09 February 2011

Bloodlands

In between regaling its readers with the story of dreadful intra-familial cannibalism resulting from Stalin's deliberate policies in the Soviet Ukraine (millions perished from famine), I noticed something about the mindsets involved in the leaders who conquered, carved up, and virtually destroyed Eastern Europe and its peoples.

I see often a question posed by right-leaning, and especially conservative writers and people about the rhetorical hatred directed at Palin. There are several caveats. I do not think she was responsible for Jared Loughner. I do not think she (or most other right-wing nutjobs) has got some master plan for desiring to kill millions of people, because of their religion, nationality, or socio-economic status (though I am somewhat annoyed that she conflates economic necessities that she defends in stark terms as though liberals did have some master plan for desiring to kill millions of people, which I regard as equally ridiculous). While there are many who would compare the neo-conservative values of the Bush-Palin mindset to fascism and the statist police powers to those of Stalin, there's still a pretty big gap in the amount of statist controls they would use, and both the Nazi and certainly the Stalinist are much further to the left economically for state powers than most American liberals, much less American leftist politicians (such as Obama) and certainly most conservative right-wing politicians (even as non-free market as I see them at many occasions, tax breaks for oil companies and food subsidies in Iowa for example...). These comparisons are useless rhetorical demagoguery, of the sort that Palin herself engages in and I do not mean to make them as assertions that she would outlaw her political opponents or their views, or would undertake campaigns to eliminate them. I feel she, or rather the existence of her popularity among a subset of Americans, is quite scary enough without these underpinnings and I think it necessary to understand and attempt to explain why that is.

What I'm actually trying to address is not a comparison and equation between the political views and ideology, such as she has. But it is the mindset that interests me, and tends to annoy and frighten liberals, and that mindset seems remarkably similar.
1) A tendency to see very stark black and white terms on all fronts. Attempting to point out inconsistency of her very general rhetoric and factual errors within the talking points themselves tends to result in paranoid accusations of persecution. This is not on the order of pretending that Ukrainians were starving themselves because they hated world socialism and Stalinism and responding with brutal malicious state policies, but it's the same sort of reasoning. One could be forgiven for worrying what the execution of state powers would look like under a Palin government.
2) A tendency to shift those fronts in malleable contortions of unreason, which are followed faithfully by her supporters, but which are objectionable by anyone else, in part because the word salads that Palin has organised into speeches to defend herself and her positions are pretty badly in need of an editor and baldly in evidence as talking point vomit (must say something about "troops", and "socialism", and so on), but also because they are shifts in positions that do not present some ideological consistency or present some basis for the shift. Some actual reason for shifting other than that she now feels persecuted by this group or this person instead of that. So far as I can tell Palin's entire ideological belief structure seems to be her extreme religious views, an idolatry of "Real America" (a shapeless definition that means whatever she wants it to mean at a given point), and a hatred of media (and we can see this reflected by some of her choice of political allies during the last election, such as Joe Miller's detention and assault of journalists covering his campaign in Alaska). These reflect very few meaningful policy choices as a result and none of them particularly well regarded by liberals (free speech restraints on the press as well as citizenry, restrictions on homosexual rights and abortion, and targeting of immigrants and other "suspicious" bodies of people)
3) A tendency to demagogue her enemies, or the perceived enemies of "Real America". Us vs them thinking is very effective at gathering and maintaining a base of support, and for acting very quickly if that base is sufficient to take and assume power within a country. It is however very dangerous at gathering and maintaining political coalitions because it provides for no middle ground. In a diverse society like America, I think we have some fortune to see that it's likely not to work.

These are pretty much the mindsets that liberals, and not a few moderates, rightly are afraid of when they appear. I put this out there mostly to help conservatives who see her as persecuted victim understand why she's reviled by her political opponents. In large measure, because I don't see her backers and her populist rhetoric going anywhere and disappearing, I'd want them to understand that a) her two major speeches (resignation from governor of Alaska, and the defence she gave post-Tuscon) pretty much killed her political chances anyway with the mainstream of the country and even among many conservatives so you may as well have it catalogued and b) that the core of people who like her BECAUSE she annoys liberals and is so hated by them may understand what it is about her that they do not in fact like. There are specific political positions she has that are disgusting and insulting to liberals, and that's certainly at issue too. And to a libertarian, not only her positions on social matters, but her woeful understanding of basic economics (for instance her tweets about QEII and inflation) are very much insulting and hard to listen to (especially that she has been described as one of us for instance).

But it ultimately comes down to her mindset and activity since becoming a national political figure with a loyal and dogmatic following. There are political figures and pundits who I disagree with on some matters whom I can respect in their attempts to explain their views (Gingrich used to be one of these, not so much any more because he's gotten to having views which are blatantly bigoted or insipidly stupid and for which he should know better). And then there's the Palin-ites, practicing something else entirely as politics (Bachmann's another one, Angle, Miller, and a few others) and who seem utterly ready to divide the country into an us-them entanglement with right and wrong defined not as empirical or objective considerations, but as who's on my side and who is not. That bothers me a lot more than her actual political views.

I mention it because seeing the behaviors of Stalin and Hitler leading up to some of the worst atrocities in human history, the mental contortions that they and their cronies undertook, and the mindsets combined with a will to destroy their enemies, real or imagined, utterly and completely, immediately drew me to think of her methods as a politician and celebrity, or those of Beck and others like him. Perhaps it's because they themselves so commonly and recklessly draw on the imagery of Nazis and Stalinists (or Maoists for that matter) and the comparisons come easily to mind because they make them so readily already in talking about their own enemies. But it's also the same methodology, the same mindset, applied to much smaller goals than mass exterminations of people.

I note this also because I've seen that many of the people who agree, or who actively subscribe to her political views, do seem to have taken on eliminationist rhetoric, describing all Muslims as secret spies and terrorists and calling for the abandonment of rights and constitutional protections for Islamic peoples of any derivation, regardless of real or imagined threats they may pose individually in our communities, and seeing other active plots and conspiracies everywhere aiming to bring down America (Soros, Tides, etc), and describing liberals and indeed sometimes libertarians as enemies of the good, as unpatriotic and hateful of America and its values. This too should worry reasonable people. So far as I can tell, Palin's viability as a candidate for high office does indeed seem to be rejected as unreasonable. Perhaps on this basis, or perhaps on others. But if people really need to know why she's presented so poorly, and resented so widely, this is perhaps a hint of why. If in reading about some of the highest and widest crimes against humanity I should recognize even a glimmer of her behavior, her mindset, and her rhetorical tricks, I think that's a problem worthy of bringing up. She has none of the state infrastructure, the charismatic following of awe, or the ideological makeup to start and lead a grand crusade with designs of abolishing entire peoples, certainly, but she has the same sort of mental design and behavior as the people who did.

She sees and portrays herself as the persecuted victim rather than the aggressor representing some threat. The amount of contortions that many Americans go through to see themselves as imposed upon to tolerate gays being married, or narcotics (some of them) legalised seems overdone. And she's the singular figure into which these fears and underpinnings are represented through. The reason she gets picked on is that she's popular within that community in a way that other political figures are not and thus she represents an actual threat of unreasonable fears made manifest and into official state policy by a not-insignificant minority of the population. The real issue to me is that significant minority of the population, not her.

That there should be a body politic willing to support her strikes me as scarier. That I have occasion to defend her silliness out of necessity of free speech and other items of moral and legal consequence which she (and other political figures akin to her) seems strikingly ignorant of, also annoys me. I grow tired of it.
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