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March 19, 2006
We're (pre-) heating up?

Rather than spamming Ahistoricality's comments with a rambling, incoherent rant, I'm putting my thoughts here. (If you read the links there, you don't need to read them here. I'm referring to all the same entries and articles.) (It's long. ISorry. t's not really a review of a book review, although it starts off that way.)

I'd very much like to believe that these symptoms of "declining empire" aren't bad enough to really signal that the USofA is about to enter some kind of Dark Age. Update: I see there's another review of the same book, this one by Brinkley. I suppose, just to be fair, I should go read this second one.

Being only the most casual student of far too many eras of history to "know" any one of them, I've been working on the assumption that what we're facing is more of a series of cautionary signs than real 'impending doom' signals. And I think Kevin Phillips' book is another cautionary sign rather than a proof that we've crossed that Rubicon.

For instance, I've been thinking of the 'wave' of religious hysteria as something being artificially inflated by the media; thinking that these are isolated instances of reactionary idiocy that the MSM is pouncing on (like the "missing white girl" stories) just to make headlines.

After all, we do all cover it when the religious wingnut population goes off the rails, right? So the MSM isn't wrong. We read those stories, so they cover them.

But then.... There's the whole thing where I didn't know the anti-choice groups were getting money from the government when anti-choice license plate are sold.

This may seem to some of you like a minor item to fixate on, but I think it's important. This is a marker of how insidiously the militant minority anti-choice has been working to infiltrate and influence mainstream society. It's a big, red flare, but it's not the end of the road.

What we need to recognize is that while we've been rolling our eyes and pretending the mess on the carpet wasn't really there, it's been seeping into the fabric. Now we're going to have to work twice as hard to eradicate it.

The "widespread concern" over our social decay has been the drumbeat of the conservative wingnut arm of our society since before I was born. From women working outside the home to teenagers having sex, there have been at least five "signals" you could point to at any time in the last century to prove that we were sinking into a swamp of moral decay and the conservative wingnuts have been shouting about these things for decades.

They shout about every change in society. That reactionary streak is what makes them conservative wingnuts, okay? They existed back in the times of the Roman Empire and they'll always be with us.

Shouting that X is a sign that we're all sinking into a new Dark Age doesn't make it true.

What worries me is that they can make it true...by making people believe it's true.

That's Marketing 101. If you repeat something often enough, people start to believe it. Politicians (and religious leaders) have been using the tactic for centuries.

If this group can force 'Christians' into making a choice between their faith and abortion, for instance.... This is what they want to do. It's not a religious question but they want to make it one. **

And that's less because most of them care about abortion, per se but because it's an emotional, ideological hot-button they can push with voters. They can't explain Abu Ghraib, so they scream about the evils of abortion. They can't justify tortured prisoners, so they shout about how homosexuals are destroying the fabric of society. They can't disappear mounting body counts, so they demonize illegal immigrants. (It's the shell game and five thousand years after the darned thing was invented, a lot of you are still standing there, mesmerized by the sleight of hand.)

Do you remember the suggestions, when we invaded Iraq, that we were starting a new wave of religious crusades? My memory is notoriously poor, but I can't believe how many people have forgotten Bush's religious rhetoric of that time.

(Nor can I believe how many people are now ignoring, or have just accepted, what that says to us about this Administration's belief systems, but that's a different rant and I'm determined to stay on topic. For once. Sort of.)

And, for the record, the fact that the Administration quickly backed off from that rhetoric is a sign of how poorly it went down. So, you know, more proof that the religious wingnuts don't yet own the country.

We invaded Iraq for the oil. We almost always go to war for corporate or economic interests and anyone paying attention (and not delusional) knows it. Chris Bray is quite right about that.

Most wars in history have been fought for economic interests, right back to those Crusades that the Bush Administration alluded to. Scratch almost any war in history and you'll find looting and pillaging opportunities at the back of it.

So, George Bush's born-again delusions aside, this government isn't that different than any other we've had. They differ primarily in the nakedness of their greed. With the aid of the MSM (knowingly or not), they installed an incompetent and unsuccessful neophyte in the White House, and started running amok.

The nakedness of their greed would be less-worrying if we weren't living in an era of untraceable electronic surveillance and nuclear bombs.

"They" are the neocons, a specific subgroup of the Rightwingnuts. Disillusioned by years of working in government and the failure of their goals and policies, they reacted, not by becoming more rational and more able/willing to make compromises, but by retreating into a fantasy world where the application of enough power and enough force was all that was required to create the reality they wanted. (Although, as far as that goes, I think William Marina does a better job of slotting our current situation into a roadmap for the fall of empire than Phillips did.)

I'm somewhat hampered in my thoughts for this rant. I started blogging (four years ago!) with a life-long indifference to organized religion, punctuated at times with a fascination with the mythological underpinnings. The Bush Administration's corrupt use of Christian theology to suit their own purposes has fueled a latent disgust I didn't know I had. I knew that I found religious believers a little pathetic (grow up already) but I also believed that we all have our crutches (I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, after all) and if the structure of religion was a crutch that helped people, well, okay. Excepting the lunatic fringe, it seemed harmless enough.

In the last few years, I've realized the dog might bite. I'm alarmed and offended. We gave it a nice home and left it free to amuse itself and this is how it rewards us?

For instance, I meant to address all five of Phillips' markers in this post but I wound up ranting only about religion, which was the feature of only three of his five (or, six) symptoms. His #5 is certainly the one that worries me most on behalf of the entire world. When the Roman Empire fell into hubris, they didn't have smart bombs or pocket nukes.

I got all distracted by the superstition thing. (Clinging to those outmoded belief systems instead of formulating a new and more rational basis for morality seems to be to be a sign of how fear-driven individual human beings actually are. But. That's not today's rant topic, is it? Staying on topic is hard.)

The question of religion aside, I look at the voting population and see reason for both concern and reassurance. In a country where you have approximately 1/3 each of the population as "committed" Democrat, Republican, and Independent, there's plenty of room for hope.

Especially since the "wings" of the Republican Party aren't all Neocon-driven and the sane portions of the Party are expressing increasing alarm at where they're being led.

Back to my most recent and persistent hobby-horse, I also persist in believing that if we can lance the fear of the Democratic "leadership" and move them to act like the representatives of the liberal, democratic, freedom-loving portion of the population, we can start getting back on track. ***

That this will mean replacing 75% of the current "leadership" is something I accept and even welcome. It's time and past time. Their paralysis in the face of the mounting evidence of the Bush Administration's incompetence and venality is proof enough that it's time for us to show them the exit.

Also? As long as I'm ranting? Electoral reform. When fund-raising and the next re-election campaign become the primary focus of our elected representatives, the system is broken. If you spend every day begging to keep your job next year, you don't have any time to do the work that's in front of you today.

I've read all the links and I think there's proof that some of us are measuring out the ingredients for this particular cake, but we're not actually baking yet. Say, "pre-heating the oven." We're not committed. We may be reaching a tipping point, but we haven't passed it yet.

It's not the time to panic. It's never the time to panic.

It's time to act.


* Also, I'm unpersuaded by Kevin Phillips' characterization of "the 30 to 40 percent of the electorate caught up in Scripture" as quoted by Kakutani. The use of the phrase "caught up" evokes that whole mythological "rapture" program and I think it's a false way of characterizing most of the 'Christian' population of this country. While it may be true that 30-40% of the population calls itself "Christian" or whatever measure was used by Phillips, it's entirely untrue that these are all wingnuts and that their beliefs are driving the Bush Administration.

National polls and surveys indicate that the vast majority of the population is much more tolerant, liberal, and open-minded than Phillips' sweeping generalization indicates. As with many things that humans believe or care about, much depends on how you ask the question.

It's also inaccurate to sweep today's Southern states into a homogenized lump and I really do wish politicians and analysts would stop doing it. The southern part of the USofA is not composed primarily of rabble-rousing, rebel-lovin', red-necked religious reactionaries.

Culture, like many other things, is what we tell people it is. As long as we keep telling some of our states that they're A, B, or C, there will be those who grab onto those identities and glorify them. When we start measuring the population with something other than a post-Civil War yardstick, we might start seeing different results. ("What gets measured, gets done." People measure what they care about. It's a mystery to me what what we care about in 2006 is how "the South" is reacting to still being part of the USofA now that that war is over.)

It seems to me (I'm going to have to buy the book, aren't I?) that Phillips is taking the worst-case scenario and presenting it as inevitable.

I think the key 'graphs are the last two in the article. Phillips fails to make his case because he fails to carry his primary arguments through to the logical (if he's correct) conclusion. He fails to offer the "proof" that his own previous experience in party politics suggests he should have.

Bottom line? No one knows what's going to happen to the Republican Party after this. Their 'leadership' seems to be about to fall off the right-hand side of reality. It could be, I certainly hope that what's going to happen is a faster, firmer correction of course than the Left was able to make. (But then...the Democratic leadership wasn't moving us toward WWIII. They were just drifting aimlessly for the most part. Less-dangerous and so provoking a less-immediate response.)


** For those of you already brainwashed, repeat it three times every morning. You'll feel the false belief fading after time. This is not a religious issue and we really have to stop letting the wingnuts cherry-pick their Bible for political ammunition.

Well "we" don't, but those of you who are religious really should. Me, whenever someone tries to use my beliefs (democracy, civil rights, etc.) for evil, I start screaming.

Feel free to open your mouths at any moment.


*** Today's topic was going to be government, its role in today's society, the size and cost of our Federal government, and what's good and bad.

This is a topic I'm even less qualified to discuss than the topics I normally tackle, so it would have been interesting for me (if not for you, the reader).

Ahistoricality's posts have a way of side-tracking my brain.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:13 PM


Wow, well done post, Anne. Especially liked your "Marketing 101" take.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at March 19, 2006 09:44 PM

Don't tell me you actually read all of that. Mind boggles.


Posted by: Anne at March 21, 2006 08:14 AM