Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Columnist Daniel A. Brown

Jean-Paul MaratImage via Wikipedia

Paranoia strikes deep

Violent words can lead to violent actions

We live in a bubble here in western Massachusetts. While citizens of Franklin County have been submerged in rain, tomato blight and the pros and cons of the proposed bio-mass plant, it seems as if the rest of the nation has gone stark, raving mad. Because we are lucky to reside in a part of the country where people are both educated and intelligent, you’d have to do some serious searching to find local citizens who would support the following actions and beliefs. Armed men intimidating politicians at town hall meetings. A sitting president verbally insulted as he speaks to Congress. Accusations that this same president is a Socialist, a Communist, a Nazi and a Fascist, an illegal alien, a Muslim and, not least of all, the Anti-Christ who will surrender the United States to the New World Order (remember that?).

All this over health care?

Obviously, none of this has anything to do with reforming the American health care system. That would be as nonsensical as an ocean of volcanic hatred generated by reworking your car insurance policy. What is happening now is what historically occurs during times of economic stress when too many people feel frightened and powerless to have any control over their own lives. It explains why the civilized, intelligent and industrious German people could turn into a nation of monsters during the years of the Third Reich. Adolph Hitler was nearly washed up until the Great Depression hit and he was able to ride the subsequent wave of anger and helplessness into power, designating scapegoats while appealing to a malignant form of patriotism. Were he alive today, he’d have his own radio talk show and a page on Facebook.

There is little logic on display here and (after finding out the hard way on the Internet); I’ve learned that there are few venues for rational discussion. Like brainwashed cultists, members of extreme political ideologies divide the world into Traitors and True Believers and facts are mostly an impediment to rants. What is frightening is that people like this are willing to hold contradictions as truths and believe things that a smart 5th grader would laugh at. You know them by now: “Death Panels” to kill Granny; Obama brainwashing American schoolchildren to become Commies, Obama as Hitler (apparently the Nazis conquered Europe to implement the public option? Who knew?) etc. That this frenzy of lunacy and paranoia is being ignited and exploited by demagogues like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and lesser known radio screamers goes without saying.

And, yes, there is a racist component, carefully expressed in code, which is sparked by the reality of an African-American in the White House. It should not be surprising seeing that right-wing conservative ideology defended racial segregation fifty years ago and a century before that, defended slavery. But I will join my voice to fellow columnists, Gary Sanderson and Jim Culleny, in believing that it’s only a matter of time before a latter-day Timothy McVeigh comes out of the shadows and starts killing Americans in the name of anti-(liberal) government resentment. Beck, Limbaugh and company are having a grand time with all this and raking in the dough. But what they don’t seem to know (or care about) is that their crazy, irrational words are eventually going to lead to crazy, violent actions. They are reaping the whirlwind and might, too late, come to understand that their irresponsible divisiveness will have a negative effect on the country they supposedly love.

They would do well to take into account the example of Jean-Paul Marat, one of the most feared of the leaders of the French Revolution. Marat was not so much a political leader as a journalist at a time when print media was the Internet of its day in terms of its influence and effectiveness in reaching a wide audience. French revolutionary journalism was not only widespread but incendiary in ways that, by comparison, makes Beck and company sound like Grandma Moses. Their writers were out for blood, literally, and Marat’s newspaper, “The Friend of the People”, howled the loudest. And, in a viable warning to today’s hate mongers, they got their wish. Marat’s printed rantings, stoking the fear and paranoia of its contemporary citizenry, led to what was known as the September Massacres whereby mobs murdered thousands of men, women, and children being held in the Parisian prisons for no other crime than being the “Other”.

Marat justified his actions by declaring that he was expressing “The rage of the People”. Rush, Hanitty, Savage, and Beck could claim the same excuse. But Marat was no Joe the Plumber. He was a physician and scientific experimenter who spoke five languages and was once in the service of the royal family. His venom was fueled, not by political concerns, but more by the need for revenge for the years he felt ignored by the scientific establishment. Unable to gain acceptance by the status quo, he decided to turn against it with lethal consequences. One wonders how many of the inflammatory radio ranters are equally motivated by their own human weaknesses.

But what goes around come around. If you spew hatred and fear, those same energies will eventually come back to bite you (a process also known as the law of karma). Marat fell victim to his own passions by being stabbed to death by someone as nihilistically patriotic as himself. His vitriolic peers in the revolutionary news media met similar fates, often being condemned by their former supporters. I’m not wishing for violence to arrive at the doors of the current crop of rage exploiters. Instead, I am asking whether they are bringing out the best or the worst in the American people,

And, if the latter, why are they doing it?

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