Monday, September 21, 2009

View from a Broad - Part I: The Ignorantly Stupid

Right, here I sit, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, gearing myself up for another visit Stateside to see the friends and relatives. It's not long now until the end of October, when I'll arrive. Whilst I'd hoped to visit closer Thanksgiving because I miss that particular holiday, coming earlier has its plus points - I won't be bothered by the particularly nasty brand of British Trick-or-Treaters on Hallowe'en (the sort who sullenly hold their hands out, opened palm up, and demand the 'treat' of cold, hard cash), I'll get to vote in my state's gubernatorial election (and hopefully keep Virginia firmly in the blue fold), and I'll get to see my hero, Bill Maher, at his New York City gig, with good company in the City for a nice weekend. All that more than makes up for missing Thanksgiving, and it also saves certain relatives tut-tutting over the fact that I'm a vegan.

However, unless my mood changes pretty damned quickly, I'll be coming home angry. In fact ... I'LL BE COMING HOME MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!!!

I know that's the rallying cry of the birthers, the teabaggers, and various other ignorati, who people the far right extreme of the Dark Side, and it's they who bear most of the brunt of my anger; but they share it with their spiritual nemeses, I'm afraid. Politics really do make strange bedfellows.

I'm equally as angry with the far Left of the equation.

In fact, I've come to view the culture war that's happening now in the United States as a fierce battle for our nation's soul waged between the stupidly ignorant and the ignorantly stupid.

There's a difference.

Ignorance is lack of knowledge. Stupidity is simply lack of common sense. It's very possible to be ignorant of facts, data, literature and the world in general, but also be wise in having a general modicum of common sense. I've known several elderly Italians, who speak only their regional dialect, who can't even read or write their own vernacular, yet who have a rich folk wisdom which gets them through their daily lives.

It is also possible to have a first class graduate degree education and yet be profoundly obtuse when it comes to understanding or relating to other people, everyday events and life in general in the real world. I live in an England which is controlled by the Labour Party. I know.

Thus, it is with the extremes, Right and Left, in the United States at the moment. Chalk and cheese. Oil and vinegar.

It's a safe assumption to make (and I hate assuming) that most of the folks you saw on the Mall a couple of weekends ago, are ignorant. In fact, you'd probably be hard put to find a high school diploma amongst them. Many of the really elderly who made the trip - the Korean War veterans and their wives - probably barely made it through elementary school. A lot of these folks are from the Deep South, the Red States of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and, yes, South Carolina. Suffice it to say that the Deep South, New Orleans and Atlanta apart, is neither refined nor particularly hospitable to people they perceive to be different. Short code: It's rough. I almost married a boy from Alabama. His people held me in high suspicion solely by virtue of the fact that I was a Virginian.

A lot of these people, too, came from the sparsely populated Midwestern states, where people are few and far between; and I would imagine that the older folk from that region, too, didn't value education that highly.

So they're uneducated and most of them are religious; and a lot of the older people remember when our enemies had names like 'nazi' or 'fascist' or 'communist' ... or even 'socialist.' And it's also sad to surmise that a lot of these older people remember a time when there was a different 'social order' in the United States, but they're savvy enough to know that it's not particularly au fait to voice that they preferred this type of social order.

To paraphrase a US President, a torch has been passed to a new generation, and they're feeling left in the lurch. Many of them probably remember feeling the same way 49 years ago when the electorate put a Catholic in the Oval Office, but at least, in their uneducated minds, that President was the same colour as they ... and look what happened to him.

They're feeling lost and abandoned in a country they thought they knew, while the change around them had been too great for them to comprehend. Suffice it to say, also, that these people are rooted to their geographic location. They might take the odd vacation, but it's never that far from home and certainly not out of the country. A majority of Americans still do not possess a passport, yet suddenly, in their own country, there's a need to speak another language.

This lot are easy pickings for a media-savvy opportunist, especially one who believes his own rhetoric. When I first saw Network as a college student in the mid-Seventies, I took it for the satire it was. I never imagined I would ever see Howard Beale played out in real life in front of my eyes as the hysterical, quasi-illiterate, carpet-chewing Glenn Beck ... and I'm barely old enough to remember Oral Roberts's 'put-one-hand-on-the-radio-and-the-other-in-your-pocket' rants.

Beck and his creatures, as well as Limbaugh, have honed in on these poor people and given them a healthy disguise for their inherent racism. 'That which we would call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,' says Shakespeare, so that by which we would disguise racism would stink like a sewer, unless we call it 'socialism,' 'fascism,' 'communism.' Never mind the fact that they're listening to a pundit who's preaching the gospel of Goebbels (yes, a Nazi, a fascist!) by repeating lies, rumour and innuendo again and again with mantra-like precision until, even if they couldn't believe the things he's said, they simply must be true, because he's said them enough times for the lies, the rumour and the innuendo to spread. And never mind the fact that what they want to see done - like certain science books burned, like people denied the right to speak at certain events, like God and the Christian religion becoming a part of governmental way of life - is both fascistic and unconstitutional (and that's more than a bit ironic, considering that they're clinging to Constitutional principles, about which they know nothing.)

And they know nothing because many of them, young and old, can barely read. They only know what's told them about the Constitution, and I have a very sneaking suspicion that elementary and high schools south of the Mason Dixon Line and in remote parts of the West, big up the Founding Fathers as quasi-saints with God smiling over their shoulders. This is a secular document, written by classically educated men who were products of an 18th Century enlightenment education and who were, to a man, non-believers. If these people found this truth to be self-evident, they'd rip the Constitution up quicker than George W Bush and Karl Rove did together. They genuinely believe that the President of the United States is the Anti-Christ. They believe in the FEMA concentration camps, they believe that he's foreign, that he's not a legitimate President, they fear for him to associate with their children, and there are even a few beknighted souls who'll slit their risks on a wink from Michele Bachmann in order to make the ubiquitous blood pact for their dying country.

Jimmy Carter raised the question, regarding these people, of inherent racism. He spoke the truth as a Southern man who lives in the South. I am barely old enough to remember Jim Crow, but I know that even now there are people in my own state who find it difficult to accept that a man of colour is our Commander-in-Chief; and it pains me to say that some of those people are in my own family.

Why are they like this, the old as well as the young? After all, this is the 21st Century and people and races mix freely. The key word has to be 'inherent.' People, unfortunately, inherit attitudes from generation to generation. The British are prime examples of this. They carry their grudges through centuries. Most of the British, most of the English, dislike and mistrust the French. That dislike, believe it or not, dates from the Hundred Years' War of the Middle Ages - almost 600 years ago, passed from generation to generation. It proved itself again, with Napoleon, and again, when General DeGaulle said, non, to British entry into what became the European Union almost forty years ago. Most recently, it reared its head again, when Nicolas Sarkozy accidentally on purpose forgot to issue an invitation to Her Majesty the Queen for the 65th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day Landings.

Moving up the scale, there are some British who simply just cannot get over the American Revolution. To them, we're still recalcitrant colonials who are secretly just waiting to be asked to return to the Commonwealth in order to be guided onto better and more moralistic leanings. It took them more than 200 years, but they've only just recently admitted that the rebellious colonials were, in fact, British. (That's all we were asking at the time, but there you go ... that's the Brits - too little, too late).

And then, there are the Germans. There are still people alive who remember the London Blitz and Dunkerque. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Normandy veterans cheerfully hate the Germans. What was fought in two wars in Flanders' fields, is now played out each time the England soccer team faces the Germans or on the beaches of Mallorca when the drunken English lager louts awake to find the Germans have their towels down on the sun lounges by the pool.

And so it is with the South. Parts of it, it has to be said, just haven't got over the Civil War. That was obvious with Joe Wilson, who's a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and who lobbied for the Confederate flag to fly over the capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina. Now, pardon me - and speaking as a Southerner and a descendent of traitors (because that's what the Confederates were) - but shouldn't the Sons of Confederate Veterans be, like, you know, a traitorous organisation?

My Confederate heritage is something, unfortunately, I can't shed. I'm stuck with the fact that my great-great grandfather backed the losing horse; but he was canny enough (and probably foresightful enough) to sign the Ironclad Oath as quickly as he could after the event. After all, he had mouths to feed. I don't, however, embrace it. We lost. End of. Move on. I'm actually proud of the achievements of my state - we were the first to elect an African-American governor and we supported the current President in the last election.

I know the South is slow and loathe to change; and this dichotomy makes me think of another dichotomy presented in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. It shows the divisions within the South and the Deep South. In the book, Ashley Wilkes is the classic Southern gentleman - educated, refined, well-travelled, an intellectual. He's described as being able to drink, ride and shoot as well as any of the County boys, but his heart isn't in those pursuits. His feyness, his love of the arts, his intellect, is accounted, by his contemporaries, for the fact that his mother was a Virginian; and Virginians were supposed to value those sorts of things (for which I should be proud, I suppose). Yet at the end of the War, Ashley is weak and prone to failure. In fact, he's propped up by his his wife and his would-be lover until the end, when he's left to stand alone by the death of one and the desertion of another.

The other side of the coin is represented by Scarlett, and her character - rough-hewn with a thin veneer of elegance on the exterior and a backbone of steel, who forces her way from the abject poverty of defeat and back to hollow riches, sucking up to Yankees and all sorts along the way. This is the sort of Southerner who moved to the forefront and moved ahead, forging the way for Jim Crow and 'separate but equal'.

Yet, as I've said elsewhere, some of the most progressive social legislation has come out of the South and was formed by Southern politicians. For every Strom Thurmond, we have an Al Gore, a Bill Clinton, a Lyndon Johnson, an Ann Richards, a Molly Ivins. Like Rhett Butler, another classically educated fictitious Southerner, they're pragmatic enough to have moved on from the Antebellum and embraced and worked for positive change in the South.

I look at these people, the retrograde Southerners, and I wonder when all this foolishness is going to stop. Maybe it lay dormant for many years, but the Bush neocons are the ones who manipulated the Republican base to the forefront, with the promise of a theocracy: The base in ascendancy, consigned to the comfort of their faux religion, in bed with their guns and allowing themselves to be guided by the very sort of secular men they abhor, who profess, but don't practice a religion and who couldn't give a rat's ass about them or their condition.

Knowledge is power, but to these people, knowledge is to be feared.

And next time, I'll explain my ire with their polar opposites - the far Left, or the stupidly ignorant.

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