Are we too self centred to be reasonable?

Today I was introduced to a new phrase “Trump Derangement Syndrome (or TDS for short).

If I were to try to “steelman” TDS, I’d say it was the habit of attacking Donald Trump or believing that he’s bad for America and the world, because of a blind acceptance of left wing ideals, or of the mainstream media’s biased, anti-Trump narrative.

I discovered this term in a comment thread where a number of people were saying that the fact that Sam Harris suffered so badly from TDS that it was unbearable to listen to him anymore. They cited a conversation Sam had with Dilbert creator Scott Adams as a particularly strong example.

I’m not sure if it would be fair to describe Scott as a Trump supporter, but he has certainly been something of a Trump apologist at times. And given that I was intrigued to hear what Sam was being so unreasonable about, and I’ve long been trying to gain some actual insight into why people support Trump in any way, I decided to give the conversation a listen. I’ve linked it above if you feel like doing the same.

Whether you find this discussion to be a staggering effort by Scott to justify Donald Trumps lies and/or ignorance, or a staggering failure by Sam to look at Donald Trump’s presidency through any filter but his personal dislike of the man, is likely to be based on your existing political leanings. But I did find this statement that Scott makes near the beginning of the discussion interesting:

Generally I don’t have a firm position on the big international stuff, and on the smaller local stuff, the domestic stuff, I’m in favour of people doing whatever they wanna do as long as it doesn’t affect me.

This too can be interpreted in a number of different ways. On the one hand, it could be seen as the expression of a “live and let live” policy. A view that people should be free to live their lives as long as they don’t harm others.

On the other hand, it could be taken to demonstrate that Scott really doesn’t care about what happens in the rest of the world as long as he is okay. Certainly it seems impossible to be ambivalent about Trump’s attitude towards the truth, immigrants, minorities, his staff, and even his own wife, unless your only concern about these things is how they affect you.

I’m not trying to make a moral judgment here per se. I’m trying to point out that the job of creating a better society (which is ostensibly a political leader’s job and to a lesser extent the job of each voter) has to, by definition, include a willingness to concern yourself with things that don’t affect you personally. Without this will, it’s possible to wait and see, or justify anything, because you don’t really care about the consequences as long as you can be confident they won’t affect you.

Maybe this is the reason for the starkness of the divide between us politically at the moment. It seems like the political fringe on the left and right (which is increasingly becoming the political mainstream) is arguing against the things that do, or that they fear will affect them, and wilfully ignoring the things that affect people that are not then.

As much as I disagreed (and was occasionally exasperated) with Scott during this conversation, I feel like the way he’s thinking is being employed by people all the way across the political spectrum. The blind spots were seeing in the thinking of otherwise intelligent people don’t seem to be explainable in another way.