Monday, March 12, 2012

"Their lack of newness"

I just read an interesting review by Steve Weinberg of the book The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right by Arthur Goldwag. Not having read the book myself, I can't comment on it in totality. But Weinberg presents some quotes that I find intriguing.

First of all Weinberg points out that most of the writing from the left about the populist right has been angry "screeds featuring the dangers and hypocrisy of the New Right," but that Goldwag takes a different approach.

Goldwag wants to understand the origins of the hostility in his new book. Here is perhaps his best explanation: “The New Hate is at once the expression of a quixotic desire to turn back the clock to a mythical golden age when women and minorities and gays and foreigners were less troublesome than they are today; when the government only gave and never took; and a cynical ploy to up the turnout of Republican voters. Most of the time it’s reflexive and vindictive to its core.”

That ploy has been going in since our country's founding - as Tim Wise so brilliantly covers in this speech (I know, its 9 1/2 minutes long. But if you haven't seen it before, please take the time to watch).

Weinberg ends his review of the book with this.

Goldwag comes to realize that what stands out most about contemporary paranoids and conspiracists is, ironically, their lack of newness: “The most depressing thing about the demagogues who tirelessly exploit it – in pamphlets and books and partisan newspapers two centuries ago; on websites, electronic social networks, and 24-hour cable news today – is how much alike they all turn out to be.” They cannot, will not, look inside themselves for the source of their perceived or real suffering. Finding conspiracies to blame is their default position.

Perhaps at least some of the haters are somewhat self-aware. As Goldwag concludes, “Though millions of Americans claim to believe that Obama is a Muslim and a foreigner, and some of them hate him because of the color of his skin, most of them know that the real issue isn’t what Obama is, but what they increasingly fear they’re not.” What they are not is part of the ruling class, despite the privilege they believe being born a white American should bestow.
(Emphasis mine)

Boy, does that ring true in my experience! The inability to look inside oneself as the source of both suffering and the potential for freedom from it is the crux of much that ails us. That is an age-old story that should provide us not only with an understanding of hate but a cautionary tale to guide us in overcoming it.


  1. Thanks!!! It sounds like something worth reading.

  2. Ms. Smartypants, I like your focus on understanding hate as a consequence of suffering, but I think it may be a mistake to think of "overcoming" any particular manifestation of fear and loathing rather than "managing" it.

    Irrational beliefs are part and parcel of the human condition; concerted opposition one way or the other just throws the opposing views into stark relief but can't fundamentally change human nature. A culturally pluralistic, religiously diverse society will always have distrust, conflict and intolerance. These things cannot be overcome in a non-stagnant society because ideological differentiation must occur, but can only be diverted, refocused or adjusted in some way.

    Thus, the facet of Mr. Obama's brilliance that I've come to admire most since January 2009 is that conciliatory approach you've been calling a ruthless strategy. It is indeed politically strategic (and ruthless) electoral jiujitsu, especially when his political foes are so visibly intractable, but at its heart Obama's approach is just competent facilitation.

    While many progressives react with outrage and reactionaries redouble their efforts whenever the President "capitulates" to GOP agenda items or selectively reinforces right wing framing of issues, they don't notice that he's also invariably defined an overall goal with which all sides must agree, or which no side can credibly dismiss.

    -This is *not* political triangulation, which identifies and threads careful lines between disparate beliefs or positions (or fears and hatreds). I'm talking about identifying and utilizing the concerns or hopes that are common to all (or most) sides and carefully directing group attention and effort toward ameliorating those concerns and/or realizing those hopes which seem most urgent or important for the country. PBO does this with extraordinary dedication and attention.

    That, I think, is the only successful way to deal with these new/old fashioned hatreds. We of course should shed light where it is needed, and replace ignorance where it's revealed, but ultimately we're all imperfectly rational. The only real way we can defeat tribalism is to make the tribe so big it includes everyone. It seems to me that many progressives want to do that by somehow shouting away opposing viewpoints, which is a doomed effort.

    If we really want to overcome hate, we have to allow it to be expressed. We have to get close enough to it to see where it comes from and then deal with *that* thing, whatever it is. Because fear and loathing are consequences of human interaction, not first causes. We can gain only temporary relief by merely denouncing and denying hatreds, because we're fighting the symptoms of a disease while shoveling in more of the germs which caused it.

    1. Botelho,

      Very profound comment - thank you.

      The truth is that it does help me to understand the seeds of hate. I have no illusions about being able to eradicate it. But it does keep me from falling into the trap of thinking about "us" (the non-haters) and "them" (the haters). These are very human reactions. And the seeds are present within me to go there as well.

      That's why my main point was that last statement at the end...that this is a cautionary tale about overcoming the hate ourselves.

    2. Forgive me for ranting, btw. I meant to post a supportive restatement sort of thing and it got away from me and turned into a sermon.

      You may now turn to page 32 in your hymnals...

  3. I am inclined to think that its not just America. PBO has very astutely guided the world to see a variety of issues differently. The(Arab Spring) cannot be atributed to a single speech but it is hard to deny that the election of PBO changed the world!

    Just as it caused us to look at what happens in this country, we must also allow those people sinking in misery and ignorance to come to their own growth. I do not think churches are helpful when the highest ranking officials advocate prejudice and domination.

    PBO has been masterful, noone can challenge that statement. And because he has positioned himself in such a strong position because of the actions of his enemies, it makes him even stronger.

    This election will be education on a grand scale for both Amricans and the nations of the world.

  4. Saw this posted on FB - "FACT:Haters don't really hate you. In fact, they hate themselves because you're a reflection of what they wish to be." It rang true to me when I read it, but I couldn't articulate why, this post has helped clarify this quote for me. Tanks Smartypants! Elle in MI