The political climate change
Everyone knows our politics have become so divided as to be a sort of tribal cold war. We see every issue through the prism of our side’s rightness, and the other side’s stupidity and/or evil. It is easy to say that Trump caused this, and indeed he may have fertilized it, yet this division really started and grew under President Obama. I submit that neither Trump, nor Obama caused or even contributed significantly to this TCW (Tribal Cold War). As Presidents, they are both figureheads, and lightning rods for the hateful, or adoring energies of the ‘marginals of error’ – those at the fringes of the left and right.
This obviates a question- who created this division? The short answer is – you. The longer answer is a bit more complicated…
Fifty years ago “The Thomas Crown Affair” was the first movie to end with the bad guy getting away with his crime. There in the handsome personage of Steve McQueen, moral relativity was introduced to the masses. Your wants, needs, whims and angst demanded permission to supersede the needs of the community, the nation, the world – permission granted. While we did not turn into atavistic savages overnight, the seed was planted.
The seventies saw the ‘Me Generation’ in which individual pleasure, individual ambition and introspection became the order of the day. This was followed by the ‘Me Me Me! Generation of the eighties wherein the solipsistic self absorption reached an appalling apogee. I recall the cover of La Magazine in 1982 featuring a man checking his hair using the hood of his Mercedes; in the same issue a haiku contest crowned the winner:
“The people here
what they pretended to be”
As the nineties arrived, the focus on the self began to fade and a new catholicism arrived in the form of ‘political correctness’ – a new and wonderful way to virtue signal, before that was ‘a thing’. Political correctness was widely embraced because it demanded nothing, and yet offered the opportunity to seem wise and modern at the same time. Bill Clinton was compared to JFK, and elected President in a landslide over the seemingly unhip George Bush. Technology was the topic of the moment; billionaires were being created through products that only existed on your computer, cell phones, previously the size of a third world army radio, became small. And the internet became the second stage of an atlas rocket for self centered, now anonymous, moral relativism.
Every eraserhead could be his own Confucius, but only when he wasn’t looking at pornography. Any idea, no matter how imbecilic, could spread to millions in a day and people could say things online they would not have dared in person. This is where the infestation took off. What started as a cute decorative plant “Americus Egocentrus” became as pervasive, invasive, and offensive as kudzu.
At the same time education was spinning down the political correctness vortex and among the ‘innovations’ was ‘whole language’ -“just spell it the way you think it sounds, Billy.” Such care was taken not to discourage, much less offend, that no one cared whether the students learned. But it didn’t seem to matter, America was incredibly prosperous: Wired magazine suggested everyone would be a millionaire. Then the economic wetdream that was the nineties ran into the nightmare that was 9/11.
After the initial patriotic fury, the war in Afghanistan began to bog down. It was then the military adventurist spirit of America got its Gulf of Tonkin through intercepts of water truck drivers and invaded Iraq – for Democracy, for freedom, for oil- actually just for oil. This war was the splitting point between the left and right. The left in 2004 consisted of mainstream Democrats who were fairly centrist, and out on the fringes, the head cases and leftover Marxists who might wax charismatic in college classrooms, but were not taken seriously by anyone further up the intellectual food chain than an ethnic studies major. The right was mostly mainstream Republicans with a crusty fringe of trailer trash and conspiracy nuts.
Enter Jon Stewart. On October 15, 2004, Stewart appeared on the show ‘Crossfire’, a CNN staple of political argument, to bemoan the harshness and divisiveness of Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala’s style. Stewart then retuned to his ‘Daily Show’ to pointedly mock, with ever greater fury, anyone who was in the GOP. Stewart was very funny, very smart, and quite vicious. Young and impressionable teens watched as he mixed very funny skits and monologues with the none too subtle message that the GOP, older White people, and conservatives in general are not just foolish, but evil. This was followed by Stephen Colbert, who did the same. Were they effective? Very. Stewart is trusted by millennials the way Walter Cronkite was trusted by previous generations-and Stewart is a court jester.
Humor can deliver an inoculation against critical thinking far better than rage. Humor, especially satire, gives the listener/viewer a simultaneous release of endorphins from laughter, and a sense of superiority - being in on the joke. This combination of a bit of truth and laughter can easily disguise what is purposely ignored or hidden. When the speaker is trusted, charismatic, and funny he can tell a teen anything – and be believed- I know this; I taught for fifteen years. Stewart and Colbert knew exactly what they were doing; they may be court jesters, but they’re no fools. The repetition of the underlying message like the fictional hypnopedia in Huxley’s Brave New World has worked wonders.
So the young are liberals- so what, they’ve always been so.
Indeed, yet on college campuses there are now speech codes, paper thin sensibilities and an endless list of ‘ists’ to denounce any wavering in one’s progressive orthodoxy. What was once either light hearted imitation, stylistic appreciation, or sincere respect is now ‘cultural appropriation’. Outside of academia, millennials are utterly tuned into what injustices may or not be occurring- especially if there is a catchy slogan attached- and yet struggle with the basic functions of adulthood. They are adept at social media, yet have to use it to inflate the image they project to others because marginal employment isn’t ‘cool’. In short, they are advanced in what is useless, and useless at what brings advancement. This s not to say all are, millions of young men are turning to people like Jordan Peterson to get the fatherly advice on maturity they missed growing up.
This is hardly the first generation to stumble out of the gate; such is the too common behavior of every generation for the last 5000 years or so- after all, good judgement comes from experience, yet experience comes from poor judgement. Yet like the subwoofers interrupting the thoughts of entire neighborhoods as some halfwit’s hooptie cruises by on its way to nowhere, technology amplifies the negatives.
We now have technology that is both beyond the imagination of Philip Francis Nowlan3 and so ubiquitous that not having a computer the US DOD would have envied 50 years ago marks you as impoverished. This technocopia has not liberated us, it has simply filled in the time we used to spend happily interacting with others. We can be more productive by leaps and bounds, yet we are socially, and our young, psychologically – hobbled. Social media gratification is instant, and on reflection, entirely empty. The peer pressure of dozens of strangers/’friends’ either cheering or jeering enslaves even our free expression.
The instant and multiplied praise/punishment of social media has enforced compliance with narrative. The demand that the current belief/demand/movement is now the baseline which can be added to, but never questioned, has created a religiosity in political beliefs, complete with scapegoats, absolutism, and the excommunication of apostates. Perhaps more frightening is the zeal to destroy any and all who do not follow – or are presumed not to follow. The words of Vince Lombardi “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” has become the guiding principal of current political discourse. Whatever your political beliefs, consider the timing of Blasey Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh – not a peep when he became a judge, not a peep when he joined the first circuit, but when he was on the short list under Trump, and would tilt the balance of the SCOTUS…
“… oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray [us]
In deepest consequence”1
False equivalence and equivocation are tools once reserved for the con man, the cheating spouse, politician, and the guilty child. Technology has made these the tools of control. Today we are bombarded with stories – not Perry Mason’s ‘whole truth, and nothing but the truth’, but cherry picked facts and factoids presented as the whole truth. The media prints carefully selected anecdotes from carefully selected witnesses, and carefully edits video to put the event in the desired frame. Turn on CNN or more so MSNBC and see the same left tilt as Huffpo, or Buzzfeed. Likewise FOX, and Breitbart, etc. are tilted to the right. The narrative is sacrosanct, and the presenters need bibs to keep the Kool Aid from overflowing their mouths onto their clothes. Both sides cherry pick, and both have their acolytes and detractors, yet disagreement brings significant differences in the volume of abuse from the right and left.
On the right, becoming more liberal, disagreeing with whatever the moment’s narrative on Fox might be, will not get you threatened, demonstrators will not show up outside your home to terrorize your family, and no one will try to get you fired from your job.
On the left, these are all common practices, along with physical assaults, property destruction, and leaders of the Dem. Party calling for public harassment of individuals on the right.
Those on the right do not believe they have all the answers, and most welcome reasoned discussion. Those on the left have a creepy piety about their politics not unlike British Catholicism - in the 1400’s or Islam in the Middle East - today. There is an enforcement of ideation that relies on an “a priori2” basis to all judgement. “Hatred of another solely because of their skin color is wrong”. Everyone knows this chestnut, yet any disagreement with the endlessly growing list of leftist schemes and pity displays is somehow tied back one of these basic truths, and thus you become a racist, or misogynist, or… Leftist have also concocted new social pseudo rules which sometimes become actual rules – NYC officially recognizes 34 genders; Toronto requires you to address others according to their preferred gender or face arrest.
Leftists are not alone in KoolAid consumption- as a quick look through Q Anon will demonstrate. There are no shortage of conspiracy theories or people who fall for them. Thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who are otherwise rational, believe some exceptionally crazy stuff. Yet even if they number one million, it is still a small percentage of the ‘right’.
The right’s delusions are themed by the advertisers on Fox- “Prepare for the coming apocalypse – buy gold!”
The left’s delusions are themed by the advertisers on CNN/MSNBC- “Who can I sue?”
Both sides have ‘marginals of error’ yet only one side lets them dictate policy, and rules of behavior. We all know which side that is by watching the speaker of the house kowtow to them.
We are in ‘deep Bandini’4 because the crazies are working overtime to keep us from seeing each other as human beings, rather than political NPCs – and that is dangerous.
1 MacBeth, Act 1, Scene 3 – Banquo is concerned about the danger of the weird sisters’ prophecies.
2 A Priori - reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience.
3 Author of the Buck Rogers space opera in the late 1920’s
4 Bandini is/was a brand of fertilizer made popular by a commercial with a man skiing down Bandini mountain only to fall face first into the product.