Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Mappa Wingnuti

Something is going very wrong in the heads of a substantial number of Americans.
- Paul Krugman

No offence Paul, but to this observer, the craziness has been there for years, perhaps only in various stages of remission. Take the McCarthy era, at least then the crazy was somewhat understandable. The nuclear age had just begun, the war had just ended, post-war America was at the top of its global game, the excesses of the Stalinism were being made known, massive armies were squared off in northern Europe, capitalism was simpler and at least appeared civil, the social upheaval of the Civil Rights movement was beginning to surface. The US led West looked for all things like a shining beacon of light and so a paranoid resistance to anything challenging that ideal could somewhat understood in context.

Now the context is gone and American Reality (tm?) is starting to look like an adaptation of this script, except without the empirical grounding for Jack D Ripper's flouridian delusions.

Socialist! Indoctrination! Agenda! The current generation clings to these cargo cult words from an era all but a handful did not experience. Cultural artifacts these are, from another time resurrected by a confused and angry cohort looking for something, anything to use as a lens through which to focus their confusion and anger. They show up armed and angry at town halls and other meetings to make a stand against, against...against a label a voice on the radio or a face on TV put on a president. But I sense something is missing: there is a lack of tangibility to their rage rationale.

Obama is clearly not flying a hammer and sickle over the Whitehouse, indeed he has now arguably done little but appear as a more sophisticated and intelligent (intelligible?) variation of the last guy. But yet these people want, they need to put something on him. They feel perhaps cheated, but like angry children cannot really articulate why. Maybe there's an internal conflict. Healthcare reform or anything else, promises to give many of them the sort of security they do not have in this jobless time. I suspect many of them have either themselves or through family members experienced the brutal dysfunction of the US system but yet they cannot abide the notion that their way, be it wars, economics, social policy, has not worked and many of them are worse off now than 9 years ago.

So they find in Obama, an affable, likeable and intelligent man without an affair with an intern or some secret past, a happy marriage, church life, etc, the sort of American dream success story that many of them would have been so fond of in another context. Sure his had his issues, but he's shrugged them off and persevered. He's also Black, but not every wingnut is that overtly racist. Watching this neighbour with everything, who seems happy and comfortable, not the angry faux-redneck like the last guy, they cannot connect to him. They're perhaps on some level, actually jeolous. So any story, no matter how outlandish or fabricated is preferable to reality. However, there are very few narratives they can connect to. Given their demographic, American myths provide fertile ground for resonance. Raised on legends of American righteousness and stories of American glory, these provide the cultural lenses through which they view everything. Indeed, given current flight of craziness, I might even go so far as to called an epistemological problem.

That is, the construction of their knowledge, their way of knowing, is hegemonic thereby making reason and coherent argument impossible. We are witness to an analog of the disruption that occurred when scientific discovery subverted the Church's dominion over 'truth' concerning the planets, stars and biology. They may sense something interesting in the new, but they remain fearful and distrustful, retreating into what they think they know. The right might as well be shouting "heretic" or "witch" instead of "socialist" - well, some of them may just use those words. Add to this of course an opportunistic and threatened rightwing political and media establishment happy to fan those flames, and you have your clergy. Stretching the comparison further, the right, like a church has its symbols and rituals, scriptures, and holy texts. Segments of the Christian bible and US constitution provide anchors. Oral histories of US martial prowess and (heh), manifest destiny, lend purpose. An opposition (communism, radical Islam) provide a binary for comparative self-ranking that aid the perpetuation of myths of greatness. Bind all this in an individual's identity thought conception, and you have someone who lives through as a fundamentalist "American" the same way others live through "Christian" or "Jew" or "Muslim", where every thought and deed is infallibly informed by hegemonic mind-space. Examine their discourse, and this becomes difficult to deny.

Thus, when an unavoidable challenge to this order of mind is presented, their reaction is radical, visceral, and incoherent. The insane commentary about Obama, may be viewed as the residual salts of their world after the diluting waters of a stable and successful era have boiled off. Things are changing and some are violently lagging.

So I don' t think these people are particularly insane so much as they are being forced to confront a world that does not conform to their unconscious assumptions. In the minds of wingnuts, things have been reduced to essentials. It is no surprise the rhetoric gets crazy and they retreat into their faith.

I just wish they weren't so well armed.

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