Sunday, April 9, 2006

Paranoia strikes Deep

Economist's View: Using Fear as a Weapon Against International Trade: "Using Fear as a Weapon Against International Trade"

The above linked post on Economist's View is about some wild-eyed, Lou Dobbs demonizing of international trade and globalization. It is hard to know whether the topic of that post is properly "free trade" or "paranoia". I am going to go with "paranoia".

Years ago, my best friend was a psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist, who was fond of saying that the first lesson at the Psychoanalytic Institute (and, remember, he really did train at one) was, "just because you are paranoid, does not mean that 'They' are not out to get you."

Paranoia is a psychological process, and its purpose is as a kind of defense against consciously unidentified fears.

Dobbs has become a spokesman for a fear that the political and economic leadership of the U.S. is not protecting the interests of the country-as-a-whole. Dobbs's version of that fear is not particularly realistic, but it derives potency from the very real facts, concerning the relationship of the elite to the poor and the middle class, and the country as a whole.

The corporate executive class, for the lack of a better term, have taken over, not only most large American corporations, but also the Federal government and almost all of the Media. The most reliable source of political campaign funds, they completely dominate one political party, and have compromised the other. And, they are quite obviously raping the country, shaping every government policy to benefit themselves. Their incomes have risen by multiples of multiples; they quite literally have taken every bit of economic growth for the last 5 years and funnelled it into their own hands. Meanwhile, unions are shrinking; pensions are disappearing, manufacturing is eroding rapidly, etc.

This is not some "grand conspiracy", but it is a powerful and effective social and political movement, which has not yet aroused any kind of effective counter-movement. The impulse to see a "grand conspiracy" a la Dobbs is, in a perverse way, a psychological defense; skeptics can dismiss out of hand the idea, for example, that Lenovo would be a conduit for Chinese spying on the U.S. State Department, and those expressing such fears, in a weird way, are seeking that kind of dismissal. The whole debate is a distraction.

One of the toughest realizations for any human being, even in adulthood, is to recognize that our parents did not always love us: that they were sometimes envious, resentful, even hateful, or just hopelessly incompetent, in the way they treated us, and, though, unconsciously, our memory of them is a touchstone of security, it is, to some extent, an unrealistic and even poisonous touchstone. It is practically a cliche to say that people, who were physically abused by their parents, often need to see that abuse as being for their own good (and, of course, they vote Republican).

Everyone takes their relationship with their parents into politics; we project our unconscious rationalizations of the parental relationship onto our relationship with the poltical elite, and especially, the President of the U.S. The variety of rationalizations, even more than abstract ideologies, mark out the spectrum of political attitudes and views. Read Mother Jones (the political magazine of a certain component of the Left), and you will immediately sense the anger against idealized parents, who failed or cheated; it is palpable, and look at the title of the magazine!

Mother Jones readers are an exception, but most people are uncomfortable with and will avoid, if they can, a clear-eyed acknowledgement that the country's elite, and particularly the President, is untrustworthy, by way of being either corrupt or incompetent. The President, George W. Bush, is both corrupt and incompetent, and in a big, big way. Bush, the first MBA President, represents and is a part of, the corporate executive class, which controls all the branches of government and all the giant business corporations. The ideological minions of that class, in the Federalist Society, are taking over the law, while their control of News Media is nearly complete. Big Energy, Big Media and Big Pharma, together, almost literally own the Republican Congress. Bush's economic policies benefit that class and its aspirants and no one else. And, if that were not enough, he's an ignorant moron, so his vision of the interests of his class is as narrow and destructive, almost as far from "enlightened", as is practical in American politics. The possibility of an enlightened elite, taking an interest in the general welfare, or the interest of the common man, is completely excluded by the leadership of this uncurious, narrow-minded man, a leadership, which reflects accurately, the dominating attitude of his chosen constituency, the have's and the have-more's.

Not so long ago, a large part of the population, deeply frightened, projected onto Bush, a "strength", "resolve" "moral clarity" etc. that was not there. In the last election, one of the best predictors of political allegiance was how pre-occupied you were with your own mortality; Rove & Co. cynically boosted Bush's poll numbers with terrorist alerts. And, it worked, despite being recognized, consciously, by at least some people in the Media. Now, we are struggling with the aftermath of that: the gradual dawning of awareness that Bush is a completely untrustworthy, incompetent, even sometimes malevolently selfish, individual. That dawning is the common theme of Katrina, of the leak controversy, of the Dubai Ports deal, of the pre-Iraq War memos, and on and on. And, it is the subtext for the immigration reform controversy as well as free trade and China relations.

The practical alternative to Bush and the Republicans -- I am referring the moderates in the Democratic Party, exemplified by the performance of President Clinton -- is, at best, weak tea. Clinton, cheerleading for education as a panacea and talking about a bridge to the 21st century, was, in my opinion, sincere, and basically right about the real economics, but not rhetorically compelling. The function of Dobbs in politics, it seems to my "paranoia", is to discredit and de-legitimate any Democratic, Clinton-like (and in my view, basically realistic) alternative to the Republicans. I am not saying Dobbs is anything but sincere, and, of course, narcissistically in love with his own persona and voice; I am cynical enough to believe he would be fired by CNN if he ever veered in a direction, which disfavored the Republicans too much.

We are approaching a very dangerous moment in American politics, when two-thirds of Americans believe the country is off "on the wrong track" as the pollsters say, and we have to cope with the daily spectacle of the naked corruption and incompetence of our leadership, and after a singularly unwise Administration has spent five years building the legal foundation for a fascist State.

I've read two very scary things in the last few days. One is the Seymour Hersh piece in the New Yorker, concerning Administration planning for a nuclear attack on Iran. The other is this brief piece:
by Deepak Chopra on the right-wing's attachment to apocalyptic thinking. Kevin Phillips, in American Theocracy, makes much the same point at greater length.

We live in scary times, and paranoia is a comparatively mild, though still irrational, coping mechanism. If you are confronted with paranoia, and inclined to dismiss or pooh-pooh the specific content, you might want to recall that that is what you are meant to do, what the paranoid individual is manipulating you into doing. The paranoid wants you to tell him that "they" are not out to get him. Cure lies in a different direction, though. The well-prepared psychiatrist tells the paranoid that "they" really are out to get him, but the tinfoil hat is not going to help, so, maybe, it is time to wake up or grow up or lay off the meth, and get real.

"Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland" is a lyric in some Paul Simon ditty, but, guess what?, it really does. The deep-seated fears of the American People that the country's ruling class cannot be trusted are like the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, waiting to fuel a giant Hurricane. They lie, like latent fuel, waiting for the Coming Perfect Storm.

No comments:

Post a Comment