Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Kissing the Whip: What is wrong with the Neocon Voters?
..and in Business Week, July 30, 2001, "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."
Bush Supporter "I'm 60 years old and I've voted Republican from the very first time I could vote. And I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.''
What is wrong with these people? Their unquestioning loyalty to Bush in the face of all evidence bespeaks a sycophancy bordering on the delusional, more co-dependency than a reasoned analysis of Bush policy, or even self-interest. The relationship is reminiscent of the Woody Allen joke:
"Doc, uh, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" And the guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs."
There is widespread incredulity and frustration on the left at the willingness of some sectors of American society to seemingly vote against their own interests. But the real motivation behind this choice may lie at a deeper level of the neocon psyche.
Witnessing this phenomenon occur in Germany in the second world war, Erich Fromm, an ex-patriot German Jew, was inspired to write Escape from Freedom (published in the U.K. as The Fear of Freedom) in which he sought to address the psychological motivations behind this tendency.
Dr. C. George Boeree sums up Fromm’s view on the development and characteristics of this mindset:
Fromm's theory is a rather unique blend of Freud and Marx. Freud, of course, emphasized the unconscious, biological drives, repression, and so on. In other words, Freud postulated that our characters were determined by biology. Marx, on the other hand, saw people as determined by their society, and most especially by their economic systems.
He added to this mix of two deterministic systems something quite foreign to them: The idea of freedom. He allows people to transcend the determinisms that Freud and Marx attribute to them. In fact, Fromm makes freedom the central characteristic of human nature!
There are, Fromm points out, examples where determinism alone operates. A good example of nearly pure biological determinism, ala Freud, is animals (at least simple ones). Animals don't worry about freedom -- their instincts take care of everything. Woodchucks, for example, don't need career counseling to decide what they are going to be when they grow up: They are going to be woodchucks!
A good example of socioeconomic determinism, ala Marx, is the traditional society of the Middle Ages. Just like woodchucks, few people in the Middle Ages needed career counseling: They had fate, the Great Chain of Being, to tell them what to do. Basically, if your father was a peasant, you'd be a peasant. If your father was a king, that's what you'd become. And if you were a woman, well, there was only one role for women.
Today, we might look at life in the Middle Ages, or life as an animal, and cringe. But the fact is that the lack of freedom represented by biological or social determinism is easy. Your life has structure, meaning, there are no doubts, no cause for soul-searching, you fit in and never suffered an identity crisis.
Historically speaking, this simple, if hard, life began to get shaken up with the Renaissance. In the Renaissance, people started to see humanity as the center of the universe, instead of God. In other words, we didn't just look to the church (and other traditional establishments) for the path we were to take. Then came the Reformation, which introduced the idea of each of us being individually responsible for our own soul's salvation. And then came democratic revolutions such as the American and the French revolutions. Now all of a sudden we were supposed to govern ourselves! And then came the industrial revolution, and instead of tilling the soil or making things with our hands, we had to sell our labor in exchange for money. All of a sudden, we became employees and consumers! Then came socialist revolutions such as the Russian and the Chinese, which introduced the idea of participatory economics. You were no longer responsible only for your own well-being, but for fellow workers as well!
So, over a mere 500 years, the idea of the individual, with individual thoughts, feelings, moral conscience, freedom, and responsibility, came into being. but with individuality came isolation, alienation, and bewilderment. Freedom is a difficult thing to have, and when we can we tend to flee from it.
Fromm describes three ways in which we escape from freedom:
1. Authoritarianism. We seek to avoid freedom by fusing ourselves with others, by becoming a part of an authoritarian system like the society of the Middle Ages. There are two ways to approach this. One is to submit to the power of others, becoming passive and compliant. The other is to become an authority yourself, a person who applies structure to others. Either way, you escape your separate identity.
Fromm referred to the extreme version of authoritarianism as masochism and sadism, and points out that both feel compelled to play their separate roles, so that even the sadist, with all his apparent power over the masochist, is not free to choose his actions. But milder versions of authoritarianism are everywhere. In many classes, for example, there is an implicit contract between students and professors: Students demand structure, and the professor sticks to his notes. It seems innocuous and even natural, but this way the students avoid taking any responsibility for their learning, and the professor can avoid taking on the real issues of his field.
2. Destructiveness. Authoritarians respond to a painful existence by, in a sense, eliminating themselves: If there is no me, how can anything hurt me? But others respond to pain by striking out against the world: If I destroy the world, how can it hurt me? It is this escape from freedom that accounts for much of the indiscriminate nastiness of life -- brutality, vandalism, humiliation, vandalism, crime, terrorism....
Fromm adds that, if a person's desire to destroy is blocked by circumstances, he or she may redirect it inward. The most obvious kind of self-destructiveness is, of course, suicide. But we can also include many illnesses, drug addiction, alcoholism, even the joys of passive entertainment. He turns Freud's death instinct upside down: Self-destructiveness is frustrated destructiveness, not the other way around.
3. Automaton conformity. Authoritarians escape by hiding within an authoritarian hierarchy. But our society emphasizes equality! There is less hierarchy to hide in (though plenty remains for anyone who wants it, and some who don't). When we need to hide, we hide in our mass culture instead. When I get dressed in the morning, there are so many decisions! But I only need to look at what you are wearing, and my frustrations disappear. Or I can look at the television, which, like a horoscope, will tell me quickly and effectively what to do. If I look like, talk like, think like, feel like... everyone else in my society, then I disappear into the crowd, and I don't need to acknowledge my freedom or take responsibility. It is the horizontal counterpart to authoritarianism.
Was America more liable to fall prey to this syndrome than other Western countries? As the world’s superpower America is in a unique position. In terms of global family dynamics, every other Western country had, in America, a benign bigger brother who could intercede with the schoolyard bully. America alone has no larger, richer, better armed sibling to turn to, no security blanket, no safety net. As any eldest sibling can attest, with authority comes vulnerability. Power and insecurity go hand in hand.
With 9/11 the Bush regime was handed the favourite weapon in the Fascist armoury – fear. With fear comes the potential to foster a regressive child-like reaction amongst the susceptible, to send them running for the shelter of the greater parent, for comfort not for reason. The same instinct underlies the religiosity that the neocons exploit. Sectors of the American psyche must have already been at yellow alert before 9/11. The awful event served merely to validate their siege mentality. They will willingly sacrifice freedom for the security of an authoritarian regime, because the latter brings the freedom they really want, freedom from the responsibility and tolerance a democracy demands of its citizens. They want a parent-child relationship with the state. The emotional need for a parent figure outweighs material considerations. When they know their place in the hierarchy the world becomes a safe black and white place again. Overlooking the idiosyncrasies of the parent/president becomes simple – they have to because they need the eggs.