Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The pitchfork strategy

If the Right excels at anything, it's demonology. The Good Guys have never fought people: they fight images, images of pure evil that erupt into history out of nowhere. It is an article of faith, in fact, that these malign forces have no causes: they are simply there, hating our freedoms and our Way of Life--and they all look alike.

Witness the crude racialist cartoons of the Other, visual and verbal, whenever the Good Guys go to war; or the religified discourse, hellfire and all, that sprang up around the same-sex marriage issue; or the deliberate confusion of mild social reformers with Stalinists; or the ludicrous attempts at present to link "the Left" with a mediaeval, misogynist, homophobic, ossified, punitive form of Islam for whom bin Laden appears to be the current spokesman.

For quite a while, I thought the latter was merely the kind of verbal flim-flam one uses in cheap debate: an audacious and sweeping ad hominem, meant to silence opponents before they ever open their mouths. Or to knock them wildly off-course when they do: "No, I don't approve of execution by paper-shredder! No, I think that amputations for theft are an atrocity! And stoning women! And flying planes into buildings! But I thought we were here to discuss pay equity." "Sorry, time's up." That kind of thing. We've seen it before, although the rhetorical density from the Right seems to be increasing exponentially. But there's strategy here, too, if poorly-articulated.

The Right, and this needs to be said up front, is still in the driver’s seat, globally speaking, even if neo-liberal "benefits" to the Third World have by now been debunked, short-term pain has given way to long-term pain, deregulation has actually killed people, and the Invisible Hand is around too many throats to ignore any longer. Even the World Bank has its apostates now. The Right is still in power, but it's looking around wildly to shore itself up, now that its gospel of privatization and globalization is wearing a little thin.

What to do? People are starting to ask tough questions, as Zamyatin did of Lenin: "OK, I've seen the broken eggs. Now, where's that omelet of yours?" So the US administration does what it always does when it's in a jam--waves the flag and starts a war. Or two. Find the demons, wipe 'em out. Call on all the old values. Patriotism. Bigotry. Get a bunch of working people with no future into the forces to go and fight your battles for you. Commiserate with the parents. Nail down the reconstruction contracts.

But that's only half the job. Order on the home front is essential too, to keep the opposition in line once friendly voting machines have done their part. Remember, those demons are tricky. Positively supernatural. They're everywhere, not just Over There. They could be your next-door neighbour. Hell, they could be you. Their agenda is clear: Same-sex marriage. Hanging gay teenagers. Amputation. Rehabilitation. A woman's right to choose abortion. Stoning. Women's equality. Burqas. Abolishing capital punishment. Mass-murder. Peace. War. They're a sneaky bunch, and we have to be ever-vigilant.

Never mind, you can always tell the home-grown demons. They're easy to spot. There's a simple test: they're always supporters or members of a political party conservatives don’t like. They like to congregate. In the States, they're Democrats. In Canada, they're Liberals, or NDP, or Green. (To quote one of the blowflies over at Small Dead Animals, "Gulags and mild social reform are one and the same." I didn't make that up.)

The head demon has taken an Arabic name, for now. Nobody, not all the President's technology and all of his men, can seem to locate him. They can't even find his recording studio, but you know what demons are like. Meanwhile the Left--you know, the people who don't like Bush, or Stephen Harper--are hauling out the pitchforks. We hate our freedoms. We practise stoning in our spare time, waiting for The Day. Our values are the same as his. Think I'm kidding? The frantic and increasingly mad David Horowitz even wrote a book about it.

But there's strategy here, as I said. It's not a conspiracy, just a case of small minds thinking alike, and fools seldom differing. The technique to achieve it is the well-known Big Lie: just keep repeating that "the Left" is in bed with the beheaders and stoners and bombers, and people will start to question why we oppose the war in Iraq. Why we support public transit. Why we like medicare. Why we think the world is getting warmer. Why we're in favour of more social housing. Why we find Stephen Harper scary. Why we oppose tax cuts.

O tempora, o mores! Pass the horn-polish, Comrade Omar--it’s getting warm in here.

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