Saturday, October 11, 2008

Not new ideas, but identifying new enemies - Joe Bageant

October 11, 2008

Joe Bageant

Dear readers,

Well, the masked political consultant blew through town the other day painting the town with his latest message, this time a big picture message. So big picture in fact, that it makes the ideas such as the "framing concept" of George Lakoff look like mouse farts. Before he again rode off on his white horse Mescalero, he left this silver bullet for us to contemplate -- the answer to the question: "Why the neocon bastards always seem to put six rounds into the chests of earnest liberals in every political gunfight, and why the Christian fundamentalists always cheer for the bad guys?"

In art and labor,


PS: Here are linked headlines to the two previous contributions to this site by our favorite anonymous political consultant: "Moving to the Center of Elite Consensus" and "Life in the Post Political Age".

By An Anonymous Political Consultant

The rise of religious fundamentalism as a political force is the most important and misunderstood development in our recent history.

The primary motivating factor in the development of the religious right is a defensive response to the challenges posed by the power of popular consumer and entertainment culture and not a backlash against progressive or liberal ideas and social movements.

The conflict between these two forces has come to dominate the discourse of our politics. What drives the intensity of this cultural war is the fact that it is a struggle between the only two revolutionary forces in American society. Popular culture is revolutionary because of the way and the relentless speed in which it challenges and uproots the traditional mores of American culture. Religious fundamentalism is revolutionary because it represents the only movement in American public life openly critical of American culture and society.

If the latter point seems strange to some, I would advise them to listen to an hour's worth of programming from Dr. James Dobson's daily broadcast on Christian radio. He is perhaps the most influential voice of the religious right on the broadcast medium. During that time, you will hear far greater criticism of American society and Americans on subjects such as greed, materialism, alienation caused by rampant individualism and the lack of supportive communities than you will hear on the purportedly liberal airways of Air America's Radio Programs.

When it comes to predicting the outcome of this struggle, there should be no doubt which side will ultimately prevail in this fight.

Religious fundamentalism here and abroad is no match for the powers of popular, consumer and entertainment culture. The reason for that is very simple: popular consumer culture is the most powerful and attractive ideology in human history.

It has three primary features. It demands no sacrifice from its faithful. It demands that you purchase and consume and that you become passively entertained.

The first principle is entirely unique in the annals of human history. All religions and ideologies demand adherence to a core of set principles, sacrifice, study and discipline. Popular consumer culture demands no attendance in mass political rallies, no involvement in one's community, no demand to read and educate yourself, no moral codes or dietary laws to live by, and no demand to read and decipher ancient text.

Its second principle is endless consumption completely detached from the objective realities of human needs, which also happens to be the basis for a significant percentage of the American economy.

Its third principle is the willingness and desire for passive entertainment, which is truly the devil's handiwork in any program whose purpose is to turn citizens into subjects. It is not entirely a coincidence that the rise of the most notorious totalitarian systems of the 20th century coincided with the advent of the film, radio and television mediums. Essentially any communication format, which can only speak, and never listens and rarely challenges you to think, is the best conditioning for the development of uncritical minds.

Of all the different factions in American society, it is only the most retrograde forces that have clearly understood the destructive effects of consumer popular culture on our society. This is likely because religious fundamentalists by the nature of their beliefs and narrow views of the world are forced to have a coherent set of ideas and framework, on what is important, on how life should be lived, and how individuals should conduct themselves in a society.

When it comes to measuring the actual impact of the religious right on our politics, there are two important items of note. First, it has realigned our political landscape and secondly, that it has not managed to achieve any real power.

The reason for the latter point is the result of the narrowness of its political agenda. During the 30 years of its active involvement in politics, and its development of both a significant political and communication infrastructure, the religious right in the United States has yet to formulate a coherent world view to address aspects of life outside of the narrow window of social issues it is concerned with.

Unlike the Christian Democratic parties in Europe, which effectively married the anti-communism and social conservatism of the Protestant and Catholic Churches with a relatively progressive economic agenda, or the Liberation Theologists of South America who attempted to create a coherent temporal and spiritual world view by bringing together Marxist analysis with the teachings of Christ, the religious right either by design or effect has failed to ask and answer the questions that would broaden the bases for its appeal.

This phenomenon creates unique opportunities to realign the correlation of forces in American politics. The truth is that the distance between religious conservatism and social democracy is far shorter than the difference between it and libertarian economics. Regardless of the fact they will never admit it the fundamentalist criticism of popular consumer culture is in fact a critique of market relationships. You cannot oppose the marketing of denigrating cultural products without conceding to the idea that the market should not be the sole arbiter in regulating all human activities and relationships.

The genius of the economic right and the neo-conservatives has been their ability to ignore this fact and work instead to fill in the blanks in the vast empty spaces within the worldview of the religious right with militarist and pro-corporate ideas.

The tasks of progressives is to tear apart the conservative consensus of the past thirty years by advocating agendas that will consistently split the constituencies of the religious right from its corporate right partners.

If progressives are serious about winning victories that can realign our politics, they must find a way to marry the legitimate criticism of the decadence of popular culture with criticism of the decadence of an economic system that create the savage inequalities we see in America today. Once that is done, the entire project of the right collapses under the weight of its own contradictions.

The mastery of the political right over the past thirty years has been primarily to better understand the irrational factors in politics. Conservatives have always understood that when it comes to politics, people rarely act in their rational self-interest but instead on emotion, fears and the perception of their interests.

The first principle of organizing any successful new political movement is not new ideas but the identification of new enemies.


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