Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We've Gone Completely Jungian

When I was in grade school, I found it eerie to hear other kids parroting their parents' political views. During elections, children who didn't know a thing about government or politics would spout scathing invective about The Other Candidate. No actual ideas were beneath their revilement, of course. Just the deep subconscious influence of tribes on their young. It was like seeing a baby monkey aping its elders by pointing and shrieking at the group two trees over.

As an adult, I noticed how even adults seem to do no better than to mimic, poorly, the rhetoric of whichever team they're on. You had your bad versions of Rush Limbaugh and your bad versions of James Carville. Political positioning began to strike me as mostly a matter of lining up for one's personal style. Liberals look and act like liberals, and conservatives looked and acted like conservatives. One could just smell the Otherness on the other! And the visceral distaste for the opposition stems less from positions on issues than from a deeper, darker place: the archetype of The Other. 

The current side-taking seems no more grown-up (or even more conscious) than the baby monkeys. The political views one hears expressed by people in the street and on the Internet are childish echoes, scarcely different than any other memes or catchphrases inculcated via marketing. It's all empty symbols, stylistic nods and empty gossip. There's no there there!

I have a friend who is extremely kind and reasonable, the sort of person who gets along with lots of different types of people. Yet he keeps forwarding me seething screeds of anonymous origin explaining the sinister secrets of John McCain. I can't make him understand that he's acting as the mirror image of right-wingers who pass around Obama-is-a-Muslim-Terrorist agitprop. 

And liberals can't understand the concerns of Social Conservatives, wondering why they distrust them so, when liberals are all about "live and let live"! Just hand in your shotguns, please, and expect your kids to learn real science because your beliefs are stupid and we know better, and you can pick up your free condoms and clean hypodermic needles at City Hall (just please step respectfully around the flag-burning demonstraters, oh, and we've dismantled your inappropriate Christmas display). You will be tolerant, and we will show no tolerance whatsoever for those who express themselves in a way we deem intolerant. Buckle your safety belt (it's the law!), thank you for not smoking, eating trans fats, polluting, or engaging in what we deem hate speech - or other actions which offend our sense of morality! And, most of all, keep your damned moralism to yourselves!

Neither tribe seems to realize they're mirror images. We are a nation of mesmerized, tribalized children. Can't we go back to nerds hating jocks, or girls hating boys, or rich kids hating poor kids, unleashing our subconscious us-versus-them angst in the social realm, so we can make the important business of governance be about ideas rather than style and archetypes?


Jon said...

I don't think what you're saying is by and large true. Yes, it's true on the fringes. Yes, the internet and right wing talk radio have amplified the voices of those on the fringes, but most people are pretty moderate in their views. Politics has always been about demonizing the opposition, and unless human nature fundamentally changes, that will continue to be the case.

You're right that as a self-identified liberal I don't understand social conservatives. I look at clean hypos, condoms, smoking regs and pollution as public health issues, not moral ones. I'm fine with Christmas trees, but I have real problems with government promotion of religion.

I'm a partisan Democrat and proud of it. That doesn't mean that I agree on everything (I'm very anti gun control). And it's not blind rage. It's that I have fundamental differences with the GOP on the direction that I would see the nation go. Bipartisanship for its own sake is ridiculous.

Jim Leff said...

While the people screaming "Kill him!" at McCain rallies and the people seriously considering moving to Canada if Obama loses are indeed both fringe-ish and over-represented in the media, it's hard to deny that the country's vastly more partisan than ever before. Not just MORE partisan, but partisan in a way that's driven by darker, more subconscious forces than before.

To be sure, the country has long been divided, culturally. When Palin talks about the Real America, she speaks to a prevalent conviction on the part of religiously devout rural and small town America that they are an entirely different civilization.....and the feeling is, of course, mutual. There's much long-standing bigotry (religious, racial, economic, social, and cultural) at play in that, and it won't be easily vanquished any time soon. But while you're correct that demonizing the opposition is part and parcel of politics, the political demonization had been political. Only recently has political identification been drawn along cultural lines, which taps into a whole deeper sort of demonization, channeling those deeper bigotries.

Red States versus Blue States is new. Religious folks being one party rather than the other is new. The genius of the people behind Reagan (same folks as behind Bush and McCain) was to exploit darker, more archetypal aversions. That strategy was so unbelievably successful that a great many poor people have been attracted and energized to support a party that gives tax breaks to the rich, cuts social programs, and creates legislation and renders judicial verdicts that consistently support business over labor. And it attracts and energizes women to vote for a party that's anti-abortion and consistently opposed equal rights. From the long view of the world, this is an extraordinary political outcome. There's something very deep, dark, and archetypal going on here. A whole new level of the age-old political demonization. The rage is never "blind", it's just been fanned and channeled. As I said in the entry, I preferred the more old-fashioned, more direct expressions of aversion.

Finally, you say you consider clean hypos, condoms, smoking regs and pollution to be public health issues, not moral ones. I know you do! NONE of the social issues are argued on the same level plane! The reason abortion views, for example, are so angrily disjointed is that one side deems it a (clear) moral issue, the other a (clear) civil rights issue. If the two could agree on a basis for the argument, there wouldn't be an argument! You have REASONS for wanting to change how our fellow citizens live their lives. Hey, I know that. They have reasons for why they want to change yours, too! But let's not pretend that only one side is trying to force their values on the other. If you catch yourself saying "Yes, but my values are RIGHT!", I'd invite you to swirl that around dispassionately in your mouth before spitting! :)

You say you don't understand Social Conservatives. Most liberals don't. I'm trying to help!

Jon said...

Here's the thing though -- I do understand their positions -- I'm from Oklahoma, and many of my relatives believe strongly in social conservatism -- hell, my sister thinks Sarah Palin is the savior of American politics. I don't "understand" them though. For the life of me I can't see how gay marriage threatens anything or anyone, and the arguments against it usually devolve into stupid slogans like "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." I can't see how a public health initiative that saves lives is something to get worked up about.

The truth is that I'm usually the one defending the fundamentalist viewpoint to my liberal friends, but that doesn't put me any closer to thinking that their policy prescriptions are good ones.

I'll point out that in Obama's 30 minute ad, he laid out in detail how his policies would affect real people. He didn't mention McCain or Bush once. Yes, he has on the stump, as well he should. It's important to differentiate. But the demonization of the opposition is not equal opportunity here. One party is laying out real ideas for change in how we approach the 21st century, the other is screaming "Muslim terrorist socialist negro welfare radical leftist" because that's all they've got.

After eight years of hearing leftists called traitor and un-American who should be hung or deported, I'm really not in the mood for bipartisan cooperation. After Coulter/Limbaugh/Hannity and their nasty style of commentary being tacitly approved by Bush, Cheney, McCain and Palin, I'm perfectly willing to see conservatives sit in the wilderness for a few years until they learn to behave like human beings.

Jim Leff said...

"For the life of me I can't see how gay marriage threatens anything or anyone"

Really? It's awfully clear for me. It means cementing, legally, a cultural change that is not in line with the way things have always been, and which makes them uncomfortable (being pro-gay rights, my reply is "well, too freaking bad", but that's my reply, not their feeling). There are homophobic bigots out there, but also plenty of nice (and, in my view, wrong) folks who are not quite ready, psychologically, to accept daddy/daddy and mommy/mommy marriages as a normal part of their cultural landscape. Shoot, I'm not sure you or I would have been hip enough to feel comfortable with that back in, like, 1975! We're ready, they're not. Again, too freaking bad for them, I say. But it doesn't make them homophobic bigots. Just people used to things the way they are and not in a rush to keep changing that status quo. Conservativism. It's a valid way to see the world, generally. Certainly not unfathomable.

They don't want their cultural landscape changed our way. But we don't want ours changed their way, either (creationism in schools, anyone? banning of stem cell research? etc etc). That's the point of my entry. We get lost, just as they do, in our certainty that our changes are good, smart, reasonable ones. Both sides think the same, but they never argue on the same plane. That's the impasse.

"The truth is that I'm usually the one defending the fundamentalist viewpoint to my liberal friends, but that doesn't put me any closer to thinking that their policy prescriptions are good ones."

They don't have to be "good" in your view. If they were "good" in your view, we'd have unity in national politics, and that's too much to ever hope for. Acceptance is needed of this, and perhaps even some respect. It seems nearly impossible for one side to respect the other's prescriptions. But each deserves to run the country for a while. That back-and-forth is what keeps the country more or less centrist. Or at least it has. Lately, the pendulum seems to swing much more extremely, and much more severely. Why? Because of statements like this:

After eight years of hearing leftists called traitor and un-American who should be hung or deported, I'm really not in the mood for bipartisan cooperation.

That's how Bosnia situations, Palestinian/Israeli impasses, and all the other bloody, miserable, entrenched divides and blood feuds are fostered and worsened.

But so long as you're unable to even see any symmetry in the situation, it'll be difficult for you to see why this is the case. Everyone always thinks they're on the side of right, and that that rightness makes their disrespect of the other side ok. It's the disease of humanity. As I (rhetorically) ask in an old Slog entry (at
http://jimleff.blogspot.com/2008/07/god-as-dude.html ):

"Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?"

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