“If I believed in what you believe, I’d kill myself.”
I recently said that to someone. The person in question is a Republican, but I don’t say it as a Democrat. I’m not a practitioner of partisan bickering and, in fact, I don’t like the entire sham of a two-party system. I also don’t say it lightly or disingenuously. I meant every word of it.
I’ve attempted suicide before and have often contemplated it many times over the years. When I make a statement like the above, I’m deadly serious. Just thinking about the Republican worldview makes me despair to the point of near hopelessness. If I were to believe that worldview to be true, what would be the point of going on?
I’m reminded of James Gilligan’s recent book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others. I first learned of it from a book review which offers a great summary (I’ve posted it before, but it’s so important that I’ll post it again):
James Gilligan’s new book, ‘Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others’ (Polity Press, 2011) could be reduced to a few key statements, the main one being ‘Republicans are very bad for your health’. Gilligan, Professor and MD at New York State University, has combed the statistics on violent deaths (homicide and suicide), from 1900 through to 2007 in order to determine political causation.
His findings confirm what many have hitherto instinctively and experientially known: murders and suicides increase under Republican rule. Why? Because they also create inequality and unemployment, both of which produce an employer’s market that keeps wages down. In fact, unemployment figures – in rate and duration – have increased during every Republican administration, and decreased during every Democratic administration. Ironically, despite Republican policies that favour employers and cause greater levels of inequality and unemployment, their policies then inculcate shame amongst the unemployed – blind – or to coin a much-favoured Republican word, ‘evil’ to the fact that they are its main cause. The Republican ideology – hypocritical and misanthropic – fosters the most rancid shame that goes like this: can’t find a job? It’s your own fault. Lost your job? What did you do, must have done something. Not rich. That’ll be your own fault too – or ‘thats God’s plan for you’. Addicted? Can’t hold your damn liquor. Single mum? Slut. Had an abortion? Murderer and slut. Moaning about low pay? You should thank god you’ve got a job. The list goes on. It is a terrible, cruel, vicious circle in which people become imprisoned. In short, Republicans are architects of despair that leads to suicide, and of rage that leads to murder.
My emotional response to the Republican wasn’t just emotional. The facts speak for themselves.
Since reading that review of Gilligan’s book, I’ve bought and read it. I might consider it to be one of the most important books I’ve read in my life, despite it not being great literature. It is a simple and straightforward presentation of facts that can’t be rationalized away. The facts themselves aren’t the product of an ideological agenda for they are government statistics recorded over a 107 year time frame. No Democrat started recording this data with the evil plan of more than a century later showing that Democrats are better. It’s just the typical bureaucratic data gathering.
It really is mind-blowing. I wouldn’t ever have expected to come across data that so starkly puts the two parties in contrast. After the shock wears off, though, all that I feel is sadness. I don’t care about blaming one party and praising the other, but the data is what it is. It’s not even to say everything Republicans do that is wrong. It’s just that there is a vast discrepancy between their ideals and reality. Republicans need to do some deep soul-searching.
I honestly don’t know what to do with data like this. Republicans won’t pay attention to it and most people in general would assume that it’s mere ideological rhetoric fancied up in scientific guise. It’s the type of data our entire society, including both parties, doesn’t know what to do about. You won’t hear any Democrat bring this up in a campaign debate. You won’t come across Gilligan being invited on as a guest on all the major news providers.
In this way, everyone is complicit, especially Democrats. As the author explains (pp. 187-8):
What has made it so difficult or seemingly impossible for the Democrats to free themselves from Republican campaign rhetoric’s reversal of the truth and take credit for their success in ending epidemics of lethal violence in this country for over a century? They, and they alone, have done this. Could this be the downside of being ruled by a guilt ethic and inhibiting their aggression so much that they, the Democrats, often fail to defend themselves strongly enough to undo both the misinformation and the damage caused by their Republican adversaries?
It so often comes to culture from my perspective. Gilligan alludes to this in speaking of a “guilt ethic”. Republicans have their cultural worldview and Democrats have theirs, and the two have become intertwined like a codependant relationship.
But can they be separated? Instead of going back and forth between a Democratic decrease of misery and a Republican increase, couldn’t we have a dynamic that allows for continuous progress? Imagine what kind of wonderful society we might now live in if we had more than a century of continuous decrease of murders, suicides, unemployment and income inequality. Why does that seem so hard to imagine for so many Americans and even for so many partisan Democrats?
To return to the personal, I can’t state more strongly how much I don’t want to live in the Republican worldview of fear and hatred, outrage and despair, self-righteousness and judgment, blame and scapegoating. Yet like so many Americans I feel helpless against the power Republicans have wielded for so long. Nothing ever seems to change.
It’s not about my becoming a loyal Democrat and fighting on the side of good. I just want the misery to stop. I’d like to live in a world of hope. Life is hard enough as it is without creating further unnecessary suffering.
There was a line of thought I forgot to follow through on.
I mentioned culture. I was making the connection between an ideological vision and a cultural worldview. What do I mean by that?
The reason I brought up culture was partly just because the quote from Gilligan’s book seemed to allude to it. But I was also thinking of the larger context of my previous writings on ideologies and cultures.
I’m in a conciliatory mood. The campaign season is over. Like most people, I’ve had enough mindless partisan cheerleading for a good long while. Judging others is easy. The hard work comes with trying to compassionately undertand. I feel tired, sad and tired.
However, conciliatory mood aside, I’m not quite ready to roll over and die. This data sticks in my craw. What does it mean? How could this data sit there gathering dust for a century without anyone giving it much notice?
The data apparently didn’t fit the framework of American politics. Or maybe it was ignored because of political correctness. I don’t know. For whatever reason, it had been as if invisible in all mainstream political debate and, as Gilligan’s book has drawn little attention, the data remains invisible for all practical purposes.
Cultural worldviews can become reality tunnels. In this way, people become blind to what otherwise would seem obvious and common sense. This explanation is an important perspective for culture gets past the blame game. Despite how it seems sometime, most people aren’t tying to be willfully ignorant… any more than a bird flying into a window is trying to be willfully ignorant of the window. Likewise, Republicans aren’t trying to create a world of suffering and death.
No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. There isn’t any single thing that is wrong or problematic, no particular belief or value or policy that is in and of itself causing this increase of social dysfunction.
I even feel tempted to say that conservatism shouldn’t necessarily be blamed. Like all humans, there are good and bad conservatives. Like most ideologies, there are good and bad ways conservatism can manifest.
Still, conservatism must be held to account. What I was struck by is that this isn’t just a problem of American conservatives in the Republican Party. Along with the first quote above, I shared in the same earlier post some other research that shows the same correlation with the British conservative party. Of course, we Americans largely inherited our political system from the British and in return our political system has had much influence on the British.
It would be interesting to further test this correlation in other societies. Is the cause of the social problems, is it only particular traditions of conservatism, or is it something else enirely? Ultimately, I don’t know if the exact cause matters.
It’s more important to consider why it continues. Why do Americans vote for a party that leads to the death of other Americans along with leading to other undesirable results? What makes it such a compelling and attractive worldview, despite all the negatives? Why is the connection to the negatives so hard to see or understand?
One could just as easily ask these questions about the Evangelical worldview of apocalyptic End Times. There is something apparently compelling about dark visions. It probably isn’t accidental that the type of person drawn to Evangelicalism is also drawn to the Republican Party.
I wish I understood.