Not Hearing It

Something that’s been bugging me for a while:

Historically speaking, conservatism is a movement organized and funded by society’s most powerful members; politically speaking, it lusts for tax cuts and government rollbacks that will benefit those same fortunate folks at the top.

But what it really is, in its own mind, is a crusade on behalf of society’s most abject members: the true Americans who are victimized, sneered at and persecuted for their faithfulness.

Who persecutes them? Well, the mainstream media, to begin with, which supposedly chuckles at their unadorned heartland ways from its lofty perches in New York and Washington. Academics, for another, with their fancy rhetoric and their bottomless contempt for the red, white and blue

I’ve realized in my rapidly advancing age what really bugs me about people. I have my mother’s innate desire to be friends with everyone, to make everybody feel comfortable and loved and happy, to please each person I see. This will surprise people who only know me online but I’m actually rather conflict-averse; I’d rather not have a fight if I can help it, and the older I get, the less effort it seems to require to just be sweet to people even if they’re being kind of dickish.

But there’s one thing that trips my trigger every time. That makes it impossible for me to be nice or make the extra stretch or go the extra mile or even keep my voice on an even keel while I’m talking to somebody on the phone, or smile while I’m sitting across the lunch table from someone even as I’m thinking of ways to get away with murder.


I cannot stand being talked down to. Cannot stand it. It is irrational, I should be bigger than this, I should be able to say to whoever it is lording his- or herself over me that hey, I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to worry about, let ’em feel like the big men or women on campus if that’s what they want. But I’m not bigger than that and even the hint that somebody’s getting superior makes me see fucking RED. Worse yet, you talk to someone I care about in that tone of voice? My spidey-sense for this kind of thing is pretty finely-tuned, is my point.

So I’ve never understood, with that finely-tuned sense, how people don’t pick up on just how much of this “You’re so REAL, with your really real-ness and your authenticity and your pickup truck and dirty hat” from Republicans and right-leaning pundits who live the same lives as those rich liberal media assholes is such complete insult, top to bottom. It’s so reductive, the definition of people by what they drive, where they eat, all the Bobo Brooks and James Lileks-y crapola about shopping at Target — which last I checked was very successfully carrying the same fugly-ass designers of tweeny jeans as department stores now — It’s just a way of calling you stupid.

Does it take a woman to know this, when you’re being “respected” and when you’re being fetishized? Somebody complimenting the outlines of what they consider your life by pointing out how different you are from them and how exotic, like a zoo animal, does that ever sound like anything other than something that ought to get you slapped? You’d never go into someone’s fancy $3,500-floored marble foyer (Mr. A and I saw one of these in a home store and were like, “Who are these people and can we go live with them?”) and compliment its authenticity, you’d compliment its beauty and its coloring, or something, even as you thought, “I could buy so many BOOKS with that” or whatever. I don’t think anybody ever toured someone’s private stables and tennis courts and talked about how real they were.

I don’t think I’m alone in knowing instinctively when someone’s being condescending to me. I think everybody who went to middle school knows what that feels like. So why doesn’t the “you’re a real man, shot and a beer, order coffee in the diner, small-town values” characterization tip that off for more people? Is it a deliberate decision to close your ears to the inherent nastiness of it? Is it that they’re just not hearing what’s really being said?


14 thoughts on “Not Hearing It

  1. I suspect that most don’t hear condescension when they hear that sort of talk – they hear validation.
    These folks have been told time and time again that the liberal elites and the coastal academics look down on them. It’s given them a bit of an inferiority complex. That is, until the conservatives come along and tell them that their blind faith and their salt-of-the-earth simplicity are in fact virtues.
    They don’t hear the nuance, and they don’t tend to evaluate the source, so they really don’t catch the cues that others might. They simply hear someone saying that the way they’re doing things – that’s the right way. That’s the only correct way.

  2. Athenae,
    People hear what they want to hear, especially when they think they’re being listened to by somebody famous.
    Back when the first Bush was in office and W wasn’t much more than a couldn’t-beat-the-homeboy Kent Hance candidate running (another) four-bit drilling outfit into the ground out in West Texas, a GOP hopeful for Texas Congress got some fairly famous people to swing thru Big Spring (and Midland/Odessa) during the primaries.
    Amazing how many different people in the crowds that day thought the words from the podium were tailored to them, individually.

  3. It’s perception…
    The weak of brain/mettle see the liberal elite as looking down on them, when in fact we are only trying to help raise them up. But the idea of being in a place where one does not feel looked down upon and no longer can wallow in “ZOMG, we’re gonna be victims of the liberals!!!” is uncomfortable to contemplate. It’s gonna be difficult, but I think those abused and neglected rethugs can be rehabilitated, it’s just going to take results and time. Not all will make it, they would rather return to their comfy, dark, stick, cheetos-dust-laden holes and start kvetching all over again.

  4. Yep, I think jas and Sarah have it–people WANT to be told they’re really real.
    And I think this gets at one of the things that really separates “us” from “them”–REAL realism. I’ve been amazed at the level of self-delusion apparent in the far right over the past 8 years, but in looking at it further, I have come to the conclusion that the thing that drives this self-delusion is a hatred of reality.
    I’m really not being snarky here (even though I SOOOOO could be). These are people who are frustrated and angry at the world as it exists, and so they want to create a reality that justifies their lot in life. I’m not successful because x, y, and z are preventing me from being successful. Real or not, that’s the desire. So when somebody running for office comes along and says, “Yeah! It’s all x, y and z! It’s not you–you’re wonderful, wonderful people!” it just plays into all that.
    I’m not saying those of us in the “reality-based community” are immune to this. Heaven knows, I’ve seen it a lot. But there seems to be a significant part of the Democratic base that is a little more likely to recognize this behavior in ourselves and try to get past it. We don’t, generally speaking, embrace it the way I’m seeing so many on the right do.
    And, oddly enough, I think the condescension is justifiable. Hear me out–I’m not saying it’s right, but I can sort of understand the inclination. If you need the support of a big chunk of the population to get elected, you’ll say what you need to to get that support, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t aware of the burning stupid you’re feeding. It would be hard to avoid the aura of head-patting that goes along with this language.
    I don’t think I’m expressing myself terribly well here, but I do think there are lessons here somewhere. How do we go about encouraging realism in a broader chunk of the community? How do we tell people, you know what, life sucks sometimes, and sometimes what happens to you is, in fact, your fault. Suck it up, get over it, make your life and the lives of those around you better. I think that’s a message the Republicans like to use (though they always seem to assume that it’s meant for everybody but them), but I think we could reappropriate it and use it for good. Obama’s using the idea some, and I’d like to see it pushed harder after the election is over.
    Combine it with a renewed committment to (if you’ll pardon the elitism of the term) noblesse oblige, and you might have a powerful message.

  5. This is one of the things that drives me insane about John McCain. His holier than thou know it all attitude dripping with sarcasm makes me want to scream. He wouldn’t even look at Obama during the debates. He was far too superior to lower himself in that way.

  6. Our local library is beginning a fundraising campaign, and to do that they first needed to determine support among the more well-heeled members of our community. “Well-heeled” is a relative term, of course; we are a blue-collar area and those with bucks made it not by being educated liberal elites, shall we say. The interviews of these potential supporters took place in the library, which is on the top floor of City Hall. Those chosen for an interview were “community leaders” by virtue of their suspected higher incomes. In order to get to the room where the interviews were taking place, people had to go up the elevator marked “library-third floor”, past the checkout desk, through the book stacks and past a reading (magazine) room. One of the people being interviewed flatly stated that not only was he not a supporter of a new library, he didn’t even know where the library was located. The point of this little story is that sometimes, pride in your own ignorance is so hard-wired that “rehabilitation” simply cannot happen.

  7. David Foster Wallace on McCain’s 2000 campaign:
    “..who among us is so cynical that he doesn’t have some good old corny American hope way down deep in his heart, lying dormant like a spinster’s ardor, not dead but just waiting for the right guy to give it to? That John S. McCain III opposed making Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday in Arizona, or that he thinks clear-cut logging is good for America, or that he feels our present gun laws are not clinically insane – this stuff counts for nothing with these Town Hall crowds, all on their feet, cheering their own ability to finally really fucking CHEER.”
    Too many of these folks still remember McC’s POW experiences and his big talk on campaign finance reform from eight years ago. Not enough of them can really take a good, hard look at McCain today, RIGHT HERE AND NOW.
    How I wish they could. But the cheering must be deafening, the populist conservative fervor so blinding.

  8. damn Elspeth, with a comment like that it is almost hard to believe why Republicans think liberals are elitists.

  9. I might venture that we “common folk” watch the elite and identify / buy into their system 1) because we think we will climb the ladder and join them (see Freakonomics / chapter on drug dealers being like Walmart). 2) it makes us feel better to think about being one of them (kind of like a lot of poor churches who want the revrend to drive a big fancy car). In either case, we then feel so much better when we see one of the tabloid stars make a really dumb mistake that we wouldn’t have made.
    I wonder how that is going to change. Now that the fashion are low-rider pants which is proclaiming an affinity to prison style. Have those kids turned their back on the upper crust?

  10. I live in southeast Missouri and am surrounded by conservative evangelical we-love-the-rich Republican voters. These people only listen to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly because it’s the only thing on AM talk radio. In every home and every business, the only news channel on the TV is Faux Nooze. They watch it all day long. They sit together in their little coffee shop enclaves and talk loudly with each other about what’s wrong with America: Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gays, women, liberals. Except they use different words for these groups, hateful, ugly words. Their idea of Jesus looks like Chuck Norris, and Jesus hates everyone who doesn’t look, act and think like them. Every single one of them believes, deep down in what passes for their hearts, that someday they will win the Powerball lottery and be rich, and when that happens, they don’t want to pay a cent of taxes on it. They are ignorant, dogmatic, closed-minded, provincial, nationalistic and vicious beyond human imagination. They don’t see anything wrong with Gitmo or Abu Ghraib except that they think it was too tame. They would vote for concentration camps to be opened in their home towns. They love Sarah Palin. They wish she were at the top of the ticket. The average middle American is a German in 1932. There is no appealing to their hearts, which are cold and hateful, or their minds, which are hopelessly brainwashed. These are my neighbors. Because I don’t think like them, I am condemned as un-American. I consider their contempt a complement.

  11. Athenae: Don’t ever take condescension lying down because you’re “supposed to be bigger than that” or whatever. That’s exactly what the patriarchy (that ultimate creator and enforcer of conservatism) wants you, as a woman, to do. Screw that. And maybe someday, someone somewhere will see your example and say, “Hey, I don’t have to listen to these mooks talking down to me like that…”

  12. I think the underlying problem is that Americans are no longer taught to think critically. Critical thinking should be the cornerstone of our educational system; otherwise you just believe anything. It’s not that these people are just “stupid”; they have never been taught to ask questions and not believe everything you are told.

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