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From the monthly archives: November 2009

Frank Rich has a great column up today on the hysterical, anti-Islamic reaction on the right to the Fort Hood shootings:

THE dead at Fort Hood had not even been laid to rest when their massacre became yet another political battle cry for the self-proclaimed patriots of the American right.

Their verdict was unambiguous: Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-born psychiatrist of Palestinian parentage who sent e-mail to a radical imam, was a terrorist. And he did not act alone. His co-conspirators included our military brass, the Defense Department, the F.B.I., the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and, of course, the liberal media and the Obama administration…

William Bennett excoriated soft military leaders like Gen. George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who had stood up for diversity and fretted openly about a backlash against Muslim soldiers in his ranks.

Blind diversity” that embraces Islam “equals death,” wrote Michelle Malkin.

“There is a powerful case to be made that Islamic extremism is not some fringe phenomenon but part of the mainstream of Islamic life around the world,” wrote the [Doughy Pantload] Jonah Goldberg.

Islam is “not a religion,” declared the irrepressible Pat Robertson, but “a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world.”

Say what you will — from an anti-theist/anti-theological perspective — about the many flaws in Islam that make it, like nearly every other religion on the planet, detrimental to human evolution and self-actualization, but — taking it from a practical, real-world-consequences perspective — it really is amazing to me that the radical right in this country has been so eager to validate Osama bin Laden’s thesis that America is at war with Islam and that young men and women should sacrifice themselves to destroy this existential threat to their people and their religion.

I once had a naive belief that there were certain extreme places into which even the “mainstream” wingnut fringe wouldn’t venture. I have sadly come to realize over these many years that there are no arguments too heinous, or slanders too reprehensible, to be put into the service of their corrupt, nihilistic pursuit of earthly power and the destruction of their (domestic) enemies.

I truly dread the day that America experiences another large-scale terrorist attack. Whereas the country pulled together in the wake of 9/11 to face down a common enemy, the mainstream wingnut fringe will circle, like a pack of hungry hyenas, and pounce upon our wounded nation to gash out and drink the blood of fear and demagoguery that sustains them. A dark day in America will be darkened even further by the suffocating blanket of lies and fearmongering these sociopaths will descend upon us.

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Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic but I’ve finally started reading Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles Pierce and my doom-and-gloom meter is needling farther toward doom. You really need to pick up this book.

I know that’s a uniquely appealing recommendation (“buy the book, it’ll make you depressed!”), but it really is a whip-smart, wry and erudite study of the history of our country and our complicated relationship with cranks, loons, hucksters, political opportunists and religious nuts. Its thesis is that modern technology has allowed these assorted cranks to rocket to prominence in a way that our founding fathers never imagined possible in the days before TV and the internet. The author looks fondly on the founding of a country that was largely built upon the aftermath of soul-scarring religious persecution and laments how the vibrant plurality they created has gradually flipped to the situation we have today — where the charlatans, religious hucksters and unscrupulous liars in politics drown out the rational, sane and intelligent voices in our polity.

In essence, our country has gradually come to the point where large portions of the population glorify, and lavish respect upon, ignorance and nonsense — to the exclusion of any respect for the experts and intellectuals they decry as “elites”.

I’m still not all the way through but it’s bringing me back to a core question I’ve been pondering ever since a few years into the Bush administration:

Are we doomed as a country?
I know that every generation engages in various musings about how the current age is one of wickedness and decline.

But when you factor in:

  1. the multiple existential crises that confront us (e.g. dwindling oil reserves, rising global temperatures, the bankrupting of our treasury due to two unpaid-for wars, a financial system that nearly bankrupted us that will soon do it again because they will likely avoid any serious future regulation, etc.);

  2. the serious abuses to our core values as a country that have gone on over the last eight years (e.g., torture, extraordinary rendition in order to torture, suspension of habeas corpus, indefinite detention, murder of terrorism suspects in custody, erosion of our civil liberties in the name of national security, warrantless wiretapping, etc.); and
  3. the near-complete lack of societal or political will to seriously address any or all of the foregoing;
it’s really hard for me — an otherwise rational person not normally predisposed to getting the vapors — to not seriously consider buying some guns, building a bunker somewhere, and waiting for the Chinese to invade (or foreclose).

I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Am I just being gloomy and melodramatic? Or are we about to fall off a steep cliff (or have we fallen off already)?

Update: For those of you who may be frightened off by my gloomy reaction to reading the book, also consider this bit from a Facebook comment I just made:

One thing I think the book does really well is feed strength and knowledge to one’s fight against the forces of ignorance and nonsense.

Whether we win that battle — and successfully advance the cause of humanity evolving past its frightened, medieval, ignorant, reactionary and unthinking core — is another story altogether.

ESCONDIDO, CA—Spurred by an administration he believes to be guilty of numerous transgressions, self-described American patriot Kyle Mortensen, 47, is a vehement defender of ideas he seems to think are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and principles that brave men have fought and died for solely in his head.

“Our very way of life is under siege,” said Mortensen, whose understanding of the Constitution derives not from a close reading of the document but from talk-show pundits, books by television personalities, and the limitless expanse of his own colorful imagination. “It’s time for true Americans to stand up and protect the values that make us who we are.”

[..] Mortensen said his admiration for the loose assemblage of vague half-notions he calls the Constitution has only grown over time. He believes that each detail he has pulled from thin air—from prohibitions on sodomy and flag-burning, to mandatory crackdowns on immigrants, to the right of citizens not to have their hard-earned income confiscated in the form of taxes—has contributed to making it the best framework for governance “since the Ten Commandments.”

“And let’s not forget that when the Constitution was ratified it brought freedom to every single American,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen’s passion for safeguarding the elaborate fantasy world in which his conception of the Constitution resides is greatly respected by his likeminded friends and relatives, many of whom have been known to repeat his unfounded assertions verbatim when angered. Still, some friends and family members remain critical.

“Dad’s great, but listening to all that talk radio has put some weird ideas into his head,” said daughter Samantha, a freshman at Reed College in Portland, OR. “He believes the Constitution allows the government to torture people and ban gay marriage, yet he doesn’t even know that it guarantees universal health care.”

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Nothing describes the suffering of Native American tribes quite like disco.

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What say you? I’m thinking new regular feature.

Feel free to nominate in comments.

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I admit that I’ve often wondered this myself. Rod Dreher ponders:

I genuinely don’t understand [Andrew Sullivan’s] position. He doesn’t believe the Catholic Church teaches truth, except insofar as it coincides with what he believes. Staying inside the Catholic Church makes him truly miserable. So why stay? If he wants liturgy, smells, bells, and a complete blessing on the way he chooses to live his life, there’s the Episcopal Church. I actually did believe in Catholicism, but for my own reasons was so tormented by staying that I lost my faith … and so I left. I left in tears and heartbreak, but I left. Truly, it’s a mystery to me why any free man would stay in a church in which he did not believe, and that made him so unhappy.
Here’s Sully’s unconvincing riposte:

I can recite the Creed with as clear a conscience as any of my fellow Catholics. I do believe that the Catholic church teaches truth in the single unifying credo I can recite at every mass. I do believe in the message of the Gospels as deeply as I believe in anything. I do believe in the Catholic communion as the core guardian of those Gospels and of the sacraments that keep Jesus in our tangible, physical midst. And I do believe in the task of spreading God’s love as the core mission of a Catholic today.

What I do not believe in are the Church’s contemporary social and reactionary political positions, and its cultural hostility to women and gays, and its profound ethical corruption and sexual hypocrisy, all of which have led to astonishing scandal and evil. I do not believe that this evil should be tolerated or enabled by those who love it. And I do not believe that tackling this evil is best accomplished by leaving, as Rod, for reasons that I deeply respect, has.

For now, I won’t delve too deeply into what I view as the various defects in our evolution as a species that lead people to seek out and hold onto religion, but I will posit that I’ve always seen Sullivan as hanging onto his Catholicism for two reasons:

  1. like many people, he has a sentimentalist attachment to something that was powerful in his life as a child; and

  2. his deeply contrarian nature binds him tightly to the things within himself that the outside world finds to be naturally incompatible.
Just my two cents.

I dig Gherald’s new Friday night Bad Music feature. Top this!


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