Thursday, June 14, 2007

The government we deserve

I caught a few minutes of NPR this morning. They had a piece about the presidential campaign of Mike Huckabee. What struck me was the brief interview with some woman Huckabee met on the campaign trail, who waxed rhapsodic about the man on the basis of ... his handshake. She could tell all she needed to know about a Presidential candidate from his handshake.

Where to begin?

The reporter didn't ask her, but I'll bet she voted at least once for Dubya. I'll lay odds that even now he gives better handshakes than John Kerry or Al Gore ever did.

We here in the lefty blogosphere are comfortable in the world of ideas, facts and substance. We parse and analyze what our candidates say and do; we compare policy positions and voting records.

I am sure the woman I heard on NPR does none of these things. She chooses her leader the same way dogs do; she looks at body language and posture, sniffs for fear, and seeks safety by submitting to dominance. The Republicans have understood this approach for decades, and have played that game while seemingly ignoring ours. We win the chess game, and wonder why the loser keeps knocking over the pieces and stealing our lunch money.

The answer is depressing but obvious: we who blog are winning a game most voters cannot comprehend and have no interest in. When we go on about hypocrisy and lies and incoherence, we are trying to explain Schrödinger's cat -- to the cat.

A couple of nights ago I watched the chilling film "Jesus Camp." It brought home yet again that we speak a language that is essentially incomprehensible to Bush's supporters. And that is an enduring tragedy, and ongoing danger to our society. A large and growing segment of our population is deaf to what we take for granted about modernity -- the language of logic. They believe and do what God tells them to believe and do, and they are putty in the hands of whoever best convinces them of their communion with God -- an inherently evidence-free, unprovable assertion. Protecting the simplicity of that belief system requires ever-greater vigilance against the corrosive influence of logic in all its manifestations. The Inquisition was one such backlash (one "Jesus Camp" subject mentions the recanting of Galileo as a good and noble thing). The forces seeking its reprise are growing in numbers and strength. The inconsistency between their ironclad faith in their rectitude and their fear of contamination by the demon reason is a meaningless contradiction – if contradictions do not trouble you.

And so all the hand-wringing (of which I, too am often guilty) about how the media narrative is fundamentally flawed is somewhat beside the point, because they aren't listening to the words anyway. They are judging all the non-verbal stuff -- handshakes and manly shoulders and steely gazes -- that we know leads to totalitarian disaster, but that they see as more reliable than our impenetrable gobbledygook about policies and such. When the John Kerrys of the world acknowledge complexity, hoi polloi hear an elitist snob saying that their world view is simplistic -- and who wants to hoist a brew with that guy? The Beckett-esque absurdity of Joe Sixpack hanging with Dubya, and of deciding who gets to put our armed forces in harm's way on that basis, are just so many wrinkles willed away in their permanent-press world views.

I am not sure what the answer is here. It is entirely possible that our nation will not recover from this nasty strain of entropy. But if there is an answer, I think it begins with the fact (there I go again) that these refugees from thought are not yet willing to admit in polite company that they are the Amish of reason. And so the last ditch play may be to call them out directly -- to point out that what they say and do is, well, crazy.

If they want to be honest about their rejection of cause and effect, reason and scientific method, fine. But few will want to walk the walk sans iPod, big screen and SUV. When they get sick, they still take evolution-enabled antibiotics. Their logic-free belief system allows them to embrace all of the benefits of science while denying the irreducible incompatibility of the two. They believe in what they wish were true, and in the name of tolerance we let them destroy our common ground with these fundamental contradictions.

Thus we are led to, and led by, the likes of Bush and Giuliani and Fred Thompson – the ideologues and authoritarians who don’t do nuance, but also don’t smell of fear. The sheep who gladly and without irony call themselves members of a flock seek just that. And until we can persuade them to really join the world of the rational, or abandon it completely, we will get the government they deserve.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see you writing again. A very good post. On this subject, I encourage you to read the book "American Fascists" by Chris Hedges (if you haven't already.) I just picked it up at the library and read it last week. It was a real page-turner and very informative.

It seems to me that these people can't be reached by pointing out policy differences though. They were drawn into their cult family after being burned by "liberal democracy" that sent their good jobs overseas and forced them to work a couple more low-end jobs to pay the bills and provide for their religious leaders' financial needs in order to save the world. Life in America really has become a miserable existence for them and the only escape they find now is the world of fantasy provided by their faith. They have read the "Left Behind" series of fiction books put out by former astrologist/snake oil salesman Tim LeHaye and they have accepted their contents with the same blind faith that they accept The Bible (which they're afraid to read too deeply into for fear that it might not mesh even with what they consider to be reality.) They are convinced that they have been given the gift of eternal life and that all of us heathens who ruined their lives on earth and refuse to be saved as well will PAY once Armageddon, the Rhapsody and return of Jesus all occur.

Peak Oil, Global Warming, dead soldiers, wars over natural resources, nuclear confrontations – even death all are good things to them because they are guaranteed eternal life and enrichment as long as they keep their "Love $$ gifts" flowing to Jesus and stand behind Tough-Guy Warrior Leaders.

I am not sure how to win these people over but it seems to have an impact when their spiritual leaders are exposed as frauds. I suspect the disgracing of Ted Haggard had a bigger effect than many might have estimated. More of this would be a good thing. Also, the hearings about the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch propaganda did some real damage to their faith in their political leaders. I saw it myself in the faces of some local pod-people. Some even removed the yellow ribbon magnets from their pickup trucks.

There is hope though. People are coming around. Barring another major catastrophe like another 9/11 or your Armageddon scenario, more and more of them will awaken. Like the movie Pleasantville, where once the blinders are figuratively knocked off their heads and they see the difference between the artificial world they’ve been living in and “reality,” they forever change from black-and-white to color. And then they can’t go back.

11:20 AM  
Blogger bluememe said...

Thanks for your advice and insights, Randy. And I'll look for that book, which I have heard of but have not yet read.

Isn't it ironic that the optimism of the deluded causes such pessimism in the rational?

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Optimism in the Rational must (and will) prevail. If not, I live less than 100 miles from Canada, with no border control... so I'm outa here. Thank god.

Now how do we get Barack Obama to bulk up like "The Terminator" to win these people over?

But seriously, the restoration of the "Fairness Doctrine" would stop alot of their propaganda and give us a chance to present some reason to the arguments.

On a good note, you may know that I live in a smaller town in northern Minnesota. And because this is a small town we have no major bookstore in town. Ugggh. So the best place to buy new releases is at the Wal-Mart or the Target store. I don't shop at Wal-Mart, but I do go to Target regularly. Since Al Gore released his book "The assault on reason" they have been sold out consistently. And they're good at keeping HUGE inventories of new releases in stock because they are one of the only places to buy them. I am tempted to order a copy from Amazon or some other online store in order to read it. The library won't have it for weeks and even when they get it, they will have holds on it for a couple months before I can read it. Lately I am finding this to be the case with all books that recovering-pod-people might want to read.

This is what some people call "The Heartland" and I am telling you... they are questioning not only their political views lately, but also their very religion. If Dubya has done anything good, this may be it.

Stuff is happening. People around here are generally religious (church once a week) AND used to be hypnotized by their religion and (since 9/11) the Republican party. In the last election, they threw out the incompetent religious Republican mayor and all of the religious local leaders that got in after 9/11. And the Democrats swept most congressional districts in the state by huge margins.

I'm yacking too much. You just keep the writing coming. I know there are many more than me who look to your words for guidance in these troubled times. You are making a difference in your own way.

Right now "Team America - World Police" just came on Comedy Central and I must focus on it.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post--it's been too long since we've gotten anything that substantive. Thank you for it!

To me, the most shocking part of the piece you relate is that someone is willing to say something like that publicly. Of course, it's the same with the evolution deniers, the Mary-in-a-piece-of-toast crowd, etc. It's juvenile, it the literal sense of the word. It's the argument I hear from 14 year olds in my classes, the ones who say "It's my opinion, so you can't tell me its wrong."

I don't want to be seen as bashing Christianity, but I think it goes back to the 'by faith alone' message and its low expectations of its adherents. If you don't have to go out and do good works, you can be isolated from the reality that you deny. If you make no more sacrifice than writing a check to fill-in-the-blank Ministries, what do you know of the wider world out there? (And please, don't tell me about how missions expose them to anything other than the tightly controlled environment that has been created for them.)

5:36 AM  
Blogger Bora Zivkovic said...

Excellent post! I think you need yo do a Google search on the term "phatic language" for more info.

11:45 PM  

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