Monday, January 10, 2005

Feral Dogs at the Gate
To continue with this morning's line of thinking, about whose values should be adopted by the country as a whole: Maybe trying to bridge our cultural gaps is futile. To build a bridge requires some common ground on which to lay the foundation. But some smart person will have to tell me where the common ground lies between liberals and conservatives, blue staters and red staters, and/or North and South, because I can't see it anymore. And maybe you can't, either, by virtue of who you are.

Here's Joe Bageant, a writer we've linked to a couple of times previously. He's a lifelong Southerner from Winchester, Virginia, and his most recent article is called "A Mean and Unholy Ditch."
The hardest thing for garden variety American liberals to grasp is what a truly politicized and hateful place much of America has become---one long mean ditch ruled by feral dogs where the standards of civility no longer apply. The second hardest thing for liberals is to admit that they are comfortably insulated in the middle class and are not going to take any risks in the battle for America's soul ... not as long as they are still living on a good street, sending their kids to Montessori and getting their slice of the American quiche.
This liberal disconnect from reality can be manifested in something as simple as a wish that we can all get along, or as complex as the discussions we have over choosing a new chairman for the Democratic National Committee, or in the little film on George Lakoff and the concept of framing that is being shown at this month's Democracy for America Meetups. When we aren't holding hands and singing "Kum-Ba-Yah," we're talking in rational terms about packaging our message to motivate our natural constituency to find its way home to us, while out in the provinces, the opposition is motivating voters through the kind of raw, intense hatred liberals can't summon up for anything or anyone. One reason we're getting our butts kicked is that you can't win a fight if you don't understand what kind of fight it is--and if you're unwilling to find out what kind of fight it is.

Not only do we misunderstand the fight we're in, we don't clearly see what kind of country we live in, either. Not long after the election, I invoked the medieval theologian William of Occam, famous for formulating Occam's Razor, which was "keep it simple, stupid" for the 13th century. Occam reminds us that the simplest explanation is the most likely to be correct. And so Bageant says:
When I look around America's barrooms, church suppers, swap meets and strip clubs, I see that "the American people" like the way things are going. Or at least half of them do. They like World Championship Wrestling and Confederate flags and flat screen television and they like the idea of an American empire. "The people" don't give a rat's bunghole about social programs or the poor or other races or the planet or animals or anything else. They LIKE cheap gas and making life tough for queers. They LIKE chasing Thanksgiving Day Xmas sales. And when fascism comes, they will like that, too.
Whether that America is really what the other side would choose, if given perfect information and a free choice, doesn't matter, but we liberal types act as if it does. They line us up in the crosshairs while we're wondering if they really like the gun they bought.

Don't get me wrong--as an erstwhile civics teacher, I love the promise of America as the Founding Fathers understood it. As a good liberal, I admire the ideal of a diverse populace living together in peace and harmony. And so, I respect the impulse that drives people who want to find a way to bridge our cultural divide and heal the body politic. However, I also think you've got to know when the patient is dead--and if this one is, all our time spent praying over the body is wasted. Perhaps we ought to bury it and move on.

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