Friday, February 01, 2013

The Hitler Comeback Tour

Since the election, I've been wondering when the American Right would come to some kind of unspoken agreement that, with the election returns pretty clearly demonstrating a rejection of the entire right-wing political and social agenda, they could dispense with niceties, scream, "SCREW YOU!" to America, and just push any and every crazy idea.  It would become a non-stop barrage of crazy, all the while Americans of sense would sit back and think, "Wow, these folks have really lost their shit, haven't they?"

We started to see a bit of that this past election cycle with not one but two Republican Senate candidates flaming out over the issue of rape.  It might have occurred to some folks at least that talking about rape in the way Akin and Murdock did wouldn't be a good thing; yet down in New Mexico, we have some Republican state legislators trying to restrict rape victim's access to abortion on the grounds that it would be evidence tampering.  So they're both crazy and incapable of learning.  Got it.

Since the election, the near-constant demand that the deficit be reduced by drastic alteration of our largest, non-budgetary entitlement programs has left me wondering if these folks are really that stupid, think Americans are, or couldn't care less.  Then, I breathe in and realize I don't have to choose.

Of course, there was the whole fiscal cliff nonsense that demonstrated how little these folks care about the deficit.  After all, the whole thing was an enormous deficit reduction plan just waiting for January 1 to take effect.  All that had to happen would be to let the tax increases and spending cuts take effect and, voila, the deficit would be cut!  Alas, the same folks who said that government spending did nothing to help the economy, and that cutting government spending was the only way to help it, suddenly lost their minds, claiming all those spending cuts would destroy the economy.  How these folks make it out of bed in the morning is a mystery until I realize that holding these two fundamentally opposed points-of-view simultaneously without having a nervous breakdown is a stupendous feat of emotional strength.  Walking and chewing gum must come far more easy for these people than I thought.

Then, of course, there's the general tendency to oppose pretty much anything and everything the President of the United States says and does.  Crossing from the absurd to the grotesque, National Review Online contributor Eliana Johnson wrote a short piece on Monday regarding Pres. Obama's customary statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day:
The idea that all violence is “senseless” violence is one that has taken deep root on the left; it’s also, unfortunately, one that poses a major impediment to understanding the world.  
Nazism may have been an ideology to which the United States was — and to which the president is — implacably opposed, but it is hardly “senseless.” By the early 1930's, the Nazi party had hundreds of thousands of devoted members and repeatedly attracted a third of the votes in German elections; its political leaders campaigned on a platform comprising 25 non-senseless points, including the “unification of all Germans,” a demand for “land and territory for the sustenance of our people,” and an assertion that “no Jew can be a member of the race.” Suffice it to say, many sensible Germans were persuaded.
First of all, I thought the right was always complaining about the left's insistence that we should understand the root causes of violence, a trait usually portrayed as inherent wimpiness among so many lefties.  So that first part contradicts decades of right-wing rhetoric about the American left.

Second, as a commentor at Wonkette wrote in response to their article on the NRO's journey past the point of no-return: "You would think that even on the National Review staff it might dawn on people to think "Wait a minute, I am defending Nazis! How the fuck did I end up here?"  But I am apparently giving them too much credit."  I should add that the comments on the piece at NRO differ little from those at Wonkette, both in tone and tenor; there is shock, but also a great deal of sense, something that one rarely sees these days in comment sections on the internet.

If this Nazi apologia whet's your appetite, all one need do is click here because there's another Republican comparing something Obama has done to the Nazis.  This time, it's universal health care and the requirement that states set up health care exchanges being compared to the Holocaust.  In an alternate universe I'd be joking:
Much like the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps” and that after the exchanges are formed, the federal government will somehow take everything over and “will pull the trigger on the insurance companies.” 
The invocations not just of Hitler and National Socialism, but also Stalin's Soviet Union, China under Chairman Mao, and other dictatorships have been rampant thanks to the gun control debate.  That any sensible person would feel the need to drag these mass murderers in to the discussion demonstrates that the qualifier I used in the subject of this sentence should be discarded.

So, I guess it hasn't taken very long at all.  Enraged at defeat, the American right no longer gives a shit.  They're just going to play monkeys in the zoo and fling not just handfuls but armfuls of poo at America, without even the pretense that it isn't what we think it is. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Mental Health Red Herring

The intervention of the gun lobby in the Affordable Care Act was entirely gratuitous and the provisions they inserted mostly utterly unnecessary. The only thing the NRA achieved by meddling in a health care bill was flexing its muscle to stifle one more route to maybe reducing gun violence. - Joan McCarter
If ever there were a larger nonsequitur  in a public debate as important as our current gun control debate, it is the near-constant invocation of concern for our public policy regarding mental health.  Not because I do not care about mental health issues; on the contrary, our public health policies regarding people with mental illness are a mixture of immense failure and widespread ignorance.

Labeling them potential mass murderers is the latest example of both.

This failure of compassion for our fellow Americans is compounded by the utter disregard some politicians have toward our meager mental health system.  The headline of this Think Progress story says it all:

Beyond Gun Control: Republicans Routinely Sabotage Mental Health And Police Budgets

The epigram for this post is from a Daily Kos story that references the way the gun lobby interfered with the construction of the Affordable Care Act in such a way as to make it far more difficult for mental health providers to obtain necessary information to help their patients.  Title X, Section 2716, subsection (c) is entitled, "Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights".  In a July, 2012 article in Forbes magazine, Dr. Carolyn McLanahan wrote:
In medical training, physicians are taught to screen for potential violence. It is amazing how many people will tell you if they are homicidal or suicidal–you just have to ask. As an extension, we ask about access to guns. If a suicidal or homicidal person has access to guns, they are more likely to use that implement to initiate their violent act. This is why we are trained to ask that question. [...] Unfortunately, the gun rights lobby, mostly funded by the National Rifle Association, has time and time again inserted their hand in attempting to shut down that conversation.
In other words, the crocodile tears for the mentally ill flood out of eyes of cold indifference toward the mentally ill.

Like so much else in our political life, there is such an enormous amount of disingenousness piled on top of the lies, it's difficult to tell them apart.  Which makes not having to so much easier.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Moral Fictions

So I kind of stumbled in to a re-read of Alisdair MacIntyre's After Virtue and am finding it well worth the surprise.  Which is not to say I won't end up in high dudgeon at some point.  After all, much of the work is an attempt to revive a kind of essentialism in moral discourse.  All the same, as a diagnostician of so much of the ridiculousness of our public discourse, I find it difficult to disagree with his basic thesis.

So much of our talk rests in what MacIntyre calls "moral fictions".  Among those are rights, a concept that once upon a time rested upon a metaphysic that imagined a human being apart from any and all social attachments; said imaginary "man" was granted particular things that made him "man" qua "man".  No one accepts the underlying metaphysical anthropology anymore, except perhaps in rarefied circles of philosophy departments here and there.  What we are left with, alas, is a vocabulary detached from any underlying support.  At the end of the day, the screeching back and forth about "rights" is little more than the assertion of the primacy of untrammeled will-to-power (something Nietzsche recognized a long time ago, and of which he approved); it is the entitlement of the spoiled child, not wanting anyone or anything to interfere with his or her declaration of supreme autonomy.

Which, alas, is another fiction about which MacIntyre doesn't elaborate all that much.  For all he understands the way these concepts are socially embedded, he doesn't take the next step (at least in his rather lengthy critique of so much contemporary moral discourse) and make clear that "the individual" or "man" (and here I put quotes around the word with some bit of double irony; maleness was the norm, so those who use the terminology were being unselfconsciously misogynist in their use of the word, and the contemporary drive to replace such terminology hides the basic sense that men are the norm, women an aberration) is as much a fiction as are the rights such a thing possesses.  Of course, it's been years since I read the book, and I have forgotten how sweeping his criticism of the Enlightenment moral project really was; perhaps I've yet to stumble upon such a point.

In any event, especially with all the shrieking about "gun rights", I think it is important to repeat: "Rights" are a fiction, an invention of an age that believed there were these things called "men" who existed outside and prior to any social organization (it's there in our Declaration of Independence, a bit of business we pass over in silence, by and large, embarrassed by its historical falsity).  Any attempt by state power to interfere with these "rights" were ipso facto tyrannical acts precisely because they interfered with the way human beings qua human beings are.  That this entire formulation is fictitious from beginning to end should be clear enough given even a moment's thought.

The assertion by far too many they have a "right" to a firearm is not only a fiction; it is, in fact, morally vicious.  It is little different in kind from a child throwing a tantrum in a store because her parents won't buy her a toy.  Right has made it's final spiral to entitlement, and the assertion of rights is little more than the tantrum thrown by the privileged in the face of those who see such privilege as interfering with their equally legitimate claims to some social good with which that privilege interferes.

It is far too deep in our legal and political and social culture to eliminate the whole notion of "rights"; yet, I think it is important to make clear that even in their heyday, rights were never absolute, whether of life or property.  The idea that owning a gun is on a par with speaking out against government activity with which one disagrees, or practicing one's religion without state interference is really quite vile.  We should at the very least be clear that all the demands that our "rights" not be tampered with is little more than one large pout by people who have no idea how childish they appear.

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