A month ago the hard drive in my notebook crashed. Last week the hard drive in my desktop crashed. Many things have suffered as a consequence.
Also, the news has been uniformly depressing, and I have not felt great profundities asking for release.
But I'll share this: I recently finished reading "American Fascists" by Chris Hedges, which was recommended by loyal reader Randy. (May I be half as influential on you, dear readers, as you are on me.)
The thesis of the book, that the religious right is dangerously authoritarian, will not be news to most or all who frequent these parts. Frankly, the book added little to my understanding of these folks, and I thought the rhetorical structure and technique left much to be desired. But I still got tremendous value from the exercise.
I have thought and written at length about how fundamentalist religion has contaminated and endangered our political process. But I had not gotten very far in understanding the question that conclusion raises: why has fundamentalist pablum become so attractive? Hedges actually offers real insight on that score, though almost in passing. His theory is that breakdowns and dislocations in our civil society have paved the way -- in other words, that changes in secular society (and in particular, the intentional dismantling of the safety net by conservatives) in effect lowered our national immunity to such opportunistic infection.
You can make a pretty good argument that the thirty or so years after WWII were a historical anomaly, but that anomaly allowed working class people to make good money, own homes, send kids to college, etc. Many lives were made pretty good by the financial power of labor. That three-decade honeymoon began to unravel in the late 70s, of course. I realized in reading Hedges book how little I have thought about the profound disruption and dislocation that change has brought to so many lives. When a factory in Dearborn or Cleveland closed, as they did in huge numbers, it didn't just hurt the workers -- it hurt their families and destroyed their communities. I went to college in Ohio during some of the worst of it, and local unemployment was about 40%. I was largely insulated from it, and did not recognize the sea change at the time. The things that once gave those workers feelings of self-worth vanished. The fabric of those communities was shredded. Reality, in short, sucked.
When life threw people curves in the past, they generally had support networks, in the form of extended families and friends and, yes, government programs. But entire communities have disappeared, families no longer have the resources to offer much help, and the safety net has been dismantled. There is no longer a place the real "left behind" can go to change their reality. That's why they are so vulnerable to preachers who insist that they are "saved," and not society's recyclables. In that context, it is understandable why they would abandon their search for truth, and embrace the fantasy that is tailored to their despair.
The result is what we often marvel at -- millions of victims being convinced to further victimize themselves via fantasy in order to benefit the very people who destroyed their connection to real world. It is perhaps the most effective and massive case of Stockholm Syndrome in history, and the most tragic feedback loop of our time.
The other thing that resonated for me in the book was a quote from Karl Popper that opens the first chapter:
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.
In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.
We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.
I think that is the thorniest problem we face -- at least the thorniest theoretical problem. It seems a bit academic compared to the rise of fascism happening before our eyes, and the total Democratic acquiescence therein. It also seems a bit academic in the sense that those of us who really give a damn about tolerance are apparently such a tiny percentage of the population that it is laughable to talk about what we are willing to "tolerate," except as a prelude to a discussion of when to head for higher ground.