMZYJK?ie=UTF8&keywords=arguing%20the%20world&qid=1442803196&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you, C. RNossi, I will take a look at it. That was just about a generation after my father and my uncle went to CCNY, along with [then left-wing] Sidney Hook and my later-colleague at Columbia Ernest Nagel. They sat at the Menshevik table in the cafeteria.

David Gordon said...

Glazer is still living.