Tag: politics

More Deep Thoughts

Thank you for listening, Angry Soba! I guess I owe you a bit more.

I have been thinking about identity politics–how swiftly “pride” and “self-affirmation” devolve into chauvinism, sapping the ability to form coalitions and, even more damaging, fracturing movements as rivals vie for the crown of authenticity. Infighting probably did more damage to the Civil Rights movement than COINTELPRO; over the past few weeks I have been observing the increasingly bitter animus between lesbian separatists and trans activists on the fringes of the LGBT movement. Read the history of Communism in the 20th century if you want to see what self-cannibalism looks like; go to Firedoglake and you’ll see that when the pitiful remnant of the left rouses itself today, it’s more often than not to attack liberals rather than rightists. Schisms have always been a feature of radical movements, religious or secular, left or right (witness Gaffney’s falling out with CPAC). It’s easier and safer and in some ways more satisfying to engage with our fellow travelers on the fringe (our families, if you will) than with outright strangers.

And then there’s the expectation that our political causes will validate us–that they will not only gain us our rights and our freedom and insure our prosperity and vindicate our ideas, but justify us in some transcendent way–that they will make us feel complete and whole and perfected. We project this unreasonable expectation onto our leaders and when they inevitably fail to deliver, we angrily repudiate them. George W. Bush doesn’t dare show his face in Tampa this year; Obama has to abase himself before his former base.

Sometimes I feel like we still haven’t properly parsed the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness, yes, but in a material, objective sense–votes that count, opportunities for education and self-improvement, access to medicine and a fair judiciary to settle disputes. Feeling good about yourself is mostly a private matter–something you work out with your family in the course of growing up, in an intimate relationship, or with a therapist. It’s one thing to demand all or nothing from a lover; quite another to seek it in the public realm.

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Angst Over Extinction

Most newly published authors spend a lot of time Googling themselves and I’m no exception. The other day Google directed me to a blog called Watering Good Seeds, where I found a mention of The New Hate appended to an article by Robert Parry on the origins of the right wing smear machine. “Actually, when you get a chance, try reading Arthur Goldwag’s book The New Hate,” the note read. “It traces back the same themes to colonial times — since then the same accusations have been made against freemasonry, Jews, Catholics, immigrants from Southern Europe… A lot of it sounds amazingly familiar, no matter what group is imagined to be on the verge of destroying the Republic.”

Scrolling up, I saw a snippet from Haaretz about Holocaust awareness and the fear of extinction among Canadian Jews aged 17-81.

Interviewees asked to write a composition on the Holocaust displayed greater angst and more collective solidarity than those who were not asked to write anything. The researchers estimate that one of the effects of increased collective angst over extinction is the justification of violent acts against a rival groups….In other words, the researchers concluded, in order to protect itself from extinction, the group legitimizes harming others.

A little light went on over my head.

It’s almost like a mathematical formula, where x = an insecure identity group, y = an opposed insecure identity group, and z = the perception of an existential threat. You can plug in different groups and different dangers (nuclear, genetic, cultural, linguistic, religious annihilation), but the equation always turns out the same. If it’s too hard to talk about Zionists and Palestinians, then let’s look at whites and blacks. If both groups define themselves as each other’s immutable opposite, then either has the power to destroy the other—and not just by war or murder but by marriage. If only one group is wedded to its identity, the threat loses much of its force. If both groups have a more flexible sense of self, then the idea of an existential threat ceases to have any meaning at all.

If the American Republic is presumed to be a white majority Christian state, then the mere existence of immigrants, Jews, indigenous people, and even the descendents of African slaves pose intolerable threats to its integrity. Throw some patriarchal assumptions into the mix and you are potentially at odds with half of your neighbors–including many of your potential breeding partners.

On the level of nations, lately the John Birch Society and other right wing groups have been stirring up fears of Agenda 21, the non-binding plan for sustainable development that was adopted by 178 countries in 1992. House Joint Resolution 587, which the Tennessee state legislature will vote on next week, explicitly repudiates Agenda 21 as “a comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control” that promotes both the elimination of national sovereignty and the “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth,” language that is copied verbatim from JBS publications. Sovereignty in this view amounts to a kind of suicidal tribalism; it counts any loss of status–even a voluntary one, in the context of a formal agreement about environmental preservation–as a clearer and more present danger than environmental degradation and global climate change. In fact it chooses to discount the very existence of anthropogenic climate change, just as extreme Zionists (and Republicans) deny the existence of a Palestinian people.

“I occasionally think,” Ronald Reagan mused back in 1987, “how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” Many of us cringed at his Hollywood-inspired sentimentality at the time. Listening to Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney today, he sounds almost like Eleanor Roosevelt—and they, more and more, like an alien threat.

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