This is why I say that they have retired the concept of hypocrisy. It goes far beyond double standards or duplicity or bad faith. There’s an aggression to it, a boldness, that dares people to bring up the bald and obvious fact that the person making the charge is herself a far worse perpetrator of the thing she is decrying. There’s an intellectual violence in it.
In a world in which the conservatives weren’t such post modern shape shifters, we could come to a consensus on certain issues in this country — like privacy, for instance. We could agree that it’s wrong for government employees to use private information for partisan purposes — or for the media, including bloggers, to stalk and publish private information of anyone who dares speak out for a political cause. But we don’t live in a world like that.
We live in a world where the right wing ruthlessly and without mercy degrades and attacks by any means necessary what they perceive as the enemy, and then uses the great principles of democracy and fair play when the same is done to them. They leave the rest of us standing on the sidelines looking like fools for ever caring about anything but winning.
It’s something I’ve been concerned with for a long time now myself. I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the most important issues of our age with regards to politics. Beyond all the minutiae and policy wonkishness, this theme is always there. What do you do, how do you proceed, when a very large percentage of people simply refuse to acknowledge a common reality? What does it mean when so many adults seem to reject the old truism about being entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts?
I’m certainly not a believer in what I think of as the “Golden Age” myth, where one imagines that things were better in some past Eden, whether the 1950s, pre-European-invasion America, or, if you’re an Earth First! type, the Stone Age. Even as far back as the ancient Greeks – the cradle of Western civilization! – they were complaining about how far they’d fallen since the good old days, and can you believe these damn kids today, and on and on. Ancient Chinese, same thing. It seems clear that what people are attracted to about the past is the fact that, well, it’s the past. We already know what happened. In the same way that a movie or book doesn’t have the same emotional impact the second time around, it’s easy to look back at a closed time period and imagine that the people living at the time had the benefit of your hindsight, that they were immune to the anxieties that accompany living in the moment.
And yet…I can’t help but wonder if this phenomenon that Digby describes is, if not exactly new, at least a more brazen, or perhaps even more malignant form of an anti-intellectualism that has always been a part of our culture. The gleeful hatred of anything resembling cosmopolitanism or education beyond the three R’s, the fascist-like obsession with repeatedly creating the world anew in one’s own image through sheer force of will – has it always been there, and we’re just lucky enough because of our system of mass media to be aware of every lunatic with something to tell us?
Being a huge fan of Nietzsche’s writing, and being a pessimist by nature, I’ve always felt like I appreciated the importance of the irrational or deceptive aspects of human psychology more than most do. I don’t believe in any sort of progressive teleology when it comes to human society, and I would think Nazi Germany proved for once and all that there’s no reason why tendencies like this couldn’t at least temporarily take over.
2005 was a very strange year for me. In my personal life, a thirteen-year relationship was disintegrating thanks to my partner’s descent into a form of this same impulsive irrationalism, and when I’d go online to gain a temporary respite from that drama, I’d see the same thing on the macro level – right wing publishing houses like Regnery creating a whole series of books devoted to filtering the world through a lens of a sort of political Lamarckism. (If I had any writing talent, maybe there would be an interesting novel to be drawn from that experience.) In addition to that, though, I saw the other members of my family, who spent the Clinton years getting in touch with their inner Patrick Henry, turn into gung-ho apologists for Bush’s authoritarian, mega-government police state with absolutely nothing to indicate a battle with their conscience, let alone a sense of embarrassment or shame for their hypocrisy. It all deeply affected me in ways I still haven’t entirely come to grips with, hence my possible hypersensitivity to this topic.