Sunday, July 16, 2006

The projection strategy

Kudos to Glenn Greenwald, who has been dealing this week with the latest surge in eliminationist rhetoric -- and actual behavior -- from the right-wing blogosphere.

The main focus has been on the fake "controversy" over an obscure blogger named Deb Frisch who wrote a disgusting and evidently threatening comment at Jeff Goldstein's blog, which set all the right wing -- including Fox News -- abuzz with righteous indignation over the specter of an increasingly "unhinged" and violent left.

I especially noted the his initial roundup on the Frisch matter (including the antics of the Perfesser, whose ethics we've limned previously along similar lines):
With those brilliant and elevated responses assembled before him, Instapundit -- who endlessly parades himself around as a righteous advocate of civil discourse, and who was one of those who spent the weekend lamenting the terrible language directed at Jeff Goldstein -- also weighed in on my post. He did so by approvingly linking to the very high-level responses from Dan Riehl, Sister Toldjah, and Patterico, and then shared with us: "I'm no fan of Greenwald." (Incidentally, Instapundit, who claims with great self-satisfaction to be an adherent to the privacy-protecting "Online Integrity" concept, links to Riehl, who currently has posted on his blog satellite photographs of Punch Salzburger's home along with his home address).

So that's the level of discourse that comes from right-wing bloggers, every one of whom cited here -- each and every one -- doled out solemn lectures this weekend about how terrible it is for people to write mean personal insults on the Internet, only to respond to my post today with the above-excerpted tantrums. And all of that leaves to the side the fact that they were unable to comprehend the actual arguments that were made in the post -- most of them responded to the opposite of the argument that was actually made -- an embarrassing fact which QandO's Jon Henke had to explain to them here and here. But ultimately, their whiny, ad hominem tantrums seem more notable than the lack of comprehension.

As Greenwald went on to describe today, this derangement and open adoption of extremist ideas and appeals -- especially to the most thuggish elements of the right -- may be most prominently visible in Glenn Reynolds' case (though regular readers here are well aware that this has been his MO for some time) but is in fact widespread throughout the right blogosphere:
The extremist and increasingly deranged rhetoric and tactics found in the right-wing blogosphere -- not only among obscure bloggers but promoted and disseminated by its most-read and influential bloggers -- is, indeed, "a very common disease." When it becomes commonplace to hurl accusations of treason against domestic political opponents, or when calls for imprisonment and/or hanging of journalists and political leaders become the daily fare -- all of which is true for the pro-Bush blogosphere -- those are serious developments. And they merit discussion and examination by the media.

What we're witnessing on a massive scale, of course -- as the foofaraw over Deb Frisch so amply illustrates -- is projection: the classic right-wing propensity to see in its enemies its own dark side. I've described its appearance in recent years many times here, including discussions of its subtler aspects.

The classic description of projection comes from Richard Hofstadter in his examination of "The Paranoid Style in American Politics":
The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced. The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional).

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through "front" groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist "crusades" openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.

As I noted quite awhile back, projection from the right has become such a common phenomenon that it's now a very useful gauge in guessing where the right is taking us next:
Indeed, one of the lessons I've gleaned from carefully observing the behavior of the American right over the years is that the best indicator of its agenda can be found in the very things of which it accuses the left.

Whether it's sexual improprieties, slander, treason, or unhinged behavior, it doesn't matter: if the right is jumping up and down accusing the left of it, you can bet they're busy engaging in it themselves by an exponential factor of a hundred.

For a long time, I really believed that this was simply the right acting out on its own psychological predisposition. But as it's gathered volume and momentum -- especially as the right has avidly accused the left of the very thuggishness, both rhetorical and real, in which it is increasingly indulging -- a disturbing trend began to emerge:
What is particularly interesting about this kind of projection by conservatives is that it then (as the comments indicate) becomes a pretext for even further eliminationist rhetoric against liberals -- and eventually, for exactly the kind of "acting out" of rhetoric that Van Der Leun foresees from liberals.

In other words, for a number of the right's leading rhetoricians, the projection appears to be perfectly conscious: it is a strategy, designed to marginalize their opposition and open the field to nearly any behavior it chooses.

And it is extraordinarily successful precisely because projection, as a trait, is so deeply woven into the right-wing psyche. Those who engage in it consciously set off waves of sympathetic response from their audiences because it hits their buttons in exactly the right spot.

The signal event for this, I think, was Michelle Malkin's book Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild which was a black-and-white-case of intentional projection. Indeed, as I noted further, it provided a pretext for a whole explosion of hateful, eliminationist rhetoric from the right:
Indeed, books like Unhinged actually serve a specific purpose: to provide epistemological cover for conservatives' own behavior. If those wackos on the left are wrecking America with their unhinged bombast, well, a little return fire is well earned, isn't it?

This is why, in the weeks after her book's release, we were subjected to so many instances of truly unhinged rhetoric from the right, Bill O'Reilly in particular. Within a week of Malkin's appearance on his show, O'Reilly was suggesting that San Francisco deserved to be attacked by terrorists, compared anti-Iraq war protesters to Hitler sympathizers, called all Europeans cowards, and promised to "bring horror" to his ephemeral foes in the "war on Christmas."

Did anyone on the right utter a peep? Well, no. Not even Michelle Malkin.

Of course not. That is, after all, her entire purpose in doing this. It's a strategy -- and so far, it's working like a charm.

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