Insecurity

Amanda, taking on the politics of “nyah nyah nyah, so there!”

I’ve let dogs sleep in bed with me and I prefer the old-fashioned match to air freshener in the bathroom. But I also have no problem with subtitles and know the difference between wines. If you want to harangue me, you have a million openings, and loved ones in my life from both sides of the divide avail themselves of that opportunity.

Which is why I find a lot of this cultural grudge match baffling. I’m just not offended at someone sneering at me for being moved by “Cowboy Take Me Away”, nor am I really offended if a family member mocks me for not eating gravy. People try to offend me for drinking Miller Lite, and I can’t care. And yet we’re supposed to believe that there’s all this sneering that should direct the fate of a nation.

Granted, the silly season culture war stuff is actually hiding much more serious disputes—over the rights of women, over race, over secularism, etc.—but what I fail to understand is how much of the nation has become convinced that your taste in coffee drinks and beer should have much bearing on your politics. The Republican argument is, after all, “You love country western and cheap beer, and urban liberals sneer at you, so vote for this war and various other injustices.”

And what a lot of this comes down to is confidence and comfort. If you’re generally secure in your place in the world, then your consumer choices being mocked doesn’t mean all that much. Your appearance, what you drive, what you own, what your haircut costs and the brand of your shoes, who the fuck cares, because you’re doing just fine, so go ahead and laugh.

What the Republicans are doing with this “you vote what you drink” bullshit is to prey on the insecurities of people who know their lives are screwed up and they’re not where they should be in life. It’s a way to make you feel like you’ve got something special when in truth you’re being lied to and stepped on and laughed at. If we tell you we’re giving you nothing, we’d better make it sound like it’s something, that nothing. Otherwise you’re gonna notice right quick that your hands are empty and your house just burned down. Feeling vaguely upset that your job pays less than your male neighbor makes, or your car costs $45 to fill up, or your road has potholes the city can’t afford to fix, or your kid’s school has a hole in the roof, or the only shopping option nearby is a Wal-Mart? You might want to change things, and we can’t have that, so let’s take all the things you’re freaked about, and all the things that make you nervous, and make them points of pride. Make them ways you’re special.

That’s how a rich big-city dweller like Rudy Giuliani can talk about small town values. That’s how an insanely wealthy trophy husband like John McCain can talk about the working class. That’s how Sarah Palin can become the hockey mom heroine. That’s how they do it, convince you they’re one of you, by turning what you see as problems into what they see as promises.

It’s the oldest underdog trick in the book, and I use it all the time, I’m not knocking the idea of turning societal disadvantages into inherent virtues. In my life I’ve always worked for the smaller paper in a market, the poorer organization out of two, the smaller group up against a bigger one. I know all about the motivating factor of having your shortcomings transformed into strengths but this isn’t that, do you see what I’m saying? This isn’t a way of telling people, “You’re less well off, so you have to fight harder to make it and we’re gonna help you,” it’s “you’re less well off, so ENJOY THE SHIT OUT OF YOUR POVERTY by making fun of people who drink chardonnay, and vote for this war we have here.” It’s not motivation, it’s poisonous encouragement of apathy and insecurity, a cynical capitalization on what everybody thinks they know about themselves: that they should be doing better, that they’re trying everything to do better, and not getting there.

Republicans don’t want to help them, they just want to continue the policies that put them there in the first place.

A.

5 thoughts on “Insecurity

  1. Damn, A – you did it again! 🙂 Fantastic!
    It’s akin to the classic cult appeal: “You feel disenfranchised, cheated, loss, noone understands you? Come to “us”!” It’s also how the megalithic churches are playing, too. Someone I used to be friends with is getting so involved w/the ‘classes’ and ‘social interaction’ activities at one of the Grand Poohbah Palaces of Prayer here in Houston, she doesn’t do anything w/o it being affiliated w/the church. Once she’s on their campus, nothing else exists. I swear, next, it’s a mini-Branch Davidian compound when they start building residences on the site.
    The rethugs are playing that appeal to the mentally weak, the emotionally unstable:
    “Come to us, we will help YOU (stay just where you are, but package it so that you think it’s a good thing…shhhh!!!). Be scaaaaared of strong women who are INDEPENDENT THINKERS! Be afraaaaaaid of the smart man w/skin darker than George Hamilton!!! They aren’t like you! They have an agenda!!! (so do we, but shhhhh – keep being dumb, and poor, and pregnant..oh, damn…SHHHHHH!!!)”
    Truly…sometimes I feel like one of Neo’s buds in the Matrix that also took the red pill. Yeah, it fookin’ hurts to see the damned ugly truth of this world, and that it would be easier to have taken the blue pill and ignore it all, embrace the fear…stay dumb, stay numb. But I don’t want to be just another moron in the crowd. I may not always be right, but at least I am paying attention. And I get pissed off.
    Peace,
    Elspeth

  2. And unfortunately I saw KO interviewing Obama on Countdown and Obama still thinks Americans are smart enough not to get sucked into this crap.
    Myself, I’m not so sure. I mean I worked with a woman who was beside herself when it came time to vote. She had forgotten the newspaper back at her desk, so she didn’t know how to vote. Seriously, she was going to vote exactly how the newspaper told her to vote because she either a) doesn’t know herself very well, or b) didn’t have the time to research any of the issues and thought the newspaper had done the heavy lifting for her.

  3. I’ve gone through my life surrounded by people who are smarter than me. I went into an area of the country with some of the smartest people in the world. This area now also has some of the richest people in the world.
    Now I had a choice. I could see those smart people and say, “Wow that’s cool. I want to be smarter.” Or I could say, “Sure they got brains, but they are nerds with no social skills”, and mock them to make myself feel better that they are smarter than me and find one area that I’m better at than they are.
    Bush, when confronted with people smarter than him, mocked education and went after the areas they were weak in. He taunted them like the rude frat boy he is. The ones who wanted to be part of the party said, “Thank you very much, may I have another.” The one who needed his approval (the Dean’s of Universities, swallowed their pride and laughed at his crude jokes, “Yes Mr. President. Ha. Ha. Ha. I have a Ph.d. but you, the C student, are my boss. Yes, that is hilarious.”
    At one point in my career it flipped, I no longer was the dumbest person in the room, the smart people needed my communications skills to help them. Some were jerks about it, but I treated them like how I would want to be treated, politely and without mean spirited humor. What is interesting is that some of these smart people used their brains as a club, while others appreciate that they aren’t smart in all areas and wanted to learn.
    The other day on FDL they had a writer discussing a book about “Shock Jocks” and he said, “Say what you will about Rush Limbaugh–he’s undeniably a great entertainer.” I guess there is no accounting for taste.
    Personally I don’t see the “entertainment value” in mocking people with Parkinson’s, calling women Nazis and mocking gays at every step of the way. That is the humor of the oppressor. If you are not the oppressor you can chose to identify with the oppressor and some people do this because they don’t like where they are at in life. For them it is an aspirational choice to hope they won’t be the butt of the joke in the future, but will become the oppressor.
    One thing that I want Democrats to do more often is to let people know that your life WILL get better when you are connected to others, not, “If they get stuff it will mean less stuff for you!” The zero sum world is the world view of an insecure child. The grasping of things and saying, “Mine! You can’t have any!”
    This constant competition, as if every life interaction is an episode of Survivor, is just so Republican. Every interaction in their world is a contest (or a campaign according to Chris Matthews) and if you are screwed over one time you can still cut a deal with the person who screwed you over later. No hard feelings if they called your adopted daughter a bastard child of a black woman, just as long as you win in the end it’s all fair.
    Business studies have shown that even though you might compete externally with other companies, INTERNALLY cooperation results in happier employees and more successful companies. The “voting people off the island” might make a good dramatic structure for a TV show, but it makes for a lousy business.
    “When I’m rich I’ll get to be a jerk too!”
    I know lots of tech executives who see Larry Ellison and think that to succeed you have to be an arrogant prick. But the question is really, “Is he successful because he is arrogant or in spite of it?” There is more to the act of succeeding in Silicon Valley than just arrogance, unfortunately the arrogance is the trait that they see most clearly and think.”
    Ah ah! If I let out my inner ass hole I’ll be successful!”
    Janeane Garofalo made this very clear about how Rush Limbaugh allowed people to “let out their inner Archie Bunker”. He gave them permission to be jerks and they took his pre-digested comments and then inflicted them on their friends and relatives. You know Ann Coulter has a book out about “How to talk to Liberals” and what that book is about is people wanting to “get back at” smart liberal people. Because at some time in some people’s lives smart people made them feel dumb. And they might have been liberal or the might have been conservatives, but for the book she focused on the mean liberals.
    And some of them took that feeling of being dumb and used it to study harder. Other people took that feeling and held on to it and resented that someone made them look dumb. “I’ll show them! I’ll learn it all” OR “I’ll show them! I’ll tear down their precious book learnin'” I chose the former, Bush the later. It’s easier.
    And if you have a group of people who want to harness that resentment toward smart people you are all set. That is how some of the some Christian faiths win people over with their anti-intellectual arguments.
    My friend had a great bumper sticker that read, “If you are so smart why aren’t you rich? The reply was “If you are so rich why aren’t you NICE?”
    Maybe that only plays in Minnesota, but I always liked that.

  4. I had a roomate once, I had to light a whole book of matches, toss it in the bthroom, slam the door shut, and come back about an hour later.
    He was probably a republican.
    (back then we didn’t talk much about politics, it was sex and drugs and rock and roll, and who knew in what order.)

  5. You’re onto the key insight — Republicans prey on those who (correctly) perceive that they are not doing well by telling them to believe that their problems are other people’s fault. Right-wing rule ultimately is an insult to their voters…

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