This post is a followup to the last post on Patriotism v. Nationalism, in which I argue that the hard-core Right is not patriotic, but nationalistic.
Saturday at Huffington Post, EJ Eskow posted “Shot Through the Heart and You’re to Blame: Conservatism as Psychopathology.” Eskow disagrees with Glenn Greenwald that our current “conservatism” is a Bush personality cult.
I think the truth is simpler and sicker than that. People don’t slavishly obey and follow every whim of Messrs. Bush (and now Cheney) because they revere them. They do it for a more basic reason: They’ve got the candy.
Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld … they’re Mafia bosses doling out the largesse in return for unquestioned fealty. And today’s so-called “conservatives” respond in kind. Will Roger Ailes get more exclusive interviews if he peddles the daily GOP lies and spins? As you wish, Godfather. Will Arnold Schwarzenegger become Governor if he pumps for Bush at the convention? Thank you, Don Karl. Will “Straight Talkin'” John McCain be rewarded with a chance to run in 2008 if he forgets what they did to his wife and kid? It’ good to kiss the ring again, Mr. President. Let me hug you.
Everything conservatism used to stand for, from fiscal restraint to obeying the law to good manners, is being turned on its head by the Bush Regime. And the faithful love them for it. Eskow writes,
Wrecking the country’s finances. Trashing civil discourse. Law breaking. Ruining the earth itself for our grandchildren. That’s some sick s**t. Now, we have the sight of Mr. Whittington — by all accounts a good and decent man — being forced to crawl on broken glass to stay in the club. Hey, too bad about Harry — but business is business.
But now to the psychopathology — Eskow points out that the recent shooting incident (“Get loaded, shoot a guy in the face, tell the world it’s his fault, then make him crawl.”) is illustrative of antisocial personality disorder as defined by the DSM psychiatric manual. Well, yes; Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the top officials of the Bush Administration could fill the Personality Disorder Hall of Fame. But does “they’ve got the candy” really account for Bush’s following among the people of the U.S.? It might explain why other Republican politicians kowtow to the Bushies, but it doesn’t explain Bush devotion among the hoi polloi.
According to some guys at Berkeley, 50 years of research literature reveal these common psychological factors linked to political conservatism:
* Fear and aggression
* Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
* Uncertainty avoidance
* Need for cognitive closure
* Terror management
Fear, aggression, avoidance, terror. As Glenn Greenwald wrote,
When all else fails, what we end up hearing from Bush supporters, usually in quite strained and urgent tones, is that we have no real choice but to consent to the latest item of controversy on the Bush agenda (which now even includes allowing the President to break the law when he decides that our protection requires that), because if we do not, we will all die violent and horrible deaths at the hands of the powerful Islamic terrorists. Our very survival is at risk — the people who want to kill us all are coming — and given our dire state, anything and everything is justified to stop them.
I think righties are genuinely baffled when they find others who aren’t as afraid as they are and who aren’t being driven by fear. Like, for example, lefties. They assume we are innocents who don’t understand how dangerous the world is. And I think they’re unhinged. Yes, terrorism is frightening. Terrorists can knock down buildings and kill people. But terrorists can’t destroy America. There aren’t enough terrorists with enough weapons in the world to invade and occupy America. Terrorists can’t destroy the Constitution or cancel our civil liberties. Only we can do that. And fear is driving the more unhinged elements of the Right into doing exactly that.
In “Bush and the Cultivation of Fear” I argued that support for George W. Bush is built on fear. Even neocon-ism, which on the surface appears to be all about self-confidence and dominance and spreading American hegemony, is an ideology born of fear. I see neoconservatism as proactive isolationism. Foreigners scare us, so we’ll make them be more like us so they’re not so scary.
Relating this to the last post on nationalism — I see nationalism and fundamentalism and most other right-wing isms as essentially driven by fear. In the past century or so our species, worldwide, has undergone some seismic social shifts. People no longer remain neatly sorted by skin color, language, and cultural history. All over the globe people of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds are having to learn to live together. Once upon a time “foreign” places were far, far away. But air travel has brought them closer in terms of travel time; now every foreign place on the globe is just over the horizon. Soon foreigners will be sitting in our laps.
I think nationalism arose and became dominant in the 20th century largely because of these seismic social shifts. People who can’t handle the shifts retreat into nationalism as a defense.
This is from something I wrote in December 2003:
Iâ€™ve observed my whole life how Americans can be frightened into stampeding off cliffs. Fear of Communism gave birth to McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the War in Vietnam. Today the Republicans are using fears of terrorism, foreigners, ethnic minorities, and various aspects of sexuality to keep the serfs in line.
Consider also the Religious Right. In her magnificent book The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, Karen Armstrong demonstrates that fundamentalism arose in response to modernity, especially to scientific rationalism. “Fear is at the heart of fundamentalism,â€ she writes. â€œThe fear of losing yourself.” This is true of Islamic fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden as well as our homegrown types. Liberals cherish tolerance, democracy, pluralism, and civil liberties; fundamentalists fear these values as weapons of (their) annihilation.
It is important to recognize that these theologies and ideologies are rooted in fear. The desire to define doctrines, erect barriers, establish borders, and segregate the faithful in a sacred enclave where the law is stringently observed springs from that terror of extinction which has made all fundamentalists, at once time or another, believe that the secularists were about to wipe them out. The modern world, which seems so exciting to a liberal, seems Godless, drained of meaning and even satanic to a fundamentalist. [Armstrong, The Battle for God (Ballantine, 2000), p. 368]
I postulate that existential fear is at the heart of most â€œisms.â€ And although thereâ€™s no objective measure of angst that I know of, the world may seem scarier to We, the People, than it used to, and not just because of terrorism. Collectively, our props are falling away. Compared to fifty years ago (as far back as I can remember), communities are fragmented, families are scattered, jobs are ephemeral. Across rural and small-town America, communities that were once homogeneous are becoming multiracial and multiethnic. â€œGivensâ€ about God and Man and Sex and other big issues are being openly challenged.
Thus, fearful voters can be incited into voting against their own self-interests by the terrifying specter of gay people getting married.
If you understand the fear issue, then what I call Erin’s Paradox (named for my daughter because she noticed it, not because she has it) becomes more understandable. Erin’s Paradox says that the further away Americans live from any likely terrorist target, the more fearful they are of terrorism. “Likely terrorist targets” are urban, and city dwellers learn to be comfortable with multiculturalism. If you live in some homogeneous little town out on the prairie, however, it’s more likely you are not comfortable with multiculturalism at all. Thus, dusky Islamic terrorists from unfathomable foreign places scare the stuffing out of them, much more so than the potential Timothy McVeigh wannabee next door.
Bottom line: When you are looking at a rightie you are looking at a nationalist; and when you are looking at a nationalist you are looking at someone who has already surrendered to fear. The terrorists have got ’em right where they want ’em — terrorized.
Later I want to tie this in to hate speech from the Right, but I think I’ve gone on long enough for now.