The Patients Are Running the Asylum

Awhile back I wrote a post called “Patriotism v. Nationalism,” which was followed up by “Patriotism v. Paranoia,” “Patriotism v. Francis Fukuyama,” “Patriotism v. Hate Speech,” and probably some other posts.

I bring those old posts up because Christopher Dickey has a splendid article on the Newsweek web site that makes many of the same points. Dickey sites George Orwell’s 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism,” and argues that the American Right has become the embodiment of Orwellian nationalism. That is not good.

American nationalism, unlike American patriotism, is different — and dangerous.

The second part of Orwell’s definition tells you why. Nationalism is the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or an idea, “placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.” Patriotism is essentially about ideas and pride. Nationalism is about emotion and blood. The nationalist’s thoughts “always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. … Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.”

One inevitable result, wrote Orwell, is vast and dangerous miscalculation based on the assumption that nationalism makes not only right but might-and invincibility: “Political and military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties.” When Orwell derides “a silly and vulgar glorification of the actual process of war,” well, one wishes Fox News and Al Jazeera would take note.

For Orwell, the evils of nationalism were not unique to nations, but shared by a panoply of “isms” common among the elites of his day: “Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, anti-Semitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism.” Today we could drop the communists and Trotskyites, perhaps, while adding Islamism and neo-conservatism. The same tendencies would apply, especially “indifference to reality.”

Get this part:

“All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts,” said Orwell. “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage-torture, the use of hostages, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians-which does not change its moral color when committed by ‘our’ side.… The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

Hammer. Nail. Head.

It’s this aspect of nationalism that peacemakers in the Middle East find so utterly confounding. The Israelis and the Palestinians, Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds and Shiites, Iranians and Americans have developed nationalist narratives that have almost nothing in common except a general chronology. “In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown,” Orwell wrote, in a spooky foreshadowing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s nationalist musings. “A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.”

I think this tells us a lot about why righties cannot be reasoned with, which is more or less the subject of the three previous posts on this blog. This post, for example, is about the way righties frame arguments to confound any attempt at rational response (quoting Tristero):

Like, “So, would you rather Saddam stay in power?” this is a framing of the issue that provides for not even the hint of an intellectually coherent response, let alone a “dialogue.” It is designed to elicit the narrowest range of acceptable responses, responses that reduce disagreement with Bushism to a quibble.

Or, the way they’re turning agreement for the Hamdan decision into support for terrorists, which is absurd, but righties will cut off their own lips before they’ll admit the point is absurd. A few righties, I believe, know good and well their arguments are absurd but make them anyway, probably because they’ve got a vested interest in righties running things. But the bulk of them really don’t know their arguments are absurd, because they’ve walled off large parts of their brains. As Orwell said, “A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.”

Gene Lyons:

For years, the idea’s been percolating through the right’s well-organized propaganda apparatus that Democrats aren’t loyal Americans.

Regarding Ann Coulter’s ludicrous book, “Slander,” I once wrote that “the ‘liberal’ sins [she ] caricatures—atheism, cosmopolitanism, sexual license, moral relativism, communism, disloyalty and treason—are basically identical to the crimes of the Jews as Hitler saw them.” Michael Savage, Michael Reagan, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh and others peddle the same sterilized American update of an ancient slur. Limbaugh recently called 80 percent of Times subscribers “jihadists.” Now the Bush White House, desperate to prevail in 2006 congressional elections, has taken up the cry. Reasonable people never want to believe that extremists believe their own rhetoric. But quit kidding yourselves. This is mass psychosis. The next terrorist strike, should it happen, will be blamed on the enemy within: treasonous “liberals” who dissent from the glorious reign of George W. Bush. Unless confronted, it’s through such strategems that democracies fail and constitutional republics become dictatorships.

Have a nice day!

12 thoughts on “The Patients Are Running the Asylum

  1. Really interesting post. I like how you calmly articulate complete ideas and positions. You treat your readers with respect for their intelligence. Too little of that going on. A few months ago, I happened upon your blog. Now, I make it a point to check it out every day.


  2. I agree with Reb and have Reb note I am a long time reader of this blog. However, this is a post that just leaves me so depressed I don’t know what to do. What is the remedy?????? How do you get through the brainwashed as most righties seem to be?

  3. Pingback: Talk Nation » Orwell on Nationalism

  4. Rhetorical question:

    Who Loves their country more?

    Those who love their country because they believe it is perfect, or those who love their country even though they know it is NOT perfect?

  5. Your post title brought up a pleasant memory of the movie ‘King of Hearts’ with Alan Bates…..but, ah, the issue in your post has a very different meaning than the story line of that fun movie.

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  7. These are frightening times. I’ve been writing about this exact thing for years.
    The confluence of facsism and patriotic rhetoric is growing louder and louder.
    Those who once believed in the Bush mantra are afraid to admit they were wrong. Those who were correct were treasonous in their belief from the start, they say, and undermined everything.
    So, we’re the one’s who are treasonous.
    “Our country, love it, or leave it.” Or, be jailed or die if you oppose it.
    I’ve been saying for 4 years that we’re becoming like 1930’s Germany. And every day, it becomes more apparent.
    Facts are the only hope. And yet, the MSM, ignores them. The internet may be the one remaining hope.
    Without net nuetrality, this country may be lost.
    Germany, Italy and Japan were all democracies before they turned from ‘One for all, and all for one,” To “All for some, and death for other’s.”
    When their media bought into the hype, the people believed
    disastrous policies and followed them to the death.
    We’re at the tipping point, I think.
    But, we’re not lost, yet. Keep the faith and spread the word! “Conservative’s” can’t govern (not anywhere, not ever). So Democrat’s should.
    America was born a “Liberal” nation. So, let’s return to our roots. Were the Founding Father’s “Conservative?” NO!!! The Tory’s were the conservative’s.
    When will the right-winger’s ever learn this?
    Lemming’s follow their leader’s off of a cliff. Dolphin’s work as a team to survive and flourish.
    Which are you? A lemming? Or a dolphin?
    Your choice…

  8. Nice post and series of posts!

    You might like Mixing Memory’s post looking at psychological studies of Two Types of Patriotism. One study divided national attachment into symbolic/emotional vs. instrumental patriotism, while another set saw blind vs. constructive patriotism:

    ” . . .”[B]lind patriotism [is] a rigid and inflexible attachment to country, characterized by unquestioning postitive evaluation, staunch allegiance, and intolerance of criticsm. These factors comprise core elements [o]f Kelman’s “sentimental attachment” to country. In contrast, constructive patriotism refers to an annatchment to country characterized by “critical loyalty, questioning and criticism of current group practices that are driven by a desire for positive change. Both orientations are “patriotic” in the core sense of positive identficiation with feelings of affective attachment to country. However, the blind patriot views national criticism and dissent as inherently disloyal, whereas the constructive patriot does not. Instead, the constructive patriot may criticize and even actively oppose the nation’s actions because he or she believes they violate fundamental percepts or are contrary to long-term national interests.” . . .” (quoted in post)

    Note, though, that this set of studies found constructive patriotism to cut across political and party lines. Blind patriots, of course – well, you can guess who had the monopoly on those. There are folks on the other side we can reason with – I’m taking “righties” to mean the ones with which we can’t . . .

    The kind of nationalist antimonianism that Orwell touches on is very disturbing . . . .It really seems to boil down, for a lot of folks, to either
    America is great because of the good things (however limited and imperfect) we’ve done – but we’re not perfect, and have to keep working at it.
    America is great,period, therefore whatever we do is good (although it may be bad if other, unfriendly countries/people do it) . .

    And then, for the latter, “America” gets increasingly restricted to the right. . .

    Ironic, that some of the folks who loudly accuse liberals of moral relativism, etc., etc. can’t quite get the Golden Rule straight (let alone in its fancified form as Kant’s categorical imperative).

  9. One trait associated with blind patriotism, in the studies mentioned above, is a higher perception of national vulnerability (and as Chris points out in the post, they were pre-9/11).

    Just went and read your “Patriotism v. Francis Fukuyama” post, and it speaks to something I’ve been trying to think about over the last few days, esp. the bit
    “I think righties generally have this same view of “democracy”; that whatever it is, it’s immutable, and once you have it you don’t have to be concerned about damaging it or losing it. Subvert it, break it, bend it out of shape, and it’ll just snap back, good as new.”

    I was thinking&debating about press freedom, religion in schools and flag-burning (all sorts of First Amendment fun), and I’m struck how you’ll get folks, liberals and conservatives, who look at these questions in a sort of institutional arrangement, political system . . well, constitutional sort of way (on top of whatever else; and then other folks (righties, let’s say) that don’t – it’s just emotions and group traditions and tribalism, . . .. – Which is pretty much the symbolic/emotional – instrumental division mentioned above, kinda.

  10. Barbara – The quote from Orwell sent chills up my spine. The main bit of encouraging news IMO is the sinking poll numbers Bush has. The approval rating for Congress is even lower but poll numbers have been low for Congress for decades (with good cause). My interpretation of poll numbers suggests the majority can be reasoned with. If we don’t make an intelligent appeal to those who will listen respectfully, we isolate ourselves in a disdain for ‘them’. I discussed ‘respectully’ and a suggestion for changing the blog climate as it relates to topical political blogs in my but trackbacks are not working. (Doncha love technology?) If you would, it’s:

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