Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On that newly assertive loutish and abysmally ignorant political thinking

     Earlier this evening, two readers wrote angry remarks, evidently in reaction to things I have recently written on this blog:
(1) You people think you’re so smart huh? Just wait till Nov. and watch what happens. This social-economic justice thing ain’t going to fly for too much longer. That ought to wipe those lib-turd smirks off all your faces. Most Americans aren’t going to just sit back and allow our country to degenerate into a progressive free-for-all, because that’s not who we are and you know it. I think most Americans have had just about enough of the way this covert-communist administration operates. They sit around all day long thinking up new ways of how to fool and trick us into moving their unpopular agenda forward. Not only has the president failed to lead, he’s been working to destroy our constitution and our god-given protections against the tyranny of a government out of control. And who are you calling a racist? I happen to agree with the tea party. I think you’re a moron, Roy. And yes King George did force health care, in the form of moral orthopedics.

(2) Yeah Roy, if you can't stand it here in the US, why don't you go back to Canada? Even better, French Canada.
     The second comment is merely stupid. The first dips pretty low, too, but it does seem to express real outrage. The writer expresses a view that, I suspect, many others share. But I do think she misunderstands what I’m doing and what (over time) I've argued on this blog. So I’ll respond to her:

     There are different kinds of “fringe” thinkers, politically. Some offer criticisms of the status quo that are so radical (i.e., they attack at the root or foundation) that they have no clear role or power in mainstream politics. Libertarians are sometimes in this group. Anarchists can be in this group. Even communitarians. (I am at bottom a communitarian.)
     Such thinkers typically understand that a reform (or whatever one might call it) that addresses the deep problems or utopian possibilities that most concern them is nowhere on the horizon. (And do not imagine that they meet in secret and plot these changes. They are not idiots.)
     We of DtB are in this group, I believe, though I lean toward communitarianism while Reb and Red lean in a more traditional leftist direction.
     I’ll speak for myself. I was pleased with Obama’s Presidential candidacy, not because he shares my political vision—he doesn’t—but because he seemed (and seems) articulate and intelligent—and he refreshingly approaches at least some issues as decent and informed people approach them (i.e., with sensitivity to the complexities and subtleties and realities involved). I never took Obama to be a radical of my kind or any other kind. Yes, he is smart, knowledgeable, sophisticated, and capable of political brilliance. And he talks about "change." But he is essentially a mainstream pol who holds positions and values continuous with what we’ve already seen and heard in the Democratic politics of the last twenty or thirty years.
     I cannot see any basis whatsoever for viewing Obama as a “radical” or a “socialist” (in any meaningful sense of those words). In some sense, I am a radical. Obama is no radical. I wish he were! (And, in a way, I'm glad he isn't. A radical would be powerless.)
     The notion that he is a radical or socialist is an exaggeration or lie promulgated by some very cynical and ruthless demagogues on the political right (e.g., Dick Armey).
     The “Tea Party” movement appears to be the peculiar product of, (1), the aforementioned demagoguery (which serves the interests of a segment of the GOP) and, (2), the familiar American tradition of (mostly right-wing) "fringe" conspiracy politics, which is difficult or impossible to disentangle from the old American traditions of scape-goating racism and anti-intellectualism. (A classic work in this regard: Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, 1964)
     The conspiracy people are and have always been intellectually incompetent. Their theories invariably rely on the cherry-picking of evidence and similar gross fallacies. One can find virtually no academics who endorse their theories or even refer to them. Among the educated, they are irrelevant. (The “theories” of Steve Frogue and his pal Mike Collins Piper exemplify the usual crudity and sophistry of this crowd.)
     It is not surprising, therefore, that the mass of self-described “Tea Partiers” are ignorant of basic historical or general knowledge, and they never hold views that admit of subtlety or recognize complexity. It’s always, “arrest and deport the illegals,” “deregulate,” “no taxes,” “eliminate government services,” and the like. (Re the "tradition" of ignorance among American voters, see The American Voter, 1960. See also What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, 2004.)
     It does not please me to say that, in recent years, a kind of dam of political stupidity has burst: something has allowed many Americans to unashamedly express stunningly ignorant and absurd views that would be ridiculed in a basic Political Science course. I recall saying, at first, “Don’t these people read the paper or watch the news? How is it possible to think and say such ridiculous things!" (Do you recall the interviews of people waiting to attend the McCain or Palin rallies? It was stunning.)
     I now realize that, despite our nation's tradition of promoting and valuing education, many of these Americans are insulated from learning or facts (watching Fox News being one of the salient mechanisms for this odd self-isolation; for some people, going to church is another). These Americans have been allowed to “develop” their political thinking in the absence of challenge or debate; their “thinking” is almost entirely untouched by intellectuals or experts or even educated people. They gravitate to simple, loutish, and (if carried out) disastrous views.
     That is what I see. I might be wrong, but that is what I see.
     I believe that the Tea Party movement is beyond its peak and is headed for oblivion. But the crudity and unsophistication that can allow such a movement to arise, even for a brief time, is still with us. Assertive loutish and abysmally ignorant political thinking is an old and familiar phenomenon in this country; but it is increasingly "normal" and, for many, it is a kind of mainstream thinking. It is now embraced without shame or embarrassment.
     The ignorant rabble, convinced of their purity and virtue, grow. But for now, they remain unfocused.
     Whence this assertive new phenomenon? A very good and hard question.


Anonymous said...

A very good post. ES

Bohrstein said...

Love this post.

I have a smart friend who has been told by those around him (not so smart) that he is good at "arguing". He wants to believe it, and they do believe it. For him, it is the case that he is good at arguing.

This happens all over the world, with regards to politics and other skills as well. It disappoints me. Too many people gauge their abilities based on what they want to believe, and what the non-experts around them believe. There is no interest in the actual acquisition of ability.

Hence this O.C. phenomena, where community seems to drive these people to embrace themselves as they are. All that churchin'.


Anonymous said...

They'll just belly up to the booth and vote for whatever Republican candidate is there, perpetuating the power of their masters.

13 Stoploss said...

Although I am not radical in any sense, sadly, I agree with Anon. Even my own father falls victim to this practice while spouting his version of truthiness that Fox News is the only real news network practicing solid journalism and reporting. Except he doesn't vote. But if he did, he'd check the box "for the real American."


Anonymous said...

Terrific post, BvT. I think you should email it to the op/ed people at the L.A. Times; it's really well-written and dead-on right in content. Beautiful piece of writing.

I always think of our dismal K-12 system as one of the culprits. Somehow, people get through school without learning to appreciate thinking, research, evidence, intellectual interchange, *truth*.

How the hell did we get to such a pass (just repeating your question in a less eloquent form)?


B. von Traven said...

MAH, why should I bother with that? Why, the piece is on Dissent the Blog!

Anonymous said...

Point taken!

It's just that *maybe* there are more readers of the Times--and I would hate the intelligent among them to miss out on your pithy prose.


Anonymous said...

Don't bother. It's typical lefty nutwing academia not representing the academy. You folks take yourselves much too seriously and remind me of the 4th of July Tea Party folks, only on the other side. It might be a good idea to get out of the woods a bit more.

B. von Traven said...

Gosh, 7:16, that's quite an argument. Well, no, you didn't provide an argument, but you made an assertion. But at least you backed it up! --Well, no, you didn't do that either.

7:16, you can find Glenn Beck U by just Googling it. You'll be much happier there. They've offer shitloads of unsupported or false assertions. I'm told that, today, the Beckster had on an fake historian who said that the key points of the Declaration of Independence (or was it the Constitution?) came straight out of church sermons--and so they came from Christianity, I guess.

His argument? You can find sermons in which these ideas are mentioned.