Violent Fantasy of Reactionary Intellectuals

“Capitalism is boring. Devoting your life to it, as conservatives do, is horrifying if only because it’s so repetitious. It’s like sex.”
~William F. Buckley Jr., in an interview with Corey Robin

The last thing in the world a reactionary wants is to be bored, as happened with the ending of the ideological battles of the Cold War. They need a worthy enemy or else to invent one. Otherwise, there is nothing to react to and so nothing to get excited about, followed by a total loss of meaning and purpose, resulting in dreaded apathy and ennui. This leads reactionaries to become provocative, in the hope of provoking an opponent into a fight. Another strategy is simply to portray the whole world as a battleground, such that everything is interpreted as a potential attack, working oneself or one’s followers into a froth.

There are demagogues like Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump. The former has made numerous stated or implied threats of violence over the years, and others including his ex-wife have accused him of actual violence. As for the latter, his invoking violence is well known, going so far as to brag he could shoot someone in the street and get away with it. Of course, both also speak of violence in broader terms of culture war and dog whistles, racism and xenophobia, paranoia and conspiracy. But whatever form it takes, it tends to be rather blatant and blunt in going for maximum effect.

There is another kind of reactionary as well. They often present themselves as respectable intellectuals and often liberals will treat them as such. Once dead and gone, through rose-colored nostalgia, they are remembered as representing some high point of worthy conservatism. A great example of this is William F. Buckley Jr. who had a combative attitude, occasionally erupting into threats. Yet, upon his passing, liberals praised him as the leader of a golden age of conservatism. That isn’t how liberals saw him at the time, of course. He was no soft-spoken, fair-minded public intellectual. There was a reactionary edge back then that essentially is no different than today.

More recently, there is Jordan B. Peterson who has taken on the defense of masculinity and has done so with an increasingly confrontational attitude, aggressively so at times. Some might argue that he has followed a predictable path of reactionary decline. Or rather that his reactionary mind is showing its true nature. One suspects there is often a threat behind the rhetoric of reactionary ideology, even if not always explicit, but give it enough time and it can become explicit. Is that true of Peterson?

He began as an academic talking about a Jungian archetypal masculinity (i.e., patriarchy as mythology and mysticism) enforcing order on feminine chaos (one wonders if he read Carl Jung’s Answer to Job where the patriarchal Yahweh is portrayed as a chaotic force of  unconscious nature) — by implication, this is a Manichaean fight against the effeminizing forces on the political left that are psychologically and socially neutering boys. But for all the semi-religiosity of his language, his ideas were always presented in rather boring academic terms and with a meandering pedantic style. Now some perceive the academic veneer to be wearing thin, as he has slipped further into the archetypal role of paternalistic father figure, in becoming yet another right-wing pundit and self-help guru.

The difference for the reactionary intellectual, as Corey Robin explained, is that they approach the Burkean moral imagination of the horrific and sublime (with its sociopolitical framing of purity) by way of abstraction while usually keeping a safe distance from the concrete. They are inspired, excited, and enthralled by the fear-ridden imaginary with its fantasized violence — that is until it gets too close, too real. In an actual fight, Buckley or Peterson would likely get the shit beat out of them. The pose of intellectual brawlers and alpha males is just that, a pose not to be taken too literally, and yet there is always an underlying hint of authoritarian authority. They do see themselves in an existential crisis, a near cosmic fight that must be won or else that all of Western civilization will be lost, and they don’t think of this as mere hyperbole.

This is why, when cornered, they will lash out with the language of violence, sometimes with stated threats of hitting their opponents. Peterson did this recently in using a tweet to threaten someone with mild-mannered violence, a rather unmanly ‘slap’ (maybe his opponent was deemed unworthy of the full manly force of fisticuffs). Of course, this ‘threat’ is silly taken at face value. We Americans aren’t exactly worried about the importation of the Canadian “slap culture”. The point of concern is that he would even say such a thing, considering how common this aggressive machismo is on the reactionary right. This kind of verbal threat could be dismissed, if it didn’t ever lead to action but sadly there is a long history of it doing just that. Take for example Bill O’Reilly repeatedly having called Dr. George Tiller a “baby killer” until one of O’Reilly’s viewers took the implicit threat and made it explicit by assassinating Dr. Tiller. Or consider the Pizzagate fake news pushed by right-wing media that also led to a real world shooting. Violence is a desired result, not an unintended consequence, the enacting and enforcement of the moral imagination.

It’s not that there is any reason to worry about one of Peterson’s fanboys going out on a slapping rampage. What is worrisome is the pattern of talk that becomes increasingly extreme over time, not just by any single person but across an entire society, specifically here in the United States, that is already so obsessed with violence and authoritarianism. This might be taken less seriously were we not in the middle of this era of rule by Donald Trump, a man who came to power through violent rhetoric, a man now as president who has shown fascist tendencies toward authoritarian display, from a declared desire for a military march with tanks to sending the military to the border.

I don’t see Jordan Peterson as a fascist, much less a Nazi. And I would be wary of too broadly painting the canvas of fascist mysticism, such as how Carl Jung is often dismissed out of hand. But I do take seriously the dark moral imagination that forms a swift and powerful undercurrent. And as such I do have valid fear about how Peterson’s words, no matter his intentions, could so easily be misused and so quickly lead to harmful ends.

Though I don’t agree with all criticisms of Peterson, I do wonder if some are on target in pointing to a fascist tendency in Western modernity (a reactionary defense of hierarchical authority given persuasive force through neo-romantic mythologizing, often as folk religiosity and volk nationalism). There is a powerful current of thought that gets tapped, even by those who don’t realize what they are tapping into — to put it in a Jungian frame, there are unconscious archetypal forces that can possess us. I’m not sure it matters whether or not someone means well. If anything, my greatest concern is often about those who hide behind personas built on claims of good intentions.

Peterson is invoking moral imagination. It is a powerful tool. And potentially it is a dangerous weapon. I’m not entirely convinced he realizes the fire he is playing with. There is a short distance from nostalgic fantasies to reactionary radicalization. And that distance can be covered in no time at all when a resonance develops between public mood and political power. It has happened before and could happen again. Peterson should heed his own warnings about totalitarian thought and authoritarian politics.

Criticisms of left-wingers, feminists, etc hasn’t tended to end well in the Western world — interestingly, considering Jordan Peterson’s fear-mongering, the ruling elites of both the Nazis and the Soviets attacked, imprisoned, and killed left-wingers: feminists, social liberals, social democrats, Marxists, anarchosyndicalists, labor organizers, radical intellectuals, experimental artists, etc. This puts Peteson as a self-proclaimed anti-authoritarian in strange company when he too attacks these same left-wingers. I’d rather we, including Peterson and his followers, learned from history than having to repeat it again and again.

I’ll let Canadians worry about Canada. But as an American, I’ll worry about the United States. Let us not forget what kind of country this is. The U.S. isn’t only a country founded on genocide and slavery. You remember that little thing about Nazi eugenics. Guess where they got eugenics from? Right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A..

Let me explain how close this hits to home. There were many Americans who originated eugenicist thought and practice, helping to set an example that inspired Nazis. One of those Americans was an Iowan school teacher, Harry H. Laughlin, who lived near my home — Adolf Hitler personally praised this Iowan eugenicist: “The Reichstag of Nazi Germany passed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring in 1933, closely based on Laughlin’s model. Between 35,000 and 80,000 persons were sterilized in the first full year alone. (It is now known that over 350,000 persons were sterilized). Laughlin was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Heidelberg in 1936 for his work behalf of the “science of racial cleansing.” (Five other Americans received honorary degrees the same year).” Eugenics never became as powerful in American society, but the impulse behind it fed into Social Darwinism, the Second Klan, Jim Crow, sundown towns, ethnic internment camps, violently enforced assimilation, etc.

Around the same time in Western history, mass urbanization was underway. As women gained more freedom in cities, feminism and other women’s movements gained new force and influence. So, with the destruction of rural communities and loss of the agrarian lifestyle, a moral panic arose about boys being turned effeminate and weak, not just by womanly culture but also by a supposed soft city living along with the temptations of alcohol and such. This fear-mongering about a lost generation of boys was a major impulse behind fascism and it took hold in the United States. There were large fascist marches in the U.S. at the time. But we are fortunate, I guess, that anti-German and anti-Italian xenophobic bigotry took much of the force out of American fascism. Instead, all we got was a patriarchal movement that created Boy Scouts and a National Park system. We might not be so lucky next time.

Someone like Peterson may be less problematic for Canada, as Canadians don’t have the same cultural history of reactionary extremism. What is problematic for Americans is that Peterson doesn’t seem to understand what kind of influence he might have south of the Canadian border. His words and ideas might speak to American reactionaries in an entirely different way than he intends. And that could have real world consequences. He isn’t helping matters by suggesting the way to deal with ideological opponents is through physical force, not that interpreting his words as idle threats is any better. Furthermore, his projecting his violent fantasies of a postmodern Marxist death cult (the equivalent of cultural Marxism or cultural Bolshevism) and feminist totalitarianism onto his opponents is just as, if not more, troubling.

Rather than defusing conflict, Jordan Peterson is fueling the fire. He is itching for a fight, playing out some script of antagonism that he is fantasizing about. What brought him to fame was a political issue involving gender pronouns that turned out have been fake news he helped gin up by way of misinterpreting a proposed law. But having been proven so severely wrong didn’t chasten him for he is getting more aggressive as time goes on. His rhetoric plays directly into reactionary paranoia and alt-right fear. We are far from the end of history for we are smack dab in the middle of it. The stage set long ago, the third act of a tragic play might begin soon. If so, it will be the denouement of yet one more cycle of conflict, first imagined and then acted upon. I fear it won’t be boring.

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“Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddam face, and you’ll stay plastered…”
~William F. Buckley Jr. to Gore Vidal

“Maybe not tonight, because as you would, I’d smash you in the goddamn face.”
~William F. Buckley Jr. to Noam Chomsky

“Here’s the problem, I know how to stand up to a man who’s unfairly trespassed against me and the reason I know that is because the parameters for my resistance are quite well-defined, which is: we talk, we argue, we push, and then it becomes physical. If we move beyond the boundaries of civil discourse, we know what the next step is. That’s forbidden in discourse with women and so I don’t think that men can control crazy women. I really don’t believe it.”
~Jordan B. Peterson to Camille Paglia

“And you call me a fascist? You sanctimonious prick. If you were in my room at the moment, I’d slap you happily.”
~Jordan B. Peterson to Pankaj Mishra

Jordan Peterson joins the club of macho writers who have thrown a fit over a bad review.
by Jeet Heer

Since Peterson loves to categorize the world into Jungian archetypes (the devouring mother, the dragon-slaying hero), it’s worth noting that this tweet fits an age-old pattern: the hyper-masculine writer who is unhinged by critical words.

In 1933, Max Eastman wrote a scathing review in The New Republic of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, accusing the bullfight-loving author of “wearing false hair on his chest.” Four years later, the two met in the New York offices of their shared publisher, Scribner. “What do you mean accusing me of impotence?” Hemingway asked, before trying to beat up Eastman. The two men had to be separated by editorial staff. The same year, Hemingway assaulted the poet Wallace Stevens, twenty years his senior, for saying that Hemingway was “not a man.”

In 1971, Gore Vidal wrote a scathing essay on Norman Mailer for TheNew York Review of Books. “The Patriarchalists have been conditioned to think of women as, at best, breeders of sons, at worst, objects to be poked, humiliated and killed,” Vidal wrote. “There has been from Henry Miller to Norman Mailer to Charles Manson a logical progression.” Enraged, Mailer slammed his head into Vidal’s face in the dressing room of The Dick Cavett Show. Five years later, Mailer was still looking for revenge. At a dinner party, he threw a drink at Vidal before tackling him to the ground. “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer,” Vidal quipped, while still on the floor.

In 2000, the critic Dale Peck went after Stanley Crouch in The New Republic, writing that Crouch’s novel Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome“is a terrible novel, badly conceived, badly executed, and put forward in bad faith; reviewing it is like shooting fish in a barrel.” In 2004, still stinging from the review, Crouch confronted Peck at Tartine, a Manhattan restaurant, and slapped him.

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Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism
by Pankaj Mishra

Reactionary white men will surely be thrilled by Peterson’s loathing for “social justice warriors” and his claim that divorce laws should not have been liberalized in the 1960s. Those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse Peterson’s claim that “there are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men.” Islamophobes will take heart from his speculation that “feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance.” Libertarians will cheer Peterson’s glorification of the individual striver, and his stern message to the left-behinds (“Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark.”). The demagogues of our age don’t read much; but, as they ruthlessly crack down on refugees and immigrants, they can derive much philosophical backup from Peterson’s sub-chapter headings: “Compassion as a vice” and “Toughen up, you weasel.”

In all respects, Peterson’s ancient wisdom is unmistakably modern. The “tradition” he promotes stretches no further back than the late nineteenth century, when there first emerged a sinister correlation between intellectual exhortations to toughen up and strongmen politics. This was a period during which intellectual quacks flourished by hawking creeds of redemption and purification while political and economic crises deepened and faith in democracy and capitalism faltered. Many artists and thinkers—ranging from the German philosopher Ludwig Klages, member of the hugely influential Munich Cosmic Circle, to the Russian painter Nicholas Roerich and Indian activist Aurobindo Ghosh—assembled Peterson-style collages of part-occultist, part-psychological, and part-biological notions. These neo-romantics were responding, in the same way as Peterson, to an urgent need, springing from a traumatic experience of social and economic modernity, to believe—in whatever reassures and comforts. […]

Nowhere in his published writings does Peterson reckon with the moral fiascos of his gurus and their political ramifications; he seems unbothered by the fact that thinking of human relations in such terms as dominance and hierarchy connects too easily with such nascent viciousness such as misogyny, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. He might argue that his maps of meaning aim at helping lost individuals rather than racists, ultra-nationalists, or imperialists. But he can’t plausibly claim, given his oft-expressed hostility to the “murderous equity doctrine” of feminists, and other progressive ideas, that he is above the fray of our ideological and culture wars. […]

Peterson rails today against “softness,” arguing that men have been “pushed too hard to feminize.” In his bestselling book Degeneration (1892), the Zionist critic Max Nordau amplified, more than a century before Peterson, the fear that the empires and nations of the West are populated by the weak-willed, the effeminate, and the degenerate. The French philosopher Georges Sorel identified myth as the necessary antidote to decadence and spur to rejuvenation. An intellectual inspiration to fascists across Europe, Sorel was particularly nostalgic about the patriarchal systems of ancient Israel and Greece.

Like Peterson, many of these hyper-masculinist thinkers saw compassion as a vice and urged insecure men to harden their hearts against the weak (women and minorities) on the grounds that the latter were biologically and culturally inferior. Hailing myth and dreams as the repository of fundamental human truths, they became popular because they addressed a widely felt spiritual hunger: of men looking desperately for maps of meaning in a world they found opaque and uncontrollable.

It was against this (eerily familiar) background—a “revolt against the modern world,” as the title of Evola’s 1934 book put it—that demagogues emerged so quickly in twentieth-century Europe and managed to exalt national and racial myths as the true source of individual and collective health. The drastic individual makeover demanded by the visionaries turned out to require a mass, coerced retreat from failed liberal modernity into an idealized traditional realm of myth and ritual.

In the end, deskbound pedants and fantasists helped bring about, in Thomas Mann’s words in 1936, an extensive “moral devastation” with their “worship of the unconscious”—that “knows no values, no good or evil, no morality.” Nothing less than the foundations for knowledge and ethics, politics and science, collapsed, ultimately triggering the cataclysms of the twentieth century: two world wars, totalitarian regimes, and the Holocaust. It is no exaggeration to say that we are in the midst of a similar intellectual and moral breakdown, one that seems to presage a great calamity. Peterson calls it, correctly, “psychological and social dissolution.” But he is a disturbing symptom of the malaise to which he promises a cure.

 

The Resolution of Jordan Peterson
by Brent Cooper

This of course obscures the broader context of longer interviews, and distorts Peterson’s message at the expense of his critics, so nobody wins. Peterson is not cryptofascist, but a great portion of his audience is. (What does one do when they finally discover a dark truth behind their popularity?)

“So is Jordan Peterson preparing his base for the coming race war? I do not think so. My read of him is that he is actually terrified of what he started. Nobody is more surprised than he is by his fame… he’s on sabbatical after basically declaring war on his own institution. You can’t go home after that. He needs his Patreon now… He has cast his lot with his mob.” — The CANADALAND Guide to Jordan B. Peterson

[…] An aside: In my article on systemic-conspiracy, I argued that the concept provides a useful explanation of how totalitarianism occurs, and how to avoid it. What I am theorizing complements Peterson’s message, but his denial of systemic (sociological) approaches prevents any of those ideas even getting on his radar.

“This is relevant and convergent with Jordan Peterson’s oft-repeated warning that we all have the potential for totalitarian fascism in us; to participate in systems of violence. Systemic-conspiracy is sociologically latent, which is arguably the major lesson of the 20th century.” — Systemic Conspiracy and Social Pathology

Peterson is so hellbent on avoiding totalitarianism, that he ironically has a totalizing worldview about “the left” to the point of scapegoating them just like Jews were. Cultural-marxism is the new cultural bolshevism and its stupidly obvious, and glaringly wrong, but conservatives love it because it’s their last resort: blame the people trying to fix the problem conservatives started. Peterson’s stock is artificially inflated because of support for these beliefs. Come for the supreme mythological wisdom, stay for the crypto-fascism. Or is it the other way around? Peterson is ironic — he’s not post-ironic, because he’s not metamodern. He doesn’t get it, and if his fans and critics don’t get it either, then this will remain a stalemate.

These sentiments are perhaps better articulated by Noah Berlatsky than myself (below). Again, no one is attacking Peterson here, but rather just logically pointing out the hypocrisy. Peterson gets highjacked by the right, so this information should help him reform rather than retaliate. The term “useful idiot” doesn’t really fit, since Peterson is incredibly smart, but he is nonetheless being used for that very intelligence to spread bullshit.

“But how does Peterson suggest an alternate path to fascism when his philosophy is suffused with barely hidden fascist talking points and conspiracy theories?… And, moreover, why is a supposed anti-totalitarian literally calling for educators who disagree with him to be subject to McCarthyite purges and tried for treason?”

“People who put Leninist posters on their walls to remind themselves to hate communists all day, every day, are leaving a door open to other kinds of hate too. Peterson does not want to be a member of the alt-right. But he shares their hatred of the left, and, as a result, he makes their arguments for them.”

— How Anti-Leftism Has Made Jordan Peterson a Mark for Fascist Propaganda, Berlatsky

Is Jordan Peterson the stupid man’s smart person?
by Tabatha Southey

“Postmodern neo-Marxism” is Peterson’s nemesis, and the best way to explain what postmodern neo-Marxism is, is to explain what it is not—that is, it is entirely distinct from the concept of “cultural Marxism.”

“Cultural Marxism” is a conspiracy theory holding that an international cabal of Marxist academics, realizing that traditional Marxism is unlikely to triumph any time soon, is out to destroy Western civilization by undermining its cultural values. “Postmodern neo-Marxism,” on the other hand, is a conspiracy theory holding that an international cabal of Marxist academics, realizing that traditional Marxism is unlikely to triumph any time soon, is out to destroy Western civilization by undermining its cultural values with “cultural” taken out of the name so it doesn’t sound quite so similar to the literal Nazi conspiracy theory of “cultural Bolshevism.”

To be clear, Jordan Peterson is not a neo-Nazi, but there’s a reason he’s as popular as he is on the alt-right. You’ll never hear him use the phrase “We must secure a future for our white children”; what you will hear him say is that, while there does appear to be a causal relationship between empowering women and economic growth, we have to consider whether this is good for society, “‘’cause the birth rate is plummeting.” He doesn’t call for a “white ethnostate,” but he does retweet Daily Caller articles with opening lines like: “Yet again an American city is being torn apart by black rioters.” He has dedicated two-and-a-half-hour-long YouTube videos to “identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege.” […]

What he’s telling you is that certain people—most of them women and minorities—are trying to destroy not only our freedom to spite nonbinary university students for kicks, but all of Western civilization and the idea of objective truth itself. He’s telling you that when someone tells you racism is still a problem and that something should be done about it, they are, at best, a dupe and, at worst, part of a Marxist conspiracy to destroy your way of life.

Peterson says he only thinks of it as a “non-violent war.” But when you insist the stakes are that high, the opposition that pernicious, who’s to say where the chips will fall?

Some of My Beef With Jordan Peterson
by son1dow

In terms of postmodernism, it has been well covered that he has no idea what is going on, he is yet another bullshit about postmodernism dealer online. Just read wokeupabug’s comments in that thread M1zzu recently linked, as well as so many others – it explains how his main source is not at all one you should trust. The forum there is askphilosophy, the user linked has a PhD in philosophy. I wish I could link famous philosophers for this kind of stuff, but they don’t like giving these youtube intellectuals and renegade scholars recognition too much. The more I hear of Peterson, the more I wonder if he read anything of postmodernist philosophy, since the only views he seems to espouse perfectly match bullshit dealers like Hicks, and he NEVER EVER seems to properly engage Derrida, Lyotard etc. For all I know, he could be reading neofeudalist conspiracy nuts like Dugin as well. For all of his love of debate and challenge, I would be interested to see him discuss postmodernism with someone who has read the actual books, yet I cannot find that. The worst thing about these people is that there is no way anyone with even the most cursory understanding of postmodernism would mistake Hicks or Peterson as knowledgeable about it; yet it spreads like wildfire. Some of the most dumb misunderstanding of it is perfectly incapsulated in this comic – note the explanation below the comic. The comic itself satirizes the fact that postmodernism is literally the opposite of feminism or marxism, it is as sceptical of metanarratives like them as it is of scientism or judaism. So blaming it for marxism is the dumbest thing you can do. I’ve personally had this conversation with Peterson’s disciples like 50 times; none of them know the first thing about postmodernism and are stumped by these basic questions. This is concerning a school of thought that many of them are sure is trying to bring the downfall of western civilization, mind you – and few if any of them know the most basic things about it.

Cultural marxism is more of the same, it’s a repeat of an old nazi conspiracy theory called cultural bolshevism that has to do with a real term… Only the term is about an obscure school of thought that is not even related to any of the claims people make about cultural marxism. It’s just another nonsense term to throw around and talk about as much as you want, with no basis. Once again you have to wonder how many of these youtube intellectuals boil down to reading conspriacy theorists to get this stuff. However by now it is a real industry of people repeating the same shit and explaining it as the cause of feminism or transgenderism or whatever they like, with their viewers gobbling it up without any regard for going to the sources which couldn’t possibly show anything like it. Makes you wonder how they can doublethink their way into doing that while still considerig themselves intellectuals. Very few people repeating this nonsense even know what critical theory is, yet they’re sure as it is bringing the downfall of western civilization. Talk about drinking the kool-aid.

* * *

Why Conservatives Love War
by Corey Robin

While the contrast between the true conservative and the pseudo-conservative has been drawn in different ways—the first reads Burke, the second doesn’t read; the first defends ancient liberties, the second derides them; the first seeks to limit government, the second to strengthen it—the distinction often comes down to the question of violence. Where the pseudo-conservative is captivated by war, Sullivan claims that the true conservative “wants peace and is content only with peace.” The true conservative’s endorsements of war, such as they are, are the weariest of concessions to reality. He knows that we live and love in the midst of great evil. That evil must be resisted, sometimes by violent means. All things being equal, he would like to see a world without violence. But all things are not equal, and he is not in the business of seeing the world as he’d like it to be.

The historical record suggests otherwise. Far from being saddened, burdened, or vexed by violence, conservatives have been enlivened by it. Not necessarily in a personal sense, though it’s true that many a conservative has expressed an unanticipated enthusiasm for violence. “I enjoy wars,” said Harold Macmillan, wounded three times in World War I. “Any adventure’s better than sitting in an office.” The conservative’s commitment to violence is more than psychological, however: It’s philosophical. Violence, the conservative maintains, is one of the experiences in life that makes us most feel alive, and violence, particularly warfare, is an activity that makes life, well, lively. Such arguments can be made nimbly, as in the case of Santayana, who wrote, “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” or laboriously, as in the case of Heinrich von Treitschke:

To the historian who lives in the world of will it is immediately clear that the demand for a perpetual peace is thoroughly reactionary; he sees that with war all movement, all growth, must be struck out of history. It has always been the tired, unintelligent, and enervated periods that have played with the dream of perpetual peace.

Pithy or prolix, the case boils down to this: War is life, peace is death. […]

Far from challenging the conservative tradition’s infatuation with violence, however, this indifference to the realities of war is merely the flip side of the Burkean coin. Even as he wrote of the sublime effects of pain and danger, Burke was careful to insist that should those pains and dangers “press too nearly” or “too close”—should they become real threats, “conversant about the present destruction of the person”—their sublimity would disappear. Burke’s point was not that nobody, in the end, really wants to die, or that nobody enjoys excruciating pain. It was that sublimity depends upon obscurity: Get too close to anything, see and feel its full extent, and it loses its mystery and aura. A “great clearness” of the sort that comes from direct experience is “an enemy to all enthusiasms whatsoever.” Get to know anything, including violence, too well, and it loses the thrill you got when it was just an idea.

Since 9/11, many have complained, and rightly so, about the failure of conservatives—or their sons and daughters—to fight the war on terror themselves. For many, that failure is symptomatic of the inequality of contemporary America, and it is. But there is an additional element to the story. So long as the war on terror remains an idea—a hot topic on the blogs, a provocative op-ed, an episode of 24—it is sublime. As soon as it becomes a reality, it can be as tedious as a discussion of the tax code or as cheerless as a trip to the DMV.

Redefining the Right Wing
Corey Robin interviewed by Daniel Larison

Last, the question of sublimity and violence. I think this is one of the most interesting elements of the right because it shows just how extraordinarily rich and sophisticated its vision of human nature is. I don’t think the right has by any means a monopoly on the discourse of violence; the left has its own long tradition of reflection on violence. But where the left’s discourse is primarily influenced by Machiavelli — that is, an awareness of what Sheldon Wolin calls “the economy of violence,” or the necessity of instrumentalizing violence, of making a very little go a long, long way — the right’s attitude is reflected in Burke’s moral psychology, particularly his theory of the sublime.

You had asked previously how representative the account in the book is. You suggested that my strongest cases are Teddy Roosevelt and Georges Sorel, neither of whom is an unproblematic representative of the right. But I mention a great many other cases throughout history of voices that virtually every anthology of the right would include: not just Burke but also Maistre, Tocqueville, Churchill, and of course many of the neocons. Now I know, Daniel, that you’ve spent the better part of your career fighting the good fight against neocon imperialism and that part of your argument against the neocons is that they are not conservative. But their position has deep roots on the right. My sense that it’s too easy to dismiss the neocons as innovators from afar.

I think what’s distinctive about the discourse of violence on the right is that whereas the audience for violence on the left is the victim of violence — the leftist (whether a revolutionary, guerrilla fighter, terrorist, what have you) seeks to impress upon enemies the power of what threatens them if they do not accede to the left’s demands — I think that the primary audience for violence on the right is the perpetrator and/or his/her allies. In other words, the right sees violence as primarily a source of rejuvenation among a ruling class that has gone soft. That’s what is so interesting to me, in part because it completely inverts the standard stereotype we have of the conservative being more hard-headed and realistic than the progressive. If anything — and I really assign no normative weight to this; it’s more interesting to me as an intellectual problem — it is the left, as I’ve suggested, that has been more influenced by realist modes of thinking when it comes to violence. Lenin read Clausewitz, Gramsci read Machiavelli, and so on. And that’s not because the left is more humanitarian or anything like that; it’s mostly because of necessity. Revolutionaries, by definition, don’t have a monopoly on the means of violence; they operate at a major deficit, so economy is essentially forced upon them. The right by contrast suffers from a surfeit of power, so it looks to violence to address a quite different set of concerns.

Politics and Vision
by Sheldon S. Wolin
(as quoted by Don MacDonald)

In evaluating Machiavelli’s economy of violence it is easy to criticize it as being the product of a technician’s admiration for efficient means. A century like ours, which has witnessed the unparalleled efficiency displayed by totalitarian regimes in the use of terror and coercion, experiences difficulty in being tolerant on the subject. Yet to see Machiavelli as the philosopher of Himmlerism would be quite misleading; and the basic reason is not alone that Machiavelli regarded the science of violence as the means for reducing the amount of suffering in the political condition, but that he was clearly aware of the dangers of entrusting its use to the morally obtuse. What he hoped to further by his economy of violence was the “pure” use of power, undefiled by pride, ambition, or motives of petty revenge.

A more meaningful contrast to Machiavelli would be the great modern theoretician of violence, Georges Sorel. Here is a true example of the irresponsible political individual, fired by romantic notions of heroism, preaching the use of violence for ends which are deliberately and proudly clothed in the vague outline of the irrational “myth,” contemptuous of the cost, blinded by a vision of virile proletarian barbarians who would revitalize the decadent West. In contrast, there was no hint of child-like delight when Machiavelli contemplated the barbarous and savage destructiveness of the new prince, sweeping away the settled arrangements of society and “leaving nothing intact.” There was, however, the laconic remark that it was better to be a private citizen than to embark on a career which involved the ruin of men. This suggest that the theorist like Machiavelli, who was aware of the limited efficacy of force and who devoted himself to showing how its technique could be used more efficiently, was far more sensitive to the moral dilemmas of politics and far more committed to the preservation of man than those theorists who, saturated with moral indignation and eager for heroic regeneration, preach purification by the holy flame of violence.

The Poverty of Conservatism
The ideology of power, privilege and plutocracy

by Johnny Reb

A Little History

“Hatred of the left in all its guises, from the most tepid to the most outré, is thus not incidental to fascism; it is at its core.The fascist route to power has always been passed through cooperation with conservative elites; without the acquiescence or even active assent of the traditional elites could never have attained power” – Robert O Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism

Historian and political scientist Robert O Paxton informs us that hatred and fear of the left is not just a key characteristic of fascism, but of conservatism as well. For conservatives it’s the trepidation that the majority underclass will rise up and demand real democracy and social justice as they did in France in 1789 and Russia in 1917. This hatred and fear is the locus of the conservatives reactionary response to democratic movements that challenge their traditional entitlements and privileges. Violence is, and always has been, an open option for conservatives, but one of their less dramatic and vicious responses to left wing movements is propaganda, cooption or minor concessions to the working classes that don’t meaningfully change their supremacy within the socio-political order.

It’s generally agreed by political philosophers that the monarchist Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who, in his ponderous uncompromising diatribe on the French Revolution*, was the first express and define conservatism as a discrete political ideology of moderation and prudence. But the history of the past 200 years has been anything but moderate or prudent when one considers the fanatical anti-democratic invectives against the French and Bolshevik Revolutions, the defense of racism, slavery and Jim Crow, the genocide of indigenous peoples throughout the world, the vicious attacks on trade unionism, the red baiting and persecution of ordinary working people, social democracy and the welfare state, the ongoing hostility to the New Deal of FDR, the Great Society of LBJ, civil rights, humanism, feminism, gay rights and endless imperialistic wars**. Whereas the predecessors of today’s conservatives (and the transmogrified new beta version, the neo-conservative) in the old regime thought of inequality as a naturally occurring phenomenon ordained by God, an inheritance passed on from generation to generation, their encounter with many people’s revolutions such as in the Russian and Cuban revolutions and the Spanish Civil War clearly demonstrates that the revolutionaries were right after all: inequality is a distinctly human creation. No book on conservatism since Burke’s magnum opus comes close to improving on his contempt and condescension of working classes, which he described as the “swinish multitude”, and the pompous celebration of his “natural aristocracy.”

* Edmund Burke, Reflections of the Revolution in France, 1790. Every major political tradition without exception lays claims to liberty and the tradition of freedom. None have so far delivered for the masses the freedom from constraint or coercion that these claims entail. Anarchism is, in my view, really the only genuine political philosophy of freedom and egalitarianism. But it’s never been provided with an opportunity with the exception of many indigenous cultures in North America, the short period of the Spanish Civil War and the Kronstadt Mutiny during the Bolshevik Revolution. Burke, whose opinions are not so uplifting as some of his grandiose prose, advised William Pitt that his government ought not concern itself with helping to feed starving citizens by any other means than for sale through profit and not be concerned with actions that would alleviate the suffering and death by famine. This expresses the essence of Conservatism (blame the victim) and Burke’s resolute opposition to democracy and obsession with private property rights that has been carried on by his successors. In fact it was conservatives who consistently blocked the vote for those who did not own property. And only those who are well-heeled, entrepreneurial or efficiently acquisitive are of any value to society and who have the right to lay any claim to liberty. These were the values of the white slave and land owning white aristocratic conservatives who were the framers of the US Constitution.

**Conservatives, it can be evidenced, love war. The historical record confirms that, far from being saddened, burdened, or vexed by violence, conservatives have been energized by it. Not necessarily in a personal sense, though it’s true that many conservatives have expressed an unanticipated enthusiasm for violence. “I enjoy wars,” said Harold Macmillan, wounded three times in World War I. “Any adventure’s better than sitting in an office.” The conservative’s commitment to violence is more than psychological, however; it’s a philosophical; it’s a “war is life and peace is death” philosophical commitment. Power and its partner violence, the conservative maintains, are the experiences in life that makes us most feel alive, and violence, particularly warfare, is an activity that makes life exhilarating, full of risk and worth living.

One possibility explanation for the conservatives love for war is its embrace of authoritarianism and hierarchy, with their twin requirements of submission and domination; the other is violence, particularly warfare, with its rigid injunction to kill or be killed. Perhaps not coincidentally, both are of great significance to conservatism as a theoretical tradition and historical practice. Consistent with Edmund Burke’s argument, however, the conservative often favours the latter over the former. Once we are assured of our power over another being, says Burke, it loses its capacity to harm or threaten us. Make a creature useful and obedient, and “you spoil it of everything sublime.” It becomes an object of contempt, contempt being “the attendant on a strength that is subservient and innoxious.” At least one-half, then, of the experience of hierarchy—the experience of ruling another—is incompatible with, and indeed weakens, the sublime. Confirmed of our power, we are lulled into the same ease and comfort, undergo the same inward melting, that we experience while in the throes of pleasure.

* * *

Rebirth of a Nation
by Jackson Lears
pp. 18-19

The organic imagery embodied in “the national tree” reflected a new strain of romantic nationalism, which melded the individual with the collective by likening the nation to a natural organism. According to Edward Everett Hale’s popular didactic tale, The Man Without a Country (1863), one’s personal identity—indeed one’s very life—was dependent on immersion in a larger national identity. While Lincoln used the language of “the people” to elevate democracy as well as nationhood, more typical orators deployed the same idiom in the service of organic nationalism, wrapping the government and the citizenry in the sacred garment of the nation.

The sanctity of the nation justified its demands for blood. Redefining unspeakable losses as religious sacrifice, Northerners forged a powerful link between war and regeneration. In some formulations, personal rebirth seemed to arise simply from the decision to risk combat—to plunge into action as an end in itself, heedless of the consequences. (This would be the version that Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. would eventually celebrate, as he recalled his own war experience, and that Theodore Roosevelt would unwittingly parody.) More commonly, the revitalization was explicitly moral. For generations, republican moralists had been haunted by visions of a citizenry grown soft through indulgence in luxury and other vices of commerce. The many forms of sacrifice demanded by the war provided a perfect opportunity for Americans to redeem themselves from commercial corruption, to transcend private gain in pursuit of a larger public good. So moralists said.

Sacrifice was most appealing when imagined from a distance. As usual in such cases, the loudest yelps for blood often came from those farthest from the battlefield. Charles Eliot Norton, a well-connected young Brahmin intellectual, waxed eloquent over “the Advantages of Defeat” after the Union Army was routed at the first battle of Manassas. The humiliation might have the salutary effect of sobering us, soldiers and civilians—of reminding us that this “religious war” would require a mass blood sacrifice. “But there must be no shrinking from the prospect of the death of our soldiers,” the young man warned. “Better than that we should fail that a million men should die on the battlefield.” Victory would eventually come; and meanwhile Northern character—so long sunk in selfishness and softness—would be purified by protracted struggle. Years later, Norton would repudiate these youthful fatuities and become an outspoken anti-imperialist. But during the Civil War, his breathtaking arrogance was commonplace. Men routinely praised the cleansing power of war from a comfortable distance.

Some turned in therapeutic directions. The Albany Argus predicted that “A vigorous war would tone up the public mind, and impart to it qualities that would last after the calamities of war had passed.” And the historian Benson Lossing wrote to Sue Wallace (the wife of General Lew Wallace) in 1862: “I have felt profoundly impressed with the conviction that out of all this tribulation would come health, and strength, and purification for the nation.” From the perspective of the people who actually fought it, or were swept up in it, one could attribute few more bizarre effects to the war than “health, strength, and purification.” Here as elsewhere, one can glimpse the connections between millennial dreams of collective rebirth and the sort of organic nationalism that could eventually mutate into fascism.

pp. 27-29

But for many other observers, too many American youths—especially among the upper classes—had succumbed to the vices of commerce: the worship of Mammon, the love of ease. Since the Founding Fathers’ generation, republican ideologues had fretted about the corrupting effects of commercial life. Norton and other moralists, North and South, had imagined war would provide an antidote. During the Gilded Age those fears acquired a peculiarly palpable intensity. The specter of “overcivilization”—invoked by republican orators since Jefferson’s time—developed a sharper focus: the figure of the overcivilized businessman became a stock figure in social criticism. Flabby, ineffectual, anxious, possibly even neurasthenic, he embodied bourgeois vulnerability to the new challenges posed by restive, angry workers and waves of strange new immigrants. “Is American Stamina Declining?” asked William Blaikie, a former Harvard athlete and author of How to Get Strong and Stay So, in Harper’s in 1889. Among white-collar “brain-workers,” legions of worried observers were asking similar questions. Throughout the country, metropolitan life for the comfortable classes was becoming a staid indoor affair. Blaikie caught the larger contours of the change:

“A hundred years ago, there was more done to make our men and women hale and vigorous than there is to-day. Over eighty per cent of all our men then were farming, hunting, or fishing, rising early, out all day in the pure, bracing air, giving many muscles very active work, eating wholesome food, retiring early, and so laying in a good stock of vitality and health. But now hardly forty per cent are farmers, and nearly all the rest are at callings—mercantile, mechanical, or professional—which do almost nothing to make one sturdy and enduring.”

This was the sort of anxiety that set men (and more than a few women) to pedaling about on bicycles, lifting weights, and in general pursuing fitness with unprecedented zeal. But for most Americans, fitness was not merely a matter of physical strength. What was equally essential was character, which they defined as adherence to Protestant morality. Body and soul would be saved together.

This was not a gender-neutral project. Since the antebellum era, purveyors of conventional wisdom had assigned respectable women a certain fragility. So the emerging sense of physical vulnerability was especially novel and threatening to men. Manliness, always an issue in Victorian culture, had by the 1880s become an obsession. Older elements of moral character continued to define the manly man, but a new emphasis on physical vitality began to assert itself as well. Concern about the over-soft socialization of the young promoted the popularity of college athletics. During the 1880s, waves of muscular Christianity began to wash over campuses.

pp. 203-204

American politicians were capable of this sort of sentimentality, too. In public, at least, they could insist that their apparently imperial aims were uniquely leavened with moral concerns—in particular a commitment to the spread of freedom and democracy. But in private, their sentiments were less exalted. Writing to Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt reviled “the jack-fools who seriously think that any group of pirates and head-hunters needs nothing but independence in order that it may be turned forthwith into a dark-hued New England town meeting.” Most “dark-hued” peoples lacked the crucial character trait, he noted elsewhere: “There must be control. There must be mastery, somewhere, and if there is no self-control and self-mastery, the control and the mastery will ultimately be imposed from without.”

Roosevelt’s obsession with “mastery” revealed the trigger of empire. Behind all the economic calculations and all the lofty rhetoric about civilization and progress was a primal emotion—a yearning to reassert control, a masculine will to power amid the drifting slack waters of the fin de siècle. Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan invoked the cautionary example of ancient Rome, after it had abandoned its “strong masculine impulse” and “degenerated into that worship of comfort, wealth, and general softness, which is the ideal of the peace prophets of to-day.” Mahan was the leading big-navy imperialist, and imperialism was the most important political form of late-nineteenth-century longings for regeneration. Those desires flourished on both sides of the Atlantic, taking shapes peculiar to their surroundings. In the United States, the quest for regeneration through empire reworked ancient Protestant dreams of rebirth into a secular militarist agenda. Yearnings to recapture the heights of Civil War heroism combined with Anglo-Saxon racism, fears of overcivilized decadence, and a providentialist faith in American mission.

The result was an ideological witches’ brew. In Europe similar mixtures fostered fascism; in the United States imperial ideology had more benign consequences—for U.S. citizens themselves, if not for their subject populations. The reasons for this divergence are many and complex, but perhaps the most important was the genius of the Constitution’s framers in creating the checks and balances that prevented executive tyranny. Still, American imperialist rhetoric, including Roosevelt’s, often sounded remarkably proto-fascist. Like the ministerial ranting of the Civil War, fin de siècle militarism celebrated blood sacrifice in combat, but with new and more secular emphases on sheer physical courage and the inherently revitalizing effects of conflict.

Popular misunderstandings of Darwinism equated evolution with inevitable progress, and assumed that progress could be achieved only through death-dealing struggle. “Antagonism,” the Popular Science Monthly announced in 1888, is “a necessity of existence, and of the organism of the universe so far as we can understand it; [it is apparent] that motion and life cannot go on without it; that it is not a mere casual adjunct of nature, but that without it there would be no nature.” A struggle for existence was at the heart of all life, among men as well as wolves, in commerce as in war, “as necessary to good as to evil.” Without it life would be boring to the point of ennui, or nonbeing.

* * *

The Fantasy of Creative Destruction
The Haunted Moral Imagination
Imagination: Moral, Dark, and Radical
Reconstruction Era Race Relations
Juvenile Delinquents and Emasculated Males
The Right-Wing New Age

Fearful Cops and Gun Culture

What should I absolutely not do when visiting the USA?
Quora

Don’t get out of your car if you get pulled over by police.
by Charlie Knoles
(I have lived in 5 countries and am an Aussie expat in the USA.)

I was pulled over by a police officer while driving in Iowa. It was one week after I had arrived in the USA for the first time. I had accidentally made a minor mistake disobeying a traffic sign. Back home in Australia it’s considered polite to get out of your car and walk over to the police officer’s car and hand him your license* so he doesn’t have to get out of his seat. I wanted to be extra polite so I immediately jumped out of my car and walked towards his car while reaching into my back pocket.

I’m lucky to be alive.

If you come from a gun-free country like the UK or Australia you don’t have any natural instinct for gun culture. You don’t realize that police assume that everyone is armed.

Things got immediately serious. The police officer’s hand went to his weapon and I responded by dropping to my knees with my hands up. He yelled a bunch of things at me but my memory is vague because my heartbeat was suddenly pulsing in my ears blotting out all sound. I don’t know if he drew his weapon or not. I was staring intently at the ground, shaking and trying to project non-threatening vibes. My next memory is that there were three police cars around me and a bunch of cops who’d been called for backup. They were all keeping their hands close to their guns. After some time passed (a minute? 30 minutes? I have no idea) the tensions de-escalated and they told me to get up. I gave the officer my license and tried to explain why I’d approached him. It was completely incomprehensible to him that there was a place where people don’t fear cops and vice versa at traffic stops. It was as though I was trying to tell him that I came from Narnia and our cops were all talking animals.

I’ve spoken to several British people, New Zealanders, and Australians who have shared almost identical stories. They really need to put signs up in all major US airports.

Don’t get out of your car if stopped by police. They will assume you are armed and they might shoot you.

Comment
by Bill Null

As the country has gotten safer the police have become more aggressive. It’s now at the point where you are far more likely to die by interacting with a police officer than they are to die by interacting with you.

In 2015, out of the 980,000 police employed nation wide, there were 26 recorded cases of homicide against a police officer, 4 of which occurred during a traffic stop. By contrast, 1093 people were killed in the same year; more than half of which didn’t have a firearm, and 170 were completely unarmed at the time.

Policing in the US has never really been a dangerous job, at least not in comparison to other outdoor occupations. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the job of police and sheriff’s deputy as the 16th most dangerous job, right below grounds maintenance workers. That figure however, includes all officer related fatalities, including traffic and health related incidents. If you compare on-the-job injury rates, the numbers aren’t much higher.

Memetic Narratives of War and Paranoia

The amount of entertainment media is immense these days, even limiting it to big biz media in the United States: Hollywood, cable, television, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. I try to be discerning in what I watch, but I also have a curiosity to sample what is being produced. Viewing entertainment media offers a glimpse into the national psyche. It’s the moral imagination that Edmund Burke could never have imagined, the mental furniture of media-saturated late modernity.

I look for the narratives and tropes that are popular or for whatever reason are being pushed by media companies. As others have noted, the Cold War had re-entered or been re-introduced into the cultural imagination. It began with the 9/11 terrorist attack because our actions during the Cold War era were coming back to haunt us. In the fight against the Soviets, it was the U.S. that trained, armed, and allied with Osama bin Laden and in the process helped create al-Quaida. It was the U.S. that purposely destroyed so many secular democratic governments in order to replace them with theocracies, dictatorships, and fascist states. And it was the U.S. that, as allies with the Iraqis, gave Saddam Hussein chemical weapons (i.e., weapons of mass destruction) that he used against his own people while we watched and did nothing.

The sins of the father fell upon the sons. It was Generation X that fought in Iraq during Desert Storm and once again in the Iraq War. These GenXers and their non-military generational peers were bottle fed on Cold War media and ideology. It was maybe natural that, as this generation began careers in entertainment media, they (along with the older generations) inserted the Cold War mentality back into the mainstream. Once again, we started seeing Russians portrayed as enemies in movies and shows.

Recent political events during and following the 2016 presidential campaign brought back many of the dark fantasies of the Cold War. And the fear about media meddling struck a chord that resonated with the early Cold War. Russia has returned to the world stage as a major political power. And the U.S. corporate media have given the Russian elite all the attention and coverage they were seeking. Putin’s purpose was unlikely to elect any particular candidate and more simply to regain the respect of being treated as a real threat. As nothing else could, the fear-mongering of U.S. media boosts Putin’s ego and his popularity among Russians. They were back in their Cold War role.

I hadn’t given this much thought recently. But it all came back to my attention while watching a relatively new show, TNT’s Legends. It originally aired a few years ago and the rights to show it were purchased by Hulu. I mention it not because it is great entertainment, rather because it is an expression of the cultural moment. It’s likely Hulu wouldn’t have had any interest in it, if not for recent political events and investigations involving Russia. After watching a few episodes, it immediately felt familiar. I realized that, although outwardly about the Iraq War and the War on Terror, the basic story came from my youth. It’s a revamped Vietnam War show. There is the traumatized war experience that the protagonist can’t remember and some kind of secret government operation or experiment that involved combat soldiers. The protagonist has been brainwashed somehow and he is trying to remember who he was and what happened.

Legends has hints of Cold War movies like the Manchurian Candidate, although more heavily leans on the tropes of Vietnam War movies, specifically Rambo and Jacob’s Ladder. The latter movie, Jacob’s Ladder, came a bit later in 1990 when the Cold War mood was declining but still much in the air. All of these movies weren’t limited to the imagination of screenwriters and producers. They express the paranoid mindset that had taken hold back then. Also, the U.S. government really was doing some crazy shit, from brainwashing experiments to drug experiments. Jacob’s Ladder was a fictionalized account of an actual government experiment, although the source material of Rambo was a popular conspiracy theory that had no basis in reality.

Whether inspired by truth or paranoia, such narratives spoke and in new forms continue to speak to the public imagination. What do such narratives mean? And why do they keep coming back? The have become part of a deep-seated American mythos that continually gets introduced to new generations.

The Legends show was based on a novel by Robert Littell (two of his other works were earlier made into a movie and series). He grew up during the World War II period, was in the Navy during the early Cold War, worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent during the Vietnam War, and began his fiction writing in the last years of the Vietnam War with his second novel being about that war. He is one of the authors who helped popularize the American spy novel, one of the main expressions of Cold War paranoia where truth and conspiracy were mingled. Although an old guy at this point, he is still writing and was last published in 2016 (a professional writing career that has lasted a half century).

The novel that was the source of the Legends was written in 2005, at the height of ramping up public opinion for the War on Terror. It was a time of the return of the paranoid mind with the likes of Alex Jones gaining mainstream attention. Interestingly, the developers of the show were three older GenXers: Howard Gordon, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, and Mark Bomback. And all of them were born during the Vietnam War. These producers have been involved in other shows that embody the mindset of paranoia and the war state, such as Gordon having co-developed and written scripts for Showtime’s Homeland while Nachmanoff was a director for that show. Gordon had done earlier work for years as a supervising producer and scriptwriter for The X-Files, the original show that made conspiracy theory fully mainstream.

If these narratives, these collective fantasies didn’t have such staying power, it would be a lot harder for them to be constantly used as propaganda tools. The Bush administration was able to use them to great effect in drumming up support. And that persistent paranoia has taken on new life and new uses during this Trump era. It’s because the public and politicians are constantly being fed this kind of entertainment that we get this world we find ourselves in. They are powerful narratives, capturing the moral imagination through visions of power and greatness, paranoia and terror. We get trapped in the stories we tell. There is no way to rationally respond to them. They are mind viruses that get passed on from generation to generation.

Urban Weirdness

In a summary of a study from this year, it was concluded that “young city-dwellers also have 40% more chance of suffering from psychosis (hearing voices, paranoia or becoming schizophrenic in adulthood) is perhaps is less common knowledge.” The authors in the paper claim to have controlled for “a range of potential confounders including family SES, family psychiatric history, maternal psychosis, adolescent substance problems, and neighborhood-level deprivation.”

These are intriguing results, assuming that the study was successful in controlling the confounding factors and so assuming they were making a genuine comparison. Some of the features they noted for the effected urban populations were adverse neighborhood conditions and community breakdown, but I’d point out that these are increasingly found in rural areas. For example, if they further focused in on the hardest hit areas of rural Appalachia, would they find the same results? Is this really a difference between urban and rural areas? If so, that requires explaining, maybe beyond what the authors articulated.

Some of that might be caused by physical factors in urban environments.

Lead toxicity, for example, is worse in cities these days (although a century ago it was actually worse in rural areas because of heavy use of lead paint for barns). Lead toxicity has major impacts on neurocognitive development and mental illness. Also, keeping pets indoors is more common in cities. And where cats are kept as house pets, there are higher rates of toxoplasmosis which is another causal factor that alters the brain and leads to mental health issues.

Neither lead toxicity nor toxoplasmosis was mentioned in the paper. Those are two obvious confounders apparently not having been considered. That could be problematic, although not necessarily undermining the general pattern.

Other factors might have to do with crime or rather the criminal system.

There are actually lower violent crime rates in urban areas, both big and small cities, as compared to rural areas (the rural South is even worse). But it is true that specific urban communities and neighborhoods would have more crime and violence, meaning greater levels of victimization. Beyond crime itself, a major difference is that there are greater levels of policing in cities, which means more police targeting of particular populations (specifically minorities and the poor) and so more police harassment and brutality for the victimized populations. Many poor inner cities can feel like occupied territories, far from optimal conditions for normal psychological development.

Furthermore, there are more video cameras, public and private, watching the citizenry’s every move. Cities are artificial environments, highly ordered in constraining and controlling human behavior, with more walls than open spaces. In tending toward inequality and segregation, cities create divided populations that have separate life experiences. This undermines a culture of trust and makes it difficult to maintain community-based social capital. It’s understandable that all of this combined might make one feel paranoid or simply stressed and anxious. But we should be careful about our conclusions, since cities in more equal and well functioning social democracies might be far different than cities in a country like the United States.

Besides, there might be more going on than these external issues of urban environments.

Urban populations are larger and more concentrated than ever before. Maybe there are psychological changes that happen to populations under these conditions, as urbanization increases. Being in near constant close proximity to so many people has to have major impacts on human development and behavior. And this might go far beyond issues of stress alone.

This could relate to Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameralism, as he argued that people hearing voices became more common with the emergence of the first city-states. Urban environments are atypical for the conditions under which human evolution occurred. It shouldn’t be surprising that abnormal conditions would lead to abnormal results, whatever are the specifics involved.

So, maybe it should be expected that “mental health deterioration” would follow. If the bicameral mind actually did once exist in the ancient world, I’m sure the first urban dwellers initially experienced it as negative and threatening. Any major societal change takes many generations (or centuries) to be fully assimilated, normalized, and stabilized within the social order.

But humans are so adaptable that almost anything can eventually be integrated into a culture. Recent research has shown how highly atypical is our WEIRD society (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) and yet to us it is perfectly normal. Maybe these neurocognitive changes from increased urbanization are simply our WEIRD society being pushed ever further down the path its on. The WEIRD might get ever more weird.

A new mentality could be developing, for good or ill. If our society survives the transition, something radically different would emerge. As has been noted by others, revolutions of the mind always precede revolutions of society. Before the earthquake, the tectonic plates must shift. The younger generations are standing on the faultline and, in being hit by urbanization the hardest, they will experience it like no one else. But as it goes on, none of us will escape the consequences. We better hope for a new mentality.

“News from the guinea pig grapevine suggests that whatever it is, we won’t know until it’s way too late, you see? You see that we’re all canaries in the coal mine on this one?”
~ Barris, A Scanner Darkly

* * *

Cumulative Effects of Neighborhood Social Adversity and Personal Crime Victimization on Adolescent Psychotic Experiences
by Joanne Newbury, Louise Arseneault, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt1, Candice L. Odgers, & Helen L. Fishe

Does urbanicity shift the population expression of psychosis?
by Janneke Spauwen, Lydia Krabbendam, Roselind Lieb, Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, & Jim van Os

Schizophrenia and Urbanicity: A Major Environmental Influence—Conditional on Genetic Risk
by Lydia Krabbendam & Jim van Os

Brain Structure Correlates of Urban Upbringing, an Environmental Risk Factor for Schizophrenia
Leila Haddad, Axel Schäfer, Fabian Streit, Florian Lederbogen, Oliver Grimm, Stefan Wüst, by Michael Deuschle, Peter Kirsch, Heike Tost, & Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg

City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans
by Florian Lederbogen, Peter Kirsch, Leila Haddad, Fabian Streit, Heike Tost, Philipp Schuch, Stefan Wüst, Jens C. Pruessner, Marcella Rietschel, Michael Deuschle & Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg

 

On Rodents and Conservatives

My parents are always worrying about the bird feeders in the backyard. They think they’ll attract rodents that will get in the house.

First of all, in the years my parents have lived here, they’ve had the bird feeders and rodents have never gotten in the house. And, second, rodents are unlikely to ever get in because it is one of these modern sealed-up houses with no cracks in the foundation, no loose siding, no crawlspace to be easily accessed, and not even a drafty attic.

This is how the conservative mind leads to paranoia. Somehow something or someone who isn’t supposed to be here will get in, no matter how improbable according to a rational analysis. This is the same fear that is seen with immigrants, minorities, the poor, or anyone who is different. The way my parents talk you’d think that rodents are welfare queens trying to game the system, and admittedly rodents are sneaky critters who will take advantage of any situation. This is what would lead some extreme conservatives to sitting on their back stoop shooting at shadows in the dark — fortunately, my parents’ fearful attitude is a milder variety.

The fear isn’t rational, for fear is ultimately never rational, just an emotion that may or may not indicate something beyond itself. And so there is no way to counter fear with rationality. There is only one response that fear demands and that is taking action, which pushed to its end point means fight or flight. In my parents’ imaginations, it’s almost as if the rodents are already in the house scurrying about. There is very little distinction, in the conservative mind, between imagining something as real and it actually being real.

I love my parents dearly. But it can be a challenge sometimes. It’s not that the bird feeder issue is a big deal. It’s just one of those thousands of things that regularly come up. As my parents gave voice to their fear of a rodent plague destroying all that is good in the world, an uprising of nature against mankind and civilization, I could see the gears in their head clicking away. Looking out the window, they could see the rodents that weren’t there… not yet, but once night comes with naive liberals sleeping soundly in bed the rodent threat will swarm over the landscape.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit for effect. I’m just feeling amused.

It reminds me of a popular Buddhist story. Two Buddhist monks were walking along. They came to a stream where a woman was having difficulty in trying to cross. The older monk helped carry her to the other side. Then the monks continued on. Further down the path, the younger monk decided to chastise his companion because it was against their religious vows to touch a woman. In response, the older monk shared a bit of wisdom. He said, I put the woman down back at the stream, but you’re still carrying her.

As a liberal, that is how I see conservatives. They are constantly carrying in their minds all kinds of things, from rodents to immigrants, from welfare queens to terrorists, their minds overflowing with fears and anxieties. And they rarely if ever put them down. It’s hard for anyone to shake something once it gets in their mind, but it’s particularly hard for conservatives. Even when their thick boundaries allow them to temporarily cut off their worries and concerns in order to focus on some other matter, those worries and concerns never really leave their minds and will quickly return to their awareness with the slightest trigger.

It’s not as if my parents will bring up the imagined rodent problem all that often, but for as long as they live in this house it will remain at the back of their minds. Every time they see those bird feeders, the narrative of rodent invasion will play in their minds, though probably most often below the threshold of consciousness.

I should clarify a point. Conservatives aren’t always wrong about what they fear. Theoretically, rodents could get into my parents’ house. It’s just the probability is extremely low (from a liberal perspective, ridiculously low), not the kind of thing worth worrying about. If my parents lived in an old house with lots of cracks and crevices, their fear would be valid. That is the problem. Conservative fears aren’t dependent on context. To the extent that someone is conservative-minded, there is a state of fear constantly on the look out.

Still, motivated by rodent phobia, conservatives such as my parents might be less likely to have rodent problems or at least more likely to deal with them swiftly and harshly. War on rodents? Maybe Trump could look into that. With conservatives in the world, maybe we liberals benefit from being kept safe from the rodent plague, although it must be admitted that conservative European societies back in the day failed to prevent the rodent-inflicted Black Plague. So, I don’t know.

I just like watching the birds.

Stranger Danger and Our Kids

No Adults Allowed
by Lenore Skenazy

The signs on every playground in my city, New York, say this: “Playground rules prohibit adults except in the company of children.”

Apparently, because any adult who simply wants to sit on a bench and watch kids at play could be a creep, it’s best to just ban them all. The idea that children and adults go naturally together has been replaced by distrust and disgust. [ . . . ]

By separating the generations this way, we are creating a new society, one that actively distrusts anyone who wants to help a kid other than his own. Compare this anxiety with what goes on in Japan. There the youngest kids wear bright yellow hats when they go to school.

“Doesn’t that put them in danger?” asked a friend I was telling about this. To her, a kid who calls attention to himself is a kid who could be attracting a predator.

But attracting adult attention is exactly what the yellow hats are supposed to do. In Japan, the assumption is that the easier it is to see children the easier it is for grown-ups to look out for them.

Japan’s belief is that children are our collective responsibility. America’s is that children are private treasures under constant threat of theft.

Which brings me to the flip side of our obsession with stranger danger: the idea that anytime a parent lets her kids do anything on their own, she is actually requiring the rest of us grown-ups to “baby-sit” them free of charge. [ . . . ]

It didn’t matter that he was perfectly well-behaved, only that when a store employee asked his age, he was deemed an unbearable burden to the store. The manager had him detained until his father could come pick him up.

This detention outraged many people, but a significant contingent sided with the store, saying that the employees there shouldn’t have had to “baby-sit” the boy.

But, but — no one did have to baby-sit him. He was just a person in public, albeit a young one.

‘Stranger Danger’ and the Decline of Halloween
by Lenore Skenazy

Take “stranger danger,” the classic Halloween horror. Even when I was a kid, back in the “Bewitched” and “Brady Bunch” costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy. (Oh, yes, he concedes, there was once a Texas boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix. But his dad did it for the insurance money. He was executed.)

Anyway, you’d think that word would get out: poisoned candy not happening. But instead, most Halloween articles to this day tell parents to feed children a big meal before they go trick-or-treating, so they won’t be tempted to eat any candy before bringing it home for inspection. As if being full has ever stopped any kid from eating free candy!

So stranger danger is still going strong, and it’s even spread beyond Halloween to the rest of the year. Now parents consider their neighbors potential killers all year round. That’s why they don’t let their kids play on the lawn, or wait alone for the school bus: “You never know!” The psycho-next-door fear went viral.

“Stranger Danger” to children vastly overstated
by Glenn Fleishman

Of nonfamily abductions, just 115 children (90 reported) in 1999 were estimated to fit a stereotypical kidnapping by a stranger or slight acquaintance. Forty of those were killed. That’s 1 child out of every 750,000 kidnapped, and 1 out of about every 2 million killed.

Of all children reported missing (whether the estimate or based on reports), 99.8% were returned home or located; the remaining number were virtually all runaways.

Family, through noncustodial abduction or kicking a child out; a child’s own action as a runaway, for whatever cause and for whatever duration; and accidents are most of these reports. All of these problems can be mitigated by various means, but none of them fit into our picture of not letting a kid walk down the street because she or he will be snatched.

You wouldn’t know any of this from reading typical parental advice regarding stranger danger.

Of Puppies and Predators at the Park
byy Lenore Skenazy

The problem is that the very premise makes it seem as if this is a situation kids are routinely faced with, something as common as, “Would your kids eat a cookie if someone offered it?” What is so hard to understand is that first of all, the vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by strangers they meet at the park but by people they know. That means they are far likelier to encounter their abuser at the dinner table than at the park. So it is bizarre to keep acting as if the park is teeming with danger.

Secondly, there is something twisted and weird about only looking at risk when we think of kids. Every aspect of children’s lives is seen as somehow dangerous: what they’re eating, wearing, watching and doing and, of course, what could happen to them if they ever left the house.

Which, increasingly, we don’t let them do — despite there being a crime rate that is similar to the one in 1963.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D Putnam review – concerned, scholarly
by Richard Reeves

The concatenation of advantages and disadvantages is visible in economic sorting at the neighbourhood level, leading to social sorting in terms of schools, churches and community groups. Putnam writes: “Our kids are increasingly growing up with kids like them who have parents like us.” This represents, he warns, “an incipient class apartheid”.

Bootstraps Aren’t Enough
by W. Bradford Wilcox

For the well-educated, the phrase “our kids” may well bring to mind conditions of relative affluence, in which children grow up in a family with two married and attentive (even overattentive) parents; attend high-performing schools; and feel themselves embedded in a network of friends and mentors ready to help them navigate life’s challenges. By contrast, “their kids”—the kids of poor and working-class parents—face a world in which social capital is in short supply. As Mr. Putnam shows powerfully and poignantly—combining reporting with empirical analysis—the disparity results in too many children in nonaffluent circumstances feeling alone, emotionally stunted and unable to summon the will to climb today’s economic ladder into the middle or upper class.

Richer and Poorer
by Jill Lepore

The American dream is in crisis, Putnam argues, because Americans used to care about other people’s kids and now they only care about their own kids. But, he writes, “America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.”

Robert Putnam: When Did Poor Kids Stop Being ‘Our Kids’?
by Sarah D. Sparks

“If it takes a village to raise a child, the prognosis for America’s children isn’t good: In recent years, villages all over America, rich and poor, have deteriorated as we’ve shirked collective responsibility for our kids,” Mr. Putnam wrote. “And most Americans don’t have the resources … to replace collective provision with private provision.” [ . . . ]

Mr. Putnam, whose 2000 book Bowling Alone looked at declining civic ties among adults, argues that students in poverty growing up in the middle of the last century had greater economic and social mobility than their counterparts do today in large part because adults at all socioeconomic levels were more likely then to see all students as “our kids.”

The terrible loneliness of growing up poor in Robert Putnam’s America
by Emily Badger

“If we can begin to think of these poor kids as our kids,” he says, “we would not sleep for a second before we figured out how to help them.”

Why you should care about other people’s kids
interview by Paul Solman

PS: Sure, but Herrnstein’s point was that it could be genetic, it could be nurture, but that sort of mating is happening and it’s going to pose a huge inequality problem in this country.

RP: He’s right. And if it were just genetics, there might not be anything we could do about it. But if it’s partly just the resources that we’re investing in these kids, which is my thesis, that’s fixable in principle. That’s not like a law of genetics. My argument is basically we need to think of these kids coming from poor backgrounds and broken homes – they’re also our kids.

When I was growing up in Port Clinton 50 years ago, my parents talked about, “We’ve got to do things for our kids. We’ve got to pay higher taxes so our kids can have a better swimming pool, or we’ve got to pay higher taxes so we can have a new French department in school,” or whatever. When they said that, they did not just mean my sister and me — it was all the kids here in town, of all sorts. But what’s happened, and this is sort of the bowling alone story, is that over this last 30, 40, 50 years, the meaning of “our kids” has narrowed and narrowed and narrowed so that now when people say, “We’ve got to do something for our kids,” they mean MY biological kids. [ . . . ]

PS: But liberals like you make this argument about all kinds of things, like infrastructure or education: pay now or you’ll pay more later. Americans feel that they’re already paying enough in taxes and they don’t trust that those investments will be made efficiently enough.

RP: America’s best investment ever, in the whole history of our country, was to invest in the public high school and secondary school at the beginning of the 20th century. It dramatically raised the growth rate of America because it was a huge investment in human capital. The best economic analyses now say that investment in the public high schools in 1910 accounted for all of the growth of the American economy between then and about 1970. That huge investment paid off for everybody. Everybody in America had a higher income.

Now, some rich farmer could have said, “Well, why should I be paying for those other kids to go to high school? My kids are already off in Chicago and I don’t care about [other kids].” But most people in America didn’t. This was not something hatched in Washington – small town people got together and said, “Look, we ought to do this for our kids… We ought to have a high school so that every kid who grows up here — they’re all our kids — gets a good high school education.”

Culture of Paranoia, Culture of Trust

Paranoia is easy to wave away and laugh about. The craziest of conspiracy theories are known about by almost any American. It is redundant, in respectable company, to even say a conspiracy theory is crazy. But this condescension toward the paranoid misses the fundamental relevance of paranoia.

This country is a paranoid society, I would argue. It goes beyond the radical conspiracists and affects us all. There could be many reasons for this state of affairs. The most obvious one is that we live in a large and diverse country. Few other countries come close to the distance found here between geographic regions and ethnic cultures. Furthermore, the distance between the powerful and powerless is at least as vast and growing vaster. In the space between these distances, there is much room for fantasizing and projection, for fear and mistrust.

I find myself more sympathetic and understanding of paranoia than many people, partly because I have my own paranoid leanings. I came of age reading Robert Anton Wilson and listening to Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM. I tend toward considering all perspectives, even when they seem improbable, if only for amusement and the exercise of my imagination. This isn’t to say I will waste my time trying to make sense of incoherent ramblings or unsupported speculations. Nor does it mean I won’t judge harshly and call bullshit. I’ll look at someone’s evidence and claims, but I will do so critically with utmost intellectual standards.

I take paranoia seriously because it feels like an all too reasonable response to the world we live in. Particular paranoid responses often aren’t plausible or relevant. Sometimes they can lead to harmful beliefs and dangerous behaviors. Still, paranoia taken on its own terms is a useful and maybe a necessary attitude. It simply tells us that there is something that isn’t known and that such is a less-than-optimal situation. So, even when paranoia leads to an invalid conspiracy theory and/or problematic levels of mistrust, the impulse itself shouldn’t be denied or ignored.

Truth often hides in odd places, if we dare to look. But we can’t know what truth that might be until we look for it. When we notice paranoia, we should take very seriously what is provoking it.

There are plenty of issues an American should be paranoid about. Trust needs to be earned, most especially in a supposed democratic society. Yet particular individuals and groups in our society have proven to be questionable in their trustworthiness. We have endless examples of trust being abused and betrayed, often in major ways.

One of the greatest of injustices in this country, of course, is that of racism… or call it racialization, racial bias, institutional racism, racecraft, the New Jim Crow, whatever. Everyone acknowledges the dark past beginning with slavery, but political correctness has made it near impossible to speak openly and honestly about the continuing reality and the enduring repercussions.

From Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness The New Reality of Race in America by John L. Jackson:

“Most commentators don’t emphasize, however, that the stakes of political correctness are located in a slightly different place than our conversations on the matter imply. The culture of political correctness actually generates one of the essential foundations of contemporary racial distrust. Since most Americans aren’t as transparent as Archie Bunker (even when he’s trying to hide his ethnocentrism), PC policies actually lose their ability to cultivate the kinds of good-faith dialogues they are meant to foster. Instead, blacks are stuck in the structural position (vis-à-vis white interlocutors) of their ancestors’ slave masters: they see smiles on white faces and hear kind words spilling from white mouths without the least bit of certainty about whether those gestures are representative of the speakers’ hearts. “The American Negro problem,” wrote Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal in the 1940s, “is a problem in the heart of the American. It is there that the interracial tension has its focus. It is there that the decisive struggle goes on.” And it is there that the search for racial honesty and truth continues today. But not in the same ways that Myrdal emphasized.

“When individuals’ words and some of their actions can no longer be trusted, we look for other seemingly invisible and interior clues about people’s racial positions. We long to look past calculated performances and into the very hearts of men and women. Social analysts should take the features of this need, this search for de cardio racism, seriously—this racism attributed to the hearts of other-than-explicitly racist actors. De cardio racism is imagined to be a kind of hidden or cloaked racism, a racism of euphemism and innuendo, not heels-dug-in pronouncements of innate black inferiority.

“We’re living in a moment when what I’m calling de cardio racism has elbowed out room for itself at the head of America’s political table, right alongside still operative de jure and de facto forms (think of sentencing disparities for possession of crack versus powder cocaine as a contemporary version of the former and our seemingly effortless, self-perpetuating reproductions of residential and educational segregation along racial lines as a twenty-first-century instance of the latter).

“Given this newfangled reckoning of American racism’s potentially cloaked animosities, the white man’s newest burden is hardly lightened by political correctness—just as black people’s deepest racial suspicions are only bolstered by America’s current penchant for dressing up every ideological position (no matter how reactionary or elitist, partisan or self-interested) as simply another better version of egalitarianism.”
(pp. 77-80)

Without genuine public discourse, the silence belies something unspoken and unadmitted.

“As an anthropologist studying how black people talk about race, I’ve heard this silence described many times and in many ways, but one young security guard in Brook – lyn, New York, captured the thrust of the de cardio racism critique most succinctly: “They were sending dogs to maul black kids in the street forty years ago, and all of a sudden there are no racists in America at all.” De cardio racism asks, where did all of yesterday’s racial wolves go, and why do all these sheep seem to be standing around licking their chops?””
(pp. 88-89)

Racism hasn’t disappeared. It has simply mutated into some strange creature, a mind parasite that burrows deep (as the Toxoplasma lies hidden in the brain of rats telling them that they want to run fast in open spaces, that the smell of cat urine is actually a pleasant smell to be sought out). Hidden behind political correctness and post-racial colorblindness, the infestation of this soul-sickening mind-warping racial oppressiveness goes untreated.

“The point isn’t that race is less important now than it was before. It’s just more schizophrenic, more paradoxical. We continue to commit to its social significance on many levels, but we seem to disavow that commitment at one and the same time. Race is real, but it isn’t. It has value, but it doesn’t. It explains social difference, but it couldn’t possibly. This kind of racial doublethink drives us all crazy, makes us so suspicious of one another, and fans the flames of racial paranoia. Nothing is innocent, and one bumps into conspirators everywhere.”
(p. 11)

This isn’t to deny the progress that has been made, but it is to look deeper past the superficial narrative and into the even more intransigent problems.

“The demonization of public racism is clearly a social and moral victory, but it has come at a cost. Political correctness has proven tragically effective at hiding racism, not just healing it. In sacrificing noisy and potentially combative racial discussions for the politeness of political correctness, we face an even more pernicious racism, a racism that’s almost never explicitly declared, except among the closest of confidants. But as the “White Like Me” skit’s lampoon shows, people recognize the fact that racism might be even more effectual under the cover of color blindness and rhetorical silence.”
(p. 91)

The fact that political correctness has become the ultimate defense of racism is one of the saddest results of all. The words of political correctness are invoked like an invisibility spell. With this talismanic use of magical words, all the old racisms simply take new form and in some ways they are more powerful than before. Now they are presented, instead of as belief and bigotry, in the guise of neutral observation or even scientific reality.

We Americans live in a society, not just of vast geographic and cultural divides, but also of vast racial and class divides.

There is no other major developed country in the Western world with equivalent high of rates of economic inequality and no other country anywhere in the world with even close to our high rates of incarceration rates; other high rates of social problems could be added to these two egregious examples. The injustice of this American society is beyond comprehension. Those on the bottom or those threatened with ending up on the bottom have a lot to fear. If you are deemed useless or simply in the way in this society, you will be lucky to fall through the cracks rather than be ground beneath the wheel. And no one in the mainstream media will bother to report on your sad fate. You’ll just be another faceless number or maybe not even that.

It is hard to blame people, under these oppressive conditions, for lashing out at shadows.

“When you wire skepticism and paranoia directly to questions of racial discrimination and inequality (and in a context where economic inequality is rising just as social safety nets are deteriorating precipitously), you then have a perfect storm for severe responses to severe times.”
(p. 200)

The danger in our society isn’t in being paranoid but in not being paranoid enough, especially if you are part of the economic underclass or worse still the racial under-caste. But paranoia speaks of deeper undercurrents still. In a society of fear, the sickening taint of mistrust and doubt seeps into our very pores.

“De cardio racism can even be hidden from the very person who harbors it. They may not even admit racist feelings to themselves. If we were all self-aware and totally self-transparent, every psychotherapist in the country would be begging for bread.”
(p. 237)

Now there is paranoia for you. The monster lurks within the unsuspecting. Look in the mirror, if you dare, and see what may look back.

The more we deny something the more we fear being judged to be in denial. Still, it isn’t just that this judgment may come from others but that we too have suspicions about ours own potential guilt, a sense of past sins and ongoing complicities. Everyone understands that each of us harbors ugly thoughts, cruel grudges, repressed memories, and who knows what else. So much of civilized behavior is pretense, as much to convince ourselves as others. For certain, political correctness isn’t a recent invention. People have been speaking around uncomfortable truths and dangerous ideas for as long as humans could speak.

“The eighteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire once claimed that human beings really only speak to conceal what they truly feel, as much to miscommunicate as anything else. Humans are complicated and dissimulating creatures with the uncanny ability to misrepresent themselves and their deepest inner thoughts, to be purposefully economical with the truth. It could be as harmless as a “little white lie” about how good your child was in the school play or as catastrophic as a governmental cover-up of Watergate-like proportions. And there are few areas of public life where people put these gifts to work as often as they do in the context of discussions about race.”
(pp. 89-90)

It doesn’t even matter if we’d rather not admit to what underlies our own thoughts and motivations. The data points toward the inconvenient knowledge of our all too human tendencies. Research shows a million examples of hidden biases and prejudices, many of them racial.

“Although nobody went on CNN or Fox after the Hurricane Katrina disaster to proclaim that they would like to donate money to white victims instead of black ones, a Washington Post/Stanford University study found that white Americans were willing to provide more financial assistance to white victims than black ones, to the tune of about $1,000 extra a year. And the darker the victim, the less money she would have received, with lighter-skinned blacks benefiting from about $100 more per month than those who couldn’t pass the brown-paper-bag test (i.e., those not lighter than a brown shopping bag). Americans may hardly admit it in public, but they are clearly willing to put their money where their color biases are.”
(p. 88)

I have my doubts that we, as a society and as individuals, would know how to be non-racist, even if we tried. We are the products of our society and are no more capable of being colorblind than Pavlov’s dog could be mute to the sound of the bell.

“If psychologists have shown that people don’t even necessarily know what makes them happy, they may not be able to identify exactly what makes them potentially hateful or discriminatory either. If we can “stumble on happiness,” we might be able to stumble right into prejudice as well.

“The more blatantly racist a society has been in the past, the steeper its climb out of explicit racial discrimination and the harder it is for contemporary citizens to shake fears of de cardio racism. The farther we advance from overt racist doctrines and laws, the more material traces those past sins leave behind, which means all the more surfaces to which contemporary racially charged paranoia might stick.”
(p. 95)

Alleging that our dark nature is to be found in our genes or elsewhere instead of the unconscious hardly alleviates the paranoia. Ours is a society full of people claiming secret sins are hidden away within the hearts, minds and bodies of their neighbors, coworkers and fellow citizens. All white people have hidden racist beliefs and thoughts. All black people (along with other minorities) have hidden inferior genes and culture. And all of society has hidden structures of privilege and oppression, of class warfare and cabals of special interest groups. Endless seething nightmares of paranoia.

The real dark secret is the paranoia itself. We all go on acting normal as these dark visions play out in the background of our daily activities and interactions. It isn’t about proving one’s own preferred paranoia and disproving all others. The paranoia itself always speaks to our shared reality. The question is: What does it signify? What are we really afraid of?

“Rumors about race, racism, and racial distrust are not just fringe beliefs held by a few hard-line crackpots, not even the kinds just mentioned. They define the surreal core of all racial stereotypes and race-based social policy. Race, as a concept, is only useful as a way to ground conspiratorial claims—about research on inherent cognitive differences between social groups or about secret government surveillance technologies. Race is one of the shortcuts we use to convince ourselves that the social differences we see in the world merely reflect more latent and inflexible differences in genes or culture. And racial paranoia is the realization that we are all far too afraid and polite to deal with any of these assumptions head-on.”
(pp. 108-110)

Racial paranoia is just another expression of the return of the repressed. If we don’t deal with an issue at the conscious level, our unconsciousness will find a way to force the issue and command our attention. The central conflict of race itself demands resolution.

“In the early 1970s, psychologist Joseph White penned what is now one of the most classic formulations of black paranoia as a reasonable response to white racism. “Part of the objective condition of black people in this society is that of a paranoid condition,” he writes. “There is, and has been, unwarranted, systematic persecution and exploitation of black people as a group. A black person who is not suspicious of the white culture is pathologically denying certain objective and basic realities of the black experience.””
(p. 189)

There is more to racial paranoia than fear-fueled suspiciousness and dark visions. Very much real social conditions, historical and present, give plentiful evidence for mistrust. How could the average black person in this society not at the very least have some occasional misgivings? Heck, I’m a relatively privileged white male and even I have healthy skepticism about the good intentions of certain people who share this society with me. A bit of paranoia is a perfectly normal response when faced with such deeply entrenched power structures and power disparities.

“What detractors pooh-pooh as irrational racial paranoia might represent an appropriate, if incomplete, response to euphemized forms of racism today.”
(p. 214)

So, what kind of response is needed?

Simply trying to be more reasonable and rational won’t save us. We humans never lack for reasons, never lack for an ability to rationalize and explain away. The surface level of our thoughts and words is just so much distraction. If we seek justice and fairness, there is no way for us to keep an objective distance and keep ourselves clean from the inersubjective muck of it all. It is all too personal for all involved.

“As a society we should never pretend that we have successfully reasoned or legislated our way out of race’s suffocating grasp. Our historical investment in it is too dynamic and affective for that, too irrational and deep-seated. We are being naive if we think that we can sit down and intellectualize ourselves out of its sticky clutches, if we imagine that ending explicit commitments to blatant types of racial discrimination must mean that we are done with racism’s awful legacy for good. It is a trap that scholars fall into as well, assuming that all they have to do is objectively “deconstruct” race, prove it isn’t real in the biological ways that we once thought, and then imagine that by doing so they have somehow inoculated us all against its most hazardous features, dulled its sharpest talons. That isn’t nearly true.”

“We want to believe something very similar about racism and accusations of racism. If we can prove that a particular allegation of racism is unfounded or untrue, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief and try to move on. That is part of racism’s power. It tricks us into thinking that we can wish it away with a string of logical premises and conclusions, with a singular decree of guilt or innocence. We fantasize about isolating this thing and determining its measurable impact once and for all, especially now that blatant forms of racism have been so thoroughly demonized in mainstream society.”
(pp. 84-85)

Yeah, I’ve lately read a number of books whose authors could be accused of falling into that intellectual trap. I’m not sure it is an entirely fair accusation, but I understand the point. Intellectual analysis of data is just a tool. It is one tool among many and no less useful when needed.

If I had an accusation against the author of this book (John L. Jackson), I might say that he didn’t ground his argument in enough intellectual analysis of data. His argument would have been so much stronger had he been as thorough as, for example, Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow. It was the data-driven strength of Alexander’s presentation that made her book so effective in its impact and hopefully its influence.

I love that Racial Paranoia presents fresh insight and an innovative perspective. So, I wouldn’t judge Jackson too harshly for I understand his purpose. He is making a very important point that maybe no one else is making, at least not in the way he is making it. The only comparable book I’ve come across is Racecraft by Fields and Fields. Both books try to get beyond the standard repeating of data and, in doing so, try to get past the cognitive traps of our own making.

Some have criticized Jackson for what the perceived failure to more fully include the problems of more overt racism, but I especially think that is unfair.

“I do want to argue that racial paranoia isn’t racism, but racism is also still alive and well (even in its more explicit guises). I don’t want to privilege individual psyches over larger structural forces. In fact, I want to argue that a structural transformation in the American racial order created current versions of race-based paranoia. All I suggest is that we not simply reduce accusations of racism to simplistic assessments of truth or falsehood. We shouldn’t just try to vet them for provable accuracy and then go on to something else once we think we’ve shown a particular allegation to be unfounded. Instead, I want to remind us that we now live in a political atmosphere that promotes racial dissimulation and insincerity. The self-conscious parsing of racial speech brings a certain kind of distrust and bad faith into the center of every interracial conversation, even if through the back door and against some people’s best intentions.”
(pp. 195-196)

His point is that taking seriously racial paranoia is a necessary and essential part of our dealing with the more concrete racial problems that confound us.

“We promote racial paranoia when we combine discussions about color blindness with silent acceptance of continued structural differences in racial realities.”
(p. 206)

As such, racial paranoia is a sign of our collective failure. It is proof of how far away we still are from coming to terms with the real issues at hand.

There is a further issue that brings me to my own thoughts on American society. Jackson touches upon this in the following:

“Some critics downplay the significance of Americans’ publicly concealing their racial biases in mixed company, even as some of these same naysayers admit that most blacks and whites don’t have many substantial relationships with one another. In fact, political scientist Robert Putnam argues that Americans who live in diverse communities are more likely to disengage from civic life than those who live in homogenous racial and ethnic enclaves. This just further highlights fellow political scientist Diana Mutz’s persuasive contention that “participatory democracy” (civic engagement, people rolling up their sleeves and taking part in political life) and “deliberative democracy” (substantive discussions about political life) operate at cross-purposes to one another.13 If the lack of racial intimacy breeds distrust, the increase of interracial contact only makes good-faith social dialogue and interaction a casualty of that social mistrust. Social distance can make the heart grow frightened, but it takes more than just passing a diverse array of strangers on the street to allay those fears.”
(pp. 202-203)

I’ve so far spoken only of our culture of paranoia. That is the challenge before us. But what is the antidote? I would suggest that the only force equal to the task would be a culture of trust. The fact that this country has such a culture of paranoia could be interpreted as demonstrating how weak is our culture of trust, but I don’t know if that is actually the case. Conditions supporting each might not be oppositional.

The reason I say this is because the United States, in the studies I’ve seen, measures relatively high as a culture of trust. Not as high, of course, as Germany or Japan. Still, we’re not doing too bad, better than most countries. Besides, one might point out that, if not for a significant culture of paranoia in Germany, the Nazis wouldn’t likely have come to power by scapegoating so many people.

A culture of trust is about social capital. And a culture of paranoia is one possible result of insufficient social capital. But a finer point must be added that there are many kinds of social capital that serve different ends.

That is what Jackson explains in the quote directly above when he says, ““participatory democracy” (civic engagement, people rolling up their sleeves and taking part in political life) and “deliberative democracy” (substantive discussions about political life) operate at cross-purposes to one another.” Maybe so. If so, that is quite a dilemma. I doubt it is a forced option of one or the other, but it could imply a necessary third that bridges the two, a factor of social capital that is of a higher order.

This is shown by yet another study. Children who grow up in multicultural communities tend to become more socially liberal as adults. For a social democracy, the ultimate form of social capital is social liberalism. Without it, social democracy can’t function. Multiculturalism teaches kids how to tolerate and accept, how to cooperate and compromise with those who are different.

As this all shows, it isn’t simply a matter of social capital or its lack. Rather, what is required is a balance of social capital that achieves a particular end. A different blend of social capital would be required in a traditional society than in a modern society. In speaking of cultures of trust, we must consider what kinds of trust toward whom and for what purpose.

A kinship-based society would measure low in these kinds of studies for people in those societies only trust kin, but their trust of kin is very strong. In America, there is less trust (or loyalty) to large extended families. Few Americans could honestly speak of having a traditional clan or a tribe to which they belong. Also, as we aren’t an ethnic nation-state, we don’t have the same kind of patriotism and communitarianism found in the countries that do measure highest as cultures of trust. The Japanese when dealing with other Japanese know that they can make business deals on a handshake for someone’s word is their honor and, when the Japanese fail by their own sense of honor, that means social death and if severe enough a responsibility to commit suicide. We Americans aren’t so honor-bound.

Even so, we Americans have our own variety of trust. Unlike societies of kinship and ethno-nationalism, we are more likely to offer trust to strangers more quickly and with fewer reservations. We are more likely to assume someone is trustworthy until proven otherwise, especially in terms of face-to-face personal interactions.

My dad gave an example of this. His career led him to visit many factories. He remembered visiting a closed-down Japanese factory, but Japanese management were wary about him seeing their operation since he was an outsider, not just an outsider to Japan for he was also an outsider to the company. In visiting American factories, it was more common for management to let him freely wander around factories that were actively being used.

This might relate to a behavioral trait I’ve heard many foreigners observe in Americans. Americans on average are more openly gregarious, quick to help others, go out of our way to make people feel welcome. But to many foreigners this feels superficial. I can only imagine that it is something like how my Midwestern mother felt when interacting with our Southern Belle neighbor in South Carolina, a cordial friendliness that was just a formality. This observation of foreigners seems to show that there are two levels of trust. In everyday interactions, Americans act trustingly. But otherwise, Americans go by the policy that deeper trust needs to be earned. We don’t give someone that deeper trust simply because they share our kinship or our ethnicity.

Racial paranoia seems to operate on that deeper level.

It goes back to slavery, as Jackson explains. Many slave masters weren’t so wealthy that they could sit around sipping iced tea on the veranda. They had to be out there working in the fields with their slaves. Even for wealthier slave masters, their entire lives were intimately entwined with their slaves and, in the more isolated Virginia plantations, this went as far as slaves being part of an extended sense of family. It was the simultaneous closeness and distance between people in a slave society that necessitated trust even as it provoked paranoia. Segregation offers a false portrayal of geographic separation, but the reality is that people lived separate lives while often living next door to one another. Even after slavery, whether as sharecroppers or servants, blacks in the Deep South tended live near the whites they worked for. My Southern Belle neighbor, for example, had a black woman who was her personal servant for years and only lived a few blocks away.

A similar dynamic has happened also between other diverse demographics: ethnic groups, regional populations, etc. This is an immigrant nation and so that has meant diverse people have had to learn to work together, even when there was potential for animosities and inequalities. This has been magnified by the American tendency to move around a lot from region to region. American-style cooperative trust goes hand-in-hand with wary mistrust.

It could be that the paranoid imagination is how societies process divisions and conflicts. As people imagine dark possibilities, they imagine brighter possibilities as well.

Along with being an immigrant nation, the corollary is that this is a dynamic society. There is a constant influx of immigrants and, about every few generations, a new large wave of immigration comes along. This has meant that, unlike traditional societies with established ethnic populations, Americans in general has never been able or particularly interested in trying to remain unchanging.

Like all of modernity, this dynamic instability is taxing on human nature. There is an endless need for negotiating and renegotiating relationships. No seeming certainties go forever unchallenged.

This reminds me of my eternal fascination with boundaries and boundary types. I’ll let this angle bring me into my concluding thoughts.

The reason race is most prone to paranoia is because it isn’t an objective category. It can be almost anything to anyone. This is clearly shown with issues of definition. Even relatively dark-skinned North Africans are technically Caucasians. A large number of American blacks have as many or more European genetics than African genetics. There is a long history of light-skinned blacks passing as whites and also some examples of whites passing as blacks (e.g., John Howard Griffin). Then there are all those ethnic groups that have struggled to fit into American categories: Italians, Irish/Scots-Irish, Eastern Europeans, Jews, etc.

America is one of those places where differences come to die, although some take longer than others, race being one of the more stubborn. There are few ethnic immigrants whose American-born descendants aren’t assimilated within a few generations, often along with marrying across ethnic divides.

As boundaries shift, everything else shifts along with them: social identities, religious practices, communities, etc. And so we as a society shift from what is known to what is unknown, to what has been to what might be. This past century has been a time of the greatest shifts in American history. It shouldn’t be surprising that, when so much is up in the air, paranoia would become rampant. Of the uncertainties of our age, racial identities and categories are among the most challenged. A large part of the population today has few if any ancestors who were in America during slavery or even Jim Crow. The very history behind racial dogma is becoming ever more irrelevant, and so its ideological nature is becoming more obvious.

At the same time, the historical racial divides have been growing as the class divides grow. The racial order that benefits the few is increasingly becoming harmful to the many as those in power become increasingly oppressive in maintaining all aspects of the social order. It is in the interest of those least worthy of trust to discourage the development of a culture of trust.

The only thing that can move all of this forward against such resistance is public dialogue. Even paranoia expressed is more constructive than silence.

Paranoid Denialism, a Strange Brew

I was interacting with some people who don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW). They are typical specimens. I know I’m wasting my time with them, but I can’t help being fascinated by such strange thinking patterns. When I confront the strange, my response is to analyze.

There are numerous problems with the anti-scientific denialist worldview:

1) In the end, it is an empty rationalization.

The structure of the rationalization is not unique to any particular argument and so could be used to defend any belief system equally as well or rather equally as badly. There either is no substance or what little substance included is inconsequential.

2) It presents no falsifiable hypotheses and won’t accept anyone treating their hypothesis as falsifiable.

Their argument can’t be disproven; then again neither can it be proven. The scientific process with peer review is dismissed out of hand and so no objective standard remains. The argument denies the very evidence that disproves it, but it doesn’t disprove the evidence on a case by case analysis. All peer reviewed research is treated as suspect, unless it fits into the preconceived conclusions.

It is standard confirmation bias, sometimes combined with the smart idiot effect as some of these denialists can spout off a lot of carefully selected factoids. It takes a certain kind of intelligence to defend such a difficult position, especially those who dedicate their lives to it. This is similar to how some apologists can be immensely well educated, sometimes even being academics in biblical studies.

3) The denialist’s worldview forms a self-enclosed and self-reinforcing reality tunnel.

The denialist becomes isolated from any new information being able to challenge what he thinks he already knows. It forms a groupthink where denialists help support eachother’s delusions, giving the appearance of credence by closing the ranks. The denialist groupthink is further assisted by particular well funded organizations and think tanks that hire the ‘experts’ to produce the ‘data’ and arguments to create a semblance of coherence.

4) The essence of the argument is a conspiracy theory.

It’s a paranoid worldview where no one can be trusted, unless they affirm the exact same beliefs. This paranoia plays into their entrapment in a reality tunnel of their own construction. The conspiracy theory, however, only makes sense within the belief system itself. If the person was able to see outside their paranoia, they probably wouldn’t be so paranoid and so the conspiracy theory would no longer be compelling.

The conspiracy theory necessitates a conspiracy larger than anything before in history. The conspiracy would have to include every government in the world and every government agency, every scientific institution both publicly and privately funded, nearly all the scientists in the world, and most of the mainstream media. This would be a conspiracy with millions of participants all colluding together in a massive cooperative effort and doing so almost completely hidden from the view of the public. Considering the vast majority of climatologists and other scientists support AGW, this would include at least hundreds of thousands of scientists alone, many of whom work in the private sector.

Interestingly, research has shown that paranoia is an aspect of a Dark Triad which includes three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. In the research, perceiving Machiavellianism in others (paranoia and conspiracy theorizing) positively and strongly correlates with admitting to a willingness to act with Machiavellian intentions if given the opportunity. To put it simply, such a person is paranoid because they believe other people are just like them, that other people are equally as untrustworthy and immoral/amoral.

By the way, paranoia shows no correlation with low IQ and so it isn’t an issue of intelligence. Some conspiracy theories are so intricate and complex as to be creations of a genius mind. Conspiracy theorizing is pattern-seeking on steroids.

5) Denialists are holding a double standard.

First, they have a double standard for the assessment and acceptance of evidence. The evidence they accept supports their beliefs and they only accept evidence according to their beliefs. But they wouldn’t accept this being used by others who hold views opposing their own. For example, one of the denialists I was interacting with told me to present a peer reviewed paper proving some particular issue, but simultaneously he was denying the validity of the entire peer review process.

Second, they have a double standard of the rationalization behind what evidence is accepted or excluded. One of the criticisms that denialists often make is that they believe AGW supporters are rationalizing according to a self-enclosed reality tunnel and according to a conspiracy theory about big energy. So, they refuse to allow what they perceive in others what they do themselves. This is, of course, projection for on some level most denialists probably realize their position is weak.

The double standard can be demonstrated by returning to the facet of their rationalization not being unique. The denialist’s arguments could be just as easily turned against them.

Once freed from the constraints of objective evidence and standards, almost any argument could be put forth that couldn’t be disproven (or proven). Also, once we enter the convoluted territory of conspiracy theory, Occam’s Razor can be dismissed as well and we can go to any length to seek a coherent worldview. Many have pointed out that the conspiracy theorist can end up with a worldview that is more coherent than any scientific theory for the conspiracy theorist feels no desire to include conflicting data and interpretations.

I hold out some hope that denialists can be reached, that some of them aren’t beyond all redemption.

That does seem to be the case. Not all denialists are overtly anti-scientific. A few simply are being overly cautious in vetting the consensus of the scientific community, but this doesn’t mean they dismiss it out of hand. In recent years, I’ve heard of several cases of scientists who held strong skepticism toward AGW and were publicly vocal in their skepticism, and yet over time the evidence finally convinced them.

I don’t criticize to make myself feel better. It certainly doesn’t make me feel better to think about the weaknesses and failures of the human mind. I like to think that there is value in trying to understand what makes people tick.

Rightwing Paranoia Detached from Reality

Tea Party protesters believe the American public is paying more in taxes even though under Obama 95-98% of Americans paid less in taxes this year.

Gun rights activists protesting on park land say Obama is trying to restrict their gun rights even though it was Obama who signed a bill allowing guns to be carried in parks and on trains.

Far Right’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Secessionism & Militias, Paranoia & Violence

I find it hard to comprehend the mindset of some rightwingers. I don’t disagree in principle with many of their values and ideas, but I always sense some hidden motive behind the rhetoric. It’s partly just that rightwingers are more prone to paranoid conspiracy theorizing than those on the left. I’m actually sympathetic to the paranoid state of mind. As they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

However, sometimes it seems that the far right has a self-enclosed, self-reinforcing, self-fulfilling way of seeing the world. For example, some rightwingers get all worked up over a talk show host telling them the Feds are going to take their guns away. So, they stock up on guns and start acting suspicious which attracts the attention of the police or FBI. It never ends well for the paranoid rightwinger.

This kind of rightwinger might even be correct about some of their fears, but there is something demented about their being prone towards aggressive self-defense which not unusually leads to self-destructive behaviors. This style of thinking isolates them and makes everyone who is different than them into a potential enemy.

Fear is fine, but fear-mongering just isn’t helpful for the fear-mongerer himself or for anyone else. I mean what benefit does someone like Glenn Beck gain from fear-mongering? To be cynical, many say it’s all just a show and so it comes down to profits. And profitable it is. Beck wasn’t rich before fear-mongering, but since beginning his extremist style of punditry he has become massively wealthy. If he actually believed the nation would collapse or the socialists were going to take over, then what would be the point of his amassing all that wealth?

One element behind my thoughts are the recent talk of secessionism. Even some Republican politicians have openly and directly encouraged secessionist attitudes. Do these politicians actually want a new Civil War? Unlike the first one, a second Civil War would probably be over in days or weeks. And if for some reason the army itself became split in it’s allegiances, we would experience a war that might be more destructive than any war fought in modern history. Could you imagine the country splitting in half with the respective military forces lobbing nukes at each other. It would make the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like Disneyland in comparison.

The specific issue that started this line of thought is that some rightwingers are seeking the establishment of state militias. I’m fine with the proposition in the abstract, but the motives seem a bit suspect. When I hear the proponents speak about it, there is a lot of talking around in circles and much that is implied.

It’s all very strange. At the bottom of it all, I sense that some rightwingers feel their being left in the dust of the 21st century and so their itching for a fight. I suppose that, going by the demographics, many of these rightwingers are out of step with where society is heading. It’s just a fact that America is becoming less dominated by whites, by fundamentalists, by the culture wars. A shift is happening in demographics right now that is unlike anything that has happened before in American history.

Ultimately, I wonder how many of these rightwingers take themselves seriously. Are they just posturing? Maybe most of them are just posturing, but definitely some rightwiners are working themselves up and some are seeking ways to organize. What will happen if and when they organize is another issue. But I have no doubts that the authorities (be they police, FBI or maybe even National Guard) will come down hard on some of these groups. Be prepared for the same violent confrontations and bombings we saw from the rightwing militia types in the ’90s. It will be interesting to watch it all play out.

It’s not that I necessarily trust the government more than the average conservative. I just trust the far right fear-mongering machine even less. It’s like these rightwingers have a narrative stuck in their head and their determined to play that narrative out to its inevitable conclusion. Of course, the authorities are more than willing to play their part as well. Personally, I’d prefer a different story to be played out on the national level.