Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Righteous Few


Anyone who knows anything about my political views understands that I have moved from the liberal-left to a post-ideological view that seeks to emphasize humanity (or, really, humaneness) as the proper core of political expression. Up until fairly recently, I, like many, many others, tended to view politics as a manichean contest between liberals versus conservatives, the left versus the right, Democrats versus Republicans. When I looked out across the field of issues virtually all of my opinions fell on the left side of the political divide. For example, I found myself in favor of a woman's right to choose, in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favor of the regulation of polluting industries, in favor of universal health care, as well as in favor of GLBT rights. Taken together my stance on these issues, among others, clearly places me on the political left.

Nonetheless, I no longer consider myself as Left and have no intention of any longer supporting the "progressive" movement. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most important one has to do with the growing realization that many of my (formerly) fellow liberals seem to consider themselves as members of The Righteous Few, the Enlightened Ones, in combat with the delusional and malicious many. Most political activists seem to live in a fantasy world in which they are engaged in an imaginary battle to the death with their conservative opponents who are not merely wrong on this or that issue, but represent an almost transcendent evil that must perpetually be opposed. For people who think like this, which would include a majority of people writing at places like Daily Kos or the Huffington Post, the opposition is something less than, or other than, human and thus something to be ridiculed and hated. They do not merely disagree with the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck, but reduce these individuals to hideous things.

They demean. They dehumanize. And they demonize the political opposition. People like those mentioned above are spoken of as if they are the scum of the earth, war mongers, and the enemies of humanity. The truth is, of course, that people like Limbaugh, Palin, and Beck (not to mention, say, Sean Hannity or Michelle Malkin or Anne Coulter) are people with whom we disagree on core issues and who often present their cases in a manner just as vile and obnoxious as the left does in its opposition to them. In this way left and right mirror one another. Each side views the other not merely as wrong, but as inhuman and worthy of contempt.

Anyone who knows anything about the history of the human species understands that it is precisely this willingness to hate "the other" which has caused untold human misery and war. The Nazis othered Jews and Gays and Gypsies and Socialists, considering them either racially inferior or, in this way or that, as enemies of the German people. American slave-holders, likewise, othered black people, considering them less than human and suggesting that their "blackness" was a symbol of a corrupted nature. The genocide of native peoples, whether in the Americas or Australia or elsewhere was due not merely to competition over land and resources, but because indigenous peoples were viewed as barbaric, inferior, and unworthy. Because these out-groups were looked upon as inferior, it was entirely appropriate to demean them in public discourse. To see liberals, day after day, doing precisely to their political opponents what those opponents do to them, is to see liberals indulging in behavior that goes entirely against the highest ideals of liberalism, itself. This is nothing new, of course. Liberals and progressives have been suggesting that their political opponents are less than human since at least the middle of the 19th century, if not earlier. When Marx divided the world between the hated bourgeoisie and the struggling proletariat, activists in that latter group suggested that working people had nothing whatsoever in common with the dominant political class that needed to be overcome, by violence if necessary. These rich people, these evil capitalists, these elite corporatists and their upwardly mobile middle-class, white-collar enablers and supporters represented a class of people to be hated and overthrown, not merely opposed.

The western left is currently rife with people who view the world in similar terms. It's the Righteous Few in a cosmic death grip with the despised other. This, it should be emphasized, is an essentially religious way of looking at politics. The manichean Us versus Them is at its core no different from the Medieval Catholic view that suggested that the war against the apostate and unbeliever or non-Christian... or the wars within Christianity between Protestants and Catholics... reflected on earth the battle between the Forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness as fought out in Heaven. In this way the battle against conservatism, or the Republican party, becomes a deeply self-serving interior experience of personal superiority. We are right and they are wrong. We have truth, while they have lies. We are good and they are not. We are the Forces of Light and they are the Forces of Darkness.

Needless to say, I am exaggerating a tad, but only a tad. The inclination to demonize the other side is a highly authoritarian political inclination. If the other side is something akin to evil, or if Republicans are really crypto-Fascists, than they deserve whatever they get. If someone is truly worthy of demonization and dehumanization than they are also worthy of whatever punishment can be dished out, including violence. Furthermore, if the other side truly is as horrible as many liberals suggest than to oppose them becomes a moral imperative and anyone failing to bow to this moral imperative is an ethical pygmy that must be harassed into submission. They become the dull and insidious sheeple with no understanding of what is happening around them, the stupid masses who enable a corrupt, war-like, Imperialist, regime, or system. In this way regular Americans, who are merely trying to get by in the world and build something decent for themselves and their family, are portrayed as something grotesque, as sheeple, as, in older terms, "the masses."

The Righteous Few may see themselves as holding aloft the sword of Enlightenment, but what they are really doing is little different from what all authoritarians have done, divide the world into Good People versus Bad People and then seek to destroy, or hold down, the Bad People.

I will have none of it.