Perspectives: A Review of 2009
by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - December 14, 2009) The most troubling aspect of 2009 for me was the arrival of the teabaggers; the raucous, insolent, blatantly ignorant spoilers rustled up by conservative organizations to subvert the Town Hall meetings of both parties, intimidating Democrats, and subverting anything having to do with the newly elected president.
This was a ruffian sound we had heard many times before. It was there during the French Revolution before murder and mayhem brought on the Reign of Terror. It was there in the Russian Revolution with the Whites and Reds in the days of the civil war that preceded the ultimate victory of the Bolsheviks. It was there in the Depression decade when labor unions were viciously attacked by squads of hired Pinkertons brought in to rout obstreperous strikers. It is the cauldron in which dissent is smothered by the rabble so that issues cannot be mutually disputed and a kind of populist tyranny imposes itself on the general populace. It is reason destroyed by irrationality.
It was frightening to me because it represented the affirmation of the Ignorant in a manner that made a mockery of the notion of dissent. Middle-aged and elderly people who would certainly have benefited from the Obama health plan were seen tearing it to shreds, equating it with Socialism. And then there were those surly roughnecks openly exhibiting guns (which presumably were loaded) demonstrating the fact that they meant business; that no one should trifle with them -- that here were tough guys who considered themselves patriots warding off the incursion of misguided reformers who couldn't see that America was being threatened by enemies of the state and those who would defile the Constitution. And one was reminded of Samuel Johnson's warning that "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
While we're tossing around aphorisms, let me pose another. "Ignorance," said Nietzsche, "is the only sin" -- by which I think he meant that once mindless people enter into a dispute, the intellectual framework of that controversy topples like a house of cards and the moral structure that supports right-or-wrong immediately collapses. You can differ with an antagonist who shares certain basic concepts about the world you both inhabit, but you can't argue with someone who believes the world is flat and that the sun revolves around the earth.
The intrusion of ruffianism in questions regarding social values and legislative measures is more than a little frightening because we have seen disputes like these escalate into wars -- just as irrational criticism of Obama's legislative ambitions has reduced "different viewpoints" into grounds for confrontation. That is why it is difficult to ignore the bellicose critics who would transform differences of opinion into questions of good versus evil. Both sides have been guilty of going too far -- although, in my view, the Republican antagonists, backed by corporate interests and financed by ultra-conservatives, have crudely thrown shit into the game.
When one has mindless zealots like Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh conspiring against duly-elected officials on radio, television, and the stairs of the Capitol building, there is reason to be frightened. The danger emitted by zealots like those, were it to grow exponentially, could topple a government or incite a civil war. Temperatures rise to dangerous levels when discussion escalates into threats and people openly decry one another. Whatever happened to Voltaire's vow: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
The political climate created by belligerent atmospheres such as those are what killed the Scottsboro boys and one can sense them whenever dissent turns into vengeance and bigotry replaces legitimate differences of opinion. This may be a democracy on the verge of dissolution as freedom of speech itself becomes a weapon of mass destruction.
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