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Friday, April 04, 2008


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The reaction to Wright's comments are incredibly bizarre, aren't they? I realize this is not an original or insightful comment but God Damn, America, I just had to say it.

I said to a nice liberal friend campaigning for Obama, over email, that it was wrong to denounce everything his pastor said. She said these were the points of controversy:

- "America's CHICKENS..... are coming hommmmmme... to ROOST!" Saying that 9/11 was a direct consequence of America's policies abroad.
- "God Damn America." This, for many people, called into question Wright's respect for the country/patriotism.
- "US of KKK A." I think this made people concerned that the Rev. saw whites in a narrow light, and thought they were all racist.
- United States spreading AIDS to black people
- I thought there were some hints of black separatist ideology.

She didn't mention whether they were controversial to her or someone else.

What does one do with this?

cemmcs: I think the best way to understand it is this: patriotism is a religion, and what Wright said is blasphemy and heresy. The psychological mechanisms and the reactions are exactly analogous. I definitely agree that they're bizarre—but that's also just how I feel when religious types go berserk about any perceived insult to their deity of choice.

StO: That's a tough nut, and it does depend on her perspective (i.e. if it's just her own thoughts, or her perspective as an Obama campaigner having to explain Wright's views to other people). Sometimes I'll say to someone, ok, solely for the sake of argument, accept that A is true (where A is one of the numerous crimes this country has committed). And then I'll ask: given that you accept that A is true, wouldn't you be more likely to {think B, say C, suspect D, do E}? Emphasizing that they're accepting A solely for the sake of argument, of course. If they're honest, they'll say yes. (And if that goes well the next step is to explain why A is in fact true, and say that they shouldn't take your word for it but should check it out on their own.)

I've done this sometimes in situations where the person I was talking to thought lefties were motivated by nothing more than vicious, irrational hatred of the wonderful United States of America. If the person is at all thoughtful, it will at least make them see that there's a reasonable perspective on the other side of the argument, even if they may disagree strongly with it—which is an important step. So maybe you can do that with your friend about Wright.

Do you attribute this bizarre reaction solely to "patriotism"? Don't you think that racism has something to do with it?

I wonder how "patriotic" the average person really is. When you talk to people who are not politicians, pundits or part of the corporate media it does not seem as if they are all so gung ho on the idea of American Empire or a nation that is run for the benefit of a wealthy few.

Racism, however, seems a lot more pervasive.

Not solely to patriotism, but primarily. I think racism was more like an accelerant on a fire in this case.

I'd say the average person is extremely patriotic, in the usual usage of the word. There's no contradiction between that and not being gung ho about empire or rich thieves—and it's not at all unusual to hear that kind of thing when you're talking one on one with otherwise patriotic people, because the patriotism is usually reflexive and not deeply considered (again, just like religion). So those are just instances of America failing to live up to its "transcendent purpose" (Hans Morgenthau, by way of Noam Chomsky).

In looking up that quote and the context it's basically a summary of what I'm saying, so here you go:

Scholars who profess a tough-minded "realistic" outlook, scorning sentimentality and emotion, are willing to concede that the facts of history hardly illustrate the commitment of the United States to, as Hans Morgenthau puts it, its "transcendent purpose" -- "the establishment of equality in freedom in America," and indeed throughout the world, since "the arena within which the United States must defend and promote its purpose has become world-wide." But the facts are irrelevant, because, as Morgenthau hastens to explain, to adduce them is "to confound the abuse of reality with reality itself." Reality is the unachieved "national purpose" revealed by "the evidence of history as our minds reflect it," while the actual historical record is merely the abuse of reality, an insignificant artifact. The conventional understanding is therefore self-justifying, immune to external critique.

Though the sophistication of traditional theology is lacking, the similarity of themes and style is striking. It reveals the extent to which worship of the state has become a secular religion for which the intellectuals serve as priesthood. The more primitive sectors of Western culture go further, fostering forms of idolatry in which such sacred symbols as the flag become an object of forced veneration, and the state is called upon to punish any insult to them and to compel children to pledge their devotion daily, while God and State are almost indissolubly linked in public ceremony and discourse, as in James Reston's musings on our devotion to the will of the Creator. It is perhaps not surprising that such crude fanaticism rises to such an extreme in the United States, as an antidote for the unique freedom from state coercion that has been achieved by popular struggle.

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