September 27, 2018

Unlike Thomas, Kavanaugh's nom taking place in social mood of vulnerability rather than normalcy

One difference between the attacks against Thomas and Kavanaugh is the social-cultural mood at the time. By the early 1990s, the mass hysteria over sexual predation was beginning to enter a skeptical phase -- after the unqualified panic of the second half of the 1980s, which included the date rape panic, the Satanic ritual abuse panic, and the daycare abuse panic.

In 2018, we are not quite yet into that skeptical phase, and in fact are in the unqualified panic phase, where people are open to believing the substantiated charges (Harvey Weinstein) as well as the unsubstantiated charges (Christine Ford).

An earlier post charted the phases of this cycle, showing how they map onto the phases of the cultural excitement cycle. There are three distinct phases -- manic, vulnerable, normalcy -- that last about 5 years each, for a cycle that repeats about every 15 years. This draws on "excitable system" models in biology, such as the activity level of a neuron.

During the manic, invincible phase, there is neither panic nor skepticism -- people are feeling invulnerable during a manic high. This is the late '60s, early '80s, late '90s, and early 2010s.

When the manic phase crashes into a refractory phase, people feel over-sensitive and therefore vulnerable. They're more likely to feel like predators are everywhere -- hence willing to believe any claim of predation -- and wanting to avoid them at all costs, but finding nowhere to hide. This is the early '70s, late '80s, early '00s, and late 2010s.

As the over-sensitivity wears off and the nervous system returns to a normal baseline of neither over-stimulated nor under-stimulated, people start to become skeptical about how vulnerable they truly were during the previous phase. Sure, we felt vulnerable, but we felt too vulnerable -- so much so that we believed all sorts of bogus charges. We let ourselves become gullible, and now that our emotional state has returned to baseline, we won't get suckered by far-out charges. This is the late '70s, early '90s, late 2000s, and by projection the early 2020s.

Thomas dodged a bullet by being nominated in the early '90s, once the backlash had begun against the sexual abuse hysteria of the late '80s. Roberts and Alito also dodged a bullet by being nominated in 2005, after the subsiding of the early 2000s outrage over sexual abuse (Catholic church revelations). All three were nominated during the return-to-normalcy, healthy dose of skepticism phase.

Gorsuch got nominated during the vulnerable phase, but before a widespread panic had exploded. He was nominated in January 2017 (and confirmed in April), whereas the Me Too movement broke out in October. His nomination did come after the constant accusations against Trump during the 2016 campaign season, but that was not a widespread zeitgeist -- just targeting one individual for clearly partisan reasons.

Kavanaugh's nomination falls not only during the vulnerable phase, but once the mass panic had clearly broken out. This heightening of the social mood is the main difference between his nomination and Gorsuch's, not any qualities about the individuals themselves.

Does anyone believe that if Gorsuch had been nominated after the Me Too phenomenon took off, he would face no accusations like the ones Kavanaugh is facing? Gorsuch does seem to be gay (white hair before age 50, silver before age 40, owing to homosexual degeneracy accelerating the physical deterioration process). So maybe the accusations would have been in the mold of those against Catholic priests or Bryan Singer. But still, something that resonated with the sex abuse panic that took off by fall 2017.

None of this means that Kavanaugh's confirmation will get blocked, although it does explain why it has been rockier than those of Thomas or Gorsuch, the two most comparable cases. And it explains why the majority of Americans came around to believing Thomas over Hill in 1991, but may (or may not) come to believe Ford over Kavanaugh in 2018.

Major political choices by the dominant coalition of a historical period do not reflexively respond to the short-term cycling of the social mood. Even if a majority of Americans currently believe the charges against Kavanaugh, will they still feel the same in a few years? No -- the mood will have shifted into the skeptical phase, after Me Too goes too far.

Is the dominant coalition going to give up a lifetime appointment to the highest court, based on the fleeting social mood? Don't count on it.

"But the GOP can nominate any other tool of the Reaganite orthodoxy, and still secure that lifetime appointment!"

Not as long as the social mood is vulnerable and overly credulous about predators being everywhere. The opposition would mount similar charges until the mood changes in a few years -- and the dominant coalition is not going to wait through years of constant obstruction. They will have to nip that in the bud, and confirm Kavanaugh despite it leaving a temporary bad taste in half of the country's mouths, based on the transitory social mood.

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