Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fear Is The Key

Robert Wright, in this morning's NY Times, writes with coherence and sanity on the political tug of war over the Tucson shootings:

To be sure, at this political moment there is — by my left-wing lights, at least — more crazy fear-mongering and demonization on the right than on the left. But that asymmetry is transient.

What’s not transient, unfortunately, is the technological trend that drives much of this. It isn’t just that people can now build a cocoon of cable channels and Web sites that insulates them from inconvenient facts. It’s also that this cocoon insulates them from other Americans — including the groups of Americans who, inside the cocoon, are being depicted as evil aliens. It’s easy to buy into the demonization of people you never communicate with, and whose views you never see depicted by anyone other than their adversaries.

--He, I think properly, says elsewhere that there's more of a problem on the Beckoid right than on the Olbermannish left these days, as I've said in previous posts. But he also touches on something less specific to these times, less confined to one side of the ideological spectrum over time, that I also rant about regularly: the separation of virtuous Self from demonized, dehumanized Other, made worse by the echo chambers of the Internet. My postings on the mostly righty docs' blog are more temperate than those I post here, though in terms of arguments consistent, because i want to make room for them rather than have them entirely dismissed, and the possibility that a lefty might be a reasonable human being as well. Were I in a really public media venue, I'd only rarely speak as such as Olbermann, with whom I often agree, speaks, for the same reason. We all need to vent, and I'm passionate about what i write here. I loathe Beck, Limbaugh, Palin et al. for the reasons I've stated. But i, too, see a need to empathise, assert a common humanity, and if at all possible reach out rather than demonize, even to those well to my right.

I recall a time when the left indulged in violent, eliminationist rhetoric, calling for revolution, 'off(ing) the pigs), damning those who disagreed with them as racist, imperialist mass murderers in a system corrupt beyond repair that needed to be destroyed. A few of us went from such rhetoric to building bombs and committing armed robbery, killing sometimes innocent people in the process. All this was deeply wrong, as well as politically wildly counterproductive. I've talked in other posts about such things, and recognize the context, the violence of the right and the government at the time and so on: make no mistake that i held/hold only the left responsible. But we, too, were capable of such things. Today, we aren't nearly as vociferously speaking of our foes' evil as once we were. But we must, in discussing the current environment, find a way to reach out to others than ourselves, or nothing will change. Nothing may change anyway; i don't expect Beck et al. to respond in the slightest. But let us be on the side of change for the better, rather than ossification or even worsening of the entirely unsatisfactory current situation.

I do not for a moment suggest that we fall into the trap set for the left in the 1950s, where we accepted the rules set by the right: either renounce a larger political vision for broad social change in this country, accept the national security state and military-industrial complex, or be branded a Communist, a fellow-traveler, a 'comsymp' and so on. Such a trap is again being set, in that one must accept destructive righty macroeconomic nonsense to be credible all too often. We should resist that.

But consider, for instance, the Arab-Israeli situation. At this point, I feel that Israel, by far the greater economic and military power, is exacting from more from the Palestinians than conversely, has far greater freedom to change things. But Palestinians shouting 'Gunships in Gaza! Walls and checkpoints! Sabra/Shatila! Zionist apartheid!' and so on, and Israelis shouting 'Munich! Ma'alot! Sbarro! Suicide bombers! Katyushas!' at each other will continue to kill each others' children. If they don't find a way to transcend the weighing of grievances, nothing will change. There are those on both sides who profit mightily from the current situation, just as here there are those whose prominence, riches and power derive from their embrace of dehumanization of their enemies and delegitimazation of views other than their own. Such people must be resisted, but in a context recognizing that such behavior hasn't historically been limited to the right, that they and their followers, too, are human, and that change must come out of that recognition. It will not come as a 'victory', but, if at all, it will come out of attempts in a middle ground to solve problems together, through messy compromise rather than purity of ideology.


Anonymous said...

And, of course, music is also being used as a convenient scapegoat as well.

Not a band I care for but, of course, that's not the point.

carphil80 said...

I, too, am all for reaching out rather than demonizing. This ought to be the first instinct of anyone who recognizes the humanity in the toughest of adversaries.

How to reach out without being confrontational and inciting more rancor is, in my view, the eternal question, especially with the various media fueling the hyperbole instantaneously around the globe. It will take talents that are nearly superhuman to achieve this.

In any diplomatic dance, as with Israel and Palestine, making the first move is always the hardest part. By and large, nations are ruled by men; the patriarchy believes it is weak to yield. Does this mean that there will be no hope for peace until nations are ruled by women? Who knows...

ProfWombat said...

Well, men haven't been doing such a great job. Maybe such as Meir, Merkel and Thatcher would do better...

I'd vote for a woman over a man who had identical policies and stood equal chances of getting elected if running against a nematode, though. I voted for Obama against McCain, and would do so again in a heartbeat, but would have preferred Clinton.