Culture and Culpability

These next few months, I’m going to be focusing especially on culture and identity…because the raw bits of the several thousand pages of reading I do on that stuff is gonna have to go somewhere.

Atrios yesterday pointed out something that’ll probably be getting a lot of play in coming weeks:

Not going to place bets either way, but it will be interesting to see how wingnuttia responds to Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book. From the back cover blurb of the book which showed up in my mail today;

The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11.

There you go.

This didn’t come from nowhere, either. It’s a meme that emerged as early as…well, as early as two days after 9/11, when Jerry Falwell said,

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”

He apologized, but the die was cast – and it didn’t come from nowhere. It’s important to recognize that this isn’t just a case of crazy people being crazy, but that in a very important way, this claim – this kind of claim – is true to some people. It’s the same way of thinking that ascribes blame for the United States’ defeat in Viet Nam to the forces of the cultural left, who “undermined the will” of the country to fight, and is already doing the same regarding the debacle in Iraq.

This way of thinking is thrives both on triumphalism – the belief in the inherent rightness of the views and actions of its preferred parties and actors – and martyrdom – the belief that any episodes of failure can only be attibutable to insidious undermining forces from within. Given such a mindset, it is a short step to the next logical rhetorical strategy – eliminationist rhetoric. For if it is only insidious internal forces that stand in the way of eternal success, what option is there but to do away with those dissenters?

This is, needless to say, a dangerous and inherently anti-democratic outlook, superstitious in the extreme and not even acknowledging things like reason and empiricism (indeed, these are often the tools of the undermining forces). But it is nonetheless a major trope in contemporary American discourse, and ought to be acknowledged and addressed as such. That it is also the rantings of the vaguely mad does nothing to change the fact that it holds a powerful sway over our national conversation.

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