Friday, December 4, 2009

Sarah Palin & Al Qaeda

I've been thinking about the trap so many liberals fall into with conservative ideologues. Basically, we're suckers. Our political enterprise is one of exploration. This is why academia & journalism, two pillars of civilization, are fundamentally liberal. Professors don't get to throw up their hands and say (as the modern conservative might), "There, all finished! We've got it pretty well figured out." Journalists don't get to simply report events that unfold, like automatons.

Liberalism is about genuine relativity - that all ideas are relative to one's perspective. It is corrosive to tradition and entrenched powers. But it is what it means to be a conscious human. It is an extension of the basic existential project: to reflect upon the world and find it's truth and meaning. This requires a certain amount of annihilation of self. Our model of the world is only as good as the model we are able to create. By this fact, everything then must be approached with a certain humility. When we engage the world, we must always allow for the fact that we do not have all the answers. There is no common sense for us. Skepticism begins with oneself, and then extends outward.

Yet none of this means that there is no Truth. It only means that we sometimes have a very hesitant relationship with it. Which causes problems when it comes to taking a stand for things. We may think we know what is true - but that could always change. When faced with fundamental injustice, dishonesty & illogic, we often struggle to rise above our hesitant stance and take the leap of faith that is declaration and certitude.

This isn't a problem for conservatives. Men are men. Women are women. God is god. Right is right. Love it or leave it. Real Americans. This is a fundamentalist mentality. Debates are not had in order to learn, they are to be won. - the model is perfect. It is one of obedience and authority. The model must not be questioned, because that is a slippery slope. Questions simply lead to more questions. There is a point where the questions just need to stop. The tap must be turned off and the sooner, the closer to the source, the less chance of contamination.

This is not communication. This is a fight. The same sort of mentality drives men to believe that infidels are expendable. It fits perfectly with the concept of God, because what could be more perfect, more authoritative, more true and worthy? What is more, every God comes with a special book! You don't even need to think for yourself. It's all right there in black and white. Just follow along. No stopping to critically reflect, unless as a way to more perfectly correct oneself in line with the Right way.

So do we argue with Al Qaeda? Of course not. And not only because they'd likely kill us. But because there is no point! Arguing requires an honest effort on both sides to try and understand each other. But these people do not want to understand us. How could they, when they don't even want to understand themselves?

Sarah Palin is not Al Qaeda. Glenn Beck is not Al Qaeda. (Although some of their follows I do sometimes worry...). But their thinking shares many commonalities. It arises out of an utter lack of self-reflection. At first principles, its core assumption is of inerrancy - an obedience to the tautological premise of an idea being so demonstrably true that it must not be questioned. A zeitgeist of such folk is now coalescing, almost in the way natural disaster builds to a critical mass that becomes self-sustaining. As a movement, what matters is not the legitimacy of its claims, but the size of its mass. The lack of tolerance for deviation is fascinating.

I'm not sure how to deal with these people. But engagement on the issues likely isn't an option. And to the degree that it is, success will come not from the strength of argument, but from the ability of the individual to reclaim some vestige of dialogue within their self. That process of self-reflection must be reacquired before any outsider can hope to have any impact.

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