Monday, May 7, 2012

I've Been Busy Lately

But I would say there was something about this column last week., that recalled for me the "epistemic closure" of a couple years ago, which in turn reminded me of Sinclair's "Babbitt".  Specifically I think of the scenes where Babbitt and his chums would gather for lunch every day and proceed to speak of how every last detail of their lives, great and small, from faith in the Christian god to being a Rotarian of good standing in a medium-sized town; was the single and only legitimate way to live for everyone everywhere.  This was the only thing that the cronies would ever talk about, never anything else.  Certainly never any expressions of personal concern for each other's self.  This is what their relationship was.  This is who they were to themselves and each other.  Men who looked, lived, thought and talked the right way. In life there was nothing else.   

And I note how this monomaniacal talk came during the 1920's, a time like our own of rapidly increasing diversity, urbanization, education, increased specialization in livelihood, some vocal hostility towards religion, but more importantly the gradual mainstreaming of indifference towards it. All of these things unavoidably chipping away at old hierarchies and understandings about 'how things are' so that those who benefited from these hierarchies were left with only their own passionate assertions of will to reenforce their privileges.

'Doublethink' is nothing new under the sun.  To some assert some 'truth' on nothing but one's own ferocious word and than dare the hearer to disagree has always been a standard human response to challenged authority, real or imagined. Anyone who has either been a parent or raised by one could tell you that.  If there is any single thing that distinguishes reaction from whatever 'true prudent' conservatism of Eisenhower or Burke or Prestor John there may be, it is this obsessive language of delegitimization found in 'Babbitt".  This ritualized, continual insistence that The One True Way is not only this but self-evidently so.  So that the ninety eight percent of humanity who live outside the path are not just knowingly rebellious but knowingly rebellious out of personal hatred of you.  Making you feel doubtful and confused for no greater purpose except to sneer at you.

This narrative is attractive to those whose sense of self is heavily invested in being better than most others by some unchanging essence, so that they will always be superior no matter what they do or don't do.  They are not going to sense of self up because once one has bought in to it there is no other source of affirmation available.  Rather they choose to believe that their birthright to be the adults of humanity,  dictating truth and normality upon all others, is being unnaturally stolen from them by deliberately malevolent forces.  Forces that because they are illegitimate are also in some way spectral and can therefore be cast out simply by the light of the chosen's self-righteousness.

This reactive sensibility, in its current form, can be traced back at least to the rise of Limbaugh and Gingrich, or maybe back to 80's Action revenge porn or further still.  The inside details of how it took over the highest levels of the Republican Party are unimportant to me.  It happened because the United States that Babbitt feared has, for some time now, been indisputably who we are.  I think that conservative elites are aware of this and that their hatred and disgust of what we have become is as real as that of the 'Base."   In as much as whatever a Tea Party congressperson says or does is cynical pandering, I think it comes in pretending to believe that America can be socially engineered through punishment and pain into our One True Neverwas when they know this is impossible.  Still I think they quite sincere in their willingness to destroy who we are. 

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