As I read again about the utter nastiness and hypocrisy of America’s ‘conservatives’ now that they are anticipating growing in power I wonder what their spiritual significance might be at a personal level. In so many cases what they do and say seems far more motivated by malevolence towards others than by any positive value. I am increasingly inclined to think one of their reasons for existence is to help others learn not to hate by demonstrating the utter inhumanity hate and self-righteous bigotry leads to.
Years ago, early in little Bush’s presidency, I decided to create a Bush card deck where the aces would be politicians, clubs the media stooges and bullies, hearts the self-identified “moral” leaders, and diamonds the money boys and principle corrupt corporations of the modern right wing. It was a spoof on the deck American occupying forces issued identifying Iraqis they wanted to arrest. But it was more than a spoof because each card was linked to an essay on a website, so that people could get polemical but accurate in-depth information about why these people and organizations were in the deck.
In researching each card I worked hard to double-verify each charge I made about a person or corporation. As I did I was disturbed and amazed at the complete lack of basic honesty among most people serving leading roles, especially among media and intellectual figures. They lied as easily as I would pick up a dollar on the ground. This was something new to me: a movement that it seemed to me stood for nothing beyond anger and domination.
I had argued with and debated Marxists for years beginning in the 60s, but most of the ones I encountered believed their ideology and tried to argue honestly from its premises. In some cases we’d get to a point where their reasoning shut down into repetition of dogma, much like arguing with some Christians till you bump up to their decision to commit. But there was no lying. The closest I came to the contemporary right in mentality and intellectual integrity was among Maoists and Stalinists, who comprised a small fraction of American Marxists.
The classical liberals and libertarians I argued with later as I drifted away from their position were the same to my judgment: The arguments helped me understand my own position better, sharpening why I no longer agreed. They were honest people who saw the world differently.
These contemporary right wingers were different. This was particularly strange to me because I had started out as a conservative in my political views. I had read many conservative and classical liberal intellectuals and scholars, some of who I still admire for the rigor of their thought and their intellectual integrity, and one of whom, F. A. Hayek, remains central to my own thinking even though I’ve applied his ideas in directions he had not.
Now I was encountering something different. These people might mention the names of people I had read, but they clearly had no standards of intellectual honesty or rigor, None. Today Glenn Beck recommends Hayek, but obviously has never understood him, and I suspect never read him. It’s just a name to drop. He is simply a more recent version of a pattern I first saw in many Bush era right winger leaders.
In making this charge again I distinguish between the remnant of classical liberal scholars with roots in the 60s and earlier, and most of what now calls itself “conservative” and “libertarian” thinkers with their weird mix of Ayn Rand, right wing ‘Christianity,’ and love of power and wealth. There may also be a few genuine conservatives out there who are honest, but they are also pretty quiet.
Anyway, it was while doing research on this card deck that I realized that with very few exceptions America’s right wing leaders were not interested in rigorous thinking, careful argument, or ethical consistency. They were motivated in the main by darker emotions and used argument and references to serious thinkers as fig leaves to give the illusion of learnedness, and nothing more. Or they were completely cynical. They were forming a movement based on tribalism, on “my way or the highway,” on dislike and worse of those who differed, with no acknowledgement that issues were often complex and equally insightful people could disagree. Often they profited enormously from their work. The current right-wing “Tea Party” amalgamation of liberalism, fascism, communism, and Islam into some super-movement is a glaring example of this complete collapse of intellectual and moral integrity.
But why do these people exist in such a depraved state? I can make a cultural and political analysis, and have, arguing they represent the break-down of Western modern civilization based on monotheistic assumptions about reality into complete nihilism and worship of power. (I’m 99.9% finished with a book on that issue- I’ll send an advanced draft chapter to anyone interested who has read this far.) But that does not quite satisfy me. That is a purely intellectual analysis, done from a scientific point of view. It enables me to understand a larger context that makes some sense of these people, America’s version of Fascists and Nazis and other totalitarians. It is the Big Picture.
But there is still another dimension.
I know as much as I know anything that the strongest spiritual reality I have encountered is characterized by love and beauty. In a sense it is love and beauty. These people represent its antithesis, and serve as a kind of strange attractor towards which many people are drawn once they lose touch with their hearts.
And here is the danger.
I am more and more thinking that for me personally they represent the spiritual challenge of moving beyond hate. It is easy, very very easy, to hate people who spread anger, lies, and distrust almost as a profession. It is very easy to hate people who are uncaring and callous towards the suffering of others, who eagerly support killing those who differ from them, and who appear to be consumed with malevolence. But by doing so some of the poison that dominates their souls enters into our own. My own.
Along with all the other confusions of this time, I think the current moral degenerates on the right serve as a spiritual challenge: can we learn to confront them without hating them? Hating confirms them in the prison of their own dark box because it confirms the fear embedded deeply within them. It also and draws us away from our own hearts.
The only way out of their box for them personally is through their hearts, because they have abandoned their minds except as weapons in service to malevolence masquerading as “values.” If we hate them we help keep them in their prison as well as begin to create a prison for ourselves.
(Off topic – I went to Amazon to find the link to the book where some of the card essays were published, and was impressed with the enormous number of reader reviews that gave it the lowest possible ranking, and who, when I looked at their reviews, often obviously had not read the book and in more ambiguous case simply attacked its scholarship without ever mentioning anything specific. Like right wing trolls on blogs.
Here was another example of conservative lying in an obviously well orchestrated campaign. But the poor choice of a title by its editor did not help. an ironically poor choice given the subject of this present post and my own efforts at the time, and since, NOT to hate them.)