Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's not a puzzle. It's a trait.

Stageleft has made another excellent observation and finds the consistent propagandizing by right-wingers something of a puzzle. (You must read the examples)
I used to find this kind of thing genuinely confusing. But the answer, of course, is simple. These folks are simply propagandists. They have no interest in “truth” or “accuracy”. Facts are tools, not the foundation of an argument, to be selectively deployed as raw material for propaganda and ignored when inconvenient.
But then we were handed the evidence in two US elections. The ascendancy of George W. Bush to the presidency of the United States had nothing to do with reasoned debate or facts or accuracy. It had everything to do with cherry-picking information and weaving misrepresented data into what amounted to a continuing campaign to smear opponents and anyone who did not blindly accept everything Bush stood for.

That is why when, in Canada, Harper's brand of conservativism took over the right-wing of Canadian politics rational people started to get nervous. This was not the old form of fiscal conservative which made up the bulk of Canada's conservative parties of the past. This was a group of movement conservatives and an amalgam that we had not previously experienced in this country.

The writers and propagandists that Stage Left finds puzzling represent the coming together of two significantly dissimilar groups which, despite their differences, shared a common goal which they could not achieve on their own: The socially conservative "religious right" and amoral authoritarian politicians who found participative democracy an impediment to rule - and their own comfort and enrichment.

Their common goal? Political power.

At first glance the "religious right" might appear to be a bad fit with the politically ambitious. Not so.

Christian dominionists have always sought political power. They once possessed it, but as human rights and progressive government took hold, the place fundamentalist Christian dominance once held over the people was eventually replaced by democracy and, something no fundamentalist Christian accepts, political and religious dissent.

The "religious right", a group which inherently submitted to authority, found in the amoral political establishment a kinship. The amoral politicians, on the other hand, found a body of votes by simply offering to "share" power if they received the support of the "religious right".

Further, the politicians saw an advantage in garnering, if not the affection, then at least the positive response of the "religious right" - this was a large block of people who were given to accept the dictates of who ever held power, without question. In fact, the authoritarian nature of fundamentalist churches would work well in containing any dissent for whatever undemocratic policies the politicians were likely to pursue, regardless of how immoral they may be.

While the politicians shared none of the religious "faith" of those with whom they formed a political bond, they simply had to provide them access to domestic social policy while the politicians pursued their own interests and provided the same guarantee that the "religious right" demanded of all leaders - protection from outside forces. Enemies, foreign and domestic, could be defined as anyone the "religious right" viewed as a threat to the pursuit of their faith and the expansion of their power.

The politicians, out to serve their own purposes, had but to present the illusion of a threat and then promise to do everything to protect their followers from it. It didn't matter if there was, in fact, a real threat. The politicians simply had to create one, or expand on something otherwise insignificant and then promise to provide protection. In short, if they had to resort to lying to maintain the support of their "religious" followers, that would serve their purposes handily.

Of course, the amoral politicians in government had a failing. Far from adhering to the "pure" lifestyles dictated by the churches of their followers, these people, steeped in an overwhelming sense of personal entitlement, regularly stepped over a moral line even secular humanists found objectionable. Luckily for the politicians however, the constituency which brought them to power had provided a convenient and virtually painless safety valve: confession and repentance.
Those politicians caught up in, for example, a sex scandal, had simply to "go public", shed the appropriate tears, ask for "God's" help (on national television), declare themselves cleansed of the "devil" that had possessed them, accept the forgiveness of the fundamentalist Christians who supported them and go back to their comfortable lifestyle. Being a protector, it followed, brought a lot of pressure.

The politicians were, of course, lying. Why? Because it worked. Far from having to explain themselves or vanish in disgrace, they were assured that the lie would be accepted. What made them so certain? Because the leaders of the churches of the "religious right" were also a pack of liars. Every single one of them who had claimed to have had a conversation with "God" was a liar. It was in the best interest of the church leaders to convince their followers that the errant politician was indeed being truthful. There was, after all, more at stake than, say, banging some intern; there was power.

The easy way to convince the followers? The intern was a manipulative whore who had led the now repentant politician down the path of "evil". To the followers of the "religious right" that more than made up for the sin, not because it made any particular sense or was even close to the truth, but because those in authority said it was true and one simply did not question authority. The only factual data was that there was sex involved. The rest was molded around that piece of data to fit a convenient and comfortable belief.

To both the "religious right" and the amoral political crowd, lying works for them. They don't engage in argument or debate. They enter a situation with a preconceived view and then either pick the facts that fit to support that view or, if the facts refute their belief, ignore them altogether.

If you want to read more on this there is no place better than the research of Bob Altemeyer and his 2006 book, The Authoritarians. The whole book is available online and is downloadable at no charge. Every word is worth the read.

I'll leave you with an excerpt from one of Bob's notes to chapter two. It highlights an incident which may help explain what I was saying. On August 22, 2006, The Winnipeg Free Press contained a story:
My local newspaper recently carried a story about a woman in a nearby city who wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the mayor and city council. She said the present council lacked initiative and acted too often in the interest of “boys with money and toys.” A few days later the pastor of the Pentecostal church she attends wrote her, saying her letter was an embarrassment because good Christians do not publicly criticize their leaders. He told her to find another church if she was not going to change her ways.
So yes, they lie. Because it's a trait. And those who do not possess the trait are ostracized.

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