Monday, November 19, 2007

Strange Truth

New! Improved! @ 19:20, 11-19

A good principle, not rightly understood, may prove as hurtful as a bad.
--Milton.

Upon returning from an air break, Democracy Now was playing Billy Holiday's haunting dirge, Strange Fruit, about lynching in the South. This was about three months ago, before the Jena Six story broke nationally. After the Duke rape hoax and the embarrassing, if consequence-free, journalistic scandal following in its wake, the new controversy must have been welcome subliminal reassurance for the faithful adherents of the standard American race narrative. Their faith shows no sign of wavering even now as (it's hard to imagine to anyone's surprise) the Jena tale as initially reported has been revealed as inaccurate, in certain key details and in summary, largely through the omission and biased credulity borne of haste with which salacious tales of white bigotry are typically met in such quarters. You know the drill.

In a court of law such a direct appeal to emotion might be forbidden as an attempt to prejudice the jury. In the court of public opinion there is, thankfully, no similar limiting authority. But in light of the general bias already evidenced in its coverage, Pacifia Radio's dramatics seem no less an attempt to generate the heat of emotion rather than the light of understanding. The overzealous lawyer taking unwarranted license has not abandoned his proper role, even as he tests the institutional framework limiting it. He is advocate, not arbiter. The journalist is expected to be a bit of both, and for the honest journalist, rare is the unambiguous tale of good and evil. And our trouble begins.
The journalist who abandons the service of journalistic integrity for service to a "higher" cause ends up serving neither. As we've seen in many Jena-style hoaxes and manufactured controversies, he often ends up serving charlatans.

The selectively credulous reporting regarding Jena has relied on an implicit assertion: that the "nooses" which set in motion the chain of events (a chain with a few dubious links, it now turns out) leading to the racial assault of the Jena Six (against the lonely Jena One) carry an emotional offense the equivalent of violence. This is the purpose of the "historical perspective" hurried out by Pacifica Radio well before the achievement of an accurate current perspective. It's worth asking how we've arrived at this place.

As actual bigotry fades and the trope of "institutional racism" comes to rely on increasingly fanciful logic that fewer and fewer take seriously, earnest reporters are unmoved by the prospect of merely reporting the ambiguous, distasteful truth--truth that in some cases seems certain to bring the same charges of "racism" that they have been trafficking in so successfully for so long.

The media conflates racism, a broad, confused concept, with bigotry, hatred for a class, race, or creed, and, taking their cues from social theorists, accepts as an article of faith that racism can only originate within a majority community, leaving itself unable to recognize the high levels of bigotry in minority communities as anything other than a response to majority oppression.
Confronted with the casual, open bigotry of blacks for whites (and others, particularly homosexuals) that the media has spent the last generation sanctioning, coupled with violent crime statistics showing that the prospect of a white coming to harm at the hands of blacks is about ten times as likely as the reverse, and that a black person is far more likely to suffer violence at the hands of other blacks (blacks such as, of course, the Six, who will manage a bit more of it as a result of being relieved of the consequences of their most famous act of violence) than from whites, reporters can only refer back to the original article of faith, ascribing it all to white racism, aggravating black bigotry in an endless feedback loop.

Unmoored as all this is in the solid ground of reality, a superstition has been effectively created, ascribing a talismanic power to certain select images, equating this power with physical violence, and thus legitimizing, almost demanding, violent reaction to them. A young man beaten unconscious, and beaten further as he lay unconscious, is no more an offense against the peace or persons than a piece of rope--or, as we've seen, a sketch of one. Civil rights for some has become the establishment of a legal racial double standard regarding bigoted acts of violence.

The latest absurdity has played out like a slow-motion version of the War of the Worlds radio panic, and we've yet to determine its outermost limits, geographical as well as logical. Recently a storefront display in Britain came under fire for featuring headless, dark-colored mannequins suspended by chains. Here unanticipated free-riders showed up as well: relatives of persons who suffered decapitation in accidents took the opportunity to take offense at the headless dummies. The fires of self-indulgent outrage leap a break and the conflagration spreads. Like the Halloween displays that suddenly warranted national news coverage and NAACP hand-wringing, offenses are being created out of the mundane to slake our self-perpetuating thirst for outrage and recrimination.

Like the outer farcical limits that have yet to be determined, more substantive negative results are also still taking shape. When a sketch of a noose turned up on the door of a Columbia professor, the resulting student protests were prompt; an instant outpouring of conspicuous, earnest outrage.
But, seeing as the students and the school are in complete agreement, and there is presumably no pro-noose faction to counter, no racist authority to petition, to whom and for what do the students of Columbia protest? An answer might be found in a quote a student leader gave after yet another close-following copy-cat incident, involving a swastika and a Jewish professor, when he said, "we need to clean house."

Having defined the oppression as ingrained within even our most liberal institutions and seated deeply within every individual breast, today's students must march on "racist" society as a whole, effectively protesting against themselves, demanding diminished freedoms overseen by greater authority. Today's professors and administrators, the young protesters of the Sixties, march alongside, making no distinction between the protests of their youth and these of their maturity; they believe they are on the same long march they began those many years ago. Looking back, we see the line of progression from yesterday's youthful protests against authority to today's youthful protests against the lack of authority is a short, straight line on the political/time continuum.

The parallel to be drawn between this movement toward greater authority and zeal in rooting out impurity and another, falsely opposite, can be illuminating. Borrowing certain assumptions and a great many methods, today's anti-racist crusaders share a great deal with the right-nationalist movement exemplified by Fox News.

For each of these movements, it's enough to expose someone as a skeptic to silence him, hence the personality-driven methods. For both there is virtually no debate on a broad number of assumptions and it is usually enough to discredit an individual by creating a "gaffe", exposing (what are oftentimes private) demonstrations of impurity of thought. The point is not to ascertain the truth, much less test assumptions, but to continually broaden that part of the narrative that is sacrosanct, so that the narrative expands and crowds out its competition like an expanding ink-blot.
Both have been remarkably effective, and each has managed to discredit wide swaths of potential public speech. But reality and human nature remain, hence the mind-jarring divide between the way the American public views American foreign policy and the way the world does, for one instance, and the yawning gulf between acceptable public speech regarding race and widely held private opinion, for another.

For the rightists patriotism is the faith. The slightest skepticism toward American behavior is seen as heretical, mad, pathological. Just as it is that for our egalitarian crusaders any skepticism toward the standard race narrative or the principle of absolute biological racial equality is morally unacceptable, for the crusaders of American exceptionalism the very sentiment "anti-Americanism" is to be fought to the death, not only here at home with calumny and vitriol, but abroad, with bombs and guns. Hence terms like "global war on terror" and "the battle of ideas"; war to be waged not just with that small hard-core of jihadi terrorists, but with anti-American sentiment itself. Entire nations are deemed enemies because polls show widespread popular resentment of America. The remedies,--invasions, occupations, "regime change," proxy wars, propped-up dictators--ensure the disease will metastasize. The largely unexamined, mad notion behind the war on terror is that we must root out every terrorist and win over every heart and mind.

Thus the hyper-patriot movement cites the existence of anti-Americanism anywhere as equivalent to anti-Americanism everywhere, and proof of the necessity of redoubling our efforts. We are not safe until our enemies are none. It is of course a recipe for endless conflict.

Our hyper-eglaitarians are posessed of a similar fervor. Having decided that the presence of "racism" anywhere constitutes its presence everywhere, today's "civil rights" demonstrators have decided they too will attrit the enemy down to the last man, and, like their rightist brethren, their ideology and methods ensure they will never run out of enemies.

1 comment:

Brent Lane said...

Thus the hyper-patriot movement cites the existence of anti-Americanism anywhere as equivalent to anti-Americanism everywhere, and proof of the necessity of redoubling our efforts. We are not safe until our enemies are none. It is of course a recipe for endless conflict.

For some strange reason this statement reminded me of the following exchange in one of the countless Republican Presidential debates:

MR. HUCKABEE: Congressman, we are one nation. We can’t be divided. We have to be one nation under God. That means if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, not the divided states of America. (Cheers.)

REP. PAUL: No. When we make a mistake — (interrupted by applause) — when we make a mistake, it is the obligation of the people through their representatives to correct the mistake, not to continue the mistake! (Cheers, applause.)

MR. HUCKABEE: And that’s what we do on the floor of the –

REP. PAUL: No! We’ve dug a hole for ourselves and we dug a hole for our party! We’re losing elections and we’re going down next year if we don’t change it, and it has all to do with foreign policy, and we have to wake up to this fact.

MR. HUCKABEE: Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor, and that is more important to the Republican Party.

Paul is the only candidate in EITHER party who seems at least unlikely to fall prey to "anti-Americanism" paranoia so perfectly embodied in Huckabee.