Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Paranoia strikes deep"

It is a notorious fact that the Monarchs of Europe and the Pope of Rome are at this very moment plotting our destruction and threatening the extinction of our political, civil, and religious institutions. We have the best reasons for believing that corruption has found its way into our Executive Chamber, and that our Executive head is tainted with the infectious venom of Catholicism.…The Pope has recently sent his ambassador of state to this country on a secret commission, the effect of which is an extraordinary boldness of the Catholic church throughout the United States.…These minions of the Pope are boldly insulting our Senators; reprimanding our Statesmen; propagating the adulterous union of Church and State; abusing with foul calumny all governments but Catholic, and spewing out the bitterest execrations on all Protestantism. The Catholics in the United States receive from abroad more than $200,000 annually for the propagation of their creed. Add to this the vast revenues collected here.…
That language is dated only because of the subject matter. Alter it slightly, you could read it today, or hear it spouted by James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or Rush Limbaugh. Change "Catholic" to "fundamentalist," and leave in references to the Pope, and it could be a post or a comment from almost anywhere in left blogistan. In fact, it comes from Texas, in 1855. For a bit of historical perspective, a year earlier Soren Kierkegaard had published his articles proclaiming the end of "Christendom." History is full of such ironies.

So when I say I've seen this movie before, and I know how it ends, I mean it. And it isn't a sentiment relegated to the 19th century, or just curiously echoed in the 21st. Hofstadter points out that:

Anti-Catholicism has always been the pornography of the Puritan. Whereas the anti-Masons had envisaged drinking bouts and had entertained themselves with sado-masochistic fantasies about the actual enforcement of grisly Masonic oaths,* the anti-Catholics invented an immense lore about libertine priests, the confessional as an opportunity for seduction, licentious convents and monasteries. Probably the most widely read contemporary book in the United States before Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a work supposedly written by one Maria Monk, entitled Awful Disclosures, which appeared in 1836. The author, who purported to have escaped from the Hotel Dieu nunnery in Montreal after five years there as novice and nun, reported her convent life in elaborate and circumstantial detail. She reported having been told by the Mother Superior that she must “obey the priests in all things”; to her “utter astonishment and horror,” she soon found what the nature of such obedience was. Infants born of convent liaisons were baptized and then killed, she said, so that they might ascend at once to heaven. Her book, hotly attacked and defended , continued to be read and believed even after her mother gave testimony that Maria had been somewhat addled ever since childhood after she had rammed a pencil into her head. Maria died in prison in 1849, after having been arrested in a brothel as a pickpocket.
What's interesting about that passage, to me, is that I know a man who told me, in my youth, that this was a certain truth about Catholic priests and nuns. He is a good man, and I love him dearly, but he had clearly grown up in Southern Baptist dominated Texas under the influence of Maria Monk, because he told me in all seriousness that the priests impregnated the nuns, who aborted the fetuses and buried them behind the convent walls, so no one would know. To read Hofstadter's essay, such sentiments seem to be almost part and parcel of American history, as American as apple pie and the 4th of July. Certainly the paranoid style is part and parcel of the idea that the whole world revolves around the US, and is concerned with the US:

Now the reason North Korea is causing trouble is that it wants to influence the November election. As we discussed last week, Iran's doing the same thing in Iraq — ramping up the violence so Americans will turn against the Bush administration.

That is not a partisan statement. It is a fact. America's enemies are emboldened by the stalemate in Iraq and feel they can do anything they want to do. They also hate Mr. Bush and want to weaken him as much as possible.
And if you don't believe Bill O'Reilly,'re already a dupe:

Remember, these are the bad people. America is not causing the problem. North Korea and Iran are causing the problem.

Now if you don't get that, there's nothing you can take from this broadcast. If you feel the USA is the problem in the world, you are firmly in the secular progressive camp.
It's the simple calculus of the "other," the enemy that is every other person than you. But that phenomenon is not limited to the right wing in America:

In the history of the United States one find it, for example, in the anti-Masonic movement, the nativist and anti-Catholic movement, in certain spokesmen of abolitionism who regarded the United States as being in the grip of a slaveholders’ conspiracy, in many alarmists about the Mormons, in some Greenback and Populist writers who constructed a great conspiracy of international bankers, in the exposure of a munitions makers’ conspiracy of World War I, in the popular left-wing press, in the contemporary American right wing, and on both sides of the race controversy today, among White Citizens’ Councils and Black Muslims.
I was listening to "Uprising" today, and they did a story on the documentary about the Jesus Camp. The host of "Uprising" was genuinely shocked and disturbed by the film, considering some parts of it tantamount to child abuse. (Interestingly, when she made that comment, the filmmaker she was interviewing said they'd never seen that kind of pressure on children in America, but had seen it in other countries. Unfortunately, she didn't elaborate.) But having grown up in East Texas, all I could think about Ms. Kolhakter's reaction was: she needs to get out of Berkley more. Nothing against Berkeley, either, but according to the filmmaker there are 100 million "evangelicals" in America. Time to learn about how the other third is living. Of course, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on the lunatic fringe(courtesy of Pastor Dan):

Voters should oust congressional Republican leaders because U.S. foreign policy is delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to a evangelical preacher trying to influence closely contested political races.

K.A. Paul railed against the war in Iraq on Sunday before a crowd of 1,000 at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, his first stop on what he hopes is a 30-city campaign.

The Houston-based preacher said he believes that the Bush administration has delayed the second coming because U.S. foreign policy has blocked Christian missionaries from working in Iraq, Iran and Syria.

"Somebody needs to say enough is enough," he said to worshippers who stood, waved and called out in support.
Especially when they are consulting with political leaders. Of course this doctrine has only been around since the 19th century (pre-millenarianism was accepted doctrine in the first three centuries of Christianitiy, and then suppressed in the Constantinian church. It reappeared in the 1830's). Having only just begun, historically speaking, it hasn't peaked yet and, in a Christian church no longer dominated by one denomination, it is not likely to go away soon.

Much of what seems peculiarly American, in fact, has its roots in the 19th century. Romanticisim taught us the importance of the individual, which of course fueld the Pietistic movement in Germany and the Great Awakening in this country which gave rise, among other things, to the Methodist Church of Wesley. That emphasis on fervor and emotional experience was the one that disturbed Ms. Kolhakter, but it's quite commonplace in evangelical circles, and in fact the parents in the documentary encourage it in their chidren so that they have a truly "inward" experience of Christ, which the parents consider more authentic. There are, indeed, more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio, and an emotional experience over ratiocination (which itself is merely the experience of reasoning) is just one of those things. Certainly I can experience reasoning, but it is far more compelling to experience strong emotions.

Which gets us back to the picture, and "bells and smells." But before we get there, take in this observation from Hofstadter:

A final characteristic of the paranoid style is related to the quality of its pedantry. One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed. Of course, there are highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow paranoids, as there are likely to be in any political tendency. But respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all but obsessively accumulates :evidence.” The difference between this “evidence” and that commonly employed by others is that it seems less a means of entering into normal political controversy than a means of warding off the profane intrusion of the secular political world. The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it.

Paranoid writing begins with certain broad defensible judgments. There was something to be said for the anti-Masons. After all, a secret society composed of influential men bound by special obligations could conceivable pose some kind of threat to the civil order in which they were suspended. There was also something to be said for the Protestant principles of individuality and freedom, as well as for the nativist desire to develop in North America a homogeneous civilization. Again, in our time an actual laxity in security allowed some Communists to find a place in governmental circles, and innumerable decisions of World War II and the Cold War could be faulted.

The higher paranoid scholarship is nothing if not coherent—in fact the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world. It is nothing if not scholarly in technique. McCarthy’s 96-page pamphlet, McCarthyism, contains no less than 313 footnote references, and Mr. Welch’s incredible assault on Eisenhower, The Politician, has one hundred pages of bibliography and notes. The entire right-wing movement of our time is a parade of experts, study groups, monographs, footnotes, and bibliographies. Sometimes the right-wing striving for scholarly depth and an inclusive world view has startling consequences: Mr. Welch, for example, has charged that the popularity of Arnold Toynbee’s historical work is the consequence of a plot on the part of Fabians, “Labour party bosses in England,” and various members of the Anglo-American “liberal establishment” to overshadow the much more truthful and illuminating work of Oswald Spengler.
I'm tempted to point out that left blogistan is as insistent on this "standard-of-proof reasoning" as any "paranoid scholar," ("Got a link for that?"), but that would be unkind (although very close to accurate, I'm afraid). Still, the interesting bit here is that no one comes to their conclusions about what is important to them by way of reason; they come to it by experience. Reason is the common parlance we use to justify our decisions and defend our conclusions. Whether your preferred religious experience is ecstatic and pentecostal, or high church "bells and smells" (I'm working my way back to the post I took this picture from), it is first the emotional experience that matters to you; the ratiocination to justify it, comes later.

Kierkegaard, in other words, was right: truth is subjective. But that's not why I brought you here. And I'll get to that "why" shortly. Blog posts weren't meant to contain this much speculation, I'm afraid.

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