Politics, Sex, Religion, and all those impolite Human Conversations...

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Location: Oaksterdam, California

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How to talk to a Right-Wingnut if you must.

In response to many of scurrilous claims by the Bush apologists, my chosen character of Scaramouche desires to meet their arguments blade in hand. To those who write racist tracts, blame the victims, say it's God punishment for iniquity, and other such blatantly non-civil comportment I will defer the rhetoric Cyrano of Rostand in capovolta.

The Rhetorical Response:
Tell us again that poverty does not matter. We loved hearing that people living on welfare really had it pretty good, that they were driving around in Cadillacs, that the poverty line had been manipulated by liberal professors to inflate the amount of money going to undeserving people who refused to get a decent job. When we worried that maybe some people really could not live on minimum wage incomes (even supplemented by what remained of the safety net), we loved being told that poverty does not matter because over time some people move out of poverty and into higher income groups. Sure, at any given time, there might be poor people, but we were happy to hear that they need not be stuck there for a terribly long time. The people who died last week because they were too poor to leave the path of disaster might have had a shot at middle class status one day. Or the kids that they might have raised might have had a shot. Maybe. Let us hear that one again. It sounded so good.

Tell us again that discussing race is a divisive ploy, that the civil rights gains of the sixties ended any real need to address lingering issues of racial disadvantage in our country. We long for the voices that told us how racial discrimination was a thing of the past, that political concerns about race were cynical attempts to create guilty consciences in innocent hearts and minds, that there is no longer institutionalized racism, that nominally color-blind laws mean that we really live in a color-blind society. Seeing the faces of the most stricken victims of the disaster, we must be reminded that racism has been defeated. We need to hear that story again.

The Historical Response:
To make the case for a strong sovereign, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), whom many consider Britain's greatest political philosopher, asked his readers to imagine what would happen in a state of nature. Without authority, he wrote, there would be a perpetual war of all against all, and the conditions of life would be "nasty, brutish, and short."

We no longer have to imagine a state of nature; in the wake of Katrina's devastation, we see one raging full force in our own country. Remove authority, and what you get is what you see: Although there exists a remarkable amount of heroic self-sacrifice and care-giving beyond dedication in New Orleans, humanity's most altruistic instincts are overwhelmed by images of looting, rape, vigilantism, starvation and death.

Responses to Katrina, like responses to Hobbes, can be divided into two broad camps. There are those who say that a state of nature reveals humanity as it really is; we are little more than animals, depraved creatures burdened by sin and self-interest and desperately in need of the firm guidance that only a deity or armed force can provide. For others, by contrast, the state of nature is a reminder of where we would be if we had not invented civilization; we are not animals driven by nature but builders of societies capable of keeping nature at bay. Reminded by anarchy of what a precious achievement civilization is, we transform examples of humans acting at their worst to do everything in power to help them act their best.

Remarkably for a society as modern as the United States, a surprising number of commentators find themselves attracted to the raw brutalities of nature revealed by Katrina. For them, the fact that so many of the victims are black is not just an accident; Africa, and by implications African-Americans, have traditionally been viewed by whites, especially by whites in the South, as one step removed from nature. The ever self-righteous pundits on Fox News find that images of black young men walking off with plasma-screen televisions are just too convenient to ignore. Humans as depraved as these barely deserve our help. "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's 7 feet under sea level," as House Speaker Dennis Hastert put it. "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."

In the state of nature, no one is responsible for you. The situation in New Orleans may look like chaos, our right-wing brethren say, but in reality it is not that different from a market economy in which everyone is responsible for the choices he or she makes. People may be suffering, but, as Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown put it, residents "chose not to leave the city." Left unsaid, but implicit in the idea of choice, is that we ought to be wary of extending too much help to people so unable to act in their own best interest that financial assistance is likely to be wasted on them. Of course, it is easier to choose to leave if you can afford a car, but no one ever said that fairness reigns in the state of nature.

The Passionate Response:
Republicans believe in reducing the size of the Government until it's "small enough to drown in a bathtub" in the words of Grover Norquist.

So the Republican Bush government, in charge for the last 5 years, slashes funding for FEMA and to protect New Orleans from just such an event year after year.

The Bush government fails to plan adequately for an event of this magnitude, and fails to put the resources in place with 4 day's warning before the hurricane hit.

And now the death and disease and degradation in the Gulf is the Socialists fault?

What the fuck are you talking about, Ma'm?

If it's socialist to believe that a government has the responsibility to take care of ALL it's citizens (yes, even the black ones) in the event of a massive natural disaster, then I'm as pink as the Pink Panther.

The "doctrine of personal responsibility" is conducive to three things:

1. Relieving any feelings of guilt that might occur. Example: "I'm responsible only for myself and I'm doing just fine, thank you very much! Those people dying of thirst and disease in New Orleans, they're responsible for themselves. Not my problem. Aaah, I feel so much better now."

2. Exonerating Bush and the Republican party who control all 3 branches of the US Government from any responsibility for their frequent massive fuckups, even those that cost American's lives.

3. Getting Americans to accept the idea of living in a 3rd world society where the rich don't contribute to the government and the rest of the people are left to fend for themselves with no infrastructure, no social services...

Personal Responsibility feels good though. It's positive thinking.

Do you realize how morally indefensible your position is? Would Jesus leave people to die just because they were poor? Would Jesus blame the victims of a natural disaster?

And by the way, to all the Right-Wingnuts and Spoiled Brat Libertarians, even the "I'm In It For The Haircut" Anarchists out there: the only way to prevent massive loss of life in a natural disaster is to have a government with adequate resources. If you find it acceptable, even desirable to live in a society where thousands of people who weren't self reliant enough to afford a car are left to die of neglect then please get the fuck out of my country.

I invite you to pose your version of fanciful ripostes in the comments and I will elevate them, if so deserving.

But then again...

Mayhaps 'tis the time to draw brightened steel is nigh and with a verse bring these maggoty fools to heel:
I gayly doff my beaver low,
And, freeing hand and heel,
My heavy mantle off I throw,
And I draw my polished steel;
Graceful as Phoebus, round I wheel,
Alert as Scaramouch,
A word in your ear, Sir Spark, I steal--
At the envoi's end, I touch!