Monday, December 27, 2010

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
--- Robert Frost, 1923

Daniel Little looks at hate groups on the political right and wonders what motivates people to join or originate these groups. I’m also wondering why there seem to be more of groups like this on the right than on the left. They’re not absent on the left, but there are fewer of them. Prime time in the United States for left hate groups seems to have been the late 1960s and early 1970s.

After the now-mandatory holiday clash with a rightwing relative, I would extend those questions to why otherwise intelligent people can sign on to absurd propositions. This particular difference had to do with the idea that the preamble to the New START Treaty limits the US ability to develop missile defense. Or that strategic missile defense works. It’s not hard to find factual material on these issues, along with others (like the existence of Barack Obama’s birth certificate). Or why it seems to be a cluster of absurd things. The efficacy of missile defense has no connection with where Barack Obama was born, although if he is a Kenyan anticolonialist marxist socialist, then he may well be undermining America’s development of missile defense.

It’s possible that listening and reading only to material selected for its agreeability with preconceived notions disables the critical capability of one’s brain. Or that the cluster of rightwing beliefs provides emotional support for people who need it. But that brings us back to Little’s questions, because a large element of this belief system seems to be hate and fear. Fear of anyone who is different that morphs into hate. Argumentation that morphs into bullying. The form of too many rightwing arguments is to start by accusing the other party of holding a variety of loathsome beliefs, followed by an absurd claim, devoid of proof, and a demand that the other party prove that the claim is false. This often amounts to proving a negative.

That’s the famous epistemic closure widely discussed earlier in the fall, but what I’m interested in is what predisposes a person to that epistemic closure and what motivates them to hold it so tightly.

Monica A faces hate in herself.
I have had two deaths in my immediate family, one was the man I considered to be like my father. My uncle was killed in a car accident the Sunday following Easter. The person responsible was sentenced to four years in prison. It was the most he could get.

I was prepared to hate the man responsible for the rest of my life. I was prepared to do whatever it took to exact a measure of retribution for the loss (making sure everyone he came into contact knowing that he had committed this crime), but all of that changed with a simple gesture. My cousin walked over to the man that had taken his father, extended his hand and forgave him. Could any of us had done such a thing? Could we have shaken the hand of man responsible for our father's death?

I was taken aback when I learned of this. How could I continue on my path? My family are devout Christians. In the face of this horrible event they have chosen to forgive. I cannot be vengeful in the face of their forgiveness, but where do I put my hate? Where do I put the energy it took to hate this man? Where does my life go from here?
Hate, of course, takes a great deal of energy to sustain and can devour the hater. There are larger reasons, as well, for forgiveness.
when the requisite conditions are met, forgiveness is what a good person would seek because it expresses fundamental moral ideals. These include ideals of spiritual growth and renewal; truth-telling; mutual respectful address; responsibility and respect; reconciliation and peace.
Monica A is dealing with a one-to-one personal relationship between herself and the man who caused the car accident. The haters Daniel Little is discussing hate on a more general, institutional level: blacks, homosexuals, people who aren’t like us. Is that the same kind of thing? Can it be resolved by forgiveness?

Juan Cole also considers some of the factors that may be involved with hating homosexuality in particular, emphasizing religion. I would go further back the logic chain and ask why some people use religion to justify their hates. The biblical citations used to justify discrimination against homosexuals, for example, hardly bear the weight of that justification.

And then we have the trivialization of hate, which indirectly serves to support those in hate groups. The people discussed in this article are pathetic, but hardly worthy of hate. If they are widely hated, as the article claims, then perhaps there is no harm in institutionalizing hate in the groups that Little discusses. Do reporters hate the people listed in the article?

1 comment:

Frank Wilhoit said...

You are correct to point out that there is no hate without fear, and no fear without false beliefs. But there are no false beliefs without propaganda, and propaganda cannot work without a predisposition to believe, so the argument appears to be circular.

I think the circle has a cusp, though, and it comes to that predisposition to believe hate-stirring things. Partly this is the natural human tendency to sadism, the single strongest of all human tendencies. The rest is contextual and it comes to the locus of otherness.

In our case, here, today, the locus of otherness is the fact that America consists of two civilizations that have nothing in common and can have nothing in common.

One word: privacy.

Think, long and long, about that word. Then I would not need to write out the rest of my argument; but as no one wishes to wait or to be tantalized, I will write it out anyway.

Urban society depends absolutely upon absolute privacy. Else one went mad: humans were not designed to live in such density and can only do so if it is structurally impossible to learn anything about one's neighbors except what they choose to share. Lack of privacy is and existential threat to an urban society.

Rural society depends absolutely upon the absolute lack of privacy: I haven't seen Bill this morning, but I know what he should have been doing; I must go see whether his tractor has rolled over on him, else he will die. Privacy is an existential threat to a rural society.

Here are two civilzations that cannot agree upon anything. They cannot even agree upon the most basic aspects of what it means to be a human being. Pyotr Kropotkin identifed mutual aid as one of the essential distinguishing features of humanity, but urban and rural societies cannot agree upon the nature, the form, or the purpose of mutual aid. They may as well be different species. This gap is unbridgable and any effort to bridge it is wasted.

So here we sit, attempting to govern two completely disjoint civilizations under one body of practice. This had never been tried before and has not been tried, since because anyone with a functioning autonomic nervous system sees at once that it is a doomed experiment. In every other place and time, one of the two civilizations has been structurally privileged over the other.

We have now reached a point where our rural civilization has imposed its values on our urban civilization, by force and stealth, to such ruinous effect upon the one side, and at such ruinous effort by the other, that both camps have become insane. Accordingly, our two societies will now proceed immediately (on the historical scale of time) to destroy each other. It is no longer possible to prevent this. It may never have been possible.