Monday, 25 March 2019

What's going on here?

Every single time I mention the indisputable fact that the older demographics are more likely to vote Tory, to support Brexit, and to approve of right-wing authoritarian propaganda tropes, the inevitable response is a barrage of  self-defensive "how dare you!" comments from people stating their age and then saying that they never voted Tory in their lives.

Nowadays I always preface comments about age demographics with "obviously not all old people are like this and it's wrong to generalise" type disclaimers in order to deter the inevitable barrage of "how dare you!" comments, but it doesn't seem to matter.

They still turn up, state their age, and chastise me for generalising about all old people despite my explicit disclaimers explaining that discussion of demographic trends is not the same as generalising about all old people.

Whether I shroud my comments about demographic trends in disclaimers or not, these comments always appear without fail.

So what's going on here?

Why are so many older people so determined to self-defensively shout down commentary on the observable demographic reality about the voting habits of older people?

Surely we're all familiar with the fragile male who interrupts the conversation about issues like rape and domestic violence to proclaim "not all men", as if he's interpreted criticism of rapists and wife-beaters as being an attack on his personal masculinity.

And we're familiar with the ultra-defensive white fragility of some white people when it's pointed out that whites are still the beneficiaries of systemic racism, as if the fact that systemic racism still exists is somehow a personal attack on them for being white.

The same thing is going on with over-60s when they lash out at the demographic evidence that tells us that the majority of their peers vote Tory, support Brexit, and tend to fall for right-wing authoritarian and ultranationalist rhetoric.

They're lashing out because just like the "not all men" interrupter misinterpreting criticism of rapists as criticism of his masculinity, and the white fragility sufferer misinterpreting criticism of systemic racism as an attack on their white identity, these older people are misinterpreting the demographic discussion as an attack on their self-identity as an older person.

It turns out that it doesn't really matter how many facts and evidence and disclaimers we use because this self-defence response isn't a rational one, it's an emotive one.

As soon as people feel their identity as an older person, a male, a white, or whatever is under attack, logic and reason go straight in the bin, they tend to become impervious to facts and evidence, and a vehement emotive defence is mounted.

This kind of emotive reaction to perceived criticism of the self-identity is clearly a deeply embedded human trait, and one that it's easily possible to weaponise.

Older people who ignore all of the disclaimers to post their "I'm [insert age] and I'm not a [Tory/Brexiter], how very dare you generalise about me!" beneath any reference to age-related demographic trends are frustratingly predictable, but in the grand scheme of things they're pretty much harmless. After all their emotive response is to defend their self-identity as a good person who cares about society.

What's a lot more concerning is the way these emotive self-identity reactions are weaponised by the extreme-right, because the extreme-right know that once you've got people thinking with their emotions, they're incredibly easy to manipulate.

The reason victimhood narratives are so prevalent in extreme-right politics is that telling people their identity as a white/wealthy/male/heterosexual/Christian/Brit/whatever is under threat from the immigrants/Marxists/Feminazis/queers/atheists/PC thought police/Jews is designed to trigger this emotive self-defence reaction.

And the further towards the extreme-right the Conservative party drifts, the more we see Tory politicians and Tory supporters actively spreading these extreme-right victimhood narratives, conspiracy theories about "cultural Marxists", "the great replacement", "white genocide" and "postmodern neo-Merxism", and fear-mongering about the terrifying plot to erase Western culture and western people's identities.

This extreme-right political tactic is incredibly sinister and dangerous because these ideas are driving terrorist attacks like the Jo Cox assassination and the Christchurch massacres.

However the emotive self-identity defence these extreme-right victimhood narratives are designed to trigger have exactly the same emotional root as the old lefty typing out a furious "how dare you!" comment in response to the demographic data that proves that older people are generally more susceptible to this kind of identity-driven right-wing propaganda than the younger generations are.

Like I said before in my multiple disclaimers, these self-defensive "how dare you!" older people are not sinister, and they're not the enemy. At worst they're a mild annoyance for the way they just climb over the massive walls of disclaimers I've erected to post the exact same comments as if the walls weren't there at all.

But there is actually a lot to be learned by thinking about the instinctive and emotive self-identity defence reaction that drives these self-defensive comments, and how these often-harmless instincts and emotions can be manipulated for nefarious political purposes.

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David Cameroff said...

I'm 41 and understand the difference between statistical analysis and the opinions of one person.

I also think it's a very good point linking this type of response to the popularity and tactics of the right, and why people vote and form opinions the way that they do. I'd suggest that they do this not as it's a good method but perhaps the best one to avoid what you are saying and maintain their wilful ignorance. The right know this and work on identity rather than reason and statistics, as that's not a fight they can win. It works well for them, e.g. the tory party still has more than zero voters. dare you! ;)

@Workducker said...

You might undertake a similar analysis about your reaction to such comments. Is the political blogger demographic particularly susceptible to the irritation you evidently experience when your narrative is challenged. Perhaps it would be better just to acknowledge that you understand the frustration of an individual incorporated as a unit of a subset whose definition is inappropriate.

Kate said...

Maybe those of us over 60s who are internet savvy and read blogs like yours are more likely to be left leaning etc. and not fans of the Daily Fail. But I do wonder sometimes where the data comes from that makes up these statistics, as in my personal experience a lot of the over 60s I know are socialists and it's the 40-50 something age group who are more likely to be the right wing bigots (or the "anyone but Corbyn" brigade). Dunno what the answer is.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately the heart rules over the head and no one likes to be insulted, even if you do have a point. We on the left need to embrace this and stop relying on logic, but play them at their own game, embracing their own anger and using it to fight back. Just look at their response to the Government's introduction of a "death tax." Rage and self pity are powerful motivators

JohnPeace said...

Ok, so I'll start by saying I'm 61. I recall meeting a Tory voter back when i was in my 20's and vividly remember his assertion that 'I'd grow out of my left wing leanings' Oh how I laughed and told him when he was older he'd be relying on those 'left wing leanings' to look after him in ill health and old age.

Now, apart from a close circle of like minded friends I do find that the more older people I come across, they have somehow turned in to Tory voters usually at some point between 40 and 50. Why is that? Is it because they come from a generation that may own their own home, have they 'risen the ranks' to a senior position for who ever they work for and maybe feel the idealism of youth is no longer for them. Whatever the reason, blaming the 'old un's' for the mess we're in isn't going to help.

My somewhat radical solution would be that seeing as how under 18's in the first years of their life cannot vote, then maybe the over 70's in their last years of life cannot vote either... just a thought.

Unknown said...

What a load of tosh. I am one of those replying "Don't lump us all together". My reaction is not emotional. I am 81 years old and graduated from Manchester University in 1959 with a degree in Mathematical Statistics. If you believe some of the statistics bandied about currently you are a fool. Remember the opinion polls before the last general election?
The MSM is only too willing to perpetuate misleading statistics and downright lies.
People of my generation are very concerned about the future prospects of our grandchildren and great granchildren and their contemporaries. We have lived our lives in hope but our struggles will have been in vain if the future of our descendants remains so bleak.
Don't blame us, blame the Tories, the lying MSM and the BBC for their propaganda. That is why we are in this mess.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people might benefit by reading this online article by Zompist (

Zompist is writing about race and sex privilege, but it also applies between generations. The Boomer generation *is* privileged compared to Millenials. He's nailed the nasty uncomfortable feeling people of good will must have when they realise they are part of an oppressor class.

"Reading this stuff, at some point, perhaps right now, you're likely to feel very defensive. It's unsettling, it feels weird, and you want to get rid of it....
It's natural to feel defensive... but it's also the opposite of useful."

And later on, he points out some things you can do, which will both resolve your cognitive dissonance and help those less privileged than you.

It's a great article and I urge everyone to read it through.

Pal said...

I'm 37 and have had dealings with older and younger voters from all ends of the political spectrum, they'll always be exceptions to the rule. Several of my activist friends are staunch left wing and in their 60's and 70's. The point is of course is that statistically (and yes of course you might dispute the statistics) older generations are more likely to vote for right wing parties. That's not an over generalization unless you're suggesting all 60+ vote right wing.

As a side note I should also point out the right often have a talent for massively over generalizing about the left. I see it on a daily basis but very rarely see anyone calling them out over it.

Pal said...

@ Anonymous 26 March, 2019 12:31

Interesting article. I haven't given it a proper read through yet but on a cursory glance he does seem to make some excellent points.

Mighty Drunken said...

All generalisations are wrong, but they are useful. On a slightly related note.
We know the Brexit referendum was close and it was won by Brexiteers. Therefore it is, "THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE".
If you look at other polls conducted through the years you find that generally Remain win and during the time of the referendum it was pretty close to 50:50. Though ever since at least 2018 Remain have won almost all of them. We also know that Brexit is more popular in the older generations and we also know that older generations are more likely to vote.
Therefore I suggest that the referendum result did not necessarily reflect the will of the people, but of those that voted. It definitely does not reflect the majority of people at this present time. said...

Emotive arguments will always defeat rational ones. I've used them successfully when arguing with large companies because they find it easy to argue against logic, facts and statistics but impossible to deny how someone "feels".

It's hard for us to phrase our arguments in emotive terms - because we pride ourselves on being rational and logical.

I am promoting Land Value Tax and I welcome constructive suggestions on the best emotive arguments to use.

The most obvious are:

"How do you feel about Jacob Rees-Mogg paying £1,421 in Council Tax on his £5 million mansion in Westminster?"

"How do you feel about an American hedge fund billionaire paying £1,420 in Council Tax on his £95 million house in London?"

"How do you feel about James Dyson buying 30,000 acres of land to avoid Capital Gains Tax, to get £1,600,000 in taxpayer grants and to pay no tax on it?"

We need to raise the temperature, we want people to feel angry - but we want them to see our side of things.

Constructive ideas welcomed.

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