Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Narcissism of Politics

“Nowhere are prejudices more mistaken for truth, passion for reason, and invective for documentation than in politics. This is a realm, peopled only by villains or heroes, in which everything is black or white and gray is a forbidden color.” ~ John Mason Brown, Through These Men (1956)

I sometimes entertain myself with a thought experiment in which people are evolved from dogs, with their sunny, goofy, manic natures. We couldn’t be any worse than the genocidal primates we are now.

Would intelligent dogs be as narcissistic as humans, splitting things into a non-existent pure good and pure evil? I don’t know. Would they believe in the force and fraud of politics? It’s impossible to tell, because there are no intelligent, self-aware dogs.

Would dogs have a “Garden of Eden” myth in which the first thing they felt when they became self-aware was shame because they were exposed? Would they have a “Cain and Abel” myth in which murder was bought into their world because of feelings of humiliation and the desire for revenge? Who knows? We can only imagine.

Still, I just can’t imagine dogs going to war. Cats are a different story, like the Kzin in Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” series. They might do it out of pure feline carnivore meanness.

Not only is politics based on force and fraud, it is also, as Brown pointed out, based on the belief in pure good and pure evil. It’s why so many of the people who supported a buffoon like George Bush and thought he was a great President were horrified that Obama was elected to office (“He’ll destroy the United States!”) and why those who supported Obama were shocked to discover he was just a continuation of Bush, only a little worse.

When it comes to politics, the mass of people never learn, because the mass of people cannot think, only feel; they don’t follow principles, only leaders. And they are always convinced their guy is Good and his opponent is Evil.

After splitting everything into pure good and pure evil, the next step is to see yourself (meaning your political party) as the Good Guys, meaning you have to project all badness onto the other party. It’s why I encountered people who said Bush was a psychopath, or evil, or stupid – and why I encountered people who said the same thing about Obama.

In reality there’s about a dime’s worth of difference between Bush and Obama. Neither is evil, just incompetent (I am reminded of what Napoleon said: “Never attribute to evil that which can be explained by incompetence”).

I don’t think it’s particularly hard to manipulate mobs of people. Tell them they’re under attack by evil people, tell them they’re good (the way Bush said the United States was attacked for its goodness by the Evil Ones), and watch them regress into simple-minded, narcissistic infants and then march off to war.

I see as incredibly dangerous any philosophy that defines the world as good versus evil – Nazism, Communism, or, among some libertarians, Objectivism.

It’d be a far better world if politics didn’t exist. But even the existence of politics isn’t the real problem. The real problem is the narcissism of human beings and their tendency to split everything into pure good and pure evil, with the result of projecting “evil” onto people and attempting to destroy them through force.

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