Archive for March, 2013

The Need to Break Republicans Out of their Monkeyspheres

Posted in Uncategorized on March 28, 2013 by thebluebros

I have long believed that the primary difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Democrats have the ability to place themselves in the shoes of another person and feel empathy—even someone they do not know. For instance, even though I am not gay, I can appreciate that it must feel pretty terrible and unjust not to be able to marry the person you love. Even though I am not a single parent living below the poverty line, I can imagine that such an existence is a pretty difficult one. And even though I am not a disabled veteran, I can understand the outrage of having to wait 262 days for a disability claim to be processed.

Republicans, in contrast, are prisoners of “Dunbar’s Number”, or what popular culture is more recently referring to as the “Monkeysphere” (the article that gave it this name is actually very interesting). Dunbar’s Number essentially refers to the number of people each human being can think of as an individual. A person’s Dunbar Number is thought to fall within the range of 100 to 230 people. This means, at most, a person is only able to really think of 230 different people as individuals. Everyone else is essentially a one-dimensional being playing a bit role in your life.

Some of the nicest and most thoughtful people I know are Republicans. These friends would do anything for me (and I for them). But as I consider this, I also keep in mind that I am in their Monkeyspheres. I am one of their 100-230 people that mean something to them and who they see as an individual. If you ask this friend of mine about what we should do about the 50 million Americans who lack health insurance, he isn’t much concerned. You ask him where the government should save money, and he suggests cuts to HeadStart. You tell him that drone strikes in Afghanistan kill more civilians than enemy combatants and he doesn’t bat an eye.

This is what I mean when I say Republicans are prisoners of their respective Dunbar Numbers. They care deeply about those people in their respective Monkeyspheres, but everyone outside that Monkeysphere is fairly meaningless. As one can imagine, this type of thinking leads to very dangerous legislators. Look at it this way. We are asking people who really only care about 100 to 230 people to make decisions that will affect hundreds of millions of people.

Evidence of Republicans’ legislative confinement to their Monkeyspheres can usually be found when a Republican sides with Democrats. Virtually any time a Republican strays from his party line on an issue, it can be traced back to someone in his Monkeysphere being affected by the issue on which he had previously taken a hard line.

Just this week we saw this with Ohio’s Republican senator, Rob Portman. He announced he supports gay marriage—the only Republican senator (out of 45!) to do so. What caused this conversion? You guessed it, someone in his Monkeysphere came out of the closet. Specifically, his son announced he was gay. Need more evidence?

Do you know which Republican senator in the past 20 years has fought hardest for adequate funding for mental health research and care? Oregon’s former senator, Gordon Smith. While truly a valiant and noble legislative endeavor, Mr. Smith did not take up this interest until his son tragically committed suicide.

Conservative Congressman Dan Burton isn’t known for his compassion towards the afflicted, but he sure spends a lot of time advocating for the autistic and their families. Would you be surprised to learn this advocacy began after his grandson was diagnosed with autism?

Nancy Reagan is conservative and largely apolitical in her advanced age, but she has come out strongly in support of one liberal policy—support for stem cell research. Probably not a coincidence that her husband died from Alzheimer’s.

And perhaps the most obvious example is Dick Cheney’s support for gay rights. This man is to the right of Joseph McCarthy on every political issue, but on gay rights he is not only a liberal, but actually a leader. Way back in 2009 when the majority of Americans still opposed gay marriage, Dick Cheney supported it. Can there be any question this was fueled entirely by a lesbian (his daughter) entering his Monkeysphere?

Democrats are also constrained by their own Monkeyspheres (as is everyone). But even with these limitations, Democrats make efforts to empathize with people they do not know, and will fight for issues they believe are right even when no one in their Monkeyspheres are directly impacted by the issue.

One of my favorite authors, Markos Moulitsas recently summed up this phenomenon by stating, “[Republicans] are assholes until they are personally affected by one of their asshole policies.” Mr. Moulitsas’ article, which was cleverly titled “If Only Republican Children Could Come Out Poor”, did an effective job of explaining why there is little hope for Republican legislators ever bucking their party’s refusal to do anything about poverty (i.e., little to no chance that poor people will enter the Monkeyspheres of rich, white, affluent Republican members of Congress).

The role of the Monkeysphere in affecting legislative outcomes emphasizes the need to have a legislature that either: truly represents a cross-section of America (which it currently does not); or is at least made up legislators who have the capacity to empathize with those outside their Monkeyspheres. Otherwise, we end up with what we have now—a legislature that reliably passes legislation that only helps the few people lucky enough to be inside a Congressperson’s Monkeysphere.

– Dylan


Try Not to Complain When Doing the Right Thing

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2013 by thebluebros


A facebook friend recently posted an article on her page warning all of us that Obamacare is about to cause an economic burden on all pet owners. Out of morbid curiosity, I clicked on the link and read an article about a veterinarian in Tennessee who was making the case that because Obamacare was adding a 2.3% excise tax on medical devices, this cost was going to be passed along to consumers, resulting in increased veterinary costs.

Similar tales of woe have been told by other conservative-minded business owners. The now notorious CEO of Papa John’s Pizza (John Schnatter) has informed us that because of Obamacare he will be forced to raise the price of a large pizza by 11 to 14 cents. And John Metz, the owner of a Denny’s franchise in West Palm Beach, Florida, stated that he was going to be forced to add a 5% surcharge to each bill to cover the cost of providing health insurance to his employees. Stories like these have been popping up since Obamacare passed more than three years ago and only intensified when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of Obamacare last June.

For the sake of argument, I’m willing to take these business owners at face value and assume their claims are accurate. That being the case, we are literally talking about pennies. A large cheese pizza from Papa John’s currently costs $14 (varying somewhat depending on location). According to Mr. Schnatter, this cost will likely increase to $14.14, a price increase of 1%. At Denny’s, a Grand Slam Breakfast will typically set you back anywhere from $5-7 (again depending on location). With the proposed 5% surcharge, the price of a Grand Slam will increase about 25 cents. The price tag on the increased veterinary costs is a bit murkier, but estimates are that the increase (if any) will be very small.

To me, this is a no-brainer. I’m willing to pay 14 cents more for a pizza if that means the employees who made it will have health insurance. I’m also willing to pay an extra two bits at Denny’s if it means the people who made my food will have health insurance. And I’m willing to part with a couple of additional dimes to have my cat de-wormed if it means the woman who answered the phone and made my appointment gets adequate healthcare coverage. These are not tough decisions. I wonder what kind of person sits at home, reads these articles, and stews over their nickels and dimes while apparently having no regard for the health of other Americans.

American tax dollars provide healthcare coverage for citizens on Medicare, Medicaid, people in the military, and people who work for federal, state, and local government agencies. Why is it so much to ask that we put up a few extra bucks here and there to make sure everyone else is covered? It baffles me that so many Americans enjoy healthcare that is paid for or subsidized by tax payers but then cry foul when they’re asked to pay 10 extra cents for a pizza to provide another worker the same coverage. The Republican Party has managed to turn the idea of Americans helping one another into a vast left-wing agenda.

No one likes paying more for something, even if it’s only a few cents; but I can’t think of a better way to spend our money than investing in the health of our fellow Americans. If you find yourself shelling out an additional 14 cents at Papa John’s, please don’t complain about socialism and the increased cost of eating bad pizza. Instead, look at the person at the cash register and realize that your 14 cents is helping that person lay his head down at night without worrying what will happen if he gets sick.

– Nathan