Tuesday, September 14, 2010
When I read this blog post, I was reminded (again) of something that happened in my youth. It was well after Joe McCarthy’s heyday, but still, it seems apropos.
When I was a freshman in college and Richard Nixon was President, I took a sociology course which sought to address some of the harsh political events and divisive opinions which were tearing the country apart. (The term ended with the killings at Kent State and – less remembered, perhaps – at Jackson State.) Over the term, a number of guest speakers offered their understanding of what was really going on locally and nationally in what seemed to me at the time to be a poisonous political climate.
One guest to the class was a local police official who told us the communists had infiltrated civil rights and anti-war groups to turn them against America. A fellow classmate – an upperclassman who was less inclined than I to grant that persons in position of authority were informed – asked the speaker “What is a communist?” I protested that everyone knew the answer, but he insisted that the official tell us over my objections. And lo, it turned out the man was ignorant: “They’re not like us; they don’t believe in freedom like we do; they’re…” His explanation petered out embarrassingly. He had no idea what he was talking about. He was almost totally innocent of the subject. And yet he had earlier produced a political thesis with the utmost confidence, a thesis which depended mightily on the presence of communists to justify both itself and his world.
While there were and are plenty of reasonable responses to the excesses of the anti-war movement of the late 60s and early 70s, lazily blaming them on a communist boogieman was patently stupid. It only served to shut down any reasoned examination of the opposition's motives.
This is of a piece with the “Obama is a Muslim” meme we live with today. Muslim is the new brand to freak out about here in America. Muslim is the new communist. What a Muslim is will not be pinned down in the current political discourse. It has become an unfalsifiable predicate. This is because being a Muslim is simply being other than me and mine. It's those other guys, who are not on my team. Islam exists for some only as a negative idea, the negation of their tribe which is engaged in some sort of Manichean struggle for “victory,” whatever that term may mean.
In this way, lazy thinking leads to violence.