Friday, October 27, 2006

Republicans and the 'race card'

[A "race card" created as a promotional joke by the white supremacist National Alliance.]

Now we know why Republicans are so blithe about race-baiting from within their ranks: It doesn't really happen, you see.

It's all just in black people's imaginations anyway. It's a fiction created by black politicians for their own gain.

That's the official word from the White House, anyway. Funny how cheap rationalizations created years ago by the National Alliance and David Duke now come out of the mouths of our national leaders.

Most of the country has been watching the story regarding the nasty attack ads against Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford, a black man running for the Senate there. Ford has fired back, and the GOP, after first claiming it could do nothing, has finally pulled the ads. (Josh Marshall has been on the case admirably.)

Nitpicker points out that Tony Snow on Chris Matthews' Hardball show yesterday (video at Think Progress) explained where it's all coming from:
MATTHEWS: Harold, call me. There's a cute -- I would say sexy, most people would say that -- white woman, naked, naked -- on the screen setting up a date with Harold Ford who is an African-American. In American society -- you went to school in North Carolina. So did I for a year. Do you think in any part of the country that is not playing on racial sensitivities?

SNOW: I don't think so. I mean, maybe I'm just quaint in this day and age. But no, I think there is always an attempt when you have got an African-American candidate to try to attribute something to the race card. But no, I don't.

Snow evidently believes we're all too stupid to read between the ad's lines. (Holding the public and press in general contempt seems to be a requirement for White House spokesmen these days.) Really, it's not hard to understand why Republicans would run an ad depicting Ford dating white women. The South is one of those places where things like interracial marriage and dating still set people off.

(Just in case anyone in fact was too dense to figure it out, the General has a more explicit version.)

Recall, if you will, that the fear of black men having sex with white women was a major raison d'etre of the lynching era:
Lynchings were broadly viewed as simply a crude, but understandable and even necessary, expression of community will. This was particularly true in the South, where blacks were viewed as symbolic of the region's continuing economic and cultural oppression by the North. As an 1899 editorial in the Newnan, Georgia, Herald and Advertiser explained it: "It would be as easy to check the rise and fall of the ocean’s tide as to stem the wrath of Southern men when the sacredness of our firesides and the virtue of our women are ruthlessly trodden under foot."

Such sexual paranoia was central to the lynching phenomenon. In the years following black emancipation -- during which time a previously tiny class of black criminals became swelled by the ranks of impoverished former slaves -- a vast mythology arose surrounding black men's supposed voracious lust for white women, a legend for which in truth there was scant evidence, and one that stands in stark contrast to (and perhaps has its psychological roots in) the reality of white men’s longtime sexual domination of black women, particularly during the slavery era. In any event, the omnipresence of the threat of rape of white women by black men came to be almost universally believed by American whites. Likewise, conventional wisdom held that lynchings were a natural response to this threat: "The mob stands today as the most potential bulwark between the women of the South and such a carnival of crime as would infuriate the world and precipitate the annihilation of the Negro race," warned John Temple Graves, editor of the Atlanta Constitution. Such views were common not merely in the South, but among Northerners as well. The New York Herald, for instance, lectured its readers: "[T]he difference between bad citizens who believe in lynch law, and good citizens who abhor lynch law, is largely in the fact that the good citizens live where their wives and daughters are perfectly safe."

The cries of rape, for many whites in both South and North, raised fears not merely of sexual violence but of racial mixing, known commonly as "miscegenation," which was specifically outlawed in some 30 states. White supremacy was not only commonplace, it was in fact the dominant worldview of Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries; most Caucasians believed they represented Nature’s premier creation (having been informed this by a broad range of social scientists of the period, whose views eventually coalesced into the pseudo-science known as eugenics), and that any "dilution" of those strains represented a gross violation of the natural order. Thus it was not surprising that a number of lynching incidents actually resulted from the discovery of consensual relations between a black man and a white woman.

Whites were so proud of their "protective" efforts that they often made postcards from the lynchings. This is what "race card" meant in the old days:

Tennessee, as it happens, has a long and colorful history of lynching. Indeed, the state passed one of the first anti-miscegenation laws in the nation (back in 1822) and was one of the last to repeal them, hanging on until forced to do so by the Supreme Court in 1967.

So perhaps it wasn't just a coincidence that when the Senate last year finally decided to issue an apology for the lynching era, among the six senators who refused to support the measure -- all of whom were Republican -- was the senior senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, who offered as an excuse the following: "There is no resolution of apology that we can pass today that will teach one more child to read, prevent one more case of AIDS, or stop one more violent crime."

Cheap rationalizations, though, have been the GOP's specialty on race relations ever since the advent of the Southern Strategy, and these days are something of an entrenched form of art in conservative circles. Indeed, most conservative rhetoric on race is actually Newspeak: the epistomelogical disembowelment of terms that tend to harm right-wing interests, usually by twisting the meaning to its rough opposite.

Recall, for instance, how "race-baiting" has been distorted into meaninglessness by right-wingers who are prone to engaging in that very behavior (see, e.g., Michelle Malkin). Likewise, identity politics that were created by whites a hundred years ago, under the guise of "eugenics," are now blamed on minorities who are trying to overcome them:
"Identity politics," though it was not called that then, was an invention of 19th-century white supremacists who, along with their acolytes, continued to employ such divisions with abandon through most of the first half of the last century. Their heirs continue to do so, but in less nakedly racial terms.

Now we have attacks on affirmative action, the "welfare state," hate-crimes legislation, and various aspects of civil-rights law, all under the umbrella of combating "identity politics." And consistently, there has been one primary source for this resurgence of white supremacy camouflaged as "normal" politics: the conservative movement generally, and the Republican Party specifically.

Snow's use of the term "race card" is part and parcel of a general distortion of the term's original meaning, which (like "race baiting") was as a way to describe the racial fear-mongering by right-wing demagogues of the Civil Rights era: someone was playing "the race card" if they tried connecting their opponent to negative racial stereotypes. As a result of right-wing pushback, the meaning has shifted. Nowadays, anyone raising awareness of such tactics -- which is their actual antithesis -- is himself accused of playing the "race card."

Even if Snow's theory -- that it's all coming from cynical black politicians -- were true, it still wouldn't explain why so many Republicans seem to play the race card themselves with nary a black politician in sight.

Actually, it is this serial obfuscation through Newspeak that enables the GOP to get away with waving the Confederate flag and building campaigns around appeals to white people's fears about Latino immigrants. It's how someone like Rush Limbaugh can play the race card as a football commentator -- in an incident that would have destroyed most people's media credibility forever -- and then turn around and claim that it's the people attacking the Ford smear who are actually the racists in all this.

The only effective bulwark against this kind of Newspeak assault on the meaning of important issues in our public discourse is public repudiation, early and often. The point of doing so is not merely for partisan political gain; it's a matter of defending the underpinnings of democracy itself.

This is the conclusion of Tali Mendelberg, whose excellent study, The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality, looks at the role this kind of race-baiting has played in the body politic:
The most important and underplayed lesson of the [Willie] Horton message is that, in a racially divided society that aspires to equality, the injection of race into campaigns poses a great danger to democratic politics -- so long as the injection of race takes place under cover. When a society has repudiated racism, yet racial conflict persists, candidates can win by playing the race card only through implicit racial appeals. The implicit nature of these appeals allows them to prime racial stereotypes, fears, and resentments while appearing not to do so. When an implicit appeal is rendered explicit -- when other elites bring the racial meaning of the appeal to voters' attention -- it appears to violate the norm of racial equality. It then loses its ability to prime white voters' racial predispositions. As a consequence, voters not only become more disaffected with the candidate, but also prevent their negative racial predispositions from influencing their opinion on issues of race. Political communication that derogates African Americans does little harm if it is widely, immediately, and strongly denounced. In an age of equality, what damages racial equality is the failure to notice the racial meaning of political communication, not the racial meaning itself.

It's rather telling, in fact, when our national leaders deliberately choose not to notice the racial meaning of political communications. It reveals, once again, what kind of values the conservative movement is all about.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Haunted by Terri's Ghost

Sara Robinson

Via Steve Gilliard, Michael Schiavo's account of the Congressional debate in Ft. Collins, CO between incumbent Marilyn Musgrave and Democratic challenger Angie Paccione:

Back in mid-July I travelled to Colorado and delivered a letter to Congresswoman Musgrave's office. asking her why she felt compelled to interfere in my family's personal affairs - questioning, in fact trying to refute the medical facts of my wife's case on the floor of Congress.

Not surprisingly, Marilyn Musgrave never responded to my letter.

So on Tuesday I joined about 1,000 citizens and members of the local and regional media in the Windsor High School Auditorium to hear the debate and try to get an answer to my question from Congresswoman Musgrave.

About twenty minutes before the debate started and after speaking to several reporters about how Musgrave had voted to transform her values into our laws, I took a seat in the front row. As it turned out, I was seated next to the timekeeper who held up yellow and red cards to signal time to the candidates.

But just minutes after taking my seat, I noticed a flurry of activity around my seat including about four uniformed police officers who were - I would learn later - called in by Musgrave staffers and asked to remove me from the building.

At this point, I had made no speeches, I had no signs, had made no attempt to disrupt or cause any commotion. I only came into the auditorium, spoke to a dozen or so reporters and took a seat.

To their credit, the police refused the Musgrave campaign's appeal to have me removed.

There's more to come, but I still can't get over even that part. A sitting member of Congress asked the police to remove me - a taxpaying citizen - from a public debate. Obviously, I misunderstand the concept of a political debate. I thought a debate was a place to share ideas, answer questions, defend your record and tell citizens what you've done and what you will do. Marilyn Musgrave believes, I have to gather, that debates are places to have the police remove people who don't agree with you.

After the police talked with obviously irritated Musgrave staffers and the debate organizer, the Musgrave campaign complained that my seat, next to the timekeeper, was inappropriate because - get this - Marilyn Musgrave would have to look at me. In an effort to appease the Musgrave camp, the debate organizers moved the timekeeper to the other side of the stage - about 15 seats away.

If you need to re-read that again, it's okay. A member of Congress who took to the floor of our Congress to speak about my wife, my family and my values made the debate timekeeper move so she wouldn't have to look at me. Just amazing.

It's funny that Republicans never seem to be deterred (at the time) by the thought that the consequences of their actions might come back to haunt them later. This is far from the only case we've seen this in action -- you can probably name a few examples of your own.

And good on the Ft. Collins police department for remembering that they were there to protect everyone's rights, and refusing to allow themselves to be recruited as the Congresswoman's private goons.

Update: Josh Marshall reported back last March on a White House/RNC initiative to send uniformed active-duty military spokespeople to speak out in praise of Bush's war policies at campaign events. Evidently Musgrave was among the first beneficiaries of this plan; she had a fundraiser in Ft. Collins last February featuring a USMC sergeant as a speaker.

Just another day in PatriotLand. Except that, according to several JAG lawyers Marshall spoke to, appearing at political events in uniform - and, especially, speaking out on behalf of candidates while in uniform -- are court-martial offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

It seems this sure-fire campaign idea sank beneath the waves shortly after Marshall exposed it, with no apparent damage to any of the participating soldiers' careers. Just another example of It's OK If You're A Republican (or, in this case, endorsing one).

H/T to s9 for the great recall, and the link.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Misogyny and fascism

All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. ... What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours. ... Women are by nature instruments of Satan -- they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation.

-- Malleus maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), published by Catholic inquisition authorities in 1485-86

The Freikorpsmen hate women, specifically women's bodies and sexuality. It would not be going too far to say that their perpetual war was undertaken to escape women; even the motherly battlefront nurse is a threatening intrusion in the unisexual world of war. This hatred -- or dread -- of women cannot be explained with Freud's all-purpose Oedipal triangulation (fear that heterosexual desire will lead to punishment by the father, homosexual yearnings for the father, or some such permutation of the dramatic possibilities). The dread arises in the pre-Oedipal struggle of the fledgling self, before there is even an ego to sort out the objects of desire and the odds of getting them: It is a dread, ultimately, of dissolution -- of being swallowed, engulfed, annihilated. Women's bodies are the holes, swamps, pits of muck that can engulf.

--Barbara Ehrenreich, from the foreword to Klaus Theweleit's Male Fantasies

Where are they coming from, these violent men? The right-wing terrorists like David McMenemy. The onslaught of damaged males inflicting violence on women in dramatic and public ways. It all seems so new, so sudden. And yet so familiar.

What is most striking about this seeming trend is how abstract the women victims are for so many of the perpetrators. Both of the deranged school shooters in Pennsylvania and Colorado simply picked the schools at random, and selected girls as their victims retributively, for supposed harm done to them in the past by other females. All of them indicated a long-sweltering rage at women.

Sara wonders, reasonably, if this is something new. It isn't. In many regards, this kind of angry outpouring by would-be controlling males seems new because we haven't seen it, on a large scale, for many years. But this kind of murderous hate in fact has a long and colorful history -- ranging from the Holy Roman Empire to the Nazis.

What has changed are the conditions and the context in which it is happening. Those in turn can give us some ideas how best to confront it.

Western-style misogyny probably has its roots in a Greek/Roman culture that gave women little power, political or otherwise, despite including women in its pantheon of gods. One could also point to the deep psychological roots in the urge to civilize, particularly in the view of nature as wild, harmful, something to be repressed and tamed; as women became identified with nature, the desire to control them took root as well.

But the particular psychological component that creates the twist of murderous misogyny comes from Dark-Age Christianity: the notion of humankind -- and indeed, all of nature --as innately sinful. Because the chief burden for that sin fell on women who already had no power.

As David Stannard, in his study of the North American Native genocide American Holocaust, describes in examining the genocide's roots:
The idea is hardly a Christian invention, then, that immoderate enjoyment of the pleasures of the flesh belongs to the world of the brute, and that abstinence, modesty, strictness and sobriety are to be treasured above all else. Still, it is understandable why subsequent European thought would regard Greece and Rome as realms of carnal indulgence, since subsequent European thought was dominnated by Christian ideology. And as the world of the Christian fathers became the world of the Church Triumphant, while fluid and contested mythologies hardened into dogmatic theology, certain fundamental characteristics of Christianity, often derived from the teachings of Paul, came to express themselves in fanatical form. Not the least of these was the coming to dominance of an Augustinian notion of sex as sin (and sin as sexual) along with a larger sense, as Elaine Pagels puts it, that all of humanity was hopelessly "sick, suffering, and helpless." As late antiquity in Europe began falling under the moral control of Christians there occurred what historian Jacques le Goff has called la deroute du corporal -- "the rout of the body." Not only was human flesh thenceforward to be regarded as corrupt, but so was the very nature of humankind and, indeed, so was nature itself; so corrupt, in fact, that only a rigid authoritarianism could be trusted to govern men and women who, since the fall of Adam and Eve, had been permanently poisoned with an inability to govern themselves in a fashion acceptable to God.

... The Christian leader ... stood apart from all others by making a public statement that in fact focused enormous attention on sexuality. Indeed, "sexuality became a highly charged symbolic marker" exactly because its dramatic removal as a central activity of life allowed the self-proclaimed saintly individual to present himself as "the ideal of the single-hearted person" -- the person whose heart belonged only to God.

Of course, such fanatically aggressive opposition to sex can only occur among people who are fanatically obsessed with sex, and nowhere was this more ostentatiously evident than in the lives of the early Christian hermits ...

What was noteworthy about this obsession was the ease with which the obsessed blamed the objects of their obsession for the behavior that followed. And though this fanaticism waxed and waned over the subsequent centuries, it remained largely a constant throughout the history of feudal and theocratic European rule.

There was particularly an upsurge of lethal misogyny in the 15th century, embodied in the series of witch hunts that ran rampant for extended periods across the European landscape, claiming thousands of victims. The late Ioan P. Couliano noted that behind the shift in that period to traditional Christian denial of the body and things sexual, there lay the persistent ideology that:
woman is the blind instrument for the seduction of nature, the symbol of temptation, sin, and evil. Beisdes her face, the principal baits of her allure are the signs of her fertility, hips and breasts. The face, alas, must stay exposed, but it is possible for it to wear a rigid and manly expression. The neck can be enveloped in a high lace collar. As to the bosom, the treatment dealt is closely resembles the traditional deformation of the feet of [Chinese] women, being no less painful and unhealthy ... Natural femininity, overflowing, voluptuous, and sinful is categorized as unlawful. Henceforth only witches will dare to have wide hips, prominent breasts, conspicuous buttocks, long hair.

Eventually the witch hunts subsided in Europe, though they continued to enjoy something of an extended half-life in America. And, as with most historical cycles, murderous misogyny largely subsided until the emergence, in the early 20th century, of fascism, particularly in Europe (though America had its own home-bred brand of fascism, it largely was remaindered to the fringes in the aftermath of the Second World War).

Hitler and Mussolini both were ardent in their sexism: "The Nazi Revolution will be an entirely male event" was one of Hitler's most repeated phrases. Hitler's views on women, in fact, were a core component of the Nazis' mass psychological appeal, and were widespread throughout fascist movements. What was remarkable, perhaps, about the Nazis was the open glee with which they murdered women; they retained the ancient Catholic hatred of female putrefication, but freed from whatever constraints might have existed in the context of a church, they became relentlessly violent.

The German scholar Klaus Theweleit a few years ago examined the literature created in the post-World War I Weimar Germany by the paramilitary Nazis called the Freikorpsmen, and published his findings in a two-volume work titled Male Fantasies.

Theweleit found that, essentially, the fascist psychodrama entailed a wholesale unleashing of male desire, including incest, rape and murder. The fascist mindset entailed reveling in control over the bodies of others, embodied perhaps in their embrace of torture. And at the bloody beating heart of it all was a pathological fear of women.

The Nazis, who envisioned themselves as forging a revolutionary future, had no real place for women except in a secondary role -- as mothers and helpful supportmates. To this extent, their ideal Nazi woman was described thus:
Therefore a woman belongs at the side of a man not just as a person who brings children into this world, not just as an adornment to delight the eye, not just as a cook and a cleaner. Instead woman has the holy duty to be a life companion, which means being a comrade who pursues her vocation as woman with clarity of vision and spiritual warmth.

-- Paula Siber, "The New German Woman," 1933, from Fascism [1995, Oxford University Press], edited by Roger Griffin

Theweleit describes the resulting pathology thus:
Men themselves were now split into a (female) interior and a (male) exterior -- the body armor. And as we know, the interior and exterior were mortal enemies. ... What fascism promised men was the reintegration of their hostile components under tolerable conditions, dominance of the hostile "female" element within themselves. ...

As a matter of course, fascism excluded women from the public arena and the realms of male production. But fascism added a further oppression to the oppression of women: When a fascist male went into combat against erotic, "flowing," unsubjugated women, he was also fighting his own unconscious, his own desiring-production. This is clear from the fact that whereas in World War I, the Hohenzollern women had posed as nurses, Hitler concealed his "beloved" from the public. Not only was she useless for the rituals that maintained Hitler's rule, she would have gotten in the way.

Indeed, this is about how Hitler himself spoke regarding women:
Man's universe is vast compared to that of a woman. Man is taken up with his ideas, his preoccupations. It's only incidental if he devotes his thoughts to a woman. Woman's universe, on the other hand, is man. She sees nothing else, so to speak, and that is why she's capable of loving so deeply.

-- Adolf Hitler, Hitler's Secret Conversations, pp. 344-345.

In his 1989 book Our Contempt for Weakness: Nazi Norms and Values -- and Our Own, Norwegian scholar Harald Ofstad sums it up:
The Nazi view of sex roles is based on conventional notions taken to extremes. Sexuality has no intrinsic value; it is only a means of unleashing the power of men and the strength of the nation. Women are instruments.

A real man can never have any deep emotional contact with a woman. Her world is totally at odds with his. Real men can only have meaningful contact with other men, e.g., in such organizations as the SS. There they share the bonds of companionship and loyalty to their leader.

As Ehrenreich, in the foreword to Male Fantasies, explained, the Nazi compartmentalized the women of his world. To fall outside the "acceptable" role for women in Nazi society meant that one was an Enemy. And they reserved some of their most venomous hatred for such women:
In the Freikorpsman's life, there are three kinds of women: those who are absent, such as the wives and fiancees left behind, and generally unnamed and unnoted in the Freikorpsmen's most intimate diaries; the women who appear in the imagination and on the literal battlefront as "white nurses," chaste, upper-class German women; and finally, those who are his class enemies -- the "Red women" whom he faces in angry mobs and sometimes even in single combat.

Theweleit later describes this latter class in more detail:
The description of the proletarian woman as monster, as a beast that unfortunately cannot be dealt with merely by "planting a fist" in its "ugly puss," hardly derives from the actual behavior of women in situations such as those described above ... Rather, it can be traced to an attempt to construct a fantastic being who swears, shrieks, spits, scratches, farts, bites, pounces, tears to shreds; who is slovenly, wind-whipped, hissing-red, indecent; who whores around, slaps its naked thighs, and can't get enough of laughing at these men. ... [p. 67]

Women who don't conform to any of the "good woman" images are automatically seen as prostitutes, as the vehicles of "urges." They are evil and out to castrate, and they are treated accordingly. The men are soldiers. Fighting is their life, and they aren't about to wait until that monstrous thing happens to them. They take the offensive before these women can put their horrible plans into practice. [p. 171]

Hitler made an explicit link between "liberal" feminist and suffrage movements -- which even then were working to undermine the traditional disempowerment of women -- and Jews shortly after obtaining the chancellorhood in 1933. The next year he denounced the so-called New Woman as the "invention of Jewish intellectuals." He also urged German women to reject as unnatural the "overlapping of the spheres of activity of the sexes" as embodied in "Jewish intellectualism."

Hitler was fond of complaining about "feminized" Christianity and consistently prescribed a vision of Christ as "a fighter" and of the faith as "manly" and "hard." The Nazis' Christian wing, the Deutsche Christen, likewise railed against how "feminized" the church had become, and argued for a "virile" vision of the faith.

After Hitler's defeat, this pathology again slithered to the fringes. Mostly you could find complaints about "feminized" Christianity from folks like Identity pastor Pete Peters and Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler. The former, in fact, was fond of describing the source of the "feminization" thus:
The Jewish leaders believe they already control America. Recently, one of them stated publicly: "We have castrated Gentile society, through fear and intimidation. It's manhood exists only in combination with a feminine outward appearance. Being so neutered, the populace has become docile and easy to rule. As all geldings are by nature, their thoughts are not concerned with the future, or their posterity, BUT ONLY WITH THE PRESENT and the next meal." What a perfect "word picture of modern American society. It is the attitude of Christians, who don't want to be involved, and allow Jews, to control the school and often the church. We MUST break these fatal bonds, if we are to remain free.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, however, a lot of this talk -- as well as the vision of the "warrior Jesus" -- has returned with some intensity to the mainstream, though there had already been some seepage from the far right in the previous decade. Much of it, in fact, is closely associated with the increasing prevalence of pseudo-fascist thought as part of our political discourse. As we've well established by now, any American fascism is going to be wrapped in a flag and thumping on a Bible, extolling the virtues of "tradition" that includes sex and gender roles. And that's what we're getting.

It cannot be a mere coincidence, in fact, that while this is occurring, we're seeing more psychotic murders by controlling males whose chief mission seems to be to bring women under control and to avenge the damage done to their own twisted souls.

Stan Goff at Truthdig has been paying attention to the fascist undertow, and he notes:
The rise of fascistic masculinity prefigures systemic fascism, often in the form of vigilantism. Gun culture is steeped in vigilantism, which is steeped in military lore. Guns in this milieu transcend their practical uses and take on a powerful symbolic significance.

In the last decade, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has always had close ties with the military, has been taken over from what are considered within the organization as "moderates," that is, those whose message emphasizes peaceful, law-abiding gun use, like hunting (which is not peaceful for the game animals, but that's another issue).

During my service with 3rd Special Forces Group in Haiti in 1994, members of the SFU initiated back-channel communications in support of the right-wing death squad network, FRAPH.

Two of the favored preoccupations of [Steve] Barry, the SFU, Soldier of Fortune, and the NRA were Ruby Ridge, where Vicki Harris, the wife of an ex-Special Forces white supremacist (Randy Weaver), was killed by an FBI sniper with her baby in her arms, and the outrage at Waco against the Branch Davidians.

... My critique of gun culture is a critique of those sectors for which guns have been combined with imaginary enemies and taken on a deeply symbolic value as tokens of a violent, reactionary masculinity that fantasizes about armed conflict as a means to actualize its paranoid male sexual identity.

The problem is that this reaction is far from ab-normal.

There is a kind of interlocking directorate between white nationalists, gun culture, right-wing politicians, mercenary culture (like Soldier of Fortune), vigilante and militia movements, and elements within both Special Forces and—now—the privatized mercenary forces. It is hyper-masculine, racialist, militaristic and networked.

If one simply pays attention to cultural production in the United States, especially film and video games, it is fairly easy to see that the very memes that are the cells within the body of white nationalist militarism are ubiquitous within our general cultural norms. The film genre that most closely corresponds to a fascist mind-set is the male revenge fantasy, wherein after some offense is given that signifies the breakdown of order (usually resulting in the death or mortal imperilment of idealized wives or children) in which Enlightenment social conventions prove inadequate, and the release of irrational male violence is required to set the world straight again. Any reader can list these fantasies without a cue. It is one of the most common film genres in American society.

Arthur Silber (via Avedon at Eschaton) explores this point even further:
One of the most fascinating parts of Goff's discussion is his focus on the sexual and gender part of this equation: how surpassingly and bloodily violent "masculinity" is glorified and romanticized, in stark and negative contrast to a "weak," "vacillating," and ultimately useless "femininity." To see the popularized version of the "general cultural norms" that Goff mentions, you need only watch the hugely popular television series 24. Courtesy of a friend, I recently watched all of season four. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a more repellent embodiment of vicious, revenge-driven, murderous male fantasies, replete with innumerable bloody deaths and even the noxious idea that torture "works." That last idea is indisputably false, but even Hillary Clinton now repeats the lies that inflict monstrous pain, and that ultimately kill. So much for "opposition" to the rising tide of barbarism. And series like 24 are the manure out of which grows our fascist future.

Much of the outrage directed at 24 (such that can be found) focuses on the regular use of torture, and on the savage notion that torture is "effective" (and that "they deserve it," too, of course). But keeping Goff's broader analysis in mind, it is crucial to appreciate the more complex system that 24 and similar propaganda glorifies, including most especially the system of myths upon which such "entertainment" relies. Tens of millions of Americans are being conditioned every day to view an incomprehensibly violent, utterly arbitrary militarized domestic state as representing "virtue," and indeed a necessary virtue: supposedly necessary to protect us from the enemy, who is now to be found everywhere. Perhaps it's your next-door neighbor. That day, too, may not be all that far away.

Joan Burbick's new book, Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy describes in close-up detail how fear and suspicion of women -- and an unstated desire to inflict violence on them -- is embedded in the gun-toting culture of the American far right. It begins when she's forced to leave a gun show because she's carrying a camera:
Before I left, I asked the organizer why they enforced rules against cameras. What was the problem? Was it a distrust of government? Did they think I worked for the ATF, the IRS, or the FBI? Was it anger against gun-control groups? Did they think I worked for Sarah Brady's handgun organization, or for Cease Fire, a Seattle-based gun violence prevention group? Maybe it was about hunting and animal rights? Or worse, I could be a PETA worker.

There was a long list of possible reasons for the no-camera policy.

The organizer looked at me hard when I asked the question. Why no cameras? He responded with one word: "Alimony." "What?" I asked. Had I heard right?


"Yes, alimony." He then explained that the men inside the gun show didn't want their pictures showing up in newspapers where their ex-wives might see them.

I asked him more questions, but he wasn't in a talking mood. It was about alimony, period. I'd have to leave it at that.

Maybe the organizer thought some ex-wife had hired me to track down her husband and prove that he was handing over for a new hunting rifle what should be her cash. Maybe the organizer actually thought that ex-wives scanned the local papers looking for photos of their former husbands to see if they could catch them spending what was legally theirs.

As someone who's attended a number of gun shows over the years, I'm pretty sure that the main reason no cameras are allowed in gun shows is because illegal transactions -- including the sale of guns to felons -- go on all the time there, often under the table or surreptitiously. And random photos taken can place people there who aren't supposed to be there. Neither sellers nor buyers want to have their pictures taken. And I'm sure no gun-show organizer worth his salt would ever actually admit that, especially not to someone who might be writing about it.

Yet it's telling that the first excuse that the organizer could offer was in an area of common animus: it's all about those ex-wives. Burbick drills down further into the meaning of this animus:
At later gun shows, I started to pay more attention. Were ex-wives and their demands a threat to some guys at the gun shows? I frequently saw books for sale at the shows such as The Predatory Female by Rev. Lawrence Shannon, whose field guide to dating includes a set of tactics to undermine the supposed Gestapo power of women who rule the divorce and child-custody judicial system. In a radio interview, Shannon said that "victims of the predatory female are strewn all over the nation, writing alimony checks, recovering from gunshot wounds, treating cat scratches, trying to see their children, paying attorney's fees, picking through the detritus of their lives, and struggling to recover from ruined years." The Predatory Female is a collection of warnings about women who prey on the feelings and bank accounts of unsuspecting men. Female predators have their eyes on one thing alone -- money. They marry and divorce to get alimony. They use emotions of love, trust, and care to undermine the sacred contract of marriage. They are the new scourges of secular life, hunting down unsuspecting men to get bucks and tear out their hearts.

Wives were threats. Girlfriends were threats. Women who talked too much were threats. And women who held public office and wouldn't shut up were the scourge of the land. I have also picked up bumper stickers at gun shows that said: I JUST GOT A GUN FOR MY WIFE. IT'S THE BEST TRADE I EVER MADE. Or, handouts detailing the "Top 10 Reasons Handguns Are Better than Women," ending with the number-one reason, "You can buy a silencer for a handgun." I had also seen some pretty vicious materials on Hillary Clinton and Janet Reno at local shows in the '90s. A new fear floated above some of the gun exhibits: judges, lawyers, and voters were giving women too much power, and the women were using that power to take guns away from their husbands, their boyfriends, and their constituents. A gun-grabber lurked in the heart of the liberated woman.

Maybe the no-camera rule was about alimony. In this latest male fantasy about the war between the sexes, I could have been hired by a female predator to shoot pictures at a gun show for a ruthless ex- or estranged wife. I was just part of a new generation of bottom-feeders out to get men, one of the vast army of women intent on misandry, a new word invented to capture this hatred of men by women.

No new words are really needed here, because what we're facing is something very old and familiar, dressed in the well-wrapped flag common to Limbaughesque jingoes, but underneath sporting the spiffy black leather of the fascist set. And because of that, there can be no compromising with it.

Ultimately, this kind of burgeoning pathology comes down to individuals. This is the deeply personal aspect of fascism, which can only exist by tapping into individual psychopathologies that are shared collectively. You can harbor a hatred of women in modern society and find all kinds of support for it, but the germ itself begins much earlier, and springs from ideas and impulses that are buried deep in our psychological hard wiring. Effectively confronting it means overcoming that wiring.

Recognize, first, where it originates: In the twisted, sad view of humanity as innately evil and sick. In the strange mentality that perceives nature -- God's creation itself -- as sinful. In the demented, pathological view of women as lesser humans. These are all ideas we often associate now with our barbaric past, but the truth is that they live on in innumerable ways, especially embedded as they are in popular culture. Why do you think, after all, that a two-hour display of sadism such as The Passion of the Christ could be such an immense crowd-pleaser? Why would a show like 24 draw such immense ratings? Why would slasher films constitute their own moneymaking genre?

The old Catholic misogyny has devolved in our times to the proto-fascist's murderous style of misogyny. Only in the 21st century, instead of being organized, it's just routinely celebrated, as it has been lately in so many American thrillers and horror films. Sure, the psychopaths in them are all scary. But they all have a psychosexual hatred of women. The concept of women as the cause of their psychopathism is embedded in all these entertainments. But when these entertainments are played as mainstream, then the fascist pathology they are about slips into the cultural bloodstream, where it joins, echoes, and nurtures the latent fascism already there, as well as that coming from other sources. Eventually, it announces itself in a thousand atrocities, large and small.

In the end, we talking about confronting a "traditionalism" that is no different from other fine "traditions" long since ended: slavery, torture, cannibalism. Its associated tradition, after all, is white supremacy, which always was about white male supremacy anyway. These are traditions that we have overthrown for good reason.

I don't think we can talk to people who have bought into this mindset in anything like a compromising fashion. That's not to say we can't talk to them. But if we want to deal effectively with this trend, we're going to have to make our own values crystal clear and unremorseful. Whether we do it in a masculine or feminine manner is immaterial. What matters is that we do it unmistakably.

The irrationalism that misogyny embodies, buried deep in our systems, simply can't be dealt with gently. The kind of men -- and women -- who will fall for the new misogyny aren't going to be impressed with compromises and halfway measures. The only thing they understand is "my way or the highway." So those are the options they should be given.

After all, standing up to woman-haters, in the end, means standing up for human values. Fascists don't just hate women.

Burbick notes this herself in a later interview:
I have been to only one gun show so far that did not display and sell hate materials, either newspapers, books or pamphlets and that was a gun show at the Coeur d'Alene Casino on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation in Worley, Idaho. But otherwise, every gun show I've attended sold and distributed hate and racist material. Most gun shows I've gone to have book exhibits and some of them are quite extensive.

In addition you can buy and various posters, political bumper stickers, signs you can put up in your yard and in your windows. And you will find the most racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist material. I cringe at some of these. I've walked around and thought, my God, this is over the top.

Gun organizers have told me they'd stop these book exhibits. If they'd stop these book exhibits, then why are these materials still there? I think there is a hate language that a lot of people express with guns.

I've met a number of the kind of men Burbick writes about at gun shows. They're often friendly enough, to a guy anyway, but inevitably they all have a ... thing ... about women. Someone cut their heart out and fed it to the cat, and they've spent the rest of their lives blaming every woman on the planet for it. They love that Led Zep line: "Soul of a woman was created below." Women frighten them because they threaten them. But the threat is largely a figment of their imaginations. And it becomes an excuse, a predicate, for a whole panoply of other hatreds.

I don't have any idea how to deal with this on an organizational scale. All I know about is dealing with it on the personal scale, which is where I think any effective change is going to occur.

So, if it comes up -- and often it doesn't -- I tell people like this that I just don't see my fellow humans as innately bad or sinful or evil or what have you. I think people are innately good and have to learn how not to be, though there is no shortage of people out there teaching them just that. I don't believe we need authoritarian rule to keep us in line. I believe nature is God's creation itself, not something sinful or dirty or wild and in need of taming.

And most of all, I don't think people's intrinsic value as human beings is up to us to judge. I certainly don't think that value is a product of their skin color or religion or sexual preference -- or their sex.

And yes, it's true: I like women. Always have. Always will. Something wrong with that?

Sunday Rant: The Culture of Planning II -- Boomers and Echoes

by Sara Robinson

William Strauss and Neil Howe figure largely among the authors who've had the biggest effect on my life. More than anyone else, perhaps, they were the ones who put me on the track to futures studies. And, even as I acquire other forecasting tools and insights into how the future tends to unfold, I keep coming back to their basic thesis -- the saecular theory of history -- as a core tool in interpreting the world around me.

You can find Strauss & Howe junkies in almost any bookstore or coffeeshop by simply muttering a few buzzwords. Talk about the Crisis Era, or the Gilded Generation, or Nomads. Or just wave your dog-eared copy of The Fourth Turning (they've written many books, most of them longer, but this one is the most concise and compelling of the lot), and see whose eyebrows perk up. You'll know you’ve found another member of the tribe, one who will look on you with pleasure rather than pity while you burble on about Unravelings, Generation Jones, and the ever-perplexing Civil War Anomaly.

Strauss & Howe's saecular theory (which takes in the work of dozens of other historians who've proposed historical, economic, and cultural cycles in the past) postulates that the past 500 years of Anglo-American history has unfolded in a repeating cycle of roughly 80 years (it’s gotten slightly longer as lifespans have increased). The events change from cycle to cycle, of course; but the essential forces of history, the priorities and personalities of recurring generational groups, and the similar consequences resulting from each phase of the cycle conspire to keep it turning back over itself through time. Certain types of events and characters emerge and converge, again and again. Things that seem impossible in one part of the cycle seem equally inevitable in others. Lessons that the passing generation once knew are forgotten, and must be learned again. (Our Roaring 20s great-grandparents could have given us an earful of caution about the 90s, for example.) For people who want to surf the waves of time and opportunity, the saecular theory has proven to be a surprisingly useful tide table.

The complete cycle (or saeculum) comprises four phases (or seasons) each lasting about 17-22 years:

1. High -- a spring of extreme conformity, communal focus, large-scale planning and building, economic security, institution-building, and extreme optimism. What was once radical now becomes firmly codified establishment dogma throughout the culture. As it ends, people become more sophisticated and curious about the world. (1945-1964)

2. Awakening -- a summer of social experimentation, expansion of individual rights, inner-directed growth, devaluation of old establishment institutions, emergence of a new set of social ideals. Old dogma is destroyed; and the dominant values and aspirations of the next era emerge before disillusionment eventually sets in. (1890-1910, 1964-1980)

3. Unraveling -- an autumn of institutional and infrastructure neglect, culture wars, economic bubbles, sex scandals, drug prohibitions, fanatic religious movements, political corruption, runaway corporatism, and general decadence. With the old consensus intellectually, economically, culturally, and physically in tatters, things begin to fall apart, preparing the way for the new. (1910-1929, 1980-2001)

4. Crisis -- a winter in which the world is politically, economically, and physically (and usually violently) remade, with a new establishment and new institutions built around the ideals and values that emerged during the previous Awakening. Individual rights are at low ebb. Attention is outer-directed as communal priorities, teamwork, and conformity re-emerge, and people re-engage with the larger society. (1773-1794, 1844-1865, 1929-1945, 2001-2020?)

Looking at this cycle, the current disarray in our planning infrastructure is apparently right on schedule. We've been here before -- in fact, a lot of people have noticed how much of our current political and social landscape does in fact look like the 1930s. The theory tells us quite specifically how we got here, and points to both the opportunities and concerns that we're likely to encounter going forward.

As we saw last week, much of our current large-scale infrastructure was planned and built by the GI and Silent Generations, mostly through the last High and Awakening -- that is, 1945 through the 70s. The GIs are, according to Strauss & Howe, were one of our recurring Civic generations -- conforming, optimistic, comfortable with authority, and (as we've seen) consummate organizers and planners. The Silent, who followed them, have been sensitive and insightful diplomats and technocrats, moving easily to get things done smoothly, with careful attention to people's rights and needs. Between them, they left us plans that were designed to maintain and expand their visions into the 90s and beyond.

The problem, of course, is that starting in the 60s -- again, right on schedule -- our values and priorities on just about everything came up for review. And, on second glance, some of those grand plans looked considerably less impressive. We were the first generation to grow up with that ubiquitous Apollo 6 image of our lonely blue ball suspended in space -- and that image changed our visions of what we owed the planet, and our children.

Many years ago, I did a magazine interview with Will Wright, the creator of Sim City and all the games that followed on from it. He pointed out that a kid who grows up playing games like his, where one decision affects every other decision and your score depends on your ability to understand the whole system and keep it in balance, is going to grow up looking at the world in a very different way. And, he said, she will also make very different decisions about how to care for it as an adult. Our kids understand viscerally, in a way our grandparents did not, that you can't just dam a river, kill off a species, or wreck an ecosystem without creating consequences far, far afield of your original action.

That generation of kids is now reaching adulthood, and I think time is bearing Wright's prediction out. Our kids are the first ones to grow up with the deep awareness that if you touch that ball in one place, you affect it in every place. We've reached a point where a majority of Americans under 60 now understand the world in this far more systemic way -- a trend that we can hope will soon deliver vast improvements our decisionmaking. And, with that fresh insight in hand, we're coming back up to the place in the cycle where we get ready to rebuild the country -- this time, on the foundation of these new understandings, according to our deeper ecological and social consciousness, and with the help of new technologies and materials our grandparents couldn't have dreamed of.

The cycle also predicts cultural changes ahead. There's a 40-year pendulum swing between Awakenings, periods like the 60s and 70s where individual rights and interests are valued over the larger culture; and Crisis Eras, when conformity reasserts itself, and the needs of the community are given precedence over the needs and rights of individuals. (You're seeing the cycle very clearly if you're drawing parallels between the various "security" laws passed through the 30s, -- including EO 9066, which interned the Japanese -- and the various "security" laws being passed now. Same rank racist stupidity, different saeculum.) Right now, we're just about where we were back in 1932 when FDR set up the WPA and set off thirty years of government planning and investment. So, if the pattern holds, a renaissance of sorts may be at hand.

One of the ongoing debates in the planning sciences is: "Whose future? Who decides what will be done? Whose values will we manifest? Various commentators, here and elsewhere, have noted that mass central planning has been a key tool of oppression for fascists and Stalinists. Others point out that our success in finding a resolution to the ozone hole crisis (which has worsened this year, but is still believed to be on track for a slow recovery over the next few decades) in the early 90s was also a global planning process -- in fact, the first collective problem we've taken on as an entire planet. The fact that we seem to be solving it not only proves the positive results of good cooperative planning; it bodes well for our ability to tackle the growing list of other planet-wide problems, including global warming, topsoil and water depletion, epidemics, and the population displacements that will come about with economic and environmental change.

The truth, of course, is that neither view is quite right. Planning tools are like hammers -- morally neutral objects, capable of good or bad depending on whether you're building a house or smashing a thumb. Professional futurists spend a lot of time debating ethics, clarifying their own preferred futures, and weighing their commitment to those visions against the aims of clients who may have very different goals. Most of us believe deeply believe that planning for the future should be a broadly democratic process that incorporates the needs and concerns of every stakeholder -- if only because the more people who hold the vision, and the more detailed and vivid that vision is, the greater the chance that it will actually come to pass. This explains, in a nutshell, why strong leaders who can offer compelling visions and inspire people to move in the same direction to achieve them can have a tremendous influence on the future.

Given our place in time, on the threshold of the cycle's fourth turning, it's a good time to start talking about what we want to create this time around. Everything we see is corrupt, tired and broken -- our public buildings, our civic institutions, our ecosystems, our work environments, the food we eat, the way we spend our time, and most especially our institutions. Like Americans in 1932, we know in our bones that the time is coming when we will let go of a past built by a generation now gone. Soon enough now -- sometime in the next few years -- we're going to find our resolve again, and make the social and financial investments needed to create something new and vital. Almost certainly, we will do it because we find we have no other choice.

Strauss & Howe argue that these moments always come when a certain generational constellation lines up just perfectly -- a specific arrangement of priorities, personalities, and skill sets that suddenly open the doors to wide-scale changes that simply weren't possible just a few years before. In the 1930s, the last Crisis Era was launched when the aging idealists of the Progressive generation -- the previous manifestation of the Boomers -- sent FDR to the White House to fulfill the visionary agenda they'd first articulated during the Progressive Era 40 years before. To work out the details, they could rely on the middle-aged pragmatists of the hard-bitten Lost Generation -- the spiritual grandparents of Gen X -- which provided shrewd business leaders and warriors (from Eisenhower on down to those grizzled old sergeants so beloved by Hollywood) to capably manage the economic recovery and the war. Under their leadership, the young GI generation -- the historical ancestors of our own Millennials -- brought the teamwork, energy and optimism necessary for the actual work. They saved the world while still in their 20s, and spent the rest of their lives remaking it in their own image.

That same constellation is now lining up again. By 2010, we will have the visionary and idealistic Boomers entering elderhoood, re-emerging into public life to have one last go at implementing the ideals of their youth. Behind them will be Generation X, always practical and cynical and unimpressed by idealism -- but now pragmatic mid-life managers who've always known how to git 'er done. The young adults will be the energetic, optimistic Millennials, raised from childhood to cooperate closely and trust adult authority implicitly (which the two older generations find rather shocking, but will turn out to be OK when we realize that the authority they're following is us, and the world they are building is the one we've long dreamed of living in).

When these three generations stack up this way, the theory says, the world changes -- usually convulsively, painfully, and violently, but always in a new, more necessary direction in the end. And since this theory has been around for about 15 years now, and proven to be surprisingly predictive (among other things, it strongly foreshadowed 9/11, which S&H described in rough detail in 1997), it's not too far-fetched -- or too early -- to start thinking about how we are going to prepare for that crisis -- and what we want to leave the next four generations over the next 80 years.

We will, no doubt, make a priority of renewing our water, food, transportation, and energy infrastructures so they are more protective of the planet and its processes. We'll begin the transition off carbon-based fuels (more often than not, shifts in energy resources are an integral part of Crisis Eras), and see shifts in our economic footing as a result. We'll realign ourselves into new relationships with the world's nations: this may be the saeculum where we're forced to reckon with a shrinking American empire.

As this era of epic change rolls toward us, our private lives will change, too. The long era of individualism will begin to wind down, as we gather our collective energies for the work ahead. There will be long conversations about our communal values -- what we owe each other, how we are responsible for each other, how we view the common good, and how best to tend to that good. For many of us, this gathering in and reconnection will be the first deep engagement we've ever had with the larger community in our lives. It will demand that we cut back a bit on our assertions of rights and privileges, a sacrifice many of us will find galling and rewarding by turns. We'll cultivate new political skills, as we realize that our survival depends on bringing four decades of shouting-past-each-other to a decisive end. Along the way, we'll learn to hear, listen to, and understand each other; work through disagreements with people who hold radically different views than ours; and cooperate on a much larger scale than we've ever had to. We will have no choice: if we don't do this, we'll control of our future, and possibly lose our planet as well.

We can already feel it coming. That sudden, awful shift we felt on 9/11 -- the day we first felt the cold bite of the Crisis Era winter in the air. The shared outrage at the failures surrounding Katrina, which laid bare the bankruptcy of our planning infrastructure, and the competence of our government. The shredding of the Constitution. The collapse of the Republican Congress, mired at last in its own sexual fever swamp as we all realize we don't have time for this kind of trivial moralistic crap any more. We can feel the dark days coming. We know in our bones that it's time to shutter the windows, gather wood, and huddle together for comfort through...who knows?

What we do know is that this season will likely bring our generation to its own finest hours; and that the legacy we build in the next few decades will stand as our monument until our great-grandchildren, in 2080, bring out the hammers, pull it down, and start all over again.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sara's Sunday Rant: Please Stand By

Due to an unusually chaotic weekend, the Sunday Rant will be up later than usual -- perhaps as late as Monday.