Thursday, November 7, 2013

Yes I'm One of Those

A white rural man from a long established American family hat leans conservative*    who went to college, moved to 'the city',  and grew up to become a flaming lefty.  ( *my mother and aunt are blue-dog Dem, though culturally their perception of what is unfathomably strange can be safely said to encompass a solid 80% of everything and everyone.)

Dennis Prager is a hack who can often be half or one-tenth honest in the service of his own Greater Truths.  But I don't doubt that the sense of loss among him, his friends and my stepfather is perfectly sincere.  The old delusion of gaining second-hand immortality via shared belief in unchanging truth and one narrowly defined cultural identity through the generations is very much alive and well, especially in regards to religious doctrines with their pretense to eternity.

Prager's stated points here are all bad, though none are as disturbing as his overall tone of existential tragedy.  It reminds me of the five minutes of Mark Levin I happened on while driving through the Platte Valley some years ago.   As I recall Levin was riding to the rescue of Michelle Bachmann and said something along the lines of  By attacking her they are attacking our conservative principles; who we are'.   I've always had a strong interest in politics myself and I'd say that many of the things I believe are felt with what could be validly described as passion. But though I'm a solid liberal by American standards there is still enough mushy moderate in me to be appalled by this attitude of 'who we are.' No. Belief, no matter how truly important and no matter how much real impact it has on peoples lives is not who we are but simply a byproduct of who we are.  For belief, even those I would agree with, to play so dominant a role in defining oneself is menacing towards liberty in itself.  Such a relationship to belief is the first necessary step towards fanaticism violent or otherwise.  Everyone, after all, wants their own identity, their selves to be fearfully strong and destined to triumph.      

More basically it is impossible for one with this attitude to hold to both the letter and the spirit of liberty's rules.  If one's relationship to political belief is an existential one, then the electoral defeat that must eventually come, even if you're right, is bound to be seen as an act of banishment and condemnation from one's own kind.  Of course no person who chooses to live another day is self-loathing enough to think they deserve this, and the tension here is I think a large part of the modern US rights 'I win or you cheated'     response to it's recent difficulties.  The fact that modern conservatives spend the bulk of their mental energy, (in addition to purer than-thou internal witch hunts) on painting liberalism as not just wrong but illegitimate.  The painting of America's mild Keynesian left as alien and radical, the conspiracy mongering and logically tortuous tu-quoques   the necrotheist myth that the founders wrote the Constitution to cement One True philosophy of governance for all time, the despicable restriction of voting rights in pursuit of  some Higher Liberty, etc. etc.  I'll close now with comment on some of Prager's direct points.
"So it is sad when a parent who believes, for example, in the American trinity of “Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” and “E Pluribus Unum” has a child who believes that equality trumps liberty, that a secular America is preferable to a God-centered one, and that multiculturalism should replace the unifying American identity.
It is sad when a pastor or any other parent who believes that the only gender-based definition of marriage that has ever existed — husband and wife — has a child who regards the parent as a bigot for holding on to that definition.
It is sad when a parent who believes that America has always been, in Lincoln’s famous words, “the last best hope of earth” has a child who believes that America has always been little more than an imperialist, racist, and xenophobic nation."

By what coherent definition of liberty is equality ever opposed to it?  Some feudal state where every patriarchal 'head of household' dominates his wife and children, is all I can guess.  How can multiculturalism possibly be opposed to 'The' unifying American identity.  The fact that we are still here after several decades of being far too big for one narrowly defined culture is proof enough that there is no such conundrum.  Finally Mr. Prager I tell you personally that this is my country and I will not stand to have you tell me what I must only either feel about it.  Being conservative does not make you the normative default and it is not your or anyone's place to define the poles which everyone else must choose. 

There is no choice between believing that the USA is essentially glorious or essentially villainous.  It makes me feel like a kindergarten teacher to write that, and if Prager did not see his own self as personally embodying the United States he'd probably be able to see that 'clear eyed' choice for the nonsense it is.  And why should this one man, prominent in his own way but narrowly so, see himself as embodying the nation?  Well, as much as I don't believe that the US is fated to always be 'imperialist, racist, and xenophobic' it is a matter of factual record that we can be and have been. 

Dennis Prager is a comfortable WASP man who sees himself grandly enough to speak for America's soul.  The mathematical odds that one has nothing to do with the other are very low, and this is what ails modern right today.  It's demand for absolute submission of one's identity to it's dogmas is about White Americans who can agree, on the surface, that racism is wrong, but still long for some assurance that they will always be the 'mainstream'.  Conservatism in it's current form endows them with that sense of biblical 'chosenness' they suppose our ancestors felt without challenge.  It's no way to live.  It basically dooms them to have their essential selves rejected (aka. their opinions disagreed with) by family, neighbors, and compatriots at least every once in a while, along with all the sense of mortal loss that comes with that.  

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