Saturday, February 25, 2012

Beyond Hypocrisy –True Believers Becoming What They Hate


By Gary Berg-Cross

I was reminded of the hypothesis that we sometimes “become what we hate” by some recent events that are part of our national discussion in a very political season. Many of them involve some hypocritical moral stance such as religious freedom or fairness. But many of them are political. Here’s one from the whipped up voter fraud front:

"former head of the Arizona Republican Party and of the Arizona Christian Coalition....Sproul is connected with the Republican National Committee-funded voter registration organization, Voters' Outreach of America Inc." - Sproul's firm is accused of fraud and the destruction of voter registration forms.”

The article also went on to provide a backhand to Sproul, noting that he also failed to pay his workers and his office rent.

This can be looked at as the latest form of political hypocrisy. A long standing one is the claims of some conservative politicians and some fundamentalist preachers to lead a moral, family centric life and then wind up in sex scandals.

Certainly claims of hypocrisy are big sparring points in political debates. Rick Santorum defended his support for G.W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education plan and soliciting earmarks in this week's debate, claiming that Mitt Romney was a "hypocrite."I guess he's right about that. Mitt seems insincere about most things.

But as a self-proclaimed Christian, Santorum’s attack on President Obama’s Christian faith & “theology” itself seems a highly hypocritical one and un-Christian to boot:

“It's not about your job. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology....Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology. But no less a theology.”

At times it seems that the group of national conservative candidates are angrily tangled up in their own, shallow inconsistent thoughts, but happy to launch talking point attacks with hateful labels like "food stamp president." On the whole shallow, right wing conversations have helped to create irresponsibility and political impasses. The result are real messes which politicians can point to as problems and scapegoate others as responsible for them. After all the other side won't "compromise." It's all done with a underlying hatred and a sense of otherness.

Perhaps these Pols are hollow people, blinded by a cause and the need to arouse their base. But their choices can also be attributed in part to the contradictions found in what Eric Hoffer discussed as the seemingly paradoxical behavior of True Believers:

“the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause.”

Leaders of the mass movement “must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope”

“If they join the movement as full converts they are reborn to a new life in its close-knit collective body, or if attracted as sympathizers they find elements of pride, confidence and purpose….” (p. 13)

The true believer is “without wonder and hesitation.”

“An active mass movement rejects the present and centers its interest on the future.” (p. 82)

The mass movement hates independence and individualism.

The focus is on “obedience” and “one mindedness.”

“Uniformity” must be developed. (p. 101)

Our modern true believers are righteous and can’t hear themselves pontificate about the moral values they seem to be expressing in attacking “different moral values” and questioning anyone's religious faith when arguing for “religious freedom”. Much of this seems to be a phony, shallow discussion of a war on religion; while, as some note, there is a real war on women and individual rights. But another factor is that perhaps they have just adopted some aspects of what they hate.

This builds on the old idea that hate draws us into dangerous grounds. When we hate something it gives us focus. That’s something important in war, but (now) also in political campaigns. You don’t have to be Machiavelli to know that anger and hatred makes us strong and offers some protection, but also isolates us. To hate someone like Obama, or something like his affordable health care program simplifies, motivates and clarifies. Hatred provides a focus and perspective, but has obvious downsides. Religious thinkers such as Walter Wink in Engaging the Powers have described hatred as an important ingredient seducing us and transforming us as people, tribes and cultres into something else:

"The very act of hating something draws it to us. Since our hate is usually a direct response to an evil done to us, our hate almost invariably causes us to respond in the terms already laid down by the enemy. Unaware of what is happening, we turn into the very thing we oppose…..the way violence spreads by mirroring itself in its victims. In a sense it’s like a virus, infecting everyone with whom it comes into contact. It’s so invisible that no one realizes that the violence itself is the enemy; instead we use it to defeat those whom we believe to be our adversaries, little realizing that we have become the enemy. (Page 195)

Adversarial hatred has been part of many of our wars and over time we have become good at manufacturing hatred of the latest, perceived enemy. Isn't Iraq, no Iran, just like Hitler's Germany? Rene Girard suggests that the United States emerge victorious from WWII with a compromised morality and acceptance of "enermizing" things. In a sleepy protective stance we adopted, as Ike noted later, a permanent war economy and a militarized conception of national security. During the cold war the US seemed to become more militant, waging dark conflicts, backing tyrants that favor us etc. A returning John Adams might see that we have become something too much like an empire hunting monsters aboard and quietly acquiescing to torture and the degradation of parts of humanity in the name of Democracy and tolerance. Now after a Cold War we see the world in binary, moral terms with our duty to police the world protecting our idea of freedom and justice. But we have become what the core of our Founders feared with a large standing army staffed by a permanent military and when necessary involuntary conscription (e.g. the National Guard) and supplemented by private, militant armies.

Rene Girard explained such things and much of human behavior as based on “mimesis”, which is an encompassing expression of imitation. We see unconscious imitation and its the compromising effects in conflicts of all types:

“The more a tragic conflict is prolonged, the more likely it is to culminate in a violent mimesis. The resemblance between the combatants grows ever stronger until each presents a mirror image of the other.”

The consequences?

“ We have created an invisible apparatus of surveillance and espionage that seems incapable of distinguished patriotic protest from sedition, is unaccountable to public authorities, and inaugurates wars without consent of the Congress. We have increasingly come to rely on military intervention instead of diplomacy, force rather than negotiations. We are one of the major purveyors of armaments to nations all over the globe, many of whom purchase weapons at the cost of the welfare of their own people and the destabilization of their own regions.” (summarized in The Spirituality of Nonviolence: On Not Becoming What We Hate)

It is sad to contemplate the possibility that the hatreds of military conflicts now seem to have become a steady part of political culture war conversations with claims about the otherness of fellow citizens, appeal to mythic past, divisive claims our one's own rights to the exclusion of others' rights and an intolerance for honest conversation. Now questions in national debates get booed down by what seems to be True Believers with extravagant claims on the truth.Too many have become what in the light of the day they may say they hate.

1 comment:

Don Wharton said...

An excellent post Gary. Unfortunately hate is quite effective in mobilizing tribal boundaries. The secular tribe is much less effective precisely because our hate is far less than the hate of conservatives. Yes the hate distorts to a huge extent. However, if secular people had more of a feeling of hate for the madness there might be more of us willing to join the secular tribe and organize to push back.