Why Sarah Palin Is a Goddess

Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Michael Lind writes about mythological politics and the tea partiers, saying,

This is the key to understanding the otherwise inexplicable accusations by the populist right that Barack Obama is a socialist or fascist or whatever, as well as fantasies about a global secular humanist conspiracy. We are dealing with a mythological mentality, based on simple and powerful archetypes. Contemporary figures and current events are plugged into a framework that never changes. “King Charles (or King George) is threatening the rights of Englishmen” becomes “Barack Obama is promoting socialism” — or fascism, or monarchism, or daylight saving time.

As in other cases of mythological politics, like messianic Marxism, this kind of thinking is resistant to argument. If you disagree, then that simply proves that you are part of the conspiracy. Inconvenient facts can be explained away by the true believers. It’s hard to come up with arguments that would persuade people who think that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are totalitarians to change their mind.

This is something I’ve written about in the past. It’s important to understand that the political “thinking” of the True Believers on the Right is a thick soup of myth, allegory, and archetype. Stuff like, you know, facts, are irrelevant to them.

Lind traces the major themes of rightie mythology back to 18th century Britain, but in some ways I think you have to go back even further. The ur-myth that under-girds all the other myths is the old Zoroastrian struggle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. However, [with righties] “good” and “evil” are matters of intrinsic identity, not actions.

I remember Sunday School literature from the 1950s that showed images of Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev standing with Satan, while Jesus bestrode the United States, his arms wrapped protectively around a couple of innocent white American children. Even many who aren’t old enough (or Bible Belt enough) to have seen images like that have been influenced by the mythology such images represented.

If one believes America the Pure and Righteous is protected by Jesus, and America’s enemies are minions of Satan, then a great many other assumptions flow from that. Among these is the belief that public display of religious totems like Ten Commandments monuments is essential to keeping America “strong,” e.g., armored against demon enemies.

It also explains why the Christian Right wants obeisance to Jesus to be made compulsory. For them, religion is not about personal devotion or worship; it’s war. And you’re either with ’em or agin’ ’em.

Further, as I’ve said, “good” and “evil” are understood to be intrinsic qualities that reside in certain individuals and groups regardless of what they do. One chooses to take the side of “good” by being loyal to the “good” tribe, a.k.a., “us.”

An example of the importance of archetypes in rightie thought can be found in the blogosphere’s reaction to homicides allegedly (she hasn’t been tried yet) committed by Alabama University professor Amy Bishop. Like most leftie bloggers I haven’t written about Bishop because, to me, it’s a crime story, and I rarely comment on crime stories.

But a number of rightie bloggers have blown Bishop up into a Big Bleeping Political Deal, pointedly calling her a “leftist” or a “socialist.” How so? Apparently someone called Bishop a “socialist” on her RateMyProfessors page, so it must be true. Also, she went to Harvard.

In other words, we in Rational World have no way to know anything about Bishop’s political beliefs, or even if she has any. Further, there is nothing about the homicides that suggests a political motive, so a rational person wouldn’t think of the homicides in political terms. Some are claiming a racial motive, because the three individuals killed were non-white, but one of the people she shot who survived is very obviously white. Since these were people Bishop knew, it’s not unreasonable to assume her motives were personal.

But bloggers who have pointed out there is no obvious political component to the Bishop homicides, notably Steve M and Steven Taylor, have been subject to vile counter-attacks from the Right for suggesting the homicides were not political.

The weird truth is, I don’t think the rightie bloggers calling Bishop a “leftist” have said she had a political motive. So why are rightie bloggers making such a Big Bleeping Deal about her alleged politics? Because it so neatly fits the mythological archetype of “leftist” and “socialist” that lives in their heads, that’s why. As the “American Power” blogger explained, “I have never hypothesized on Bishop’s motives. It’s enough fascination at the simple truth of a Harvard leftist in league with some of our worst criminal murderers and jihadi terrorists.”

Criminal murderers and jihadi terrorists? She went to Harvard. What more do you need to know? People who go to Harvard are like that. And there need be no political motives, or any motives at all, for a “leftist” to be a violent, murdering criminal, because that’s just the way “leftists” are. See how it works?

In fact, suggesting any motivation at all to Bishop, even an evil and irrational motive, seems to enrage some righties, who equate understanding motive with making excuses for the murders. Rational people don’t think that way, of course, but we’re not talking about rational people. We’re talking about people whose worldview is entirely shaped by myth and archetype, not by reason.

Which brings me to why Sarah Palin is a goddess. By that I don’t mean she has actual godlike powers. I’m talking about her role in the rightie mythological cosmos, and why pointing out her obvious shortcomings will put no dents in the tea partiers’ loyalty to her.

By “goddess” I mean a goddess in something like (but not exactly) the tantric sense, in which a deity becomes an archetype for one’s own deepest nature. Palin, by contrast, is a near-perfect embodiment of an ideal. She is (to a rightie) beautiful, sexual, and maternal; she is powerful enough that the Evil Ones who live in Washington and who speak seditious things on the Teevee must kowtow to her. Through her folksy speech and shooting skills she evokes other American archetypes from more wholesome, earlier times, like Daniel Boone. But she also wears modern clothes and has a Facebook page.

Like most tantric deities, Palin has has both benevolent and wrathful aspects. As a wrathful goddess she gives voice to her followers’ deepest fears and hates and resentments. But she also has a bright smile and sometimes carries a baby, showing a benevolent side. Her followers both love her and identify with her; she is an archetype representing their own deepest selves, or at least the selves they’d like to be.

She’s a goddess, I tell you. And because she is a goddess is makes no difference to her devotees that she has few real accomplishments, no coherent ideas, and probably doesn’t know Bern from Budapest. It does not matter if she writes crib notes on her hand and needs several months to think of a name of a newspaper she actually reads. In fact, it does not matter to them if she reads at all. Whatever she does is exactly right, because it is her doing it, and she is a goddess.

It’s important to understand this, because it shows us why it’s futile to treat Palin as just another politician or media star. It was pointless to make fun of the crib notes, for example. I doubt anyone could bring Palin down but Palin herself. If she somehow grossly and blatantly violated the ideal she represents, her followers could turn on her. But until she does that, she is invincible in the eyes of the devoted.

There’s a long analysis of the tea party movement in today’s New York Times that’s worth a read. Essentially, the “movement” is a collection of fearful people grasping at incoherent ideas the way drowning people grasp at lifebuoys. It brings to mind what Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer (pp. 59-60)–

The power of a mass movement stems from the propensity of its followers for united action and self-sacrifice. … whether or not [organizations] develop into mass movements depends less on the doctrine they preach and the program they project than on the degree of their preoccupation with unity and the readiness for self-sacrifice. … Such diverse phenomena as a deprecation of the present, a facility for make-believe, a proneness to hate, a readiness to imitate, credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible, and many others which crowd the minds of the intensely frustrated are, as we shall see, unifying agents and prompters of recklessness.

Because the incoherent ideas the tea partiers grasp are plucked from the American psyche, those ideas can be traced back through earlier times in American history, as Lind says. But the ideas themselves are not the point, and so I disagree with Lind that understanding where ideas come from is key to understanding the tea party movement. What unifies the tea partiers is something primitive, pre-cognitive. As Hoffer says elsewhere in The True Believer, fearful people give up individual autonomy to become part of a movement, and within the movement they find the freedom to hate, bully, torment, and torture with impunity — and with the blessings of the goddess Sarah.

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  1. uncledad  •  Feb 16, 2010 @3:22 pm

    “But a number of rightie bloggers have blown Bishop up into a Big Bleeping Political Deal, pointedly calling her a “leftist” or a “socialist.” How so?”

    Well of course Bishop’s a socialist, she went to Harvard and has a graduate degree, she was a professor for cripes sake! You see now had she taken six or seven years at various pedestrian “state” schools to get a undergraduate “journalism” degree like Sister Sarah then she would be as you have so eloquently made the case a “Goddess”

    “But she also has a bright smile and sometimes carries a baby”

    Yeah she hangs that baby around her neck as if it were an Olympic gold medal, something to shine up and show off, look at me I got a “special needs baby” aint I special.

  2. PurpleGirl  •  Feb 16, 2010 @5:34 pm

    Don’t you wish Eric Hoffer was still with us? I still have a copy of True Believer. I’d like to hear what he thought of the current state of American politics.

  3. griff  •  Feb 16, 2010 @5:40 pm

    Fear, as you and Hoffer point out, is the main ingredient in the toxic tea bag. Xenophobia, homophobia, they-ain’t-us phobia. Fear fueled by ignorance of the real world and a feeling of helplessness in all the change that continues like a tidal wave.
    But Mayberry wasn’t real.
    We ain’t in charge anymore, if we ever were.

  4. c u n d gulag  •  Feb 16, 2010 @7:47 pm

    “… fearful people give up individual autonomy to become part of a movement, and within the movement they find the freedom to hate, bully, torment, and torture with impunity — and with the blessings of the goddess Sarah.”
    If you read the NY Times article, there’s some truly scary stuff there.
    In their own minds, though, they ARE NOT giving up individual autonomy to become part of the movement, they claim it’s all ABOUT their individualism which they express by joining that very movement. A dichotomy, to be sure. But not to them.
    My two favorites in the article were:
    A guy who is a local leader of the Teabaggers who, when in college, failed Political Science. Not once. BUT TWICE! Dude, you failed Poli-Sci, A ‘gut’ course. Twice!!! Maybe God was trying to tell you something. Like that maybe this is a subject you should stay away from. That he’s a leader tells me about all I need to about that movement.
    And then there was a woman, another leader, who said that she and her husband are reading the Constitution line by line. The U. S. Constitution, is just NOT THAT LONG! You’re not reading the Old and New Testament’s, trying to devine what was written millenia ago. Or a Russian novel. Maybe they’re reading the Constitution in Aramaic, or something.
    And maha, you’re right, Sarah is a goddess. If you define gods and goddesses by Greek mythology, where they were just as horny, vain, ignorant, and manipulative as the people who follow them.
    Me? If I believed in them I would hope gods and goddesses have a slightly better resume than the rest of us.

  5. Foreigner from Asia  •  Feb 16, 2010 @8:15 pm

    I get the premise about “fear fueled by ignorance” as ingredients of the toxic tea bag. But what is the excuse for the Faux News commentators? They are neither fearful nor ignorant. Is it plain cynicism and profit-seeking motives? Are they evil forces infiltrating the Christian mob to cause discord and thus make it easier for the evil forces to conquer? Or do they believe the myth themselves, even if they know in their hearts they are much smarter than the Goddess Palin?

  6. moonbat  •  Feb 16, 2010 @8:19 pm

    Amy Bishop is obviously a leftist socialist simply because she is a pointy-headed academic, as uncledad points out. The fact that she shot some people merely reinforces the a prior conclusion that she is bad.

    Re Queen Sarah – I’m reminded of a definition of celebrity – her worldwide fame, despite her lack of any real accomplishments, is proof of her god-like powers, thus her celebrity. And her ability to vanquish all enemies with her Reality Distortion Field is further proof of her immense power.

    I agree with your analysis over Lind’s – ideas are plainly irrelevant. These people only have mental categories of “good” and “bad”, which are viscerally programmed. Any intellectual categories like “leftist” or “socialist” are just a veneer, a sophistry over the fundamental “like me/good” or “not like me/bad” categories.

  7. angullimala  •  Feb 16, 2010 @8:44 pm

    I dont think it’s fair to label is “Zoroastrianism”. There is a lot of real debate on how much of the actual religion of Zarathustra, or even the religion of the Achemenids, is reflected in the later Sassanid state religion that is often also called “Zoroastrianism”.

    Read the Gathas (http://www.avesta.org/gathas.htm). He definitely has his moments of really contrasting the followers of Mazda from those of the Daevas, but he also periodically makes it clear that the followers of the Daevas are evil because they do evil things and not because they are intrinsically so.

  8. Daphne Chyprious  •  Feb 16, 2010 @9:05 pm

    superb post. It’s really and always about psychology, as you aptly demonstrate again and again.

  9. griff  •  Feb 17, 2010 @12:03 am

    Foreigner from Asia,
    Cynics in the media? Absolutely. But they are scared, too. To paraphrase BillO himself, We libruls are out to destroy the “white, male. Christian power structure”. They might lose status and money.
    What if everybody laughed every time Bill or Beck opened their mouths?
    What if they couldn’t get jobs as “pundits”?
    They are all scared of the future. They should be.

  10. James F. Epperson  •  Feb 17, 2010 @12:40 am

    OK, I’m going to get angry here—not at you, at the wing-nuts. I used to be on the math faculty at UAH. I knew some of the people Bishop was shooting at, and my wife knew one of the victims (Leahy) very well. If you spend any time on the Huntsville Times webpage (www.al.com) you will learn that Amy Bishop is an obviously disturbed woman. Her politics are not relevant to her crime—for crying out loud, she killed her brother 20 years ago and got away with it! She went ballistic at a restaurant because another patron would not let her have the last kiddie seat. But this is what we have learned to expect from the fruit salad brains on the right.

  11. biggerbox  •  Feb 17, 2010 @1:38 am

    But, but, how can Bishop be a leftist? She owned a gun and she lived in Alabama!

    I like the interpretation of Sarah as a goddess, though frankly I’d find her more attractive if she had eight arms or blue skin or something appropriate to her status. I think you are right that the key to understanding the ‘thinking’ of the tea partiers is that it isn’t ‘thinking’ in the conventional sense at all – it’s all archetypes and emotion there in the hind-brain.

  12. paradoctor  •  Feb 17, 2010 @4:52 am

    How do you stop a goddess? By denying her the food of the gods; faith. Therefore question, doubt, expose, and ridicule. Mock her hypocrisy and incompetence. According to Mark Twain, a horselaugh is worth a thousand syllogisms.

    Of course some of the tea partiers are unreachable, but your real audience is the more-or-less rational majority.

    Maha doubts that anyone but Palin can take down Palin. Probably true, but I think that Palin will do so. That too is part of the archetype; which is why it’s foolish to play at archetypes.

  13. Dave S  •  Feb 17, 2010 @6:54 am

    But what is the excuse for the Faux News commentators? They are neither fearful nor ignorant. Is it plain cynicism and profit-seeking motives?

    Anywhere you have herds of fearful citizens, someone is going to use them to their political advantage. Faux Newz, as an organization, is their propaganda arm.

    But don’t rule out some serious pants wetting at Faux either. After all, the single most terrified individual during the eight years of Bush II was Dick Cheney, which, on the surface, would seem unlikely. I wouldn’t be surprised to smell lots of urine on the Faux Newz set.

  14. Swami  •  Feb 17, 2010 @10:53 am

    Maha doubts that anyone but Palin can take down Palin. Probably true, but I think that Palin will do so

    Palin is on the fast track to political obscurity. She now is completely reliant on the creation of little dust- ups and meaningless exchanges in order to remain viable and in the public eye. Her little snips add nothing to build her support,but each trivial exchange she engages in erodes in small measure whatever credibility she might have garnered in the eyes of her adoring followers. Time and exposure coupled with the constant drain of moving forward will make her go the way of the Cabbage Patch doll or a Beatle jacket.

  15. D H  •  Feb 17, 2010 @11:44 am

    Because the incoherent ideas the tea partiers grasp are plucked from the American psyche, those ideas can be traced back through earlier times in American history, as Lind says. But the ideas themselves are not the point, and so I disagree with Lind that understanding where ideas come from is key to understanding the tea party movement. What unifies the tea partiers is something primitive, pre-cognitive.

    I agree completely. Where their ideas come from is unbelievably simple; anybody who’s read The Lord of the Flies can figure it out. As in that scenario, Piggy could have understood that until he was blue in the face and it would have been the key to nothing, in and of itself.

  16. Rick Massimo  •  Feb 17, 2010 @11:58 am

    Um, the first link, supposedly to Michael Lind, takes me to the Times piece.

  17. brantl  •  Feb 17, 2010 @1:44 pm

    ” They are neither fearful nor ignorant. Is it plain cynicism and profit-seeking motives? Are they evil forces infiltrating the Christian mob to cause discord and thus make it easier for the evil forces to conquer? Or do they believe the myth themselves, even if they know in their hearts they are much smarter than the Goddess Palin?” Why do you think that they are neither fearful, nor ignorant? Haven’t you watched Beck or Hannity having to backtrack after having quoted some “fact” that’s pure bullshit? I have.

  18. muldoon  •  Feb 17, 2010 @1:55 pm

    Another great post, Maha. Thank you.

    The Republican party, the Limbaughs, the Becks, and rar right religious groups deserve some credit here in that they paved the way for Palin’s popularity by “poisoning the well” of political and social discourse.

    To wit:
    Republicans are godly people; liberals are atheists who seek to destroy Christianity.
    Republicans rely on common sense to guide their decisions; liberals, brainwashed by socialists at colleges and universities, have no understanding of how the real world works.
    Republicans believe you are entitled to keep the fruits of your labors; liberals want to take your hard-earned money and give it to lazy grifters who aren’t wiilling to work for a living.
    Republicans believe in rugged individualism; liberals are whiny bleeding hearts, too effete to survive on their own.
    Republicans value human life; liberals are baby killers.
    Republicans believe you have a Constitutional right to protect your family; liberals want to take away your guns.
    The memes go on and on, and it does not seem to matter that there is no truth to them. But Palin couldn’t fit that mold more perfectly if she was manufactured specifically for that express purpose. Hm…
    Note, I have used “Republicans” rather than “Conservatives” here because I do not believe the two terms are necessarily interchangeable.

  19. joanr16  •  Feb 17, 2010 @2:17 pm

    CNN has just released a poll with some demographics on self-identified TPers. Page 5 of the linked PDF has the goods:


    Interesting that 74% of the TPers have attended college, and 40% are college graduates. So maybe Amy Bishop was simpatico? She certainly did share one characteristic, the notion that a gun would solve her problems.

  20. uncledad  •  Feb 17, 2010 @2:47 pm

    You know I appreciate your in depth analysis of the teabaggers for example “What unifies the tea partiers is something primitive, pre-cognitive”. I’m sure that primitive and precognitive motives are behind much of the teabaggers anti-government actions, they certainly have overactive imaginations. But I would argue what unifies the movement is nothing more than racism pure and simple. They want their “country back”, back from what. We never heard any of this BS before that colored fellow got elected. Now all the sudden we want our country back, I don’t buy any of it, and I’m really disappointment to see the dimwitted teabaggers get serious consideration of any kind. To me they should be ridiculed much like the LaRouche movement (whom many of them are in fact).

  21. Batocchio  •  Feb 17, 2010 @2:53 pm

    The Right-Wing Myth post is still one of your best (and I still cite it from time to time). Religion is a good way to look at movement conservatism, just in terms of their belief system and how they approach the world and their fellow human beings. Authoritarian rites like listening to Limbaugh give certainty, scapegoats, feelings of superiority and shared victimization. It’s almost all about emotion, and not merely irrational, but anti-rational and anti-Enlightenment. About its only principles are that “whatever our tribe does is good and right, and the other side is evil.”

  22. Swami  •  Feb 17, 2010 @3:03 pm

    They want their “country back”, back from what.

    Proverbs 26:11

  23. freD  •  Feb 17, 2010 @6:32 pm

    Smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, founding fathers stuff… seems American enough to me.

    The tea partiers might have had a point had they stuck to it and marginalized their loonies. But then came the townhall screamers, birthers, deathers, telepromterers, the Sarah and Farah show at their big convention…. all with great fanfare.

    Liberal gatherings have always had their fringe elements too. But the only ones trying to make them more popular are the wingnut photo websites posing these loonies as mainstream liberals. And then the wingnuts go off and make their own fringies their mainstream heroes. All by themselves. Ya gotta love it.

    Their leaders are either cashing in, or have become so indecipherably wrapped around ideological axles they cannot effectively relate to anybody ‘normal’ anymore.

  24. uncledad  •  Feb 17, 2010 @8:31 pm

    Swami; Proverbs 26:11
    I think returning to their vomit will be the result of the teabagger movement, though I think it all started right here. If the dimwitted teabaggers were really being honest they would have that racist old bag as their Goddess and not Sarah.

  25. bill bush  •  Feb 17, 2010 @9:39 pm

    See John W. Dean, findlaw 9.21.07 on the mindset. I think Maha originally linked to this, and I often see things that it illuminates.

    You can tell the R’s don’t really think Bishop is a real liberal, though. If they thought the rest of us might go off like that, they’d be too scared to keep yapping.

  26. Doug Hughes  •  Feb 18, 2010 @10:28 am

    Good Post and great comments. Regarding ‘Sarah the goddess’ concept. She is a blank slate, framed by a minimum of conservative specifics. So within general conservatism, the follower is free to project his own ideology as hers. In this way, she is a tantric goddess, the figure the faithful pay homage to. There is an aspect of Tantra where the follower in ritual practice becomes a goddess tapping into spiritual energies through sexual energies. This aspect is there also, not in a sexual aspect, but true because Sarah Palin views her own role as divine – that of a prophet . From the first time I heard her speak, serving up ‘red meat’ as pundits call it, I was struck with the energy she put into mocking Obama – derision of him as a community organizer. She was weilding the sword of God, slaying the wicked. To the degree that her followers deify Sarah – and she projects herself as annointed by God – there will be a political cult more powerful than we’ve seen in our lifetime.

    She’s dangerous because the Teabaggers are a movement in search of a leader. If that fragmented movement unites behind her banner she owns the GOP – (see Joans link – CNN poll) This isn’t possible – it’s probable.

    I agree and disagree with Swami – by any rational measure her 15 minutes of fame were up a half-hour ago. Which validates the Divine aspect – this is not a rational phenom. If/when she declares, she’s going to be required to face interviews and answer specific policy questions. (Consider the pages on pages of policy that candidate Obama had up.) Palin won’t make any inroads with mainstream voters if she runs as a stealth candidate from facebook and TPP town halls with no media access. This aspect will burst her bubble outside the cult. If she answers specific questions, she’s exposed. If she refuses to answer, that will also expose her to all but the faithful. She’ll go down with Perot-type numbers.

    Most objective analysis of Sarah ends there – defeat and political obscurity. Thank God! Not so fast. For a minority of true believers, God’s will is not to be denied by mere elections. The most frightening statistic of the last year is the record sale of ammunition – some of the folks who are stockpiling won’t quit. There are reports of ‘militia’ doing paramilitary training. We might be looking at a Christian jihad in America in 2013.

    I’ve changed my mind – bring waterboarding back..

  27. Crazy About Urban Planning  •  Feb 18, 2010 @11:03 pm

    Hi Maha – I just tried to read the New York Times article, all I can say is WTF? Who are these people? Why are they so stupid? They all said the same dumb cliche. Goodness our country is in trouble if they amount to more than 10% of the population. These people likely represent my demographic (white male – 20-35), gosh it is frightening!!

  28. Göran Koch-Swahne  •  Feb 19, 2010 @2:24 am

    I would very much like to pinch this post for my Blog, if I may?

  29. erinyes  •  Feb 19, 2010 @8:21 am
  30. Lynne  •  Feb 19, 2010 @3:10 pm

    Sarah Palin makes an excellent comic book character – I know, I’ve read several of them.

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