September 8, 2001
On March 15, 2001, I read a piece by The Diva, at her website,
The Bush Brothers Banana Republic, entitled "Republicans
are from Mars, Democrats are from Venus" - a clever play
on a recent hugely popular book (one that I have never read,
I might add, but through cultural osmosis, one whose central
thesis I have absorbed, though I remain somewhat skeptical
about). It started me thinking about some of the other yin/yang
dualities of our country's competing political philosophies.
Venus, goddess of Love - I think that anyone who is familiar
with the emotion of love, in any of it's manifestations, will
agree that it is, at it's core, a positive act, an act of
creation. And not just in the narrow sense of "procreation",
although that's the biological part of it. A person in love
will spend an inordinate amount of time and effort thinking
of, and doing things, to please their lovers. A loving couple
creates an intricate emotional structure that both nurtures
and comforts, for mutual benefit. A child in a loving environment
will scribble, crayon, draw, paint, and make any manner of
objects to prove their love. See my refrigerator door on any
given day! I could go on and on, but poets down the ages have
described "love" far better than I could ever hope to. Just
a casual reading of the literature will confirm my point.
And we haven't even touched on why creative folk do what they
do. Painters and writers, poets and scientists, sculptors
and musicians, ask them why they do what they do, mostly for
little, if any, money or fame, and you'll eventually get to
- "I just love to do it!"
Mars, god of War - I think that we can all agree that war
is essentially a negative act, an act of destruction. There's
not too much poetry about war - there is poetry in the writings
and songs of the oppressed, the victims of war, but not much
about the act of war itself - but one could make the point
that the history of mankind is the history of war. Not a comforting
It is also no accident that artists and scientists (creative
people all) tend to be liberal in their outlook and their
politics. Which is why conservatives routinely rail against
Hollywood, and try to undercut "godless" science. Creative
people tend to be optimistic and loving. I'm going to take
a paragraph from The Diva's Mars/Venus piece - just replace
the word "liberal" with "creative people" - she said it all
so well - "Liberals believe the best is yet to be. Liberals
look to the future. We want progress. We see the arc of progress,
see what we have gained, and want to extend that arc. We think
progress hasn't gone far enough, and needs to go further.
Liberals are committed to a new and better tomorrow."
To further understand this Venus/Mars, liberal/conservative,
creative/destructive polarity I am going to refer to Erich
Fromm, and his 1955 book, "The Sane Society", from which all
the following quotes are taken. The book is an answer to Freud's
"Civilization and It's Discontents" and he essentially puts
western civilization "on the couch". This is by necessity
an extremely abbreviated account of his thesis. If you want
to know more, I recommend getting a hold of the book. The
passing of 45 years has not diminished the power of his insights!
In the book he argues that these extremes are rooted in the
same impulse, the need to transcend our human condition -
the knowledge of our separateness, of the accidental nature
of our existence, and of it's limited time span. Alone among
all the creatures of the earth, we know that there was a time
when we didn't exist, and that there will be a time when we
won't exist. We also understand that our lives were created
by others, and that we too can create life! And so the act
of creation, and not just making babies, allows us to transcend
ourselves. "Man - man and woman - can create by planting seeds,
by producing material objects, by creating art, by creating
ideas, by loving one another. In the act of creation man transcends
himself as a creature, raises himself beyond the passivity
and accidentalness of his existence into the realm of purposefulness
But "There is another answer to this need for transcendence:
If I can't create life, I can destroy it. To destroy life
makes me also transcend it." "Thus, the ultimate choice for
man...is to create or destroy, to love or to hate." And this
is important, "Creation and destruction, love and hate, are
not just two instincts which exist independently. They are
both answers to the same need for transcendence..." This view,
unfortunately, does not favor the current liberal contention
that all people are essentially good.
People from Mars (to get back to the original analogy) are
not just good people with bad ideas, they are operating from
a completely different world view, and not very likely to
be persuaded by listening to our "side of the story". As The
Diva wrote, "Liberals, empathic beings that we are, tend to
project our own values onto conservatives. Liberals say things
like, "they're just ignorant," "they were brought up to believe
that," or "they just don't know any better." We imagine that
if we could just present the facts to them, if they could
just see the truth, then they would change their minds, and
be just like us. Don't kid yourself." The scientist/author,
Dr. Charles Pellegrino, once asked the entomologist and behavioral
scientist Edward O. Wilson "...what childhood events he thought
could create a Jim Jones or a Saddam Hussein...Wilson raised
the possibility...that some people simply are "born rotten"."
This is a hard fact that we liberals, and the Democratic
party, need to understand, and it explains why conservatives
just seem to hate us more than we do them.
Fromm also argues that there is a basic need to unite with
others, to become part of something larger than oneself, as
another way to achieve transcendence. There are several ways
to do this, "Man can attempt to become one with the world
by submission to a person, to a group, to an institution,
to God." "Another possibility of overcoming separateness lies
in the opposite direction: man can try to unite himself with
the world by having power over it, by making others part of
himself, and thus transcending his individual existence by
domination." But there is another way, "...and this is love.
Love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself,
under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity
of one's own self."
Now before I get accused of trying to replay the summer
of '67, let me just try to get at the crux of Fromm's argument
in the context of our present discussion. The only way to
overcome the knowledge of our accidental being, our aloneness,
and our mortality, is through transcending our human condition.
And there are two distinctly different ways to achieve this,
and in the end, after slogging through Erich Fromm's book
again this weekend (this is not a "light" read), it boils
down to central polarities (optimism/pessimism, creation/destruction,
love/hate, individuality/conformity - and the popular metaphor
that The Diva used - Venus/Mars) that for the sake of this
discussion I'll refer to as liberal/conservative.
I think that we can use this analysis to have a better understanding
of how our opponents operate, and to shed some light on some
of their inexplicable, annoying, and somewhat dangerous behavior,
and why we are sometimes at a disadvantage when confronting
First off, the average person with hard core liberal political
views comes to this position through their life experience,
an active life I might add. An evolving life, filled with
questions, filled with testing perceptions against reality,
filled with changes and modifications when premises or conclusions
proved erroneous. Their liberal views have been tested, and
they have endured. But their political life is just a part
of their total life, not the first thing they would use to
describe themselves in 25 words or less, because their personalities
are multifaceted and integrated (or at least, that's the goal,
and they work at it!). For the typical hard core conservative,
however, their political views are a central operating principal
in their life! Conservatism is something that they "belong"
to, and they probably "belong" to several other things that
all reinforce their world view. They're big "joiners."
Ask them to describe themselves, and you'll hear "conservative
Republican." member of (right wing organization of your
choice), and (religion), before the 25 word limit is up. And
they accept the ideas of their leaders, be it from podium
or pulpit, pretty much without question, and compete vigorously
with others in the group to prove that they really, really
belong. Mob psychology is a fascinating area of research,
and I fear that we may witness spectacles rivaling Albert
Speer's work before the next four years are up.
With their whole self esteem and identity balanced so precariously
on a value system that they've never questioned (nor want
to), one can easily see their hostility to anything that questions
that foundation. It is discomforting for them to entertain
different view points, and indeed, they are ill equipped to
do so. Having surrendered independent thought for group thought
they are more concerned with fitting in than speaking out
- unless it's reciting rote condemnations of liberals, of
course! Unfortunately, this makes them more single minded
and tenacious, it's no accident that the House and Senate
republicans vote in almost lock step. It's no accident that
liberals have no equivalent of the Federalist Society, or
the myriad conservative "think tanks". Talking points and
staying on message are their specialties, they are "control
The current fraudulent administration's obsession with tightly
scripted photo-ops where real people, and real dissent, are
kept at a distance, is a case in point - they abhor the randomness
and chaos of real life - and don't you dare let a cell phone
go off unexpectedly! They don't live in the moment but only
in their illusions, if it's not in the script it doesn't exist.
They are but actors in their own lives and they don't even
know it. I am reminded of a very common "cubicle" anthem -
"A neat desk is a sign of a sick mind!"
This reliance on group think also explains conservative
talk radio and TV. Now a liberal may be all too willing to
tell you what they themselves think, sometimes ad nauseum,
but they'll usually end with "Well, what's your opinion?",
or something like that. Liberals are loathe to tell someone
else how to think, because they acknowledge that they may
not have all the answers, and are genuinely more interested
in hearing differing opinions, on the chance that they might
in fact learn something.
A conservative radio talk show, on the other hand, is an
endless parade of lost souls endlessly agreeing with the host
(their leader) and themselves (the followers). Any dissent,
however trivial, is mocked and scorned with viciousness and
cruelty at least once every half hour - it is entertainment
you know! As much as liberals avoid telling others how to
think, they bristle at the thought of being told how to think.
There are few, if any, liberal "ditto-heads". Liberals argue
amongst themselves endlessly, often over obscure minor points
of difference. Sometimes it seems that liberals argue just
for the sake of arguing. Or as my parents would say when trying
to dismiss my endless adolescent "debates" on anything, "You
just love the sound of your own voice!"
In fact, the endless debates over obscure minor points of
difference is at the heart of what we call science. Defending
your ideas, beliefs, and opinions against others may be to
some an interesting intellectual game, but it is how the human
species advances it's understanding of the universe - it's
how we know that there even IS a universe - and our place
in it. But as we liberals, not to mention the scientific community,
argue amongst ourselves, the conservatives continue their
relentless, single minded march. The fight against Darwin,
and the "theory" of evolution is a case in point - science
calls it a "theory" because it is still a work in progress.
Science readily admits that there is much that is not understood.
But when "biblical literalism" challenges the "theory" and
comes up empty, conservatives come up with "creation science".
When that also fails under scientific scrutiny, they come
up with "intelligent design". This too will fail, as all theory's
that start with "conclusions" that work back to a "premise"
must, but this will not end the matter. Conservatives will
concoct another quasi-scientific theory, and then another,
and then another...
Now, back to conservatives, group think, and ditto-heads.
Group think, by definition, requires two elements to succeed
- leaders and followers, and a commonly agreed upon enemy,
and the current conservative movement has both elements in
abundance. The dynamics of most, if not all, conservative
radio talk shows illustrates the full breathtaking illogic
and perversity of group think.
The Hosts (the leaders) need to dominate others for their
sense of self worth, and ditto-heads (the followers) need
to submit to the will of a leader for theirs. The barely concealed
contempt that the host displays for his "flock," and by extension,
for himself - for who could take pride in being worshipped
by people whom you don't respect - and the abject self-loathing
and low self esteem of the "callers", who seem to take pride
in their "ditto-head" status, and the condescending attention
paid to them by their Leader (I suppose that negative attention
is better than no attention at all), is a marvel to behold.
("See the glory of The Royal Scam" - Steely Dan) But what
can hold together this obscene embrace - this perverse dance
of unacknowledged wants, unspoken needs, unnamed fears, and
unspeakable hatred - together in the face of all the internal
forces that should, and would, break it apart if not for it's
existence - and it must exist, even if it has to be manufactured
- The Enemy! And who, precisely, is The Enemy? If you have
been reading this up to this point, I think that it's safe
to ask you to look in the mirror, for it's you, it's me, it's
Some excerpts from Mark Crispin Miller in "The Bush Dyslexicon"
illustrate this point, and how this led to the utter debasement
of the "democratic" values that conservatives claim to hold
so dear - "Although it has partial precedents in U.S. history,
the Rehnquist putsch was something new. First of all, it was
effected by a GOP that is not only dominated by the super-rich...but
managed by a host of vengeful ultrarightists...Each of those
angry factions is forced forward by a toxic memory, or illusion,
of defeat. What has now made them all especially dangerous,...is...the
fall of Soviet communism. We cannot afford to underestimate
the trauma - or ignore the consequences - of that disappearance...the
whole bureaucracy of national security is still in place,
but lacks a global enemy to justify its appetite. That system
needs a state of war...And yet the need is not only material
but psychological...Fifty years of mass mobilization left
this country with a boiling residue of paranoid anxiety that,
now lacking any foreign object, had to find some other focus.
That need was more than answered by the born-again Republicans,
who swiftly turned their wrath on Washington itself, the Democrats,
"the liberals"..." - liberals, US!
Now, after having played with these thoughts, on and off,
for the last five months - five months in which I have gone
out every morning to pick up the copy of the NY Times that
is laying on my front lawn thinking "What news or fawning
suck-up piece by Frank Bruni will fuel my outrage today?"
- what, if any, conclusions have I come to? Well, I have come
to several conclusions, and most of them are not comforting.
First off, with conservatives controlling most of the levers
of power in DC, including the "all-powerful, all-knowing,
all-seeing" Supreme Court, and most all of the major
broadcast and print media in the country (working in concert
with the conservative propaganda machine), and all of this
funded by the wealthiest and most rapacious corporate entities
in world history - and now having some understanding of their
mind-set - I unfortunately have to conclude that it will be
very difficult, not impossible mind you, but really extremely
difficult, to dislodge them from their positions of power.
Let's face it, they have dared to openly subvert our nation's
democratic institutions, with nary a peep from the media -
they own it - and succeeded, and with no obvious negative
side effects. The schoolyard bully, absent any serious challenge,
grows even more bold in his behavior. Count on them to protect
their positions of power with an even more ruthless stance
than they used in stealing the election in the first place!
Read up on the history of the Third Reich to anticipate what
may be coming next - you just know that they have already
done so, and are modeling their strategy along those lines
- it's worked so far, hasn't it?
And should we be able to "throw the rascals out", we would
still have the rabid right-wing anti-democratic power structure
in place - the Federalist Society, the "think tanks", the
right wing media - going into overdrive on the "Clinton Scandal"
playbook with whoever ousts the Chimp. Dubya could lose in
a landslide, but I guarantee that they will not "get over
There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful that this aberrant
chapter in our nation's history can be reversed, not the least
of which is the fact that despite all the money, all the hype,
all the spin, and all the dirty tricks that the conservatives
used to win the 2000 election with at least a veneer of legitimacy,
Al Gore won by a half a million votes, and it took an illegal
act by the Supreme Court to insure a conservative victory.
Add to Gore's winning margin the 3 million Nader votes, and
it is plain to see that the majority of this country is clearly
to the left of the current fraudulent administration. Had
we liberals not diluted our majority status with arguing over
our differences, we would not be having this conversation
- another example of how the liberal inclination for individuality
sometimes leaves us vulnerable to our conservative opposition's
reliance on singled minded "group think."
Having said that, it is imperative that we not lose sight
of this simple fact - there is no rule in the universe that
says that good will always, or ever, triumph over evil. It
is not enough to sit back, complacent in the knowledge that
ours is a righteous cause, and that the truth will prevail
in the end. Reality is not a Disney movie, and sometimes the
good guys lose. The universe, to put it bluntly, doesn't give
a damn! (And God - he, she or it - doesn't seem to care much
either.) Life and consciousness, which I think we can all
agree are good things, happen wherever and whenever conditions
permit. Mass extinctions from comet or asteroid collisions,
which I think we can all agree are bad things, have nonetheless
happened several times in the history of our planet. So there
is no law precluding somewhat rational beings from rendering
their planet useless, and extincting themselves, due to an
inability to transcend their animal instincts.
If the universe is indifferent to the survival of life or
consciousness, then it stands to reason that it is utterly
indifferent to how life evolves, or the manner in which conscious
beings order their affairs. One can look at human history
prior to the formation of the United States as the record
of evil triumphing over good, of "might" beating "right".
It is with the forming of our country that the human race
finally started to experiment with the idea of replacing brute
force with human reason, as a way to form a government. It
was humankind's first step towards having "right" replacing
"might" as the central organizing principle of a human society.
Not that it was perfect to begin with, but over time our country
added more guarantees that "right" would at least have a fighting
chance against "might". And I don't want to minimize the pain
and bloodshed that accompanied each and every advance that
"good" made over "evil", but for the most part (with the exception
of our Civil War - how's that for a misnomer - civil?) it
happened without the kind of barbarity that was, and still
is, the norm for a large portion of humanity. And in this
past century, our country was the primary force (the "good")
that halted the advance of totalitarian "evils" that threatened
a large part of our planet. It is no exaggeration to say that
the United States was the greatest force for "good" that the
human race has ever known.
The kicker in that last sentence is the deliberate use of
the past tense verb - "was" - for no longer is our country
able to claim our proud heritage of mankind's best hope. We
are in fact now the world's greatest nightmare - an unopposed
global superpower run by gangsters. At the moment of this
country's unparalleled, unprecedented, and unchallenged ascendancy
on the world stage as the planet's primary political, economic,
and cultural power, we have been taken over by the bad guys,
and the rest of the world knows it. Past tyrants could have
only dreamed of having the kind of power that our current
tyrants now possess. That the United States' preeminence in
world affairs is a result of our use of "right" over "might"
is an irony that seems to have escaped them, but there is
nothing in that fact, nor in history, to suggest that this
noble experiment in human freedom must, by necessity, by virtue
of us once being the "good guys," survive.
The attempt to restore democracy in our country, hard as
it will be, means more than just being able to be able to
live our lives in the pursuit of our own happiness - wherever
that may take us as individuals - it means more than just
watching our 401k plans grow, it means more than even watching
our children and grandchildren grow in a country that actively
tries to encourage the best that the human spirit has to offer,
it means preserving for humankind a working model for transcending
the more base aspects of our flawed, human nature. We have
the ghosts of patriots past, and the judgment of future generations
awaiting our response. With "Earth in the Balance," we
can not, we must not fail to try. Or to win.