Thursday, April 30, 2009

When Did America Lose Its Mind?

Dawg informs us the U.S. right wing's possibly inevitable interpretation of the current swine flu crisis as (get this): an Islamic terrorist plot to destroy America by seeding the virus among Dirty Mexicans with the expectation that they will illegally cross the border and spread the disease by, I don't know, spitting on our strawberries or something.

No, really.

This is, of course, a perfectly reasonable conclusion for the racists, nativists and Birchers who have always inhabited the far right fringe of America. Since the days of the Know-Nothings and the Copperheads, there have been those who have sought to preserve American 'purity' by excluding and demonizing the dirty 'other', whether that 'other' was black, Irish, Jewish, Catholic, Communist, Muslim, Mexican, gay - even their own youth have been condemned at some points in history as a threat.

The problem now is, the lunatic fringe finally has its own TV network.

It's too simplistic to see all this as merely racism, although that is a frequent theme. It's really more of a toxic brew of xenophobia, paranoia, anti-government sentiment and, inevitably, violence. It has manifested itself in deadly fashion at Ruby Ridge and Oklahoma City, but it can also be found in its more benign form among the so-called 'Minutemen' along the Mexican border and, most recently, those earnest, angry 'tea-baggers'.

The pattern is fairly consistent. While those in power are busily maintaining the status quo for 'average Americans' and shutting out everyone else, the lunatic fringe is quiet and content. But every time America moves to open a door, these people crawl out from under their respective rocks to try to slam it shut again. Happily, such people have traditionally been hindered and marginalized by the simple fact that they are... well, crazy.

Actually, to call them crazy is an insult to crazy people. The mentally ill don't typically have an agenda.

Typically, people with irrational ideas are either forced to recognize their irrationality, or at least keep quiet about it, when they are confronted by the fact that everybody they know thinks they're nuts. If they do manage to find others who share their beliefs, they will often cling to each other in a mutually reinforcing closed system such as a religious cult or an isolated compound. But while such groups are often extremely dangerous and violent, the ideas they espouse have always remained safely on the fringe.

All that began to change with the advent of the Internet. No longer were crackpot notions relegated to privately published tomes and badly photocopied tracts. Now they were up there, on equal footing with their academic superiors, distinguishable from legitimate ideas only by their shoddy grammar and the garish colour schemes of their web sites.

Then came FOX News, and the lunatics came out of the closet. Way out.

Not right away, of course. As long as Dubya was safely ensconced in the White House, the pundits and personalities at FOX were content to sing his praises and mock his political rivals. It was only when they suddenly found themselves in the minority that any semblance of sanity was dropped and... well, we've all seen the results.

Yes, yes, yes, it's all terribly funny until someone blows up a federal building.

What I'm finding increasingly frightening about all this is that FOX News is no longer merely the apologist organ of the Republican Party. It is now, apparently, the voice of every racist, paranoid, gun-totin', tax-hatin' nutjob in America. There still aren't that many of them, but now they've been legitimized merely by virtue of having their hate-filled message disseminated on something that looks vaguely like a legitimate national television news show.

And it's spreading. Republican politicians are apparently no longer bound by inconveniences like facts or logic. Thanks to FOX News, they now feel free to let loose with gems like "Matthew Shepard's murder was a robbery, not a hate crime", and "FDR caused the Great Depression (with the 'Hoot-Smalley' Act, apparently), and (from the same source) that "the last Swine Flu scare happened under the Carter administration. Just sayin'...".

All bets are off. It's a mad mad world.


  1. The problem now is, the lunatic fringe finally has its own TV network.
    Are you talking about msnbc?
    Both sides have their lunatics.

  2. Are you talking about msnbc?Right, anon, because Rachael Maddow totally spends every evening having emotional meltdowns on the air, calling for armed insurrection, and raving about international plots to turn America into a socialist/Islamist/fascist state.

    Oh, no, wait, she doesn't.

    False equivalencies don't actually work.

  3. I think there is an element of mass-psychosis in American society. There's a genuine detachment from reality that (I suspect) has its roots in the trauma Americans experienced on 9/11 and its subsequent exploitation by the far right. Rather than calm their fears and offer assurances (e.g. FDR), Bush/Cheney et al fed these people a diet rich in fear and xenophobia.

    America's government planted the seeds of delusion that were then watered and fertilized by an unscrupulous media dominated by the likes of Hannity, O'Reilly, Savage, Coulter and Beck. It's stomach churning to listen to these miscreants today still feed lies, fear and hatred to their audiences. Even Goebbels wasn't in it for the money!

  4. Americans have completely lost the plot when it comes to freedom. If there is no expectation of responsibility, then freedom is meaningless.

    Which brings me to their worship of "freedom of speech." There's absolutely no expectation to use that particular freedom responsibly. It's just simply a matter now of everyone shouting whatever nonsense they want. I used to believe that, in this "marketplace of ideas" of ideas, only the best ideas will prevail, but that takes too much time and can't prevent the bad ideas from taking hold and wreaking havoc.

    If Americans really cared about any of this, they'd figure out a way of getting rid of FoxNews and hate radio. But they can't. They are locked into with their worship of freedom of speech.

  5. You can't sustain freedom of any sort on a diet of raw fear. Freedom is an expression of courage or bravery. It also anchors reason. Once it's gone you become easy meat for the O'Reillys, Becks, Coulters, Savages and Hannitys.

  6. It's not just the fear, it's the ignorance. The magical thinking, the myths, the delusions.

    And that's not just restricted to the Right.

  7. It's not just restricted to the US either. The 'written' word is one of the oldest and most profound facets of magical thinking.

    Its authority has immense power over people expecting leaders using it to speak truth, because truth means survival and why would leaders lie about survival? Uncriticality is a hallmark of social animals. It's easier (or lazier) than independent thinking over every dang last little situation of a day and it's exploited constantly by leaders.

    Just ask any Role Playing GM how many players trust every 'word' out of a GM run character to be the actual facts.

    There has to be a push of critical 'curiousity' being prized as a national point of pride or any country's sport will end up self-kneecapping.