Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Ultimate Victory of the Soviet Empire of the Mind

From Tuesday's Washington Post:
As political theorists Laura Field and Sean Illing have shown, the coin of the Trumpist post-truth realm is confusion and nihilism. The basic goal is to eradicate public faith in the very idea that government professionals like Vindman might actually make reasoned judgments about Trump’s misconduct that are rooted in good-faith empiricism.
This is a truth that many Democrats (who either don't talk to, or else merely scream at, Republicans) fail to understand. Apart from the spittle-spraying proud deplorables flocking to rallies and donning caps, the large swathe of smart, educated, reasonable, non-blind Republicans who've abandoned conservative values and principles (not to mention common decency) to remain supportive of Trump do so for a combination of three reasons:

1. They hate liberals worse.

2. They're scared, in a nebulous way, and “conservative” leaders and media make them feel fake-backbony.

and, most of all...

3. Nihilism. Trump sucks, but so does everyone else. There is no honor, there is no truth, there is no civic duty. It's all a damned joke. A straight-arrow purple heart recipient reports a national security threat, per regulations, up his chain of command, and testifies with honor, precision, and dignity. Well, he might just as well turn out to be disloyal immigrant scum motivated by espionage and sabotage. Six of one, half-dozen of the other...

Educated Republicans (voters, not politicians) are not twisting themselves into pretzels to protect their guy, or falling victim to conspiracy theories due to overactive imaginations. It's much, much worse. It's that they feel that there simply are no good people with clean motives. There is no moral fundament, it's a barren, ever-shifting landscape where there is no truth (and thus no Occam's Razor, hence the conspiracies). Everything's mostly garbage, and while Trump's the most garbagey garbage, at least he's got their back. It's the same thinking that made them vote as they did in 2016: he's OUR garbage king.

Everything's not garbage. In fact, we're living in Utopia, though things seem worse as things get better.

If you actually talk with pro-Trump moderate Republicans, what you'll often hear is nihilism. There's a strong conviction that "they're" all terrible (whichever "they" you want to focus on). The same is also spreading amid Democrats. And this mass-scale mental corrosion is pure Putinism. Vlad's the current master of a propaganda technique developed more than a century ago by the Chekists, the Czar's intelligence service, that's less about specific persuasion than sowing overall confusion, discord, and moral ennui. Overwhelming torrents of bullshit (sound familiar?) leave all sides - everyone but the regime - exhausted, disoriented, and highly tolerant of corruption and tyranny. Read Garry Kasparov, John Schindler, and Masha Gessen.

Only clear-headed people thirst for higher-level civic virtues. A society needs firm grounding and peace of mind to consider such lofty concepts. It's not something you'd contemplate while disoriented and flailing.

Americans, even educated, normal ones, are starting to sound a lot like Russians circa 1980 - cynical, weary, suspicious, malignant, and oddly combining willful ignorance with impenetrable intellectual self-assurance. The Soviet Empire of the Mind has, ironically, prevailed. With nothing to export but natural gas and bottomless nihilist cynicism, Putin craftily recognized that the latter requires no pipes.

While Trump maintains the dubious fiction that he's the-garbage-who-has-your-back, Democratic candidates have been fulfilling the fevered NRA/FOX fantasy of "liberals taking your guns away" by publicly declaring they'll take your guns away, along with a number of other kooky right-wing prophesies, e.g. late-stage abortions, reparations, trillions in spending, termination of private insurance and border enforcement, etc.. As former caricatures are actually endorsed full-throatedly by an increasingly lefty Left, Republicans seal their conviction that the other side won't even bother to pretend to have their back. The garbage king at least cares enough to pretend (to a nihilist, that's as good as one can expect).

No comments:

Blog Archive