Ring the Division Bell

February 4, 2024 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | American Politics, POLITICS | 2 Comments |

Recently, we were sent an interesting take by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian, suggesting the likely Republican nominee for U.S. President this year, Donald Trump, was “king of the extrinsics.”  Now we have expressed concerns about George before, but felt he deserved respectful consideration none-the-less.

By ‘extrinsic,’ Monbiot did not mean a “basket of deplorables,” exactly. He wrote: “Some psychologists believe our values tend to cluster around certain poles, described as “intrinsic” and “extrinsic”. People with a strong set of intrinsic values are inclined towards empathy, intimacy and self-acceptance. They tend to be open to challenge and change, interested in universal rights and equality, and protective of other people and the living world. People at the extrinsic end of the spectrum are more attracted to prestige, status, image, fame, power and wealth. They are strongly motivated by the prospect of individual reward and praise. They are more likely to objectify and exploit other people, to behave rudely and aggressively and to dismiss social and environmental impacts. They have little interest in co-operation or community. People with a strong set of extrinsic values are more likely to suffer from frustration, dissatisfaction, stress, anxiety, anger and compulsive behaviour.”

We are skeptical of this binary styling of values. Obviously, there is a basis for it to an extent, and it is hardly a new phenomenon. In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt identified moral foundations that are ‘innate,’ an evolutionary response to adaptive challenges, which resolve into Care and Fairness (the ‘liberal’ pillars) and the other, more conservative bases: Liberty, Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity. However, man is multifarious. Of Monbiot’s alleged tendencies and motivations, many people, and in particular, elective politicians, surely display both intrinsic and extrinsic values. Putting it mildly, this bifurcation of the body politic, whilst grounded in superficial badging and partially factual, is unhelpful.

In fact, to box people in so, is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense. Prejudice always obscures the truth (so says Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men) and this fog has got so thick that the two sides are ceasing to think of each other as belonging to the same species. This kind of fanaticism, this polarisation of opposing factions means that, to quote Santayana, in his essay Intuitive Morality (1905): “It is possible, no doubt, that its agents are really so far apart in nature and ideals that, like men and mosquitoes, they can stand in physical relations only, and if they meet can meet only to poison or to crush one another.” An example of this can be divined in this offering by Michael Feingold, writing in the ‘Village Voice’: “Republicans don’t believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don’t give a hoot about human beings, either can’t or won’t. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm.”

Of course, American policy and politics has always been attended by a level of toxicity. And George Monbiot is happy to pile-on here, the Kensington-born, Stowe and Oxford-educated anti-capitalist that he is. He comments: “For well over a century, the US, more than most nations, has worshipped extrinsic values: the American dream is a dream of acquiring wealth, spending it conspicuously and escaping the constraints of other people’s needs and demands. It is accompanied, in politics and in popular culture, by toxic myths about failure and success: wealth is the goal, regardless of how it is acquired. The ubiquity of advertising, the commercialisation of society and the rise of consumerism, alongside the media’s obsession with fame and fashion, reinforce this story. When a society valorises status, money, power and dominance, it is bound to generate frustration. It is mathematically impossible for everyone to be number one. The more the economic elites grab, the more everyone else must lose. Someone must be blamed for the ensuing disappointment. In a culture that worships winners, it can’t be them. It must be those evil people pursuing a kinder world, in which wealth is distributed, no one is forgotten and communities and the living planet are protected. Those who have developed a strong set of extrinsic values will vote for the person who represents them, the person who has what they want. Trump. And where the US goes, the rest of us follow.”

The Marxist monolith is a cynic; it knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Having failed in the class war, it now motors on values and identity. But it remains concerned always and everywhere with money and power. The folks in this vanguard are certainly “open to challenge and change.” They speak of “universal rights and equality,” (now more commonly, ‘equity,’ in this context meaning equality of outcomes rather than opportunity). But when they claim to be “protective of other people and the living world,” they are referring to their own cohort of people, in the Silicon Valley, on Martha’s Vineyard and Nassim Road in Singapore, at Davos, in Rublevka, Knightsbridge, Monaco, Lujiazui, and the Upper East Side. A true conservative (small ‘c’ emphasised) is always gritting her teeth when George, or a billionaire such as George Soros, speak of “a kinder world, in which wealth is distributed, no one is forgotten and communities and the living planet are protected.” How kind of the elites to distribute my wealth. How kind to remember never to leave me alone, and how kind they are to ‘protect me.’ The real divide is not betwixt ‘extrinsic’ or ‘intrinsic’ values, but as the late Roger Scruton observed, the fact that socialists squash the people they pretend to care about into road-kill and aggregate for a super-highway to their same-for-all-except-the-few Utopia, thereby setting themselves against the very populace they seek to govern.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote on the inevitable, necessary authoritarian nature of socialism (how else can they level-all, hector-all and protect all?): “Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” Fascism (just another form of socialism) is coming to America; it is coming in the name of fairness, equity, collectivism and medical conscription in the name of the commonweal.

Mr. Monbiot concludes: “Trump might well win again – God help us if he does. If so, his victory will be due not only to the racial resentment of ageing white men, or to his weaponisation of culture wars or to algorithms and echo chambers, important as these factors are. It will also be the result of values embedded so deeply that we forget they are there.” Leave aside for the moment George’s tosh about “values” – that penultimate sentence just quoted looks like “a-basket-of-deplorables” reference to me. A fact-free, ad hominem spray, directed at people who might have their own opinion.

To return to George’s take on extrinsics, perhaps we can put a spotlight on the current President, who has declared his intention to run again, so that, at least for the moment, the 2024 election will be a re-match of 2020:

People at the extrinsic end of the spectrum are more attracted to prestige, status, image, fame, power and wealth.” Well now, Mr. Biden was a senator for decades, with an annual salary that ranged from $42,500 in 1973 to $169,300 in 2008. His annual vice presidential salary was $230,700. Forbes reported that “By the end of 2017, he and his wife Jill had earned $11.1 million. They raked in $4.6 million the next year, followed by $1 million in 2019 and $630,000 in 2020.” And people suspect he’s squirreled-away lots more, from some interesting sources. As for prestige, status, image, President Biden has made several claims about himself and his achievements that have been thoroughly shredded, such as:

When I marched in the Civil Rights Movement…”

I went to law school on a full academic scholarship, the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship. … [I] went back to law school and, in fact, ended up in the top half of my class. I won the international moot court competition. I was the outstanding student in the political science department at the end of my year. I graduated with three degrees from undergraduate school and 165 credits, only needed 123 credits..

I’m the best qualified people for this job…

I took on Putin in terms of er Iraq…excuse me, in terms of uh, what was going on in Ukraine.”

I hope [my Covid-19 policies] can provide some comfort and solace to the more than 230-million-thousand families who have lost a loved one to this terrible virus this year.

They are strongly motivated by the prospect of individual reward and praise.”

His claims of being raised by Hispanics, spending his free time as a youth in the Black Church, driving Monster trucks, creating 19 million jobs, and that he had “traveled 17,000 miles with” Chinese President Xi Jinping, for example.

They are more likely to objectify and exploit other people, to behave rudely and aggressively and to dismiss social and environmental impacts.”

Ask the citizens of Texas and Arizona about the ridiculously porous border on his watch, the sanctuary cities now being overrun by illegals, or East Palestine, which is yet to receive a visit from the President in the wake of the catastrophic environmental damage there over a year ago. President Biden has denied, dismissed, and dissembled about, these crises.

They have little interest in co-operation or community.”

How about Joe’s famous MAGA speech at Independence Hall: “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”

People with a strong set of extrinsic values are more likely to suffer from frustration, dissatisfaction, stress, anxiety, anger and compulsive behaviour.

Biden’s hitherto well-known and well-liked capacity for empathy seems to have gone. We’re left with a shrill, shrieking, weird exoskeleton, an angry man shouting at the clouds, who can’t face a hard interview, answer an intelligent question, or put in a full day, and whose backers now want him gone. His wife and other minders guide him away from inquiring adults, he’s in his jammies by late afternoon, and leaves the White House on most weekends. White House staff speak of his rages, and propensity to blame others for his poor poll results.

Let’s get this straight: Donald Trump is an odious man. He made many mistakes during his term as President. He behaved like a spoiled brat when he lost the 2020 election. You wouldn’t go on a houseboat holiday with him at any price. But is it not high time for an objective evaluation of Trump’s term, and an objective evaluation of his successor’s performance? Can the American people, à la Rodney King, ever hope or manage to see the other point of view, disagree without being disagreeable, and just try to ‘get along’?


  1. Reply

    Ritchie Ho

    February 5, 2024

    after all, it was the lies, unaccountability and corruption of the elites - useless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya; banks and equity companies let off the hook in the GFC; soaring debt and increased taxation without representation; an open border; an epidemic of uselessness and unproductivity; OxyContin fraud, and climate hyperbole, that saw Trump elected in the first place

  2. Reply

    Smug of Glebe

    February 6, 2024

    Don’t forget the US kowtowing and nuclear facilitation of Iran between 2009 and 2016, which is bearing rotten fruit right now.

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