Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Fearful Flip-Outs versus Vigilant Intelligent Concern

Just to balance out my posting about Pittsburgh, where I said:
This is not The Age-Old. It's different now. I believe it's a last gasp of an old problem (though last gasps can be horrendous, and represent a long tail as they gradually fade out)...

Sensitized by our relative safety and comfort, micro evil seems macro. A few pathetic dipshits with tiki torches in Charlottesville feel like a grand resurgence of the Third Reich, just because it's so startling (40 years ago, it wasn't so it didn't rattle the rest of us all that much. More dismayed eye-rolling than massive outrage)...

Yes, a dipshit can run you over with their car or shoot up a church, mosque, or synagogue, and it's awful, but this is not what a civilizational resurgence of violence and hatred looks like...
It may seem contradictory that I also wrote the following a year ago about the potential for a sudden mushrooming bonfire of anti-Semitism:
The infectious smoldering of economic populism, of xenophobia, of white supremacy, and of vitriol at "coastal elites", media, "Wall Street types", etc., is not being pushed forward, I don't believe, primarily by anti-Semitic people (though plenty of rabid anti-Semites are, of course, conveniently enjoying that tide). However, The Jewish Problem is like super-dry, crackly, hyper-flammable kindling, lurking adjacently to it all, just out of frame.

Bring the intensity levels up just 20 or 30%, and anti-semitism will flash in a chain reaction so suddenly and so brightly that your retinas will scorch. It will arc, like lightning, through people who are not particularly anti-Semitic; who never quite connected their anger and bitterness to this particular scapegoat; who have Jewish friends and are generally decent people.

Millions lack clear awareness of the Nazi-ish mindset into which they've been gradually stirred. There's one essential chunk missing. Add it, and there will be a widespread, galvanizing sensation of fullness, momentum, and inevitability.
So I do not have my head in the sand. I am fully aware of the potential. But potential is not present reality. By gifting dipshit evil with the full weight of our fear and panic - by imagining systematic Nazi barbarism in the actions of an idiotic driver emboldened by a chuckleheaded president whose authoritative impulses amount to toxic trolling rather than a diabolical march to the extinction of democracy and the completion of The Final Solution - we vastly overreact and we also elevate the idiots.

Everything arousing pain and fear is not The Worst Thing Ever. By making everything an "eleven", we offer would-be propagators of twos and threes and fours corroboration of their imagined fearsomeness. Our easy apocalyptic rage parses to the lunatic fringe as applause, and feeds their narrative. Meanwhile, we make ourselves needlessly miserable in a time of unmatched tolerance, safety, comfort, and prosperity.

A viral movement has been afoot, preceding Trump, to make us view every imperfection in those heady blessings as the leading edge of Ultimate Horror. We are frought Princesses interminably scanning for diminishing mattress peas, and that unceasing dread has driven some of us mad. Those who deem themselves The Resistance must study how deranged fear was what stoked the Right's madness to begin with. Per FDR, fear is the very thing to be resisted. What can ruin us - the only thing that can ruin us! - is madness, overreaction and the unimaginable stupidity humans display when riled into anger and terror.

It's extraordinarily hard for the opposition to recognize that the ball's actually in our court. It's up to us to decide whether to flip out in fury and terror, or to reconcile from solidity and strength. As ever, we can respond to extremism with reciprocal extremism or with enlightened moderation.

Unfortunately, the present crop of humans - with its unique wealth, health, comfort, interconnection, and security - is uniquely prone to terror. We may not fully register what we have, but we sure as hell fear its loss. We may not acknowledge our wealth, but we typify the “more to lose” anxieties of the wealthy. Hence our hair trigger.

I remember the 70s and 80s when Nazis (actual imposingly scary rednecks, in real numbers, not a small gaggle of douchey kids bearing citronella torches) marched and bona fide Klansmen attained elected office, and the rest of us for the most part were content to mock them and roll our eyes. Not blinded by fear and rage, we saw more clearly. Today's societal landscape is much cleaner and nicer, which makes the residual scum stand out dramatically and magnifies our indignation at imperfections in our heady blessings. By the time we're down to our very last Nazi (some geezer raving and saluting from his electric scooter), we'll all be so unhinged by his presence that we'll jump in the ocean and drown en masse like lemmings.

Does any of this make Pittsburgh in any way acceptable? Do I not mourn the dead? Am I not tautly vigilant going forward? In a sane society I wouldn't feel compelled to reaffirm such obviousness. But for the record I agree with every flinty word of the always-eloquent former Republican operative Steve Schmidt (who, a few short years ago, would have been maxi-scorned by the Left for his role in that most extreme of evils, the 2008 McCain campaign). Don't miss the following video; it's great.


Betty C. Bowen said...

Jim, I googled your name because I have been very much missing the old Chowhound, and found your post. While it is about something way more serious than whether arancini is a crazy thing to fry in the teacher's lounge next week, I still appreciate it and needed a dose of your good sense and perspective. Thanks. Betty Bowen Hancock, in Oklahoma

Jim Leff said...

Betty! Great to hear from one of our top hounds ever! Hey, did you know that one of our regulars, Brian Schwartz, is writing about Tulsa food? He's finding great stuff, you should follow him on FB:

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