The United States of Hate

I don’t want to hate the people who hate people like me. Not only because I think hate is bad (it is) but also, practically, because it leads to hopelessness and rage, which lead inevitably to deadly violence. The only way out of this cycle of viciousness is through conversation, listening, understanding, honestly working to solve big problems that oppress us all. Powerful forces are intent on making that kind of helpful dialogue impossible among the billions of regular people of limited power. Hate is the antidote to Reason.

One thing unites the half of the country who voted for Biden and the almost half who voted for Trump: hatred of the other side. The stoking of agitated hatred by political attack ad is a successful tactic in American elections, as proved every election cycle. Do not discuss ideas, plans, strategies to deal with the many daunting challenges we face, do not mention what is actually happening in the world — attack the godless Communist you are running against (if she’s a Democrat) attack your hypocritically pious Fascist opponent (if she’s Republican.)

Let us not pretend that this is a mutual, even, fifty-fifty war, with very fine, and very horrible, people on both sides. There is no real equivalence between the political parties in 2020, as far as the lengths they will go to create hatred, provoke fear and rage, threaten violence from angry, low-information voters who want revenge on people they honestly believe are stealing their very lives from them.

I won’t go into the accursed mass media false equivalence business here, except to state one obvious fact: one party’s leader wants to count only votes for himself, and his supporters in Congress insist the president has every right to take this radical position, no matter what the so-called courts might say: because the future of the world depends on it! A brazen, stubbornly irrational position (without proof of fraud or irregularities) that until it was done would have been unthinkable — to petulantly and baselessly contest an election everybody from both parties has certified the results of and says you lost — is now in some bizarre way “normal”. A few years ago, this kind of open defiance of national election results, which includes repeated calls to violently resist a “stolen election,” would be considered treasonous. Now the president’s apologists insist this open attack on American democracy cannot even be investigated. To investigate sedition is itself sedition!

Facts, as we have noticed over and over, no longer matter in politics. Faced with a tidal wave of pandemic infections, overflowing hospitals and morgues, millions more Americans thrust into poverty, the president’s party, passionate, mouth breathing anti-maskers, focused only on putting a hyper-conservative religious cult member on the Supreme Court days before the election.

The national moratorium against evictions will end December 31. On the first working day after New Years there will be a million evictions of people behind on their rent, their mortgages, who have not been able to work and have not received any government help (aid repeatedly blocked by the president’s party — unless corporations are immunized against liability for all harms they inflicted during the pandemic). These pauperized American families, newly homeless as winter descends, will be thrust directly into the jaws of a deadly, highly infectious, airborne medical emergency. Because?

During The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, centuries when science and technology took great strides as philosophers rediscovered the writings of the ancient (pagan) Greeks, Reason was held up as the guiding principle of human endeavor. Renewed was the forgotten belief that humans are creative, primarily rational, actors, free to make the best choices and find the best solutions, based on considering free-flowing good information and making intelligent calculations based on knowledge. A world guided by Reason, it turns out, is a very optimistic view of human affairs (this was pointed out in this excellent video). We seem to have returned, en masse, to the monkish ignorance and superstition (a phrase I always loved) [1] of the Dark Ages.

As the painter Francisco Goya wrote on a famous image, (a 1799 aquatint, Jeeves informs us): the Sleep of Reason produces Monsters.

Medieval monkish ignorance and superstition 101: to fight the mass death of the Bubonic Plague, round up and kill every single Satanist witch, burn them to death, along with their evil “familiars,” the cats. In Europe cats were killed wherever they were found. With the cats gone, rats proliferated and so did the plague, which was carried and transmitted by rats. I don’t need to make the comparisons to how the party of Trump is reacting to science’s best efforts to control the spread of our modern day plague.

A few years ago, after listening to the beautifully read audio version by Wanda McCadden (from the NY Public Library), I picked up my own copy of Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt’s masterful rumination on the world famous trial of a high ranking Nazi bureaucrat. The book, which started a shit storm even before it was published, is deep and thought-provoking, as well as a treasure chest of illuminating historical detail about this dark era of human history. I’ve read it several times now.

I wrote a piece, back in 2018, called Hannah Arendt, towering intellectual It-girl. It was read a handful of times when I posted it, and forgotten (not a single reader in 2019, WordPress informs me). I’ve been surprised at how many readers seem to have discovered the piece in 2020. In it I express my great admiration for Hannah Arendt, who wrote that real, honest internal dialogue is the key to puzzling out any vexing mystery. All evidence must be carefully weighed, as many specious arguments as possible removed from consideration, and to the best of your ability, patiently analyze what you have and act on it. Arendt convincingly shows that the inability to conduct this kind of principled internal debate marks an ambitious person for life as the perfect Eichmann, a person of limited imagination whose only moral duty is unquestioning obedience to authority.

What does the average Eichmann want? Respect, praise from his boss, a world he can feel safe in. Nothing unreasonable there, once you accept the terms. In Eichmann’s case those terms were that forced emigration would not solve the Jewish Problem after all — only wiping out every Jew in the world would solve the Jewish Problem. Eichmann himself was not happy about mass killing, not at all, he was no killer, no sadist, not crazy, but he did his duty, to the best of his ability, as Nazi morality demanded. How did he become convinced that tirelessly facilitating mass murder was his duty? The Leader, a man endowed by God with 100% confidence in his infallible convictions, told him he must. End of conversation.

Here’s an insightful analysis of how the process of winning angry hearts and overwhelmed minds works in the age of mass media [2]. Mr. Trump is doing the same thing now that successful fascist demagogues of the past did, doing it with surprising adroitness. The bloodbath he keeps coyly inciting will hopefully not start, Trump dead-enders may have to content themselves with sabotaging everything possible to ensure that the Biden administration inherits a chaotic, failed country nobody can fix. The blame for the ugly mess will then go to the hated Democrats, again, who will be voted out in disgrace. I vote for them, but, I have to be honest, I hate them too (with a handful of exceptions).

Hate is so fucking easy, takes so little work and gives a strong feeling of righteousness — I guess it’s just irresistible to us “wise apes”.

[1]

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Thomas Jefferson, author of Liberty and father of mulatto slave children, in a letter written before the final July 4th of his long life.

source

[2]

Possible Trump tweet:

Give me 2 months and a few million violence-prone, low-information, chanting, gun-toting angry white men and I’ll show you how to put on a show! “Abuse of power”, “contempt of congress” (fuck them!), open defiance of things like the stupid Hatch Act, quid pro quo with foreign leader for electoral advantage, nada! Ditto incitement to violent overthrow of the duly elected government. USA! USA! LOL! LO fucking L!

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