Friday, August 03, 2007

Still here

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I’ve pretty well given up commenting here because I keep trying to stimulate a conversation about the *range of options*. It may seem that I was only ever proposing violence or disintegration of society as we know it, and those may be the only workable answers, but I was only trying to counter the “lets pretend to be surprised by the devilish nature of human beings” tone of an otherwise bright person’s posts.

You cannot be a Nancy Pelosi and take things *off the table* FOR ANY REASON. The moment you do so, you eliminate rational discourse as a viable way of settling things. So, I have watched Blue become more and more despondent as he watches the current affairs, while he has steadfastly avoided answering the real questions: WHAT’S POSSIBLE, WHAT’S WORKABLE, IS IT RATIONAL? It seems that talk of violence is automatically excluded (why, because the blue-meanies may be reading?) and thinking about serious reorganization of society sends shudders down everyone’s backs.

Karl Popper is (was) the devil incarnate. He used logic in a way that gave Edwin Meese wet dreams. It is not logic but the application of it where we find the details that contain the devil. The quote you offer from him is fine but it can and will be used to distort and redirect otherwise fine thinkers.

The real situation today is so simple that it is STARK, unremitting and horrible. You can’t FIX this mess and that is not subject to debate. That is why no one wants to look at it. There are no corrective actions for the current state of human beings. The only question still standing at this point in human history is: Which form of destruction is most likely to allow humans to survive at all (assuming they should do) and leave some possibility of starting from somewhere above scratch as we try to rebuild.

So, the only comment I can have to Blue’s discovery of another level of ways in which humans can and do deceive each other is “Doh!”

Can we talk about something else which might mean something 20 years from now?


3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yeah.
One more thing.
I can make an argument that we should pursue war furiously. That is, at the end of WWII the U.S. was so wealthy (especially in ideas, new technologies and so forth) that the wealthy conservatives simply could not keep track of all the value that had been added by the war. That is a perfectly plausible (in fact damn good) explanation of thow the middle class emerged in the U.S. There was no honeymoon (who got married?) There was jsut wealth lying around to be picked up (too bad for the rest of the world after the war).

So *WAR IS A GOOD THING*, right?

Anybody out there?


4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TA, you're bright - I'm impressed with your writing, but Blue Meme's contribution here is brighter:

“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.”

This is brilliant thinking outside the box. When we all think this way, the end of now will begin.

Just not until then.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

-- arthurdecco

The middle class arose grew and died the same way: mindlessly.

In addition to scarfing up the goodies - houses, cars, tvs - it should have been reasonable for them to ask at least some of the following questions:
Where did this wealth come from?
Why wasn't it always here?
Could it disappear?
Should I do something to protect against that possibility?

If only a small percentage of that middle class had done that, we couldn't be where we are today. Today, people are still not willing to ask those questions, even retrospectively.

So art, why not take a crack at my questions:

Incidentally, by asking those questions you will be seen as a cynic and universally reviled. You will also begin to be able to see into the shallow pools that pose as people's souls (or inner workings, your pick). Then you will not be surprised by the "Stockholm syndrome", which was obvious since forever in grammar school bully-victim behavior, long before the experts 'identified' it.

The box is simply the kind of thinking that keeps those victims trapped in fantasy. There is no great insight in discovering that when oppressed, people will seek relief. Even in fantasy. However, insight might be had from trying on those pesky questions: WHAT’S POSSIBLE, WHAT’S WORKABLE, IS IT RATIONAL?

You said … “When we all think this way, the end of now will begin.”
You just failed to mention how that might come to pass, even theoretically. Is that just a fanatasy?

Thanks for contributing.


4:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very smart write-up, Blue. I took away the same things from the book but I doubt that I could articulate it quite as well as you did here.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize TA, for not responding sooner - I've been away from my computer. The points you bring up are valid ones. Your questions deserve to be answered. I'm afraid that I'm still a trifle overwhelmed by your intensity being just back from holidays. (lol) I'll be thinking seriously about what you've had to say even if I don't respond.

And please don't stop posting your responses to blue meme's blog entries. Voices like yours deserve to be heard.

2:59 PM  

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