A friend recently asked me to explain our present political insanity, in the United States of America. Especially, he was puzzled as to why there are elements of anti-science mania on the left (e.g. anti-vaxxers) when the War on Science is clearly in large part an epi-phenomenon of the maniacal right. I replied: “you have to dig deeper, Russ. Down to where both wings share deep assumptions and mental habits they absorbed when they were young.”
Consider the dominant themes of propaganda that are issued regularly by Hollywood and most mass media, suckled from an early age by not just young Americans, but people all over the globe and proselytizing basic attitudes everywhere.
Clearly visible in the first few minutes of almost any film (if you pay attention) are messages that the viewer should:
1- appreciate eccentricity – most protagonists exhibit some eccentric trait early on.
2- appreciate tolerance… a villain is spotlighted by some early intolerant act.
3- be suspicious of authority (SOA) – some power oppresses the character and must be resisted.
4- relish contempt for your sheeplike neighbors – almost all your fellow citizens are fools and their institutions almost never function well.
I elaborate on these themes (especially #4) in Our Favorite Cliché: The Idiot Plot.
But there is one more message that caps them all — the deliberately fostered delusion that…
5 – “I invented all these rebel qualities! I didn’t suckle them from Hollywood! I and my pals are the only ones suspicious of authority! We aren’t the sheep!”
Now mind you… I generally approve of the first three of these propaganda messages! Well, naturally I do, since I was raised by them, like you were! Indeed, they resonate with some deep-strong social imperatives that I won’t go into here, that cause a wealthy and free and partly-satiated society to expand its horizons of inclusion… but more on that elsewhere…
It took some time for me to overcome #4 and #5, even after I became aware of them. The ego fights back and struggles to hold onto those two, they are so voluptuously satisfying.
It took even longer to see how all five messages play into America’s spiraling Culture War of sanctimony and self righteous indignation. But once you notice the shared themes, it becomes easy to see that the deep difference between democrats and republicans consists of one simple thing — which DIRECTION they envision Big Brother (BB) arising from.
Liberals see BB coming from the far-right… from a vast pool of conniving aristocratic-oligarchs and faceless corporations. Conservatives fear accumulations of undue power and authority by snooty academics and faceless government bureaucrats. Libertarians claim to dread Big Brother arising from all four.
(At least… that is what they claim…)
Voila. In fact, when you put it that way, the answer is “Duh!” Indeed, history shows that threats to liberty can come from all of those sources, and more.
So far, so good! We should be watching each others’ backs! That is, indeed, how it has been sometimes, in America. “I’ll hold accountable your elites. You hold accountable mine!”
Only, alas, we have lately become stiff necked in our stoked-up anger. Conservatives now are unable to turn their heads and even admit that it is remotely possible that their own favored elites — of wealth and aristocracy – could possibly ever be dangerous! This despite the fact that owner-oligarch-lords were exactly the villains of our American Revolution. That they were the destroyers of freedom and markets and competitive enterprise in 99% of human cultures, across 6000 years. And that (according to Adam Smith) their return as a threat to freedom and true capitalism (the open/creative kind) is absolutely to be expected.
Indeed, you can clock attempted oligarchic putsches to once per generation… and our ancestors’ genius came in stymying it, each time. A fact that today’s dominant version of libertarianism fervently ignores, spurning Adam Smith and declaring that owner-oligarchy can do no wrong. In other words… most of today’s “libertarians” do not even remotely deserve the name.
Although its SOA paranoia is somewhat less stiff-necked and rigid, the Left can be just as reflexive and unthinking. While their ire is mostly aimed at oligarchs and corporations, leftists spare some paranoid rants for government and yes… they sometimes join in the Fox-Right’s War on Science. More flexibly paranoid… but still kinda crazy, I maintain.
== The Fourth Political Genus ==
LIBERALS are an entirely different species. They are not “leftists” in any meaningful way — despite the railings of Sean Hannity. Indeed, liberals desperately need to learn to separate themselves, carefully, from their crazy-leftist allies. Let me explain.
Liberals are the one sane group left in America, able to turn their heads to look at threats in all directions. Want evidence? Liberals did far more DE-regulating of obsolete or captured government agencies than the GOP has ever ever done, or even tried to do. Ever heard of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)? Or the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB)? The Internet? Goppers talk deregulation, but wind up actually only doing it for one industry: finance. With blatant results.
There is a whole suite of clear traits that distinguish liberals from leftists, but there is no room, here for a full cladistic breakdown. Suffice it to say that if Liberals were to actually read Adam Smith, they might be amazed and reclaim the “First Liberal,” while any leftist would remain deeply offended. No wonder Sean Hannity desperately pushes the Big Lie that liberals and leftists are the same.
And there is my thumbnail of why you have anti-science “vaxxers” on the left. Because the FAR-left is almost as crazy as today’s ENTIRE-Right. And we desperately need to get back to the kind of sanity that allows negotiation. That says “you zap my elites, and I’ll skewer yours.”
== Here is the crux. Can you turn your head… at all? ==
The one litmus of political sanity in contemporary American political life is this: “Are you able to swivel — even just occasionally — and see threats or dangers or flaws among the elites on YOUR side of the political spectrum… as well as the elites you fear most, on the other side?”
If your Suspicion of Authority can only aim in one direction… the direction that your side’s elites and propagandists tell you to aim… then perhaps you badly need to see a philosophical chiropractor.
Threats to freedom and to our Great Experiment loom in all directions. So relearn how to turn your f#$@g! head.