The Party\’s Over

By Thomas Kochman - 03.16.2010

David Brook’s recent NY Times column “The Spirit of Sympathy” speaks to the decline of civility and personal relations in the Senate and increasing polarization along strictly party lines following the pattern of the House.

But who is responsible for this fissure? Presumably bipartisanship in the past was at one time driven by pragmatism and common cause and a triumph of persuasion and personal relationships over partisan politics .

What we have now is Republican resistance and obstinacy rooted in ideology, an “all or nothing” mentality, and the self delusion that, despite losing the election, they still “speak for the American people”.

For persuasion and personal relations to prevail across party lines disagreements have to be rationally based, remediable, constructive and ultimately humanistic –a sensibility and sympathy for how laws, policies, practices and social neglect impact people –not just my people but all people. Read more »

Spin Doctors

By Thomas Kochman - 03.15.2010

Almost every piece of news that gets reported these days seems to have one kind of spin on it or another from people bent on promoting one or another social or political agenda. We expect that behavior from politicians, cults and other thought squads, caught up in what David Brooks characterized as “information cocoons” in his excellent article, “Getting Obama Right!”

However, the media is no less guilty of spin when it chooses “sexy” or controversial topics for airing or publication to draw in viewers or readers.

And even researchers fall prey to spin in selecting criteria whose single greatest virtue is that it is measurable giving the research and themselves, a sense of relevance or importance that –upon looking deeper—is unwarranted.

As a case in point, Drake Bennett’s article “Who’s still biased” cites researchers who, using prejudice reduction as a basis for evaluating the effectiveness of corporate diversity training, imply that there is somehow a causal connection between prejudice reduction and behavioral change—presumably with prejudice reduction needing to occur in order to achieve the latter. Read more »

Individuals vs. Members of a Group

By Thomas Kochman - 11.11.2009

I agree with David Brooks that the rush to characterize Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killing of 12 soldiers and 1 civilian at Fort Hood as non- ideological was premature. I also agree that it was partly motivated by the wish to prevent backlash against Muslim’s as a group.

Of course, this last concern would not exist if Hasan and Muslims in the U.S. generally were not seen as members of a group where the actions of one are seen to implicate others of that group.

Compare for example, the different reaction toward Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who killed 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. There was no concern of backlash against white men because McVeigh and Nichols happen to be white men. They, like other white men in the U.S., were seen simply as individuals, not collectively, as members of a racial, ethnic or religious group.

The experience of U.S. white men when they go outside the U.S. begins to resemble the experience of ethnic minorities within the U.S.  There, they are seen as “Americans”, and begin to feel the pressure that comes from being seen collectively as members of a group: implicated not only by the actions of other Americans but those of America as a whole.

For U.S. white men, that is often a new experience. For U.S. racial, ethnic or religious minorities, it’s old hat.

Obama Socialized by White Women

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.23.2009

Talk show host and liberal social commentator Bill Maher criticized Obama on his HBO show “Real Time” when he said Obama was “focusing too much on his charm offense and not enough on substantive change…I’m glad he got elected. But he’s not really putting it on the line against the banks, the insurance companies, the energy companies who run the country and in many ways, have ruined this country.”

In effect, he accused the President of being what I describe in our book, Corporate Tribalism, as a “people pleaser.” I have observed that when the oldest child in a family is male, he often spends more time with Mom or Grandma, and tends to also fit the description of what I describe as a white female “people pleaser.” It would not surprise me if Obama learned from his white mother and grandmother that you catch more flies with honey than with a fly swatter. Read more »