Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hate Versus Rage


Over at Eunomia, Daniel Larison comments on anger in politics.
While there is the real danger that inflamed political passions can be blinding and irrational (for a good example, see the near-insane hysteria of war supporters in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq), the alternative that these sages propose is one of living death in which we watch as our country, Constitution and Republic are savaged, mistreated and insulted by treacherous villains with a mild equanimity. Apparently, we must never get upset about even the most appalling crimes and wrongdoing. The irascible aspect of the soul should not go to excess, but there is something vicious and strange in the failure to get angry at gross injustice and criminal misrule. Many of the people who are angry at or even hate Mr. Bush have very good reasons, and they are not making arguments for anger but are making impassioned arguments against an abominable and awful administration.
He further comments,
Conservatives once found liberals’ habit of dismissing every legitimate defense conservatives made against the latest social or cultural outrage of the left as “hate” to be intellectually vacuous and insulting. Now some on the right would apparently like nothing more than to adopt this pose of righteous calm (righteous indignation being so very culturally destructive) at the very moment when liberal rage is likely to diminish and moderate with the Democratic takeover of Congress. There has been the tendency on the part of liberals to reduce an opponent’s entire position to being nothing than ”hate,” as if no one could oppose rampant immorality, racial preferences or intrusive government, to name just a few things, without hating other people. Alongside this, though, there was real hatred of a terrible President in Clinton, whose administration only appears relatively decent today because of the hideousness of his successor’s policies.

Clinton-hatred was frankly a major part of the glue that held conservatives together despite differences among ourselves. Oddly enough, without a Democrat in the White House to serve as a hate-figure against which all conservatives could rally, all those who call themselves conservative have (re)discovered that they haven’t had a lot in common with each other for a very long time.
I think he's addressing two different concepts of "hate". "Hate or hatred is an emotion of intense revulsion, distaste, enmity, or antipathy for a person, thing, or phenomenon; a desire to avoid, restrict, remove, or destroy its object." The first type of hatred is that which he identifies as being directed at Clinton, and encompasses the full spectrum of that definition - revulsion, distates, enmity and antipathy. The second conceptualization, the one used for example to describe the propensity of certain factions on the political right to "hate" homosexuals and minorities, focuses primarily upon antipathy, while being exemplified by the overt statements and conduct of specific individuals and groups. While certainly, those on the left who perceive right-wing antipathy toward minorities or homosexuals as being largely irrational, there is nothing within the context of hatred or antipathy which requires that the motivation for such feelings be irrational. You can intensely dislike somebody for perfectly good reasons. But perhaps more to the point when hatred reaches beyond an individual to encompass an entire group of people, experience suggests that the "perfectly good reasons" will usually be rationalizations, and perhaps entirely logically unsound.

Larison also uses a self-serving characterization of the left's targets: "rampant immorality, racial preferences or intrusive government". The political right doesn't "hate fags", it opposes "rampant immorality". What sane person wouldn't at least frown at "rampant immorality", if not adamantly oppose it? The right doesn't hate minorities - it opposes "racial preferences." It doesn't oppose preferences based upon other factors, such as those given by colleges to the children of alumni, or the benefits enjoyed by those who can exploit a "good old boys" network or nepotism, but you shouldn't infer anything from that even though those benefits inure largely to the majority, and even more directly to the wealthy.

It opposes "intrusive government" and... Okay, I'm having a hard time thinking of how this one ties into hatred. Or, for that matter, reality - the various anti-gay ballot initiatives, national restrictions on abortion rights, the Defense of Marriage Act, various security-related laws both at the state and federal level... all advanced by the political right, and all leading to government being more intrusive.

And then things really get interesting:
It was Chilton Williamson, I believe, who proposed in the pages of Chronicles that an important distinction between right and left was the difference between hatred of those things that threaten and endanger what you love and an aimless, insatiable rage that simply seeks new things about which one can be enraged. The former is not only sometimes necessary but is actually the mark of sanity, whereas the latter is a consuming, demonic force that devours those who participate in it.
If he's speaking of this article, it's laughable. Larison's a bright guy, so I hope that the Chronicles piece he recalls was superior.

Now, Larison doesn't express which political group "hates" and which one "rages", although context makes that clear (as does the reference to Williamson). But the absurdity of that assertion should be evident on its face. The right hates things that threaten and endanger it, while the left acts on aimless insatiable rage? The country largely supported the invasion of Afghanistan as a response to something which threatened and endangered us. The political right then took us into a war of choice in Iraq, despite that nation's having nothing to do with 9/11 and posing no imminent (or realistic) threat to us. We are to believe that the left is "raging" at this ill-begotten war of choice? And those who led us into the war are demonstrating the mark of sanity? If all war opponents "rage", then Larison himself "rages" - he opposed, and continues to oppose, the Iraq war. If we're in fact talking about a tiny subset of people on the left - extremists if you will - then the distinction is useless, as there are frothing, raging lunatics on the political right. (Just listen to a right-wing call-in show - if the host doesn't convince you of that, the callers will.)

Obviously the assertion can be flipped on its head. The left largely supported the war in Afghanistan because it correctly identified something that threatened and endangered us. The right, in a surge of hatred, engaged in an aimless expansion of the war which has ultimately undermined both its goals and the gains we made in Afghanistan. But this depiction of "hate" and "rage" is no more accurate a depiction of the political left and right than the one favored by Larison - its simply the result of framing an argument in a manner which facilitates the smearing of your political opponent.

Moving on to the Chilton Williamson piece....
Rage and hate both are aspects of anger. They are not, however, the equivalent of one another. "I love a good hater," said Samuel Johnson. He meant that hate implies a corresponding love, which responds reactively to its threatened opposite. For a man to hate, he must first love; as he who loves, inevitably hates. Hate is a directed thing, focused like a laser beam. By comparison, rage is undirected, unfocused, generalized, indiscriminate: an adult tantrum. "Rage," Ernst von Feuchtersleben thought, "is a vulgar passion with vulgar ends." Thus it is with good reason, if poor judgment, that the Left boasts of the "rage" it nurtures in its bosom, while denouncing the "hate" it relentlessly discovers on the Right.
Ah, the soul of a poet... To hate, you must first love. So to hate African-Americans you must first love... what? Certainly not African-Americans. Perhaps white people? Hm. But he does seem to be right in terms of overt political association. How many identifiable hate groups are associated with left-wing politics, as opposed to right-wing politics? What are the odds that [a 21st Century] David Duke would ever have tried [try] to run for office as a Democrat?

Apparently because Samuel Johnson didn't comment on the matter, it logically follows that while you have to love before you can hate, you don't have to feel a thing before you experience rage. Funny, though, people who actually demonstrate rage seem to be expressing a form of anger, and the targets of that rage tend to be people they "hate". Here we can also make an interesting observation that Williamson would apparently classify the authoring of books or articles, the lobbying of government, or the expression of condemnatory words as "raging", but where a lynch mob randomly grabs somebody on the basis of sexual orientation or skin color, then beats or kills that person, it's a much superior, much preferable, love-driven expression of "hate".

He gets sillier:
Joe Sobran, with cutting characteristic clarity, has observed that one can't "tolerate" what one likes, but only what one dislikes. In demanding toleration for everything, the Left assumes on the Right's part a cultivated dislike for almost everything. Since, for the Left, majoritarian distaste or even want of sympathy for minorities (e.g. immigrants, homosexuals, feminists, Muslims, Jews, blacks, etc.) is always the equivalent of "hate," for Leftists hate necessarily appears as the universal reality stretching like an arid and infinite plain beyond the shining walls and towers of the New Jerusalem.
This call for tolerance seems to be what Williamson perceives as the most overt example of "rage" by the political left. Here, Williamson apparently believes that the left never targets itself when it campaigns for tolerance. That is, he seems to picture those on the left as pure souls, untouched by dislikes and even hatreds of their own, and thus motivated exclusively by the desire to restrict those on the political right from acting on their dislikes and hatreds. Further, he is simply wrong. Most on the political left will agree that there are some things which should never be tolerated. And it is implicit within his argument that he, himself, is demanding tolerance of what he believes to be a justifiable expression of intolerance, so where does that leave us?

But what really struck me about this passage was that, where Larison reframed the issues in order to avoid directly addressing racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, Williamson dares speak their name. He doesn't hide behind words like "preferences" and "government intrustion" - he's willing to admit that the "intolerance" the left wishes to limit is that directed toward "immigrants, homosexuals, feminists, Muslims, Jews, blacks, etc".
What leftists decry as conservative "hate" is actually resentment of, and resistance to, the intrusion of the alien and the displacement of the familiar by the unfamiliar, the old by the new, the traditional by the untraditional, the proximate by the distant, the particular by the universal.
Ah, I see... So it's not so much that people like Williamson hate "immigrants, homosexuals, feminists, Muslims, Jews, [and] blacks" - they just haven't had enough time to get used to them.

As I previously mentioned, this is not so much an honest argument as it is an effort to use semantics to reframe the positions of political opponents as being lesser, unworthy, even silly. But such a weak effort....

n.b. - Don't take this as a criticism extending to Larison's other posts or his blog as a whole. Check it out.

8 comments:

  1. From Wikipedia:

    David Ernest Duke (born July 1, 1950) is a former Louisiana Republican state representative, a Presidential Primary candidate for both the Democratic and Republican Parties, former Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

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  2. In 1975, Duke sought a seat in the Louisiana State Senate as a Democrat. In 1988, he ran in the Democratic Party primary for President of the United States. After a poor showing in the Democratic primaries, he appeared on many state ballots as the nominee of the Populist Party and received 47,047 votes in the 1988 general election. . . . In December 1988, he switched political affiliation from Democratic to Republican.

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  3. "How many identifiable hate groups are associated with left-wing politics, as opposed to right-wing politics? What are the odds that David Duke would ever have tried to run for office as a Democrat?"

    A) My recollection is that Duke did run as a Democrat.

    B) It may not fit the definition of "hate groups" that you are using, but I would argue that pretty much any of the radical marxist-lenist groups qualify (if they are willing to kill people based on their failure to "join the revolution" or for that matter in order to "fund" the revolution . . . ), and they all break "left" by definition.

    C) Farrakhan and company all tend to break left and be "pro Dem" if not outright members of the party . . . or don't anti-semitic groups count as "hate groups"?

    CWD

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  4. Excuse my inaccuracy on Duke - I'm not a fan. But doesn't the larger point holds true, as evidenced by his ultimate party affiliation? If he were to run for office again, or somebody similar to him were to run for office, which party do you think he would be most inclined to try to affiliate with? (I'm not asking which would have him - but which you would expect him to choose.)

    As for radical marxist-leninist groups... can you be more specific? And are you speaking of groups within the U.S.? Groups with any appreciable membership?

    While granting that there are many who regard the Nation of Islam as a "hate group", is there not a significant distinction between a true hate group, such as the KKK or WAR, and an organization which has antisemitic or racist overtones, sympathies or propensities which are separate from its central mission? Counterpoint, Bob Jones University.

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  5. 1) Depends, if he aims for current stands on affirmative action, he goes Republican; if he is more interested in tradition he goes with the party of segregation.

    2) Any group that accepts the traditional Marxist-Leninist position (SDS, Weatherman, Khmer Rouge, Shining Path, etc) that we kill the people we can't convert would qualify. That would mean pretty much all such groups who are doctrinally pure. (Membership not particulary large in US at present but think Nepal and Peru . . . and what is the membership of traditinal hate groups?)

    3) ". . . is there not a significant distinction between a true hate group, such as the KKK or WAR, and an organization which has antisemitic or racist overtones, sympathies or propensities which are separate from its central mission?" - No, to the best of my knowledge no group proclaims its "central mission" to be hate. The KKK argues that it is "pro-white." They recruit by playing up the injustices heaped on the taraget audience. The Nazis were pro-Aryan or German. They just saw the genocide of other peoples as a step along that path. The reason that some of these groups/ideologies get labeled "hate group" and others don't has everthing to do with PR and very little to do with objective differences. Kind of like why it is okay to label the South African treatment of blacks as "Apartheid" but it not okay to put the same label on what is being done to the Palestinians.

    CWD

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  6. Cute, on tradition. The fact that he once ran as a Democrat no doubt arises from that tradition. But we're in the here and now, and the Democratic Party is currently the stronger voice against segregation and for integration.

    Membership in traditional hate groups has been quite high at certain times and places in our society. Witness the rise and fall of the KKK in the 19th-early 20th century, then the rise and fall of the reinvented KKK in the mid-20th century. A lot of "hate group" activity is somewhat loosely knit, like skinhead culture, and its hard to derive numbers. (And yes, if a SHARP is reading this, I know you exist.) So on the one hand, speaking domestically, we have groups including the KKK, WAR, National Alliance, RAHOWA, the American Nazi Party, World Church of the Creator, and Aryan Nation. On the other we have SDS and the Weathermen, neither of which have had any significance in decades.

    As for distinguishing between groups, I didn't ask what the groups describe in their "mission statement". I don't much care if the KKK claims that it operates baby milk factories, and releases footage of its members working in a plant while wearing sheets imprinted with "Baby Milk Factory" (perhaps in Arabic and English? But I digress). I'm speaking from an outside perspective.

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  7. From an outside perspective I'm not sure that it is accurate to say that the political affiliation (right) that favors doing away with affirmative action is any more "hate mongering" than the one (left) that is more likely to support something as divisive as reparations for slavery.

    CWD

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  8. But, as was the point of the original piece, if you can hang an unfair name on your political opponent....

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