Fear & Loathing in the Politics of the Other

I want to revisit something I touched upon a year ago in this post. In response to those who believe the country is changing from “what they grew up in,” and that they are “scared of where the country is going,” I wrote:

It’s fear of the Other. I’m not going to a discussion of that (you can read more about it here), but I would argue that, in this case, the right wing sees the Other as anything that isn’t bourgeoisie, heterosexual, and Christian. As long as a man or woman fits those criteria, by the way, the right wing will forgive them their race (after all — they don’t have control over that, do they?), so I would make an argument that skin color is not a requisite feature (but I would also make the argument a white man, not Michael Steele, would be chair of the Republican Party if there weren’t a black man from the opposing party in the White House).

Think of the Other in the terms of the 1950s. If it would cause Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver to have a long talk without Wally and the Beav around, then you know that’s what these tea party protesters are scared of.

This is a special sort I’m referring to. These folks are the type who, as kids, would look at some new food and immediately consider it “disgusting” and claim they didn’t like it.

This group of Americans is made up of individuals who are so homogenous, their world so vanilla, they would be scared simply of a black man hosting a children’s television show. I’m sure Reading Rainbow was denigrated in these households long before Yo Gabba Gabba was even thought of, and I’m willing to put good money down that plenty of these “values voters” were completely freaked-out to see the diversity on Sesame Street and Easy Reader (Morgan Freeman) on The Electric Co. (if they even allowed PBS to be viewed in their house in the first place).

Let’s call it for what it is: It’s simply prejudice. I believe the shadow leadership of the Tea Party (those funding it) is excercisng the sort of prejudice based solely on keeping power in their hands and out of the hands of minorities in this country (in a desperate attempt to cling to their power base as much as possible while it gets whittled away by minority groups). Many of the more regional and media leaders, like Mark Williams (of “monkey god” comment and “Colored People” blog post fame), knowingly use this prejudice to stir the pot. They don’t make the prejudice, they just make it prejudice-ier.

The prejudice exercised by the grassroots members is different. They hate being called racists because they don’t see it as a matter of race at all — they see it as matter of something “other” than they know taking the reigns of power in this country. They see a black man in charge of the White House, they see a woman as Speaker
of the House, they see illegal Mexican immigrants marching in the street and not quietly working in the fields. They see things other than they saw, and were comfortable with, while growing-up.

They are outside of their comfort zone, they are unsure of what they see, and they are vulnerable.

This is fear.

They are scared. Scared of other thoughts, scared of other people, scared of anything that is “other” than what they are. As I wrote last year: “the right wing sees the Other as anything that isn’t bourgeoisie, heterosexual, and Christian.”

It’s a prejudice stemming from having to deal with others who are not like them. As long as Michael Steele “acts” like he’s white, they’re fine with him. As soon as he “acts” like he’s black, they criticize him. They may have no interactions with others on which to make their judgements. Their prejudice is solely due to a lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to expand that knowledge.

They fear because it is easier to fear. It is too much work to do otherwise (there is a reason George Lucas focuses on the Dark Side being an easier path, don’t you think?). Plus, this is something different and alien… why take the time to attempt to learn from it?

These are fearful and lazy people. But I’m not going to focus on the laziness. I want to look at why they allow fear to rule them.

Let’s examine two 20th century statements focusing on fear. The first is from Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address when he stated “…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Then, consider the Bene Gesserit ‘litany against fear’ in Frank Herbert’s Dune:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Herbert’s use of “the little-death” is important here as, in French (la petite mort), this is a metaphor for orgasm. Don’t think this is some sort of anti-masturbation or anti-sex discussion (Christine O’Donnell can keep her peculiar views on reality as I’m completely uninterested in co-opting anything that woman has to say; on the other hand, I have no issue co-opting the phrase “fear and loathing in…” from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for this post’s title).

No, the reason to bring forth an image of orgasm to the readers’ minds is to underscore how alluring fear can be. The Bene Gesserit, in their litany, liken fear to an orgasmic experience. It is an experience monopolizing the moment, focusing the participant(s) and their attention solely upon that singular point and experience. It is adrenaline-filled and an experience that, among other things, brings you to an unreasoning state of mind where all else is paralyzed.

They simply, in their fear, are so excited, so unreasoning, that they have become nothing less than a mob. A mob that cannot be bargained with or sat down for a discussion so long as they rely on fear to keep them going (and their leaders will not let that fear subside considering how profitable it is for them to keep the members’ fear at the forefront).

I’m not doubting there is a discussion that needs to be had with the members of the group, and those of us who are not sympathetic to their cause need to listen to their concerns — we cannot just dismiss them. Arguably, if the country were less polarized right now, it would be easier for all of us to sit down and talk with each other. Shouting the other person down, ignoring their views, and name-calling is not the way things will be fixed.

As Carl Sagan says in Cosmos: “Where we have strong emotions, we’re liable to fool ourselves.”

We on the other side look at the typical members as redneck country bumpkins who couldn’t possibly have anything substantive to add to the discussions in the country. We see a standard of solid yellow, with a coiled rattlesnake in the center, and we immediately make the assumption the people holding it are to be ignored.

They fear us.

We loathe them.

We loathe the backwards, inane, uneducated, reality TV show-watching, Jesus Camp-attending, and pickup truck-driving lot of them, don’t we?

And that is just as bad as they are.

If we are supposed to be the reasonable side of the polticial divide right now, then why don’t I see us acting reasonably? For every “Democrap” comment I see, I see just as many “Repuglican” ones. For every comment calling Obama a socialist or a communist, I see one calling the Tea Party a bunch of theocrats.

Since when was name calling constructive and reasonable?

This country was designed to work within the context of freely communicable ideas and to create a dialogue, or an argument (in the philosophical sense, not the throwing-vases-against-the-wall sense), in order to come to a compromise we can all agree on. Keep in mind, I’m well aware that this has never actually been the case in this country (just read about how Thomas Jefferson and John Adams savaged each other in the campaigns they ran against one another), but that doesn’t mean we can’t start now.

We can’t ignore the majority of them. We can’t dismiss them. We certainly can’t fear them. Any of that would make us just as bad, just as ignorant, as they. We are part of this country with them for a reason, and I suspect we can find a way to work with most of them that does not involve marching with placards of American politicians adapted to look like Adolph Hitler.

Granted, the leadership that is whipping these people into a frenzy cannot be worked with and won’t want to be (just watch how Dick Armey, on The Daily Show, can’t make any justification for the inflammatory language he uses in his book, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto; these are not individuals who have any interest in compromise and only use the Constitution and its framing principles in any way they can twist to serve their own power-hungry selfishness). The true radical fringe types, the Vicki “Our children’s imaginations have to be bounded” Frosts and American Taliban types (and I do place Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell in this group) of this country, must be denounced and fought at every turn. No members of either of those groups can be worked with and don’t deserve to be.

The rest, however, do deserve our patience and attention. We don’t have to agree with them, and they don’t have to agree with us… but we do have to work with one another and respect our difference of opinions without letting it devolve into name-calling and shouting. There is no room in the philosophical underpinnings of this country’s founders for ideologues or demagogues.

So, instead of ignoring them, instead of fearing them… talk with them. Find out what they actually fear and try to quell that fear. Help them get past the “unreasoning, unjustified terror” they are experiencing so it can “pass over and through” them and we can actually have a constructive discussion that leads somewhere.