Thursday, September 24

And Sometimes A Cigar Is Just A Crazy Mofo With A Terminal Case Of Stupid. Of Course, They Have Those On The Left, Too.

David Greenberg, "The Obama Haters: We still don't understand how fringe conservatism went mainstream". September 23

"FORGET it, Riley; it's Slate," a wiser, saner man than I once advised, and still, every so often, while I'm staring at their latest train-wreck version of web page design--they were hampered, of course, by the unshakable conviction that the World Wide Web was NEW! and REVOLUTIONARY! and LIGHTSPEED! and so required cramming as many technological marvels into as tiny a space as possible--and some article starts cooing at me. "Hey," it'll breathe, "look me over. I'm not like those others." And I know better. But it's just a tiny click, the slightest pressure of digit on metal-look plastic, the man/sexy machine interface…

(Why, by the way, is there such resistance to simple clarity from a generation which favors furniture that looks like some hipster Shaker quit in the middle of building it? Yes, I'm old; my eyesight and reflexes ain't what they once was, but I'm not stupid, and I eventually figure it out. And yet I remain convinced that reading is pretty much identical to the skill I learned in a previous century, so why am I playing Whack-A-Mole to find what I want, again? Because you spent your childhood fiddling with your joystick? And while we're at it, how is it the Internet Magazine That Still Can't Explain How It Hired Dahlia Lithwick adds Amanda Marcotte to the XX Factor lineup? In order to balance the stable of fifteen careerist know-nothings with celebrity news fetishes? Couldn't you have thought of that earlier? God love ya, Amanda, but it's like hearing that Richard Thompson will be co-hosting Oprah all next week.)

It was the Siren Song of Professor Greenberg, and somehow I imagined "We still don't understand how fringe conservatism went mainstream" meant we'd be discussing something along the lines of, oh, how fringe conservatism went mainstream, instead of how people get it wrong when they bandy about Hofstadter's Paranoid Style, which they apparently do so frequently that the Professor doesn't need bother with examples. This is followed by a discussion of how Hofstadter himself got it wrong, on accouta he
was frustratingly silent about who, precisely, is drawn to the Manichaeism he described

peppered, throughout, with Slaterrific reassurances that Professor Greenberg, does, indeed, find these people as far removed from reality as anyone vaguely in touch with reality would.

And, y'know, I read Hofstadter's essay, though not the book that grew out of it, back in college, and it didn't much impress me, really, even back when having my ego, or anything lower, stroked by something everyone was supposed to read was a more pleasurable exercise, and one I could handle six or seven times a day. For one thing, even then I was pretty much convinced that the only thing worse than Fully Accredited Psychobabble were the people who attempted to borrow the Psychobabblers' cachet. (I had a habit of spending an afternoon or two before a semester began prowling every aisle of the bookstores, looking at the reading lists for classes, departments, whole schools I'd never have anything to do with, and it left an indelible impression on my young psyche that even at Indiana, where his lack of having died yet did not prevent the ghost of B.F. Skinner from haunting the psychology department, he was yet twice as popular in the School of Business.)

So I don't really know whether "failure to identify everyone susceptible to metaphorical paranoia" is a shortcoming of Hofstadter's or not. I do think that if you wanna gripe about it forty years later you might first do a little digging yourself, if it's so important. And I really can't say I give a fuck that people (unnamed and myriad) misuse "paranoid" by volition or butt-ignorance; find me something people don't misuse, Doc.

Do we have to go here instead?
The thinkers who investigated the historical, psychological, and sociological roots of right-wing extremism ranged from social psychologists such as Gordon Allport to continental theorists such as Theodor Adorno to best-selling popularizers such as Eric Hoffer—many of them unsettled by the trauma of European fascism and its echoes in the McCarthy movement.

Oh yeah, the unsettling Second World War, and the troubling Adolph Hitler. I thought I remembered that a lot of people seemed on edge in those days. And that explains the hysterical overreaction to the Red Scare. Not that you don't realize some extremists on the Right are a bit touched, though, right? Just like…
(In the 1960s, with the rise of conspiratorial thinking in the New Left, many turned their attention to the paranoid style on the left as well.)

Fine. Even Steven. Don't bother introducing any into evidence; Defense will stipulate that some academics of the era were--and some still are--more than a little honked off, correctly or no or don't give a fuck, at the Left's challenge to the whole panoply of academic privilege. Funny, innit, how we never get the People Who Called The Left A Bunch Of Paranoid Conspiracy Nuts Overstated The Case articles, huh?

But really, now, how do these equate? You've got Birthers in the US Congress. Since Hofstadter's 1963 lecture you've had one Anti-fluouridationist GOP Presidential candidate, and one actual President, separated by Nixon, who may not count because his Red baiting was accompanied by actual clinical paranoia, succeeded by a guy too intellectually incurious to even be aware of his debt to them, whose Vice President made Nixon look like a paragon of mental hygiene, followed by another Vice Presidential candidate (and the actual draw for party regulars) who is crazier'n a swarm of bees in September, which, of course, is aiming above the G. Gordon Liddys, the Pat Buchanans, the B-1 Bob Dornans, the Dan Burtons, Jim Sensenbrenners, Jim Bunnings, and Michelle Bachmans, all of whom have dined well on the taxpayer dime, some even without having done prison time. Th' fuck approaches that on The Left? Did Dennis Kucinich read Abbie Hoffman's Deface This Book into the Congressional Record in his younger days?
Indeed, for all the continual journalistic hosannas to the relevance of "The Paranoid Style," professional historians have grown increasingly confirmed of late that Hofstadter, Bell, and company got conservatism wrong. For about 15 years now, ever since Ronald Reagan's ascent became grist for the historian's mill, there has been a "cottage industry" of dissertations and books seeking to understand how a fringe conservatism—famously dismissed by Hofstadter's Columbia colleague Lionel Trilling as "irritable mental gestures that seek to resemble ideas"—went mainstream and gained power.

Okay, so I'm not sure why this is a "cottage industry" as opposed to, say, a "cottage" industry, in no small part because I've got no idea where this is taking place at all, since you don't tell us, Doc. Any geezer can tell you that there comes a point when events and ideas still in the living memory of people still in possession of their faculties nonetheless take on their own life. Of course, a lot of us are so perverse we prefer to let you find that out the hard way. And god knows there never was a PR campaign like the one that elevated Reagan from B-actor to Namesake of Every Road, Parking Lot, Coin, Aircraft Carrier, and Federal Edifice That Was Renamable, so explaining his "success" may have seemed like a real good, tenure-building and paper-moving exercise before it all crashed and burned to cinders. I dunno, because I dunno who you're talking about.

What I do know is there're a load of fucking crazy people out there, with or without diagnostic validity, and a lot of snopes-worthy illiteracy, and while it may be spread across the political spectrum, that's a different matter from being equally distributed. And frankly, I don't really care about its psychological engine, and what if I did? You don't need to prove motive to convict a murderer, and you don't need a former Weatherman and Presidential ghostwriter to know which way the Crazies blow. It's a country founded by slave-holding religious genocidists, fortuitously timed (if you were a white landowner) to coincide with the Enlightenment, one whose 150-year history of hardscrabble farming and isolated backwoods Biblical literalism ran smack into the Age of Invention, mass communications, and urbanization, which shamefully re-instituted racism in the 20th century, one which found itself with global economic hegemony after Europe self-destructed, and one where all the loose threads were darned into the world's ugliest pair of mentally-unstable socks, with the help of the International Communist Conspiracy, Martin Luther King, and hallucinating Leftists. And, now, from its own teevee network. I don't really give a fuck where it all came from, though feel free next time to enlighten us; I'm more concerned about why something like Slate finds it necessary to continually search for the Ultimate Right-wing Excuse. Maybe it's too much joystick. I sure don't give a fuck if somebody recklessly omitted to fully appreciate a flower or two that survived the massive Agent Orange application that was Reaganism. I'd like it to just go away. I'll settle for it being required to defend itself in that part of the world that isn't totally fucking nuts, and for Slate to decide which side of that line it wants to occupy.


Augustus Mulliner said...

Dangerous times, Mr.Riley. You try to step away from the Reaganist beast while it flails about in its death agony, just in time to be whacked smartly behind the ear by an elbow thrown in the course of this nitwit's wild gesticulations. Where, I ask you, is there a safe place to stand?

guitarist manqué said...

Excellent screed as usual Riley but could you tell me when RT is going to host Oprah so I can go out and get a TV?

Captcha's got your number; dumism

Anonymous said...

R, your wife should consider having you guest-lecture for her history classes. Make all the kids read Howard Zinn first. Amanda's defense, she did have the best Battlestar Galactica discussion thread..


Keifus said...

Um, yeah, look, about the generation thing. The Atari consol came out just about when I was young enough to believe the other kids when they told me the flipped the score on Asteroids 5 times. My generation included the hordes of Lusers that got AOL accounts in 1995, and while we did spend a lot of time congratulating ourselves in those little communities (at least before September hit) about how information access would democratize everygoddamnthing, and kill the media in the process, I think those of us who volunteered or were dragooned into slightly earlier adoptions were already somewhat aware of the basic gimcrackery. I'm sure the rest of 'em caught on eventually. My generation also includes the vaunted internet consumer market that failed to emerge five years later, after all.

What I'm getting at is that it's bad enough that our Best and Brightest must include sneaky little shits like Jonah Goldberg, Chuck Todd, and Megan McMuffin, and maybe that phenomenon isn't unprecedented either, but man, foisting the Slate gang on us is just gratuitously cruel. Even Saletan is too old to have grown up with a joystick--as close to your age as mine, if I've been following along right--and Kinsley and the execrable Kaus both could have gone to your high school. Slate is more like the parents of us Gen X whippersnappers, or the older marketing genii that spent untold fortunes to reinvent Poochie a thousand ways to sell us corn syrup, trying so hard to be cool, it's fucking embarrassing.

And I'm sorry that's my reply to such an otherwise lovely post. That's as perfect and concise an American history as I've read. You've been on a tear lately.