Tuesday, December 08, 2015

stories from left and right about each other sometimes suggest the paranoid style is mutual and both sides are happy to live up to the other team's narrative of dread

Trump's various statements have inspired some shock and awe from people who are concerned that there's an apparently larger-than-thought constituency of the American public that agrees with his sentiments.  That may well be ... although the various mass shootings have suggested to some in the public sphere that the people most likely to engage in mass shootings are not necessarily couples of Middle Eastern descent but downwardly mobile resentful middle-aged white guys who have either failed to get or keep this or that woman of choice.

Sometimes it seems as though the left and right hate profiling but only if it's profiling a group they've decided they're for.  If we don't rush to commit to either the left or the right we might take a wild guess that a common denominator is that it's not just radicalized Muslims or socially and economically faltering middle-aged white guys who feel they haven't gotten what they deserve out of life ... you might almost wonder whether the common denominator is a form of class warfare in which people get killed because of what they are believed to represent in the minds of the killers rather than for anything meaningful about the individuals who have been slain.

For decades the Religious Right has inveighed against abortion and gay marriage. There are some progressives who have insisted that just because gay marriage has become the law of the land doesn't mean all the other things social conservatives have fretted about are going to come to pass. 

Okay ... but maybe it would be good to point out that neither the left nor the right are as monolithic as they like to say the other is?

Couldn't an article like the above play rather easily into the slippery slope narrative social conservatives of various stripes have been warning was likely for decades?  Even though plenty of progressives may be pretty sure pederasty will never be socially acceptable it's been socially acceptable in the past.  Shamus Khan wrote not so long ago that the gay rights advocacy narrative that could be summed up as "born this way" could have been a dangerous shortcut.


Blacks did not appeal to innate biological distinctions in lobbying for civil rights and proper recognition within society so what was appealing about making such an appeal for gay rights advocates?  Khan proposed that it was the fastest way to get the desired long-term results but that there was an intellectual and philosophical price paid along the way that ... maybe wasn't worth it.

Let's float the possibility that the price paid was conceding the very form of slippery slope argument social conservatives have fretted about.  And now gay writers have shown some signs since Obergfell that some believe marriage itself creates social inequality and some worry that once some gays can get married like they've wanted to that they will stop participating in other LGBTQ causes.  The conundrum could be one that is paradoxically wrought by a success, a recent ruling, and there's a risk in any activist campaign of discovering, once you have what you want, ,how many alliances you had were less alliances of principle than alliances of convenience. 

Meanwhile, one of the problems with Trump being so public a face for people who root for conservative causes is that it would not take THAT much effort for folks on the left to run with their narrative about the other side, that the social conservatives and right-leaning folks are paranoid racist gun-loving thugs.  A further component of the narrative about the right that can take shape from the left is that the Religious Right can be construed as having taken shape because of opposition to racial desegregation activity and that the neo-conservative movement can be described as what emerged when previously liberal Jews in academia felt threatened by the prospect of affirmative action, a policy shift that could signal a decline in the Jewish influence within the academy.  For that ... there's a synopsis of this narrative at Jacobin.


For the Religious Right as spurred more by racial tension than abortion ...
Another variant ... courtesy of Salon.
Sexual purity movements, past and present, are not ultimately about promoting a biblical view of sexuality. They are about explaining large-scale culture crises (e.g. Anglo-Saxon decline, the Cold War, changing gender roles and sexual mores) and providing a formula for overcoming those crises.
Today’s movement is laden with a therapeutic rhetoric that presents these choices as the best choices for those who seek to conform their behaviors to God’s will. It promises that those who conform will enjoy spiritual, physical, and emotional satisfaction in their marriage relationships. Other scholars have parsed these claims in more sophisticated ways than I do and many other writers have demonstrated that these expectations are anything but a path to personal well being. What I’m saying is that sexual purity has never been about personal well-being for evangelical adolescents— or anyone.

Each historical example I analyze demonstrates that purity work and rhetoric has emerged at moments when socially conservative evangelicals seek to assert and maintain their political power.
Sometimes it seems as though the most ardent partisans of left and right are not particularly happy with sweeping narratives and stereotypes when wielded by the other team ... caricatures they are all too happy to take up when they want to play hardball.

Everyone else on the other team is basically fascist in this kind of political discourse, while anything our team might do is just for the public good. Decades ago an older man I got to know in college fretted (and this before Clinton was sowrn in) that the two party system wasn't what it once was.  Instead of liberals and conservatives the party hearts had been commandeered by radicals and reactionaries, people who kept moving the goalposts of who counted as being "in" and that this was going to annihilate the possibility of real-world political work, real world compromise for the good of the nation. 

Sometimes it seems he was right.  Sometimes it seems that the left and the right are not interested in anything that could be construed as a shared history or shared ideals.  This has seemed awkwardly manifest in family policy.  Social conservatives have seemed for decades to want to move us back to a nuclear whitebread family circa 1955 toa  past that never quite existed.  But for those on the left they seem determined to impose an egalitarian political ideology onto the very definition of family that flies in the face of the majority of the history of the human specis.  It can seem that whether it's the American left or the American right what they trumpet as the best way to conceive of the family is nothing more than unexamined American cultural imperialism. It's not necessarily for the family so much as ensuring the family as some abstraction can be properly vetted as being sufficiently American for the interests of ideologues. 

And it seems that whether left or right there are narratives in place to blame the other and exonerate the self.  The trouble with every totalitarian is they're doing what they consider necessary. It's awfully easy to think that "your" interest in the use of power is tyranny while mine is "reasonable".  It's not at all clear that red state and blue state narratives about each other aren't equally immersed in a paranoid style.  I admit to being a fatalist and a pessimist about American politics. 

It can seem that whether it's the left or the right we have armies of people who have doubled down on narratives that amy be incomplete at best or wildly inaccurate at worst.  It's been nearly impopssible to take AlterNet/Salon seriously for their decade-long glib misrepresentation of basic details abou the life and times of what was once called Mars Hill.  Conversely, people who would be particularly sympathetic to Driscoll then or now have probably never so much as read a single paragraph in, say, Jacobin or Salon.  There's been jokes by some with left interests that leftists want to bring abou tchange and rightists want to stop change and the moderates keep everyone from being able to do anything.  Maybe that's as it should be?  For as polarized as the left and right, whether in dogmatics or politics (which can end up seeming pretty much the same in American terms since it's inconceivable to Americans that someone could be doctrinally conservative in religion while progressive in politics) maybe a few stubborn moderates have some role in the public discourse. Not sure what that role could be ... other than existing.

The rise and fall of Mars Hill may still offer a potentially instructive case history.  For as long as Driscoll was getting name-dropped with disgust by progressives this could only ever play into his persona.  The fateful on air conversation with Janet Mefferd changed things. Once intra-group critique emerged, once it was possible to set aside "he may be a dog but he's our dog" things changed.  The trouble with the left and right, it seems, is that there's not so much of that going on and yet it may be most necessary for our time and place.  Perhaps there's no such thing as principled stick-in-the-mud progressives and conservatives depending on what team you've committed to.  But it seems the art of real world policy and politics and social life may still depend on finding ways to respectfully differ on basic principles in the public sphere in a way that avoids stooping to the pat narratives that circulate in the age of the internet.  The worst thing we can do is conscientiously choose to live up to the paranoid slippery slope narratives we're telling about each other during election cycles.

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