September 02, 2009

Apocalyptic visions

This week the theme at Goat Rope is political paranoia. In particular, I'm revisiting a classic essay by historian Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in light of current events, including the health care debate.

Hofstadter, following sociologist Daniel Bell, found a sense of being dispossessed to lie at the root of the modern form of political paranoia. Its proponents believe that:

“America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.”

(Again, this was written in 1964.)

Adherents of this view see the world in apocalyptic terms. They see themselves to be at the barricades at the last battle, with everything at stake. Political conflicts are not seen as routine differences of viewpoints to be mediated in a rational way. Rather, they are wars between absolute good and absolute evil:

“Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention.”

This unrealistic approach to social conflict and the desire for absolute victory over the perceived forces of darkness only increases the sense of frustration felt by the true believers, even if they experience partial success. The enemy is always elusive and dangerous. The triumph is never complete.

This may explain why some hard core right wingers were outraged and angry not so long ago even when their allies controlled all branches of the federal government.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HEALTH CARE FORUM. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I attended another health care town meeting yesterday in southern West Virginia held by Congressman Nick Rahall. This time around supporters of reform seemed to outnumber opponents, but a loud and disruptive contingent of teabaggers attended. In what was a new low in my experience, one of them actually heckled a priest during the opening prayers. When in the course of the prayer the priest mentioned some obviously Bolshevik idea such as caring for one's neighbor, someone shouted something like "How much are you getting paid?"

I'm guessing that must have come from a charm school dropout.

SPEAKING OF HEALTH CARE, the Economic Policy Institute is stressing the need for a public health insurance option to hold down costs.

SPEAKING OF POLITICAL PARANOIA, this item from West Virginians for Affordable Health Care debunks distortions and whackadoodle ideas about health care reform.

YOUNG WORKERS are still losing ground, according to the AFLCIO. From their blog,

Something bad happened in the past 10 years to young workers in this country: Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many—younger than 35—still live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to be on their own.

BOTTOMING OUT. Some economists are suggesting the recession has passed a turning point and that the economy is beginning to expand again.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS (FOR ME). Alcohol consumption (in moderation, whatever that is) may be good for aging brains.



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