Friday, January 13, 2012

Poetic Essence

Canadian Blogger Kathy "Five Feet Of Fury" Shaidle comments over at Taki's about the suicide of former SNL writer Joe Bodolai.  You might click her name to read her other articles as well.

She notes the insanity of his politics, which figured in his suicide note.  A 9/11 Truther, anti-Semitic, FEMA camp type.
Few individuals have the power to raise my blood pressure like “truthers.” If you really believe 9/11 was an inside job, then you’re obliged to either assassinate those responsible or kill yourself in abject despair. And if, like Bodolai, you sincerely think that “Fascism will be America. It already is,” then either you leave the country on the next flight and burn your passport upon arrival, or you’re only a pretentious poseur and a barroom bore.
I have thought that myself, and have read similar others.  My brother believes that the onboard Flight 93 story was made up by the government to gin us up in hatred to go to war.  If you really thought that...

There are similar fevered beliefs on the right, certainly, and they make no more sense.  What are usually called the paranoid beliefs of the right, such as birthers or Obama-is-a-socialist types aren't the same thing.  Believing a politician might lie about his birth may be unfounded in this case, but it doesn't match trutherism.  (Believing Obama is a secret Muslim who wants to install sharia law - okay, that counts.)

An amazing percentage of Americans believe something like one of these.  How can that be? When reasonably intelligent people believe insane things, it pays to ask why.  I had not gotten any farther than recognising that being in the know is quite delicious, and to be more-cynical-than-thou sometimes requires an extreme attitude.  Yet that isn't really enough to get you to ideas that are so wildly improbable that they cannot be seriously credited without large amounts of weed.

I suggest that these beliefs are adopted in a general, almost symbolic way, which is part of why they are impervious to counterevidence.  The details of the conspiracy, or the hidden masters, or the imminent fascism do not especially matter.  Yes, perhaps that particular idea about the Twin Towers may not hold up, but then something else equally bad will turn out to be true. "They" are capable of doing this, but people don't see. 

Considered this way, you may notice that you encounter such beliefs all the time - reasonably sensible people who say "I'm really concerned where this country is headed," who mean something more than that we are spending too much or aren't educating the young.  They sense at some level that a great horror is just over the horizon.  They know this without knowing why. Feeling precedes facts.

The artists and comedians and writers who articulate this for them, no matter how wrong they are- how insanely wrong, in the case of the Oliver Stones or other political filmmakers - are believed because their audience thinks they have seen through to some essence.  The details don't matter - of what import are minor misstatements and slightly misdirected anger when we are talking about visionaries?  If their exact stories aren't true, then something very much like it is true, folks think.  Don't quibble, man.  That dude gets it. We're headed for fascism.  He tells it like it is.


Texan99 said...

I believe Mr. Obama is a socialist in about the same sense that I am a libertarian. It's a rhetorical exaggeration designed to signal the fact that each of us is strongly inclined to support policies that would push our system in that direction, though both of us probably would stop short of the absolute ideal even if we had unlimited power, and both of us recognize that there are some policies that simply are impractical in the absence of sufficient popular support. As a shorthand description, it's reasonably just if a little provocative.

If someone accuses me of being a libertarian, I have to defend myself by showing how I differ from an outright anarchist, and how I would answer difficult questions about what limited government power is OK and where and how I draw the line. Similarly, Mr. Obama, upon being accused of socialist sympathies, has to explain in what sense he believes private ownership and control is ever preferable to public, and why, and how you know when you've moved too far in the public direction.

I agree with you, of course, about vague conspiracy theories. If we really believed half of the nonsense people spout, why would we still be sitting around unarmed and bitching about it? If the house is on fire, you either grab the fire extinguisher or you evacuate. You don't light another joint and hold forth.

I'm concerned about economic collapse. But if I really, truly believed it was going down the tubes in the most literal and fundamental way, I'd have converted our life savings into armaments and food production. Until I do that, if I make exaggerated claims of doom, I'm just blathering and venting emotionally.

Texan99 said...

PS -- Wow, that was actually a rational article at Witherspoon.

Donna B. said...

When, as suggested, crazy people with crazy beliefs do act on them, then we have terrorists and criminals.

I much prefer they not act. I'm pretty sure I'm misunderstanding a lot, but I'm appalled at the suggestion that they must act to prove they are really "serious".

jaed said...

I think more that we look to their actions to judge their seriousness; seeing that they are sitting on their butts, we perceive that they don't really believe the nonsense they're spouting.

(I'm glad they don't really believe these things and act on that belief, of course. But I'm kind of disgusted to see people who don't really think these things claiming they're true anyway. In this context, these people are peddling harmful lies, which on some level they know are lies, for their own self-satisfaction. Which you have to admit is pretty vile behavior.)

james said...

To be fair, probably some of them fear that whatever actions they tried would just make things worse: give "the man" an excuse, or make them allies with groups they don't want to associate with.

But most of them probably just enjoy the gnostic thrill of being superior souls thanks to their special knowledge.