Democratic Underground

Yin vs. Yang
September 8, 2001
by Robert C.

Printer-friendly version of this article Tell a friend about this article Discuss this article

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 thought.

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 and freedom."

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 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 them.

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 freaks."

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 LIBERALS!

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, 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 it," ever.

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.