When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
— Wendell Berry
I don’t really care what you believe about the causes of the 9-11 attacks; or about who killed the Kennedys and Martin Luther King; or whether the elections of 2000 and 2004 were stolen; or whether Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussain, male daycare teachers, Latino gardeners or Muslims were threats to your children; or if you cross the street whenever you see a Black teenager approaching; or if you wouldn’t travel to Texas or New Jersey until they were declared free of Ebola; or whether you will allow your children to attend school with kids who haven’t been vaccinated. I do care if you take the bait every time the media offers you another new disease to worry about.
But consider: In 2013 it was whooping cough. Dud. Last fall it was Ebola (with the additional threat of “Ebola-carrying illegal immigrant Latino terrorists!”) Dud. How about swine flu, bird flu and “mad cow disease” (infection andmadness!)? Duds. How about MERS (Middle East – Middle East! – Respiratory Syndrome)?
I care about whether you take the bait every time the media offers you another case of “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” Remember Polly Klaas, Chandra Levy and Laci Peterson? I’m sure you remember Jessica Lynch, the white woman captured by the Iraqis during the Gulf War? Do you remember Shoshana Johnson, the black woman who was captured along with her? I care that you understand that these stories, true or not, selectively manipulate the 350-year American legacy of captivity narratives.
What I care about is this: are you aware of how deeply in your bones lies the realinfection, the heritage of Othering, that need to project your darkness upon the scapegoat-of-the-moment, to automatically react with abject hysteria to every new threat that the terrorism experts and pharmaceutical shills throw at you, to demonize and ridicule friends and loved ones as “conspiracy theorists” simply because they hold opinions that have not been sanctified by the high priests of thought control?
Please don’t think that I am simply criticizing conservatives. That’s way too easy, and it serves no purpose other than entertaining the choir. As I argued throughout my book, liberals are just as likely to unquestioningly consume our narratives of American innocence as conservatives are. This is, above all, a mythological issue.
Still, throughout almost all of our history, the witch-hunts and hysteria have indeed mobilized the right wing, including those males who could be manipulated into identifying as white rather than as working class.
Or at least until our generation. Perhaps it began with the fluoridation dispute. It picked up intensity with the JFK assassination and blossomed fully after 9-11, when many serious, good-hearted, influential progressives demonized some of their brethren who dared to articulate the new “conspiracy theory.” Even last month, Tim Wise, a profoundly important activist and writer, added his voice:
So please, stay at home 24/7, insisting to yourself and all who will listen about how vaccinations are the cause of autism and how Tower 7 was brought down by Dick Cheney or whatever, and how hyper-oxygenation can cure HIV/AIDS (or at least it would, if HIV/AIDS really existed which it doesn’t of course), and how everything – yes everything – is a “false flag” because Alex Jones said so after skipping his meds for like a month. So there was no Sandy Hook shooting, and no 9/11, and no attack on the Pentagon and no shooting at the theatre in Aurora: all those folks who supposedly died are hanging out on an island like in “Lost” where they are fed and cared for by the NSA and CIA, along with those folks who faked the moon landing and the curvature of the Earth. Oh and while doing this…claim to be a progressive or leftist or radical. Because saying it makes it true!
Tim Wise is a good man who is justifiably angry and extremely articulate about his area of expertise, white privilege. And I’m not saying that he’s wrong on this issue (the broader issue is not about right and wrong; it’s about innocence and experience.) But look at his language, look at the sarcasm. Look at how he lumps families who question the dominant (Cui bono?) paradigm together with right-wing loonies. In his mind they are all conspiracy theorists, and they deserve nothing but ridicule. And I’ve found that his opinions, and worse, his tone, are quite characteristic of opinion pieces I’ve seen recently on normally reliable websites such asand Alternet. Ridicule is a tool of the gatekeepers.
The issue is most certainly not about right and left. But Look at Tim’s assumptions: by using the language of the gatekeepers, he is demonizing these people, and in the world of polar opposites that he seems to have fallen into, either you are with us on every issue or you are not to be trusted on any issue. Change the terminology just a little, and we are back in the language of the American frontier, where you are either among the elect inside the innocent community, or you represent the dark (ironic, considering Tim’s huge heart on the race issue) evil on the outside that is inscrutable: we just can’t understand why they hate us so.
Tim, I hope you’re reading this. I love you for your gifts and your righteous anger. I know you’re under great pressure. Be well; stay effective. But when did sarcasm and ridicule ever change anyone’s mind? Don’t they merely entertain those of similar opinion? Don’t they simply reduce highly informed opinion to low comedy?
This is the language of Fox News. And worse: they want you to sound shrill and intolerant. It makes their work that much easier. It assists in their broader intentions, to convince more and more of us to simply turn off to the cacophony of bitterness and ranting. You are much better than that.
As I write this, in March 2015, it’s clear which way the major (Cui bono?) winds are blowing. Most of the progressive print and online voices have got onboard the “ridicule the anti-vaxxers” train, and in a very specific way. They have bought the gatekeeper line that lumps much legitimate anti-corporate, anti-military dissent together with Rand Paul and the Tea Party loonies who insist that Barack Obama is an African-born, Muslim socialist under the broad umbrella of conspiracy theorists.
This particular smear campaign has succeeded; progressives view the issue as just another left/right dispute, and so they no longer need to think about it. If they were experiencing anxiety over this issue (as we all do when our mythic thinking is called into question), now their anxiety has been reduced. But the myth of American innocence is inherently unstable. Like any other addiction (alcohol, consumerism, fundamentalism, Marxism, free market libertarianism, workaholism and our greatest addiction of all, fear), it has very little nutritional capacity and must be constantly fed.
And keep in mind that it was the CIA that coined the phrase, “conspiracy theorist,” and only when it perceived the need to marginalize progressives who questioned the official story of the Kennedy assassination.
Are you feeling manipulated, that you’ve read this far only to be dragged into the vaccination argument? Well, isn’t manipulation the real issue here? Can you at least agree with me that for our entire history Americans have been, by our very nature, particularly susceptible to hysterias and witch-hunts? That we have always been willing to suspend our sacred individualism and give our identity over to the spokespersons of centralized control in the desperate hope that it might push away the nightmares that they themselves have created?
I won’t deny my strong opinions, but my concerns go very far beyond this one issue. I am talking about a post-9/11 era in which our freedoms, including freedom of privacy, have been disappearing gradually and almost without our notice. It is only our bred-in-the-bones sense of innocence that keeps us from noticing that the pot is boiling, that we are being cooked; it is only our constantly manipulated fear of the Other that can still, reliably, distract us from far more important issues.
Both the left and the right (at least those with stock in Big Pharma) are probably already celebrating the gathering momentum to mandate vaccinations for all Americans, young or old. Perhaps you agree. But please spare me your argument about “personal freedoms” in which you compare the “anti-vaxxers” (a gatekeeping phrase if I ever heard one, and one no one on that side of the debate uses) to people who would ignore traffic signals and endanger everyone else in their community in their libertarian selfishness. And I will respond: any way you parse it, in our quickening slide toward American Fascism, you are condoning yet another loss of freedom in yet another dispute where all of the money was on one side of the issue. Cui bono?
Once the legislation mandating universal vaccination becomes law, will you or I be able to save ourselves (as at Salem, as during McCarthyism) by naming names?
Though I welcome a good argument, I avoid ideological absolutes. That is a language to which I am trying to offer an alternative, the language of mythological thinking. I am not talking about compromise. I’m trying to move from a world of “two” (polar opposites, right or wrong) to a world of “three” – holding the tension of those opposites, resisting the temptation to resolve that tension by holding to only one side until something greater – a third element – appears. This is the essence of the Creative Imagination.
But I can’t avoid this one: there is simply no political conflict in which progressives should find themselves aligned so indisputably with the interests of Big Business, and indeed of one of the most corrupt of them all, Big Pharma. This left-wing demonization may well be one of the greatest scams of all. They’ve got some of us shilling for them, on a very slippery slope. They’ve turned some us into FOX wannabes, more and more comfortable with their nasty, divisive language. And when we start using their language we are no longer speaking from our creative imagination, but from our paranoid imagination.
The present hysteria (whatever it is as you read this) will end soon, because they all do. That is the most characteristic aspect of our American predisposition to fall from fear into crusades. It’s not about the fear-du-jour; it’s about our willingness to go there.
You can count on this: the next hysteria is already planned, and those who will profit from it know that they can count on you. When the call to join the next witch-hunt is sounded, will you have your pitchfork and torch ready?