By Stephanie Baselice
The “liberal/conservative” divide in current culture is a division of identity not a division of actual opinion on policy. And it is fake. This divide was manufactured in the boardrooms of corporate owned media for the benefit of a tiny minority of billionaires.
The identity divide is key to keeping us all in the dark. And we are certainly living in a nearly medieval kind of dark age. You can tell this by the intolerance, the shouting, the religious content. God generally gets dragged into arguments when someone feels that there is no possibility of negotiation. For many people, God is the highest authority we can call upon when we feel our vital interests are at stake and we are not being heard. Think about that for a minute, even if you do not believe in God. The whole fear about a secular humanist progressive culture is that the ideals of secular humanism would replace God as the highest authority. So there is indeed a power struggle—who is the highest authority? For a variety of reasons, people come down on different sides of this concern. Some look at history and feel a morality based on how we treat each other, even those we disagree with is a better guide to action than basing law in ancient texts which condoned slavery and genocide. I believe the founders were among these—they built a system which allowed for different understandings of God's rules and yet still held enough authority to provide a stable society. separation of church and state is the cornerstone of this system. Even if they were all religious men (history says that they were not) they clearly saw religion as a personal guide to action, not as a foundation for particular laws. Those who would re-write our founding documents to reflect their understanding of Christian morality believe that authority must never be questioned, and that the problems of the world would be solved if everyone could be forced to abide by a single, sacred set of rules. For these people authority must be their particular understanding of God. Differences in how people see God are viewed as flaws in the thinking and faith of others.
This is indeed a deep difference in perspective. Yet the identity divide does not really leave room for most of us. Most people live in a way that cannot be squeezed into the conservative/liberal paradigm. For example: my husband's Grandfather was a conservative pillar of his deep south rural community. One of 13 children in a poor farming family, he shared a single pair of shoes with 3 of his brothers—they took turns wearing them to attend school. As a young man, he helped to organize a co-operative mill for the town to use. During WWII he served in the Navy. Having worked his adult career as an insurance agent, he knew nearly everyone in a 50 mile radius from his hometown. He spent his time in retirement divided between carrying out bank repossessions of vehicles,visiting shut ins and caring for stray animals. The bank asked him to do the repossessions because the community trusted him, and he was usually able to settle matters to everyone's relief, if not complete satisfaction. He rose early each day to catch the news from the police and EMT folks in the coffee shop, and was always ready to lend a helping hand to someone in need. He was dedicated to his family. While he was certainly a product of his twentieth century white southern culture will all the prejudices and authoritarianism one might expect, he routinely exhibited true wisdom and tolerance in his dealings with people from all walks of life. I learned a lot from him—with a twinkle in his eye he would share a story designed to allow the listener to glean good advice about a current problem. If you played him at cards you would lose. When he died, the Preacher at the Baptist Church clearly had a difficult time reconciling the obvious goodness of this man with the inescapable fact that he refused to attend Church except for weddings and funerals. If one defines morality as Church attendance, this is an intractable conundrum.
My own beloved paternal Grandfather was raised as a fundamentalist Christian in Texas—Assembly of God. He grew up in the depression, worked the CCC camps and eventually made a career in the Military. Having been away through most of his own children's youth, he showered me with love and attention, and endless patience. His understanding of Christ's teachings led him to support the civil rights movement. He was socially conservative in many ways—my Grandmother once resorted to a note from her doctor to convince him that she should be allowed to work outside the home, and even then my Grandfather refused to spend any of her earnings on family needs—they saved every penny she made. Yet he saw no inherent conflict between his exhortation for me to promise to stay home with my children until they were at least 5, and telling me a woman “must” have the right to choose whether or not to carry and bear a child. While he never shared with me how he had arrived at that conclusion, I am sure this “value” was attained through deep contemplation and prayer. Yet today, because of this particular view, he would not have been welcome in many communities that define themselves as Christian. I imagine he would have been uncomfortable with the idea of Gay Marriage, but might have preferred it to the freewheeling sexual revolution of the 70's. He valued both social stability and human rights, and I believe he would have sought a solution that expressed those both values regardless of any personal distaste for another person's sexuality.
So the conservative identity has not always been the same, yet we have allowed ourselves to be swept into fascisim about identity conflict which makes even discussing policy nearly impossible. Endless polls are trotted out, with questions framed in such a partisan fashion as to render the results meaningless. Debate has been drowned out by shouting. The saddest and most dangerous aspect of the “culture wars” is that most of the division is precipitated by a cynical over-class who use sophisticated propaganda techniques to manipulate our emotions and line their pockets with our money. We need to take back our thoughts, take back our politics from these people. We need to have our own arguments and reach our own conclusions. If conservatives are really interested in freedom, they will “Take Back America” by kicking these bastards off the air, and out of our bedrooms.
Take Fox news, for example. Their shows deal with politics directly, but outside the official political sphere, where rhetoric is occasionally vulnerable to facts. Within their target demographic, they have nearly unlimited power to influence, yet they retain plausible deniability should that influence appear damaging to their purposes. They use charismatic pundits to fire up viewers to political action, and these pundits use noisy aggression to dissuade any attempt at argument based on policy or logic. Using sophisticated propaganda techniques, they appeal to the deep unspoken desires and fears of the audience. Their news and current events shows support Fox's political agenda with a variety of slightly different approaches to cover the entire “conservative” market. Some folks care more about social issues, some about economic ones. Many are just concerned about the future. They feel something is deeply wrong in our society, and Fox jumps up quick to simultaneously validate those fears and to distract the audience from the actual underlying threats to the American Dream. “Issues” are manufactured and tied together in a fascist bundle of faux “values” that bears no relationship to the actual diversity of values held by genuine conservative people, yet hits their emotional hot-buttons with deadly accuracy. The news-like conversation has so far been very effective in simulating (not stimulating) actual discussion of news topics, while defining the terms of discussion very narrowly. They use ill-mannered, attractive, blonde women to hold court in these— like the popular girls in high school who maintained control of the group by denigrating those they did not like.
Motivation to action is a call to emotions, not reason. Fox uses pundits with the linguistic mannerisms of a good preacher, yet they don't use actual preachers directly since that would define the audience too narrowly—Real preachers can be guests on opinion shows, pulling in fringe audience members by lending their extremist gravitas to shows which seek to define themselves as reasonably mainstream. A good pundit must also be flawed enough to be relatable—a sad and painful back history complete with a powerful salvation story is essential to establish credibility with an audience who has lost so much during the transition to a globally competitive economy. Faux conservative pundits and politicians must be cynical and self-serving enough to be manageable. They manipulate the audience from behind the “shield” of “godliness”.
Fox knows that the actual religious values of folks can get in the way of their owner's financial interests—ie: Liberation Theology of Latin America, or theAbolitionist Movement. Such sweeping social change has ultimately ruined the livelihoods of many rich and powerful people. Churches have often been behind other disruptive political movements such as Civil Rights, which are still a disturbing social shift for many Fox viewers who fondly remember white supremacy. A good pundit speaks to the underlying prejudices and unspoken desires of the audience. He makes them feel valued and important--even superior--as their way of life erodes beneath them-- and thus keeps them in line. A good map for this type of campaign lies in Jim Crow South; in the complex process by which poor white farmers were stoked to violence with propaganda about their racial superiority to keep them from joining forces with former slaves as a political bloc; overt slavery was replaced with an exploitive apartheid. A wide variety of techniques were used very effectively to stoke the fears and insecurities of whites and to direct their anger and aggression towards blacks and away from those with vested interest in the existing economic arrangements. Rumor, speeches, pamphlets, editorials—all ancestors of today's news media. A poor and uneducated working population is absolutely necessary to keep production costs low, and profits high. They gotta keep em weak, stupid and breeding as much as possible. Fox owners know the self-organizing activities of the audience will work in their favor as social pressure if they influence audience minds properly—remember the KKK? And they are not limited to the audience's self-organizing activities; since the Citizen's United ruling the unlimited funds now available for political action can be silently funneled into groups which promote specific agendas or generally distract the population or help to bring down any opposition.
The majority of Tea Party groups have substantial funding from billionaires like the Koch Brothers and other deep pocketed influences which back politicians who ride in to power on fake populism then pursue fascist policy by stoking irrational fears and seek to decimate functional safety net programs like social security and medicare. If we don't want to live in a two tier totalitarian society, we need to do something different, and fast. The middle class is disappearing, and it is not because of liberal overspending or abortion. It is because obscenely rich people are using the political system to suck all the money out, while exporting the jobs which once provided a foundation for a decent respectable middle or working class life. And they are not investing in new jobs here, no matter how little tax they pay. The more money they have, the riskier investments they will make with it. Creating decent jobs for Americans is simply not profitable enough. And they have more in common with their global billionaire peers than they do with the middle class audience anyway.