Dover Bitch

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Brute Existents Revisted

DB has written previously about the tendency, clearly visible in "conservatives," to define themselves not by what they are, but by what they are not:

[Pat] Buchanan, when not boasting about having debated at Oxford, makes the assertion that "a campaign's purpose was to divide the country." But a liberal believes that a divided country is merely a consequence of an election. The purpose of the campaign is to attract people to a set of values and ideas.

It was a long post (with a reference to John Gardner's fantastic book, "Grendel") and the purpose was to assert that "the debate over wedge issues as a tactic is a loser for Democrats." But the thesis also fits the purpose of this post, which is simply to respond to a comment left in this blog by Phoenix Woman.

Gardner writes:

The dragon tipped up his great tusked head, stretched his neck, sighed fire. "Ah, Grendel!" he said. He seemed that instant almost to rise to pity. "You improve them, my boy! Can't you see that yourself? You stimulate them! You make them think and scheme. You drive them to poetry, science, religion, all that makes them what they are for as long as they last. You are, so to speak, the brute existent by which they learn to define themselves. The exile, captivity, death they shrink from - the blunt facts of their mortality, their abandonment - that's what you make them recognize, embrace! You are mankind, or man's condition: inseparable as the mountain-climber and the mountain. If you withdraw, you'll instantly be replaced. Brute existents, you know, are a dime a dozen.

The racist, homophobic, misogynistic and repressive tendencies of the modern GOP are certainly tied to their "base" organizations, highlighted with yesterday's draconian anti-gay vote at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

But it goes even further than that. John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience describes, much more effectively than this post or blog ever will, the frightening world of Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and how it manifests itself in the GOP and Republican policies and campaigns.

The lesson Grendel learns from a dragon is that humans need enemies, will find them easily and replace them when necessary. They are "brute existents." It sums up the second principle RWA attitudinal cluster:

1. Authoritarian submission - a high degree of submission to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives. "It is good to have a strong authoritarian leader."

2. Authoritarian aggression - a general aggressiveness, directed against various persons, that is perceived to be sanctioned by established authorities. "It is acceptable to be cruel to those who do not follow the rules."

3. Conventionalism - a high degree of adherence to the social conventions that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities. "Traditional ways are best."

The first and third are easy to see in the context of the church. For example, Bush's approval rating is 62 percent this week in Utah, while 61 percent of the nation thinks he's doing a lousy job. There's your authoritarian submission. And there's nothing more traditional than the oldest book on earth.

This doofus in California who mailed white powder to his enemies hasn't been reported to be a Southern Baptist, but he apparently has an acute case of RWA. 1) He admittedly worships leading right-wing personalities. 2) He clearly acted aggressively towards "various persons ... perceived to be sanctioned by established authorities." 3) He pined for fiction about a future that hasn't progressed to be more inclusive and multicultural than more traditional established orders of the pre-political-correctness world he yearns to reclaim.

It was surprising yesterday to hear Keith Olbermann talk about his own personal terrorist without explicitly connecting all these dots and relating this loser's behavior to the patterns that Dean has illuminated in his book and on Countdown.

DB has a particular fascination with that second characteristic, though... the need for brute existents. Nothing seems to foster a need for them more than defeat. Take, for example, the scapegoating that doomed and followed the Weimar Republic after Germany's defeat in World War I.

This week, Public Radio International's Studio 360 featured a discussion of the film "Gone With The Wind." Novelist and Southerner Nancy Lemann made the following observation:

"The Civil War is something that's deeply ingrained in our nation, especially if you're the defeated party. Defeat hangs longer in the mind. You'll always find that Yankees don't think about it that much because they were the winners and you just go on. You don't just sit around thinking 'Wow, I'm a winner.'

But you do sit around thinking 'Wow, I'm a loser.'"

The program also quoted William Faulkner on the South: "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

And it never will be. The South will always define itself by what it is not and Right-Wing Authoritarianism will always have a home there. That's why George Felix Allen could put a Confederate flag on the wall of his Senate office, while the GOP blew a gasket over the national anthem being sung in Spanish. That's why it will either be immigrants or blacks or gays or black, gay immigrants... whatever. There will always be a brute existent to act as a foil for them.

As Phoenix Woman points out in the question that inspired this post, the Southern Baptist Convention was established largely in defense of slavery. How it is that the South ended up with it while the North didn't and why it was so different than South American slavery? How did Bacon's Rebellion change the South forever? Was it just an unhappy accident that the South ended up with a particularly brutal system of subjugation?

That's all too much for this blog to tackle. DB will have to settle for generalizations about the South with a little armchair psychology sprinkled in.

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