by Douglas Rushkoff
I felt a bit nauseous watching the Republican convention last night. I’m very much a give-the-benefit-of-the-doubt kind of guy, so I try to listen to the arguments people make even when they’re made in over-the-top or patronizing ways. Sometimes it’s good to distinguish between the rhetorical devices and the underlying substance. Even people who use manipulative language sometimes have an important point beneath their persuasion techniques (ads against smoking, for example).
I usually don’t feel uneasy when I put those filters on, but last night - during the Guiliani speech - I realized I was no longer filtering a speechwriter’s intentional manipulation; I was trying to look beyond real hate. These folks were gritting their teeth, shaking their fists, and smiling the way gladiators do when going into combat against barbarians. And this is the incumbent party. The ones currently in power.
What is it they hate? Guiliani and Palin both made it pretty clear: community organizing. Community organizing is energized from below. From the periphery. It is the direction and facilitation of mass energy towards productive and cooperative ends. It is about replacing conflict with collaboration. It is the opposite of war; it is peace.
Last night, the Republican Convention made it clear they prefer war. They see the world as a dangerous and terrible place. Like the fascist leaders satirized in Starship Troopers, they say they believe it is better to be on the offensive, taking the war to the people who might wish us harm than playing defense. It is better to be an international aggressor - a bulldog with lipstick - than led by the misguided notion that attacking people itself makes the world a more dangerous place.
In their attack on community organizing - a word combination they pretended they didn’t know what it meant - Giuliani and Palin revealed their refusal to acknowledge the kinds of bottom-up processes through which our society was built, and through which local communities can begin to assert some authority over their schools, environments, and economies. Without organized communities, you don’t get the reduction in centralized government the Republicans pretend to be arguing for. In their view, community organizing as, at best, equivalent to disruptive and unpredictable Al Qaeda activity.
But it actually goes deeper than this. Consider how Republicans have so far justified their choice of candidate: he is a “great man.” That America needs a “hero” in the White House to lead us in continued preemptive strikes against Bin Laden in Iraq (I know Bin Laden is not in Iraq, but Giuliani clearly implied he was). Only a leader with McCain’s war record and paternal qualifications can help Americans muster and maintain the tenacity necessary to “drill baby drill,” (even though this will have no influence on oil price or supply) and generate the requisite hate to “kill baby, kill.” As I explained in Coercion, having a parent figure on whom to transfer authority allows people to regress to a more childlike state. This not only allows them to feel safe; if gives them the freedom to express their rage. Make no mistake - that’s what we’re witnessing. And this rage - not America - is the greatest threat to humanity’s long-term chances for survival.
Republican party representatives are proud today that their convention has finally produced the “same level of energy and enthusiasm” as the DNC’s last week. And while it may have produced the same level of excitement, the excitement was of a very different character. It’s much easier to get people riled up but inviting them to hate a man - particularly one who they haven’t been allowed to hate for traditional reasons. Giuliani’s job - much like his job as mayor of NYC - was to give the Republicans in attendance permission to hate Obama and the potentially intelligent society he represents. It’s not about city vs. country or educated vs. military. It’s about thought vs. violence.
In the black and white world of those committed to war as an international relations strategy, voting “present” makes no sense - especially when the Illinois legislative process is willfully misrepresented. (Voting present is a way to preserve the bill without passing it in its current state. Far from an easy out, it is the hard path - requiring further negotiation to remove earmarks and other problems.) They would prefer the simple relief of a “yes or no” world, where the evil are punished and the good rewarded. For in such a world, we get to know who the enemy is and just hate them.
I don’t believe hate is the best way to motivate people to develop long-term solutions to problems. It is a tried and tested way to motivate them to short-term support of dangerous leaders. That much is certain. But if McCain and Palin are able to rouse the national hatred they will need to actually win this election, I fear they will have unleashed a force that they will be unable to control.