Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"Hang it all, Robert Browning, there can be but one Sordello!"

"But Sordello, and my Sordello?"--Ezra Pound

Philalethes gives rise to this thought. He argues, quite rightly, that the "Left" cannot change the mind of the "Right" by way of a frontal assault. One side cannot, in other words, persuade the other side of the "error of their ways" simply by making them see things from "our point of view."

We cannot, in other words, convince "them" to be "reasonable. By their lights, they already are being reasonable.

Quite simply, the appeal of George W. Bush in the last election was through fear. He wasn't an appealing candidate, he wasn't even a reassuring candidate. But he was the candidate who played on our fears, and convinced us he understood we had something to be afraid of. Not that he would protect us from it, necessarily; but we were right: the world is a scary place, full of people who hate "us," people who want to kill us. Why? Because "they" are our enemies. "They" hate our freedom. In the end, motivation doesn't matter. 9/11 shattered our complacency and proved we cannot be too vigilant. Tom Clancy was right, and the dangers of the Cold War exploded into reality, and we almost had another Nazi Germany on our hands. Thank God for a leader who understands that threat.

Look at the voting pattern. Even "The Daily Show" understood that the places least likely to be targeted (such as "The Corn Palace") were the states that went strongest for Bush. Why? Fear. New York and California are not afraid, they are rational. But "middle America," "flyover country," receives the shocks of catastrophe in California or assaults in New York, and trembles with the aftershocks long after the coasts have shrugged it off and gone back about their business. Natural disasters middle America understands: tornadoes, droughts, floods, thunderstorms. Man-made disasters, because they never happen "here" ('here' being the area between the coasts), are therefore absolutely terrifying. Last time it was Pearl Harbor; this time it was New York City; next time it will be Omaha.

And our politics doesn't help. Gore Vidal points out that the 2004 election was about gay marriage and abortion, rather than invading foreign countries and countering terrorism in the world. In the name of fear, we have declared war on 1 billion Muslims. But middle America, snug in its coccoon between the coasts and secure in its ignorance and complacency, insists "they" started it. Ignorant of what we do in the world, who we arm, support, how and why, middle America is shocked and surprised when there is a consequence to any action. The fundamental principle of the narrative of The Iliad, that every action has its consequence, is lost on them. Theirs is is a moral universe where they are pure and innocent, and so never have to face outsized responsibility for outsized acts, because they never commit any, and they refuse to believe their government would commit any in their name. So they are easily motivated by fear. Since Harry Truman told them to fear the Russians, a country that wanted only to recover from the 20 million dead in World War II, from the depravity and cowardice of Stalin, they have been convinced to be always afraid.

We are talking, after all, about the land of the missile silos. They convinced themselves a generation ago that they were the shield against godless Communism, and they still believe horror and evil walk the earth, looking for an opening into Paradise. Homer they don't read, but Milton they took in with their mother's milk.

How do you talk to such people? How do you persuade them they are wrong?

You don't.

What, then, do you do? Let's think about that.

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