Thursday Reads: The Not-Quite-Humanness of Mitt Romney

Good Morning!!

I had never seen the diagram above before until last night when I was browsing through reactions to Mitt Romney’s latest insensitive remark, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.” That’s when I found the above diagram at Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Here’s an explanation from Wikipedia:

Hypothesized emotional response of human subjects is plotted against anthropomorphism of a robot, following Mori’s statements. The uncanny valley is the region of negative emotional response towards robots that seem “almost human”. Movement amplifies the emotional response.

The idea is you can make an emotional connection to a robot; but a robot that is very close to looking and acting human, but not quite, will elicit disgust. This could explain the reactions of revulsion that many people have toward Mitt Romney. From Wikipedia:

If an entity looks sufficiently nonhuman, its human characteristics will be noticeable, generating empathy. However, if the entity looks almost human, it will elicit our model of a human other and its detailed normative expectations. The nonhuman characteristics will be noticeable, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a robot stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a robot doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

Sullivan suggests that Romney is “probing zombie territory.” I found this a very helpful way to think about the way Romney presents himself in public. He is trying very hard to act like a regular human being and he almost succeeds, but not quite–sort of like the fake humans in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Mitt Romney is a pod person!

Another behavior I’ve noticed about Romney is his tendency to get almost manic and go way overboard–as he was doing down in Florida in his attack on Newt Gingrich and in his glee at winning the primary (only the second he has won). I mentioned to Dakinikat yesterday that I thought Romney could use some lithium carbonate to bring him back down to earth.

According to Sullivan, others are picking up on this tendency too. Sullivan links to a series of photos by Dan Amira at New York Magazine, with this introduction:

Mitt Romney came into the 2012 presidential race with a reputation as a stiff, humanoid robot. Consequently, he’s been making a concerted effort to seem more warm and friendly when interacting with voters on the campaign trail. But there’s a happy middle ground between “robotic” and “maniac on ecstasy” — a middle ground that seems to elude Romney on a regular basis.

Here’s one of the photos.

I really need to read Andrew Sullivan more often. He writes:

I was chatting with a Mormon friend the other day and asking him what Mormons make of Mitt on this uncanny valley question. The phrase he came up with is “the Mormon mask.” It’s the kind of public presentation that a Mormon with real church authority deploys when dealing with less elevated believers, talking to them, and advising them. The cheery aw-shucks fake niceness in person is a function in part, some believe, of the role he has long played in the church: always a leader.

Because, make no mistake about this: Mitt Romney is a Mormon church leader. I mentioned before that I’ve been reading The Real Romney, by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. Here’s a 2008 quote from Mitt that introduces the chapter on the Romney family history:

I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.

Mitt Romney has served his church in official leadership roles since 1977, when he became a counselor (essentially second in command) to the president of the Boston “stake.” Romney was only about 30, much younger than most who ascend to this position. But Romney was seen as special. He later became a Bishop and then stake President. As such he was in charge of “about a dozen congregations with close to 4,000 members all together.”

Romney’s great great grandfather Miles A. Romney heard Joseph Smith speak in England, and soon after emigrated with his family to the U.S. to become one of the 12 original Smith apostles. Romney’s ancesters helped to build the earliest Mormon temples, and they unquestioningly followed orders from Smith, and later Brigham Young, to marry multiple wives and travel to far away places at the whims of these church leaders. Romney’s great grandfather, Miles P. Romney along with his three wives and twenty-one children, started a polygamous Mormon colony in Mexico. That is where Mitt’s dad George was born. George returned to the U.S. at age seven.

Yesterday I read quite a bit of an e-book by Michael D. Moody, who was a classmate of Mitt Romney’s at BYU. Moody’s ancestors were also among the earliest followers of Joseph Smith. Moody’s book is called Mitt, Set Our People Free! A 7th Generation Mormon’s Plea for Truth. It is written in the form of an open letter to Mitt from one who has “left the cult.” The “letter” was actually written in 2008, but Moody believes it is just as relevant today.

As undergraduates, Romney and Moody belonged to a BYU booster club, the Cougar Club (BYU didn’t permit Greek fraternities). The club raised large amounts of money for the church and the university. Moody writes that

…in 1970-71…the Cougar Club buzzed that you planned to run for President someday and it became a fait accompli by 2006. Early and aggressively, you began your long-planned push for the U.S. presidency. After making all the right business moves and a few snazzy dance steps to the political right, you were suddenly a top tier contender for the Republican nomination with significant insider support and a freshly reinvented persona.

Moody was surprised when he heard Romney repeatedly tell interviewers and supporters that he had never intended to run for office–it just happened somehow. In fact Moody can’t understand a lot of the things Romney says that he (Moody) knows to be lies.

Moody had been somewhat rebellious during his early years at BYU and ended up getting suspended and then drafted and sent to Vietnam. It was there the Moody began having contact with non-Mormons and began to learn the history of the religion that had been hidden from the faithful–like the fact that the Book of Mormon had obviously been written by Joseph Smith himself and that the book contained many sections that had been plagarized from the King James Bible.

Still, even when he came home from Vietnam, he returned to BYU, joined the Cougar Club, and gave the religion he had been born into another chance. After he graduated, Moody went into politics specifically to support Romney’s push for the presidency and to be prepared to be one of Romney’s cabinet members when the time came. He writes:

I did my duty to the Mormon Gods and ran for Governor to expand our Kingdom and help you lead the world into the Millenium. Actually…by then I had begun my long journey out of the cult.

Moody is no longer a Mormon, but he says that Mitt Romney is still a true believer. One of the beliefs that many Mormons hold is the “White Horse Prophecy.” Moody writes:

Like previous generations, we were reared to believe the U.S. Constitution needed saving, and the LDS Church would do it. We knew our reward, because of primordial valience, was a chance to play major roles in the ensuing end day events. Jesus and “God the Father” had told the prophets, and our patriarchs had told us personally. We were a special generation.

That the U.S. Constitution is in [immanent] danger and will “hand by a thread as fine as silk fiber” in the latter days before the LDS Church rides to its rescue….The Church priesthood holders (men like Romney and Moody) will sweep in like knights to save the Constitution then set it aside to reestablish the theocratic Kingdom created by Joseph Smith and nearly perfected by Brigham Young. The stated plan is to pave the way for the political Kingdom of God and Joseph Smith’s version Millenial Kingdom on Earth.

A few days ago, Salon published an article by Sally Denton, another former Mormon and author of books on Mormon history, on Mitt Romney and the White Horse Prophecy.

When Mitt Romney received his patriarchal blessing as a Michigan teenager, he was told that the Lord expected great things from him. All young Mormon men — the “worthy males” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is officially known — receive such a blessing as they embark on their requisite journeys as religious missionaries. But at 19 years of age, the youngest son of the most prominent Mormon in American politics — a seventh-generation direct descendant of one of the faith’s founding 12 apostles—Mitt Romney had been singled out as a destined leader.

From the time of his birth — March 13, 1947 — through adolescence and into manhood, the meshing of religion and politics was paramount in Mitt Romney’s life.

In the early 1960s Romney’s father George confided his political ambitions in his youngest son, then a teenager. Mitt actively participated in his father’s campaign for governor of Michigan, and during George’s three terms as governor Mitt was often in his father’s office, privy to major decisions. He attended the Republican convention with his father in 1964, and was kept abreast of his father’s failed campaign for President in 1968 (Mitt was a missionary in France).

Denton writes that [although the official church denies it] the White Horse Prophecy is “ingrained in Mormon culture and passed down through generations by church leaders…” She writes:

In this scenario, Romney’s candidacy is part of the eternal plan and the candidate himself is fulfilling the destiny begun in what the church calls the “pre-existence.”

Several prominent Mormons, including conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck [read more here], have alluded to this apocalyptic prophecy. The controversial myth is not an official church doctrine, but it has also arisen in the national dialogue with the presidential candidacies of Mormons George Romney, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and now Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney himself has dismissed this notion.

“I don’t think the White Horse Prophecy is fair to bring up at all,” Mitt Romney told the Salt Lake Tribune when he was asked about it during his 2008 presidential bid. “It’s been rejected by every church leader that has talked about it. It has nothing to do with anything.”

Maybe not, but I still want to know more about Romney’s religion. What I’ve learned already is pretty strange–that God was once a man living on another planet, that “priests” like Mitt Romney will be masters of their own planets after death and that they will be able to take as many wives as they wish in the afterlife. That Mormon women can’t get into heaven unless they are married and and their husbands help them through. That women must stay married to the same man even after death and must be prepared to make way for his multiple wives and their children in the afterlife. And BTW, did you know that Romney’s family baptized Mitt’s confirmed atheist father-in-law as a Mormon a year after he died? No wonder Romney doesn’t want to talk about his religion!

I suppose it isn’t any more wacky than a lot of the stuff in the Christian old testament, but the fact that all this nonsense was sold to people in the 19th and 20th centuries and is people like Glenn Beck are still buying it and converting in the 21st century is pretty hard for me to accept. I don’t think that’s bigotry–it’s self-preservation. We’ve already seen what can happen when fanatical fundamentalist Christians start getting control of political parties and throwing their weight around in government and the culture as a whole (Susan Kommen, anyone?).

In light of all this, I find this statement by Romney in the CNN Florida debate to be very troubling:

The conviction that the founders, when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, were writing a document that was not just temporary and not just for one small locale but really something which described the relationship between God and man — that’s something which I think a president would carry in his heart.

So when they said, for instance, that the creator had “endowed us with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I would seek to assure that those principles and values remain in America and that we help share them with other people in the world, not by conquering them, but by helping them through our trade, through our various forms of soft power, to help bring people the joy and — and — and opportunity that exists in this great land.

Am I crazy to be a little concerned about this guy? This post is getting very long, so I’ll end here. But I doubt if this will be the last time I bring up the Romney/religion issue. So far Romney has been allowed to skate on this. No one wants to ask him about it for fear of being labeled a bigot. I don’t care. I just want to keep another theocratic candidate from sneaking past our useless corporate media.

So… that’s it for me and my Romney obsession. What are you interested in today?