Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Workings of The Servile Mind

As you can no doubt guess by now, I believe the key to human behavior, especially seemingly inexplicable behavior, lies in the relationship between parent and child. It's the earliest, most consistent, most important influence on a person's life. And it irks me to see people dress up personal pains and grievances in political and goldly terms to satisfy their needs. It especially irks me because it works. Emotionally needy people are able to convince others to act against their own interest, to belong to the tribe.

From Glenn Greenwald:
The most significant fact of American political life is that political
journalists (of all people) see their role primarily as defenders of, servants
to, spokespeople for the Washington establishment. That's how they obtain all of
their rewards and remain relevant. The concept of journalists as watchdogs over
political power has been turned completely on its head by power-revering
servants like David Brooks, who is anything but atypical (indeed, there's a whole new generation of Beltway journalists who have learned and are eagerly replicating this model). Brooks is about as typical and illustrative as it gets. They benefit substantially from the prevailing rules of political power and, thus, their only concern is to preserve and strengthen it and protect it from the growing dissatisfaction and anger of the peasant class. The more they do that, the more they are rewarded.
There is more than one type of reward. The financial one is obvious; Brooks and Megan McArdle and their ilk can make a lot of money through their contacts with the elite. The elite will finance their books, pay speaking and travel fees, create think tanks, and buy magazines and newspapers to print their material. The elite will throw parties in which the wanna-bes can mingle among the elite, maybe even picking up a trust-fund husband or wife if they're really lucky. And never underestimate the lure of free alcohol and food.

Very often serving the elite satisfies a psychological need as well. Sometimes the needs are obvious, such as journalist Mark Halperin's attempt to get Hugh Hewitt to acknowledge that Halperin is one of the elite, a member of the Republican tribe. Again from Glenn Greenwald:

Apparently, the most traumatizing and horrifying thing that could ever
happen to Mark Halperin is for Bush followers like Hugh Hewitt to think he's a
liberal. It is self-evidently very important to Halperin -- on an emotional and
deeply personal level -- to demonstrate that he is one of them, or at least not
one of those liberals. To achieve this, he made an extraordinary vow to Sean
Hannity when trying to win Hannity's approval, in which he pledged that the
media would spend the next two weeks compensating for all of their
anti-conservative sins over the past decades, and now he is engaged in a truly
debased and highly emotional crusade to obtain Hugh Hewitt's

I really question whether someone who has obviously made it such a high
priority to obtain a very personal form of right-wing absolution can possibly
exercise appropriate news judgment. If Halperin is willing to expend this much
time and energy and shower Hewitt with such gushing praise -- and if he's
willing to make such a public spectacle of himself when doing so -- all in order
to convince Hewitt that he isn't liberal, won't that goal rather obviously
affect Halperin's news coverage? Isn't there something extremely unseemly about
the political director of ABC News engaging in such an intense campaign to win
the approval of one of the most blindly partisan, extremist Bush followers in
the country?

Mark Halperin is really showing his true colors here, and it is extremely unpleasant to watch.

Naked emotional need is always painful to watch. But covert emotional need isn't much fun to watch either. Damon Linker of The New Republic writes two posts criticizing mindless authoritarianism, namely the use of religious faith to back up political decisions. Linker's critics say that man is born sinful and will destroy himself and society if he is not controlled by his religious beliefs. Worse, if a man doesn't control himself, liberal society will do it for him, imposing its beliefs in place of "natural," God-given beliefs. Linker's arguments are reasonable; religious views based on obedience to religious authority should not be the basis for political policy and decisions, since its lack of intellectual basis can easily lead to faulty reasoning. But he quickly retracts his apparently firmly-held beliefs, abasing himself under criticism from his peers.

On Tuesday of this week, I posted an item in which I drew connections between an essay by Andrew Bacevich and political authoritarianism. Two days later, I posted a follow-up in which I expanded on the argument. In retrospect -- and in light of some online reaction to the posts -- I've concluded that the connections I made in the original item were overdrawn, and that I made things even worse in the second post. Ideas and arguments can take on a logic of their own, and I foolishly followed the logic of mine into a position several steps more radical than one I really want to defend. I trust that future online disputation and debate will provide many opportunities for me to address these and related issues again -- and so also to stake out and develop a more moderate, nuanced, and genuinely liberal position.
It is embarrassingly servile post, just as much so as Hugh Hewitt's infamous hero-worshiping post of Bush. Linker says he was foolish and radical, and can't wait for the opportunity to have more discussions with his dear friends, so he can further deny what he said. Any humiliation is better than being kicked out of the club.

So we know that people get financial and emotional rewards from being part of the tribe and supporting its leaders/exploiters. But why do some people need to be part of the Village, need approval from authorities and tribal members so badly? Why will they do anything for acceptance?

Because they never had any. They were told what they should think and believe from babyhood. Their views were considered unimportant, their likes and dislikes irrelevant and actually dangerous, since personal likes and dislikes could lead to rejection of the parents' likes and dislikes. Authority must be obeyed at all costs, at all times, and only traditional values are permitted, handed down from the dawn of time by God to parents, to enforce in their children. To disobey the parents is to disobey God, to invite his wrath down on mankind, and endanger the child's acceptance by society, thereby endangering any chance for employment or love. To enforce this obedience, parents tell the children that they are doing it for the children's own good, and indeed they often punish and repress their children in the hopes it will lead to happiness as some point in the future.

If the child rejects the parents' demands they are rejecting the parents' love. Underlying all of this, of course, is the resentment and pain of parents who were taught that obedience to parents and God is Love, and who hope that their children will give them the open and uncritical love and acceptance they never got in childhood. After all, the parent obeyed his parents all his life, sacrificing himself for society and his parents' love. Who is the child to disobey, when his parents did not? Doesn't the child love and appreciate the parents?

The personal is political. Scratch a person who insists on obedience to Obama or Bush and you'll find a scared, lonely child, longing for love and acceptance. A child who never felt love and therefore never felt safe, and spends the rest of his life looking for a parental substitute. Since the person can't acknowledge he doesn't feel loved or protected, he finds ways of looking for them that let him repress the pain he felt at his parents' rejection. He turns to God or politics to fill this need, or any one of a million other little ways. And he will swear to the end that he is using reason and facts when making his decisions, instead of reacting out of need.

Here McArdle write a long, arduous, reasoned, nuanced post enumerating and elaborating on the process by which she picked Bush over Kerry in 2004. She elaborates on 14 different categories that she used in her assessment, and acknowledges that Bush fails or is neutral in most categories. Yet she chooses Bush; why?

In the end, it comes down to how much risk the candidates will take. The
Democratic policy on foreign policy risk has been pretty much the same since
McGovern: they won't take any. They bug out at the first sign of casualties, and
go in only when the foe is so tiny that we can smash them without committing
ground troops.


I have the choices I have: between someone whose foreign policy has been so risky as to be foolhardy, or someone who will not take the political risk of voting his conscience (whatever that may be) on the war; between someone whose commanding ability to chart a course and stick to it veers into pigheaded refusal to admit he's wrong, and someone who takes four weeks to decide on a campaign bumper sticker design. Above all, I have to guess how Mr Kerry will be in office, because the president doesn't have the luxuries of a senator or a campaigner; he has to decide what to do without the other senators to hide behind, and he cannot just go out and talk about his never-never plans when action is required. He doesn't get to skip a vote, and dithering could be fatal to a lot more than his political career. When something goes badly wrong in Iraq, will Kerry stay the course, because it's important, or will he take counsel of his fears, and his party's left wing, and cut and run as soon as he decently can?

In the end, it comes down to how much risk the candidates will take. The Democratic policy on foriegn policy risk has been pretty much the same since McGovern: they won't take any. They bug out at the first sign of casualties, and go in only when the foe is so tiny that we can smash them without committing ground troops.

Kerry isn't firm and strong. Bush is. Kerry doesn't make McArdle feel safe; Bush does. Bush is of her tribe, he is in loco parentis, and he is the only one that can make McArdle feel safe, after the trauma of 9/11, which ripped a giant hole in McArdle's perpetually adolescent assumption of invulnerability.

It's not about policy. It's not about God. It's about need and fear and want, dressed up in religious and political language. Megan's afraid of bombs, so others must die. Ross Douthat's afraid of God, so others must obey. And they don't have even the slightest idea why.

ADDED: Douthat welcomes Linker back into the tribe, as he has shown sufficient remorse.


Susan of Texas said...

I was being a tiny bit sarcastic with the nuance thing, lol.

That supreme court section was disgusting. It's no skin off her nose if poor women can't have an abortion, she's against Roe v Wade, yet can't call herself anti-abortion because that's for Midwestern church women in tacky dresses, metaphorically speaking.


Anonymous said...

I love how she'd be all benevolently for charities that raise money to help poor women travel to other states that allow abortions, as if applying for grants, taking time off of your job to travel and leaving other responsibilities behind because you don't have access within 20 miles aren't constraints in their own right. Could she be more clueless?

Susan of Texas said...

Nope. Of course she also ignores time constraints designed to make it even harder.