The Politics of Emotional Pain and Radical Voices

“If people can’t control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.” — John Cleese

For the last 30 years or so, I’ve been a Liberal. My mother is a Liberal and instilled in me a sense of government existing to help us rather than control us. For a while in my forties, I dated a Far Left Social Activist and, by proxy, was welcomed into the fold of her crowd (her crowd included both Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorn.) The thing that surprised me at the time was that, compared to her and her friends, I was NOT as far to the left as I thought I was.

I recall a dinner party in Hyde Park. She went to go talk to some folks in the kitchen and I found myself smack in the middle of a conversation between a couple of University of Chicago Political Science professors and, at one point, I mentioned being a fan of Al Gore*. It was as if I had accidentally shit myself and didn’t realize it from the looks on their faces. Fast forward about ten minutes later and my girlfriend came rushing into the living room, aghast at my refusal to let this group of people intellectually bully me and arguing back with verve at how wrong they all were.

I sensed at that moment that perhaps the Far Left and the Far Right weren’t really all that different.

At fifty, I’m coming to some conclusions about my politicking. I’d say that for the most part, I’m a Socialist — economic policies, military control, regulation of industry and commerce, providing health care, ensuring civil rights for all citizens (not just the white dudes), and taking care of those whom the Great God Capitalism has left behind. Socially, I’m a bit more Libertarian — the government should not be able to dictate what I say, who I fuck, what I put in my body, what religion I choose to follow (or not), where I live. As much as I distrust the majority of the population, I believe the Electoral College should be abolished. I believe that the police should be supported but not militarized and should be transparently accountable to the citizenry.

At the heart of it, I’m an Idealististic Pragmatist. I try to cut through the bullshit of hypocrisy and grandstanding to see a clear version of what’s really going on (as best as a White, Straight Male can…) I’m also kind of an asshole in that I love few things more than stirring up the pot.

I grew up in Kansas in the eighties, so when I tell you I have seen the Far Right in action, you can believe the truth of it. It was the beginning of the Tea Party takeover when the GOP backed the anti-abortion activists with cash and advise in Kansas in the eighties that set the stage for Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Paul Ryan and the inevitability of Trump.

The benchmarks of the methodology of the Far Right goes something like this:

  • Fealty to a belief that often defies any reasonable expectation of compromise or collaboration.
  • An emphasis on recruitment using highly charged rhetoric.
  • Response to opposition is of a scorched Earth nature: more to destroy those who oppose them than endeavor to persuade.
  • Intense persecution complex, leveling the world around them in an Us vs. Them mentality.
  • Completely humorless about their cause and any perceived opposition or lack of ideological purity.

The Far Right figured things out very quickly by claiming their place in the Victim Status Olympiad. By inflating their emotional pain to hyperbolic levels, they could claim that by denigrating their religious beliefs, no matter how extreme, the rest of society was abusing them. This is not to say that these folks weren’t experiencing emotional pain — their core beliefs were rooted in the notion that A) human life before birth is precious and B) fucking should never be done for fun. Their inability to understand and come to grips with the fact that, while no one was having “abortion parties” ANYWHERE, the collective democracy didn’t agree with them translated into their failure to control their hurt emotions. SO…they decided to control everyone else’s behavior and the Politics of Shame (used best by both the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930’s and the War on Drugs created by Nixon to disrupt both the blacks and the anti-war activists of the late 60’s) got ramped up.

Granted, this is not to say that these angry people weren’t feeling hurt or that their emotions were invalid. Regardless of the reasons behind the emotional damage, current popular theories indicate that the only person who can truly estimate the value of hurt feelings is the person experiencing those feelings. To suggest otherwise is to fly in the face of the popularity of the Victim Status Olympiad and all its glory. Either all who claim to have PTSD from microaggressions and are harmed by being called names have a legitimate point or no one who claims it does.

Looking as objectively as possible at the Far Left, I see the benchmarks to be:

  • Fealty to a belief that often defies any reasonable expectation of compromise or collaboration.
  • An emphasis on recruitment using highly charged rhetoric.
  • Response to opposition is of a scorched Earth nature: more to destroy those who oppose them than endeavor to persuade.
  • Intense persecution complex, leveling the world around them in an Us vs. Them mentality.
  • Completely humorless about their cause and any perceived opposition or lack of ideological purity.

It doesn’t make any difference if I agree with the politics of the Far Left (if you read the blog, you know where I stand…) — the behavior is almost indistinguishable. While the Giant Unassailable Enemy of the Far Right is Secularism, Socialism and Government Regulation, the Far Left has the trifecta of White Supremacy, the Patriarchy and Heteronormative Criteria. As with the Far Right, the larger and more difficult to define and pin down in terms of blame, the better a rhetorical tool for politicking. Secularism and White Supremacy both exist but the terms are so broad and all-encompassing that the hugeness renders them meaningless except as a broad stroke propaganda piece. As in all things, the Devil is in the details.

For the record, and there are countless examples of this on this blog and my numerous posts on social media, I acknowledge my place of privilege in American Society. My privilege, however, does not negate or invalidate my critical thinking skills so when in a discussion with someone who responds to something I say with “Just another White Cisgendered Male opinion” they show themselves as an unthinking zealot and I walk away. It is no different than if I’m talking to someone on the Right and their response is “Have you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior?” Religious zeal cuts both ways.

The irony is apparent when someone so tired of having their opinion dismissed based upon a stereotypical generalization resorts to…a stereotypical generalization to dismiss someone else’s opinion. And no, this is not an argument about “reverse racism” as there is no such thing. Racism is an institutional construct that, at least in America, benefits white people. The reverse of that is NOT the stereotyping of white people. Prejudice and bigotry, however, are open to all creeds and colors. You don’t have to be in the Privileged to stereotype. You do, however, have to be perfectly in tune with all aspects of “the movement” or you will be expelled from the order, regardless of your place in the pantheon or contribution to the righteous cause.

“Social movements tend to turn on themselves in puritanical purging of anyone who falls short of moral perfection, leading to preemptive denunciations of others before one is so denounced. The witch crazes of the 17th century degenerated into such anticipatory condemnations, resulting in a veritable plethora of nonexistent sorceresses being strapped to faggots and torched. The 20th century witnessed Marxist and feminist groups undergoing similar purges as members competed for who was the purist and defenestrated those who fell below the unrealizable standard.” 
 — from
Reading Room by Michael Shermer

This puritanical purging is obviously not new but the fact that it is common in aggressive social movements — both Right and Left — indicates that we really don’t learn from history. All this information at our fingertips and yet we are all still just emotional animals screeching at each other for attention and power. In this present circumstance, the very idea of dispassionately looking at facts and utilizing critical thought has been overturned by the politics of Emotion and Belief.

“The case against intellect is founded on a set of fictional and wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly and diabolical. It is pitted against practicality, since theory is held to be opposed to practice. It is pitted against democracy, since intellect is felt to be a form of distinction that defies egalitarianism…. Once the validity of these antagonisms is accepted, then the case for intellect … is lost.” 
― Charles P. Pierce, 
Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

As has almost always been the case, it is the vast middle of all things ideological who will right the course of the Great Ship Americana. The screechy, angry folks on both sides of the aisle are there to give the rest of us things to think about. And yes, there will always be those that rise from the fringes and reek havoc and, if we at least attempt to embrace common sense and intellectual rigor, the boat won’t sink.

* I still really dig Al Gore.