Hey, here’s a disturbing thought:
After 9-11, it dawned on one that there was almost no limit to what you could do if you were willing to violate the most fundamental rule and principle of civilization and of Nature Her Own Self: i.e., if you were willing to die. All of civilization is premised on the fact that the individual does not want to die. Indeed, he (or, okay, she) almost always stands in active opposition to that possibility.
As Pish-Tush sings in The Mikado, regarding the new law that held “flirting” to be a capital offense:
This stern decree, you’ll understand/Caused great dismay throughout the land/For young and old/And shy and bold/ Were equally affected/The youth who winked a roving eye/Or breathed a non-connubial sigh/Was thereupon condemned to die/He usually objected…
Thus, in the face of a cult of people for whom suicide is a sacrament and a consummation devoutly to be wished, the rest of us must take extraordinary measures, including but not limited to taking off our shoes and belts, to be x-rayed, before boarding a plane.
Now contemplate the current state of right-wing politics in the U.S., and consider the fact that in dealing with them–with the Palins, the Bachmanns, the Pravda-like apparatchiks of Fox News, and particularly their fans and supporters–we are dealing with a cult of people similarly indifferent to one of the most fundamental components of civilized life. These people are to the truth what suicide bombers are to their own lives.
They literally don’t care about the truth.
It sounds petulant, but I don’t know how else to put it. Oh, maybe I do. Try this: Just as the suicide bomber subjugates the most fundamental principle of life itself to a fantasy created and sustained only by belief, so do the leaders and followers of the lunatic right happily (if self-pityingly–they are never happier than when feeling persecuted and sorry for themselves) subjugate, not just “truth,” but the importance of it, to their own fantasies and beliefs.
Reasonable people can disagree over whether Sarah Palin is a pathological, or a witting and consciously-calculating, liar. And in that spirit, reasonable p. can d. over whether Michele Bachmann’s apparently pathological lies are “conscious” or not. (Cf. Matt Taibbi’s excellent discussion of this here.) We don’t, and can’t, know what they really think, because they’re public figures selling themselves in the marketplace of power and celebrity.
In the marketplace, you’re allowed, by the generous morality of capitalism, to be false, to deny or evade the truth, to idealize, to fudge, to tweak, to puff up and paper over. Fine. But what of their followers, the customers who buy what they’re selling? Read the comments on, e.g., Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, and you subject your poor neurons to the clamor of a crowd who literally could not care less what is true and what isn’t.
If there were video footage of Sarah Palin strangling a child, and if the audio portion of the segment included her clearly and distinctly saying, “This is fun. I enjoy strangling children, and I don’t care if my followers don’t like it,” there would be a sizable number of those “Palinistas” who would find a way either to deny that it happened or make excuses as to why it was necessary–or, rather, why it was praiseworthy and righteous. ”You go, Sarah! Choke that child just like the Founding Fathers used to do!”
I’m not talking about mere ignorance. When Taibbi says that Bachmann’s followers don’t know the difference between socialism and a Stafford loan, that’s depressing enough, yes, but it would be tolerable if, once that was pointed out, they (however grudgingly) cared to learn it–not in order to persuade them to agree with one’s politics or philosophy, but to establish that there is a reality superior to everyone’s politics and philosophy.
I don’t think these people–who in their daily lives are not insane, who assume that the people around them usually tell them the truth and who tell the truth to them in turn–acknowledge that. Rather, they have an emotional need to disregard, in politics, the most fundamental axioms by which they otherwise live. In this, politics to them is religion by other means; and they are no less cultic, irrational, and unreachable than jihadist suicide bombers.
Do I know any of them? No. Do I have to, in order to hold this opinion? I don’t think so. Read the comments on right-wing sites. What you see is, not argument, but slogans, catechism, and dogma. Now, every political site, across the spectrum, features comments containing slogans and dogma. And there are many Republican sites that promulgate lies written by people who, one senses, would have the decency to at least feel a little bad when, having been caught in their lies, they are forced to come up with new lies. These people, however repellent they are, are at least immoral.
The (in the words of the blogger Driftglass) “orc army” of the Palin/Bachmann right are amoral–if, by that, we mean “unaware of their immorality.” As such, they are the kind of people who have made possible every authoritarian nightmare of the previous century, from Stalin to Hitler to Mao to Pol Pot to Kim Jong Il and so on.
We’re all fundamentally ignorant. Each of us knows a fraction of what there is to know and, less forgivably, a fraction of what we ourselves could know if we weren’t so damn busy being distracted and entertained by writing and reading blogs. And, by definition, we don’t know the magnitude of our ignorance. But we respect the difference between ignorance and knowledge, and we respect the difference between opinion, fantasy, and fact.
I don’t think these people do, and it will be to the Democrats’ discredit and shame if, believing that they do, and that all these cultists need is enough information, they waste enough time, money, and effort to allow these loons to rise to real power.
Or is it me? Does everyone else know this, and have you all made your peace with it? I’m not there yet. And I may never be. It’s part of my specific neurosis to believe that I can persuade a crazy person not to be crazy. That’s how nuts I am.