Friday, July 20, 2012

Perverse attraction to wingnut douchebags

I find myself spending far more time reading right-wing blogs and such than I really want to. The reasons are somewhat opaque to me, but the situation seems to have some of the qualities of a classic sexual paraphilia. Not that I have much experience in that regard, but the insistent pull of such distasteful people on my attention must be what it is like to, say, have an amputation fetish – something about the sheer awfulness and ugliness of it makes it literally attractive (ie, that it is, it draws my attention, more or less against my will) in a private and inexplicable way. It is both shameful and oddly exciting and those qualities feed on each other.

So during a recent bout of perversity, I came across this rant by Rush Limbaugh that seemed to achieve a certain perfect state of douchebaggery, in that it expressed the exact opposite of what is normally considered decent opinion:

 If you don't want to listen, I don't blame you. Here is the meat of it, from around 2:30. He is riffing off of Obama and others making the point that people who get rich don't do it all by themeselves:
This is about a bunch of people that don't count, this is about a bunch of people with meaningless, miserable lives, lying to themselves, trying to tell themselves that they matter. So you have Mr Big Business guy, Mr Wealthy…well, he couldn't have done it without all of us, we built the roads, we built the regulations, we built the trains yeah, well if you did all that, why are you sitting there with nothing? If you made it all happen, how come you've got nothing? well the rich business guy stole it This is such a crock, this is a bunch of meaningless people who know that their lives don't count for anything, trying to matter, coming up with this ridiculous philosophy that says that successful people have not done it on their own, successful people only exist because of the nameless faceless real true hard – you know before Marx there was no such thing as class-driven economics. If that guy was aborted, we'd have a whole different world today.

This man hates this country.
The distortions in the above are pretty easy to spot (if you would like it shredded in some detail, see here, particularly the argument over the origins of the internet which is a perennial personal irritant). But of course reason and truth have very little to do with it. I just want to marvel at its utter perfection of a certain quality – hard to say exactly what, but let's call it the resentment of the priveleged at everybody else. It inverts the normal liberal platitudes of caring for the little guy, of the democratic notion that every person is worthwhile.

Now, there is in fact something wrong with such liberal platitudes, after all – because we aren't all equal and everyone knows it, but it is not polite to say so. The standards that require us to value all people everywhere just because they are people are (in their naive interpretation, at least) are impossible to meet, and thus everyone is forced to be at least a minor hypocrite. Conservatives chafe under this burden, they thrive on imagined rebellion against their liberal moral overlords. So Rush appears to them as someone who can speak truth to "power", but in such a way as to reinforce the real power of the dominant.

Still, it is a little hard for me to see who exactly is supposed to buy this kind of thing. His audience is not the actually powerful, for the most part. The I've-got-mine-jack and screw-the-little-guy routine would seem to alienate anybody who has to work for someone else for a living, and has even rudimentary intelligence. It must be part of his magic to somehow polish up the resentments of the putzes who listen to him – I'm picturing them as the lower quartile of white working class men, but who knows – and somehow unites them on an emotional level with the resentments of the rich.

This is the core emotional move of the Republican party, and we are fortunate perhaps that they've chosed as their presedential candidate perhaps the person least capable of pulling it off. Romney is almost a caricature of the out-of-touch monied aristocrat, and one who apparently achieved his wealth through a combination of birth and looting. It's a little hard to pose as a job creator after running a bust-out operation that would make Tony Soprano jealous.

Politics involves the social mobilization of emotions, resulting in some of the best and (more commonly) worst that humanity is capable of, empathy and loyalty and resentment and hate. I guess I don't blame those who avoid it entirely, but I don't think that is really an option for a fully functioning person – it pervades our lives, just like economics, whether we want it or not.

So, again I ask myself why I bother with the worst of the worst like Limbaugh. It may indeed be a kind of mental perversion, but perhaps what I am trying to do is invert some of the emotional dynamics of politics. That is, the normal thing for me to do would be to join with other people who I mostly agree (progressives) with and jointly get angry at the people we don't like and talk about how they are ruining the country. This is such a normal mode of small talk, especially in the Bay Area circles I travel in, that it is of almost zero interest to me, even if it builds solidarity and sometimes even leads to action. No, I'd rather read the wingers where I am the object rather than the agent of hatred, resentment, or just dislike. That gives me a little thrill of the forbidden, of darkness, of discomfort. But like any perversion, the minor thrill soon degenerates to a mere mechanical response.


scw said...

You write: "we aren't all equal and everyone knows it, but it is not polite to say so."

Why is it not polite to say so? Why should it not be polite to acknowledge the obvious?

In the past, conventional politeness demanded a delicacy of expression about certain subjects because blunt or plain words describing them were thought coarse or vulgar. Yet pointing out the obviousness of human inequality never was considered vulgar in the past. Fifty or one hundred years ago every well-bred person would have taken it for granted. We should be no more ashamed of doing so than were our ancestors.

fsascott said...

People tend to generalize from their own experience in life - even though that experience may not have been typical. I suspect that when Obama said in his Roanoke speech " didn't build that - someone else made that happen," this is what he was doing.

Obama's net worth has been estimated at $11.8 million. See:

An $11.8 million net worth is hardly a Romney-sized fortune. However, it is quite a respectable sum. Most people who have attained comparable wealth are successful small business owners at the peaks of their careers. Thomas Stanley's book "The Millionaire Next Door" describes the typical course followed by such people. As Stanley observes, "It is seldom inheritance or advanced degrees or even intelligence that builds fortunes in this country. Wealth in America is more often the result of hard work, diligent savings, and living below your means."

How did Obama accumulate his $11.8 million? A good question, considering that he had just one position in business in his life. He didn't work very long at it, and it was not highly remunerative. Clearly he didn't make $11.8 million because of his business acumen. In his case, it's correct to say that "someone else made that happen."

Obama had patrons, backers, and handlers from a very early point in his career. The following describes just one:

The great majority of small businessmen have not benefited by connections of this sort. Yes, they do benefit from roads and bridges - for which they pay taxes just as other people do. However, such benefits of government are counterbalanced by the hindrances and obstacles it sets in the path of the entrepreneur. The life of the small businessman is largely spent swimming against the current of hostile regulatory and tax measures put in place by politicians like Mr. Obama.