Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sanity and Fear

National Mall October 30, 2010. Photo: Helmette

Photo from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear yesterday here in DC. Good spirits; over 200,000 people; not enough Mavis Staples; and a jam-packed and festive city.

The bad part? The syrupy double equivalence crap video towards the end of the event. Let's say it again... yes, there do exist distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, better and worse.

But figuring that out requires constant critical thinking and truly critical thought it hard. This knee-jerk moral equivalence - "we're all just the same," "let's agree to disagree," "they're all just as bad" - is a kind of red herring, however sweet it seems, to the arduous and endless but essential task of critical thought about what things are indeed good and right.

I'm pretty sure the Mall was full of fallible people who have their own moral shortcomings. I'm sure that someone somewhere said something nasty. But out of a parade of speakers and musicians and out of 200,000+ people, nothing I nor anyone else I know saw or heard anything close to the rhetoric of Ted Nugent (or x, or y, or z, or a, or b, or c...). I'm hesitant to draw this parallel, but the rhetoric of dehumanization, of vermin and cockroaches, whatever it is that need "fumigating," appears elsewhere (and here and here and here and here and here and here...) in not-so-distant history. In the US, it's difficult to gauge the degree to which there's real epistemic commitment behind it, but this rhetoric has gone mainstream in the mass media and trickled down to the saber-rattling classes. I've heard it repeated in my own elite-educated, right-wing family in destructive ways. I would be very very careful if I were a thoughtful and genuine political leader on the anti-Obama right.

(The right suggests that it's President Obama who uses violent rhetoric. Check it out, really. It's Sunday football day, after all.)

The division that concerns me isn't between different political and/or religious beliefs, even when expressed over-exuberantly. It's between a kind of sanity and insanity conceived as two poles between which are degrees to which a person or group of people dehumanizes the other: one's perceived political or theo-ideological foe or ethnic/racial not-like-me. Bound closer together by media and ICTs, difference and pluralism are simultaneously more apparent and more easily manipulable. The vast and fuzzy territory in the middle currently seems to be increasingly occupied by a lot of people - in the mass media, among certain politicians, and among those who are simply nuts (not mutually exclusive categories) - normalizing the manipulative rhetoric of dehumanization and encouraging people to give in and join the club. And today it's nearly all building on one side of the current US political landscape. It's not moral equivalence.

On that note... Happy Halloween!

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