Thursday, 20 August 2009

False fears and invented demons

A new column from Johann Hari, considering the insanity of the American right, from the Birthers to Sarah Palin's lies about Obama's 'Death panels.' As he points out, it isn't limited to America in the 21st century:

This tendency to simply deny inconvenient facts and invent a fantasy world isn't new; it's only becoming more heightened. It ran through the Bush years like a dash of bourbon in water. When it became clear that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, the US right simply claimed they had been shipped to Syria. When the scientific evidence for man-made global warming became unanswerable, they claimed – as one Republican congressman put it – that it was "the greatest hoax in human history", and that all the world's climatologists were "liars". The American media then presents itself as an umpire between "the rival sides", as if they both had evidence behind them.

It's a shame, because there are some areas in which a conservative philosophy – reminding us of the limits of grand human schemes, and advising caution – could be a useful corrective. But that's not what these so-called "conservatives" are providing: instead, they are pumping up a hysterical fantasy that serves as a thin skin covering some raw economic interests and base prejudices. (1)

In New Zealand, of course, we have our own equivalents, as shown by Don Brash in his recent speech, where he felt it necessary to mention the "the political correctness – around race or gender – in New Zealand" (2).

When he said it, of course, Brash would have been entirely convinced that he was saying nothing but the truth, and his audience would have nodded and agreed that, yes, that damn pesjky political correctnerss was what was driving white, male, decent, hardworking New Zealanders to Australia, where a man could be a man wthout having to worry about any woman or darkie telling him what to do.

That, remember, is from Don Brash, the man who would have been king, but for the most slender of electoral margins - and he so nearly won using the same rhetoric, so it meant something to a lot of people. That the idea that Maori are enjoying some sort of special treatment is fantasy isn't important to the people who responded to Brash's message in 2005, unless you start counting the money spent on jailing a disproportionate number of Maori as some sort of racially based perk. The truth is that Maori are poorer, worse educated, live shorter lives and are more likely to die violently, either at their own hand, through misadventure or as the victims of violence.

That doesn't matter, becauswe the Brashite message tapped into some of the most visceral, atavistic emotions - racist fear of the Other, jealous protection of self interest and envy of the fantastic notions applied to Maori.

As Hari said, it is fantasy justifying "raw economic interests and base prejudices"

1 - "Republicans, religion and the triumph of unreason," by Johann Hari, published in The Independent, 19th of July, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-republicans-religion-and-the-triumph-of-unreason-1773994.html)
2 - "New Zealand's economic outlook: can we ever catch Australia?," seech delivered by Don Brash to AUT University, 30th of July, 2009. Text available online courtesy of The New Zealand Herald. (http://media.nzherald.co.nz/webcontent/document/pdf/brashspeech.pdf)

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