What kind of English word is “Winnemucca”? How about “taco”? “Fond du Lac”? People who get bent out of shape over other people speaking languages besides English while out in public in this country probably fail to realize how many English words have their origin in other languages. As much as 30 percent of English words are borrowed from the world’s thousands of languages. It would be difficult or impossible for the average English speaker to use only Anglo-Saxon words.
In the United States especially, where nearly 100 percent of the population comes from elsewhere in the world, the English language is a polyglot mixture made up of additions from languages everywhere, and yet it stands apart in its diction, its spelling, and in other ways. Place names preeminently use some version borrowed from the many Native American languages that have all but disappeared otherwise. What does it mean to send somebody back where they came from, when almost everybody came from somewhere else at one time? Send them back where? To Ohio? To Florida? If we go back far enough in time, almost everyone will have to leave, and the Native Americans – what is left of them – will no doubt feel immense relief, as of an oppressive burden lifting away from them.
The Tower of Babel, a painting by Pieter Breugel the Elder (c. 1525/1530-1569).
Exclusionary talk is loco chauvinism. It is meshuga, and yahoos who go on about sending others back where they came from are clearly non compos mentis. They should examine their own origins, which in the latest generation or two or three might be in places like Tulsa, Santa Fe, Tennessee, or Baraboo, but going back further could be traced to Scotland, or Frankfurt, or Sarajevo, and ultimately to Africa. White folks weren’t always white, and anyway no deity ever descended from the heavens to declare whiteness a superior trait. It only matters to people who are terrified of losing their imagined superior place in society, and must have Others to look down upon. Ordering Others to speak English when they are conversing among themselves is not only high-handed, it ignores how immigrants have enriched and informed English itself with words and expressions from everywhere. The proper remark for an English-only speaker to make in that case, if any is necessary at all, is gracias, or merci, or danke, or mahalo, or arigatô, or . . .
Johnny Cash (1932-2003) sang a North American version of “I’ve Been Everywhere”, a song written in 1959 by Australian country singer Geoff Mack, and which in the original version included all Australian place names, many of them originating in the languages of the Australian Aboriginal peoples.
It’s not necessary to dive into the dark hole of right wing media articles attacking the so-called Squad of four Democratic congresswomen to catch the drift of the big stink they make; instead, simply read the loaded language of their sneering, derisive headlines. The most obvious characteristic of right wing media headlines of articles about these four women is the use of language indicating they are bad girls who deserve to be put in their place, even punished. This is a characteristic of right wing authoritarians, who see those who disagree with them as misguided souls deserving the wrath of Old Testament Jehovah.
The authoritarian right wing media seems to have a sliding scale of punishments for meting out to liberals. Of the four women in The Squad, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) appear to be naughty young ladies in need of correction, according to the authoritarian mindset, while Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), being Muslim, are too far Other for authoritarians to bother at all about disciplining, and therefore beyond the pale altogether and deserving of harsher treatment. Which is not to say the inflammatory language of right wing media has not fanned enough hatred in some quarters to prompt threats of violence against any of the congresswomen, regardless of the patronizing view that two of the four may be capable of redemption if only they would stop being uppity.
The News and Observer, a newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina, spins the events of the Wilmington insurrection of 1898 in headlines for the November 11, 1898 edition of the paper to suit the viewpoint of the white supremacist power structure. As the preacher observed in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Using any decent news aggregator website which offers a buffet of articles from across the political spectrum, rather than from only one side or the other, makes it easier to spot the language of paternalism and punishment in right wing headlines because of the contrast with the article headlines from other media outlets. Loaded language is unfortunately a feature of too many media outlets, whether from the left or the right, but it is the punishment angle which is unique to authoritarian right wing media. Those naughty Democrats! When will they ever learn? They’re messing with the wrong people, and the righteous shall come down hard on them, the transgressors!
From the 1980 film The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance and Philip Stone as Delbert Grady discuss the need for correcting misbehavior.
Far right authoritarians are more likely to confine their media consumption to a bubble than are people on the left or in the center, because right wingers feel threatened by ideas and viewpoints from elsewhere on the political spectrum. That, too, along with the desire to punish others, is a feature of the authoritarian mindset. It’s tempting to edit a news aggregator’s collection choices, if that’s possible, in order to avoid even skimming the ugliness of many right wing media headlines. That would be a mistake; that would put the liberal or centrist news reader in their own bubble. It’s better to keep those headlines, with their self-serving denunciations and propagandistic lies, so as to be able to occasionally peek into the netherworld of far right wing media. It’s unnecessary and probably unhealthy to dive in and read the articles.
“It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.”
— Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Anyone who has ever been a vegetarian or vegan even for a short time has probably at some point encountered hostility from a meat eater, perhaps on several occasions from many different people. The experience can be baffling, particularly if the vegetarian or vegan does not make a big show of their practices. Self-righteous and preachy behavior can be annoying, certainly, but even when a vegetarian or vegan abstains from being a smug boor, some meat eaters will attack them as if they had been. A couple of recent news items help illustrate the innate hostility some people harbor for those who don’t adhere to mainstream dietary practices, even though it’s no one’s business but their own and the majority of them do not go out of their way to bother anyone.
Arby’s, an American fast food chain specializing in roast beef sandwiches, has come out with turkey meat processed to look like a bloated carrot, and in London two men have been found guilty of disorderly behavior after they ate raw squirrels in front of a vegan food stand. The actions of both Arby’s and the London squirrel eaters are obvious attempts to troll vegetarians and vegans, and their reasons for doing so say more about their own stunted mentality than anything else. Arby’s has for some time used an advertising slogan which proudly declares their enthusiasm for meat, and plenty of it. It is a fair guess that even if the political culture of Arby’s management is not necessarily right wing, they do assess their customer base as right wing, and trolling the perceived political correctness of their fast food competitors who have lately been offering vegetarian menu options is a good way to appeal to them.
Marzipan carrots for carrot cake. Marzipan consists primarily of almond paste and sugar or honey, and vegetarians would partake of it, though if honey were in it, vegans would not. Photo by SKopp.
Like everything else in our society, there is a political division in people’s dietary choices. Vegetarians and vegans are mostly liberals. Other liberals who are meat eaters are more likely to react to alternative diets with indifference or polite curiosity. At any rate, most of them do not perceive vegetarians and vegans as threats. Not so political conservatives, particularly those with authoritarian leanings. The difference is so striking that it can almost be used as a reliable indicator of political beliefs: hostility to diets at variance with the mainstream is a good clue that a person might be right wing. Often these people will appoint themselves to keep an eye on vegetarians and vegans for backsliding, no matter how innocuous their target is about minding their own business and not actively posing a threat to them. If threats are not real, they will be imagined! We have met the enemy, and it is Them, the Others!
Nothing delights these self-appointed guardians of imagined societal standards more than catching a vegetarian or worse, a vegan (and therefore probably a liberal!) in an act of perceived hypocrisy, because then they can denounce the entire belief system and not be bothered anymore by any of its implications, such as cruelty to animals or environmental degradation. A problem ignored is a problem solved! Meat eaters who worry about the perceived sanctimonious behavior of non-meat eaters occasionally like to bring up the supposed fact of Adolf Hitler’s vegetarianism, as if the actions and beliefs of one ogre tarnish all vegetarians. That is like suggesting the beliefs and actions of all Christians are suspect simply because some white evangelical Christian leaders are terrible human beings.
In this Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1947, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd are at odds with each other as always, and the cartoon finishes with action that for its time was considered normal.
It is interesting to note that in dealing with hostility from some meat eaters, non-meat eaters discover they can assuage the unease of their interrogators when they ask about the reasons for their choice by stressing the healthful benefits over the other issues. That approach is not entirely dishonest, since there are real benefits for human health in foregoing or at least restricting meat eating. The American diet of meat with nearly every meal is not the most healthful, nor is it the historical norm. Most Americans could stand to reduce their consumption of meat, and in doing so they would benefit their own health as well the health of the environment and the quality of life for billions of animals. It is interesting and sad to note that of the three primary benefits of an alternative diet, only the first sets well with right wing authoritarians, and only on account of selfish reasoning.
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”
— excerpt from Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States.
Southerners called the 1828 tariff which had the effect of raising prices on imported manufactured goods while decreasing income from exported agricultural products the “Tariff of Abominations” because it hit hardest in the South. When President John Quincy Adams signed the bill into law, he assured his defeat by Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election. The 1828 tariff prompted South Carolina to propose the principle of nullification of federal law by the states, and the friction it set up between North and South was instrumental in leading to the Civil War more than 30 years later.
This color version of a John Tenniel illustration is from The Nursery “Alice” (1890), with text adapted for nursery readers by Lewis Carroll from his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From the collection of the British Library. Carroll created in the Queen of Hearts, pictured at left, a model of imperious, irrational behavior.
The current president’s tariffs have exacerbated economic tensions within the country as well, this time not between North and South, but between rural, agricultural areas and urban, technological and industrial areas. They are his tariffs because over the past century Congress has ceded more and more authority to impose them to the executive branch as a matter of pursuing foreign policy, an authority which the current president, with his autocratic nature, is happy to exercise. He likes nothing better than to pronounce decrees, particularly ones that appear to punish Others, particularly foreign Others, and most especially darker skinned foreign Others.
He and his followersmay not fully understand the possible ramifications and unwelcome reverberations of tariffs throughout the United States and world economy. It doesn’t matter to him or to them. What matters is the feeling of appearing to punish the Other for sins real and imagined against Our Kind, and of feeding off negative energy generated by acting on impulse rather than putting in the grinding, hard work necessary to build positively toward equitable trade agreements. It’s a lot of stick, and very little carrot.
Tariffs have always been used to further domestic political aims and foreign policy objectives as much as they have been used to generate revenue, which makes them somewhat more loaded than other taxes. The latest tariffs are no different, and their implementation echoes the 1828 tariff, an irony no doubt lost on the current president despite his exaltation of Andrew Jackson over all other American presidents. Jackson and his supporters opposed the 1828 tariff. Jackson nonetheless drew the line at allowing South Carolina to flout federal authority by proposing nullification. Jackson contemplated sending federal troops into South Carolina to uphold the law. Free trade advocates and protectionists reached a compromise with an 1833 tariff soon after the South Carolina legislature enacted nullification, averting a crisis and imposing an uneasy peace for the next 28 years.
From the 1951 film Quo Vadis, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring in this scene Peter Ustinov as Nero and Leo Genn as Petronius. Nero probably thought of himself as a stable genius, and had Twitter existed in his time, he no doubt would have used it as a political tool to share his addled observations with the world.
The political calculations behind the current president’s tariffs go beyond punishment of the Other which enthuse his base of followers to improving his prospects for the 2020 election in key Rust Belt states he narrowly won in 2016. Tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other industrial products appeal to manufacturing centers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the states that tipped the Electoral College vote balance for him in 2016. Since the United States is a big exporter of agricultural products, it is no surprise that retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries in the trade war have hit farmers hardest. Many of those farmers live in Great Plains states with relatively few electoral votes, and at any rate the current president has a cushion of support there to absorb losses of the disaffected. To make sure disaffection doesn’t become widespread, the current president has bought off farmers with subsidies so that he can continue to pursue his trade wars as personal vendettas, rather than as maturely considered policies leading to equitable prosperity for all. To borrow a phrase from the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”
The recent revelation that Lin Bennett, a Republican State Representative in South Carolina, subscribes to the QAnon internet conspiracy theory, means the followers of the QAnon cult surrounding the current president have another friend in a powerful position openly siding with them. Validation like that keeps the embers smoldering while the QAnon cult followers await prophesied heroics from their leader in the Oval Office. It’s all fun and games until some deluded idiot with access to weaponry takes it all too seriously and acts out self-righteously, as a fellow from North Carolina did in reaction to the Pizzagate conspiracy in December 2016.
With so much factual information available on the internet, it’s hard to understand how people can continue deluding themselves with conspiracy theories that common sense would see fall apart after the application of a few facts. A lack of common sense and a capacity for self-delusion are the very traits preventing some people from seeing the foolishness behind many conspiracy theories. For those people, the great amount of information available on the internet supports their pet theories even when the information is not in their favor. They do not lack for information concerning their theories, for or against. Where they fall short is in the self-confidence to accept and honestly examine divergent information, because to do so might undermine the fragile construct of their self-worth bound up in the things bigger than themselves they have lashed themselves to stay afloat in a world to their minds uncertain and threatening, the cult and the conspiracy.
Interior of the Old Church in Delft, a 1654trompe-l’œilpainting by Gerard Houckgeest (circa 1600-1661). Are the drapes real, or are they part of the painting?
People in prominent positions, like State Representative Bennett, are irresponsible to publicly endorse nonsense like QAnon, because of the loons who are more likely than ever to act out in light of her endorsement. Some conspiracy theories, like the Flat Earth one, are relatively harmless, and if Rep. Bennett had come out as a Flat Earther the majority of Americans would probably have shrugged and considered her nutty, maybe a little too nutty to be entrusted with public office, but otherwise nothing to worry about since it was unlikely her outlandish belief would have any effect on public policy or discourse. QAnon theorists are different because they advocate smearing, imprisonment, and summary execution of their opponents. It’s as bad as if Rep. Bennett had declared herself a member in good standing with the Ku Klux Klan.
What is real and what is illusion? One of the questions examined in The Manchurian Candidate, a 1962 film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey.
QAnon arose and spread entirely over the internet; there was no broad based movement addressing needs in the real world, with people openly discussing its tenets, adopting some and rejecting others. A few trolls threw up some outlandish claims on internet message boards and some of them stuck, not because they were true and promised to solve real problems, but because other people wanted them to be true and hoped they would solve their imaginary problems born of hate for the Other and their own self-loathing. But for responsible adults those are really nothing more than excuses. With more information available than ever before in history, remaining bigoted and ignorant is a conscious choice of chip-on-the-shoulder anti-intellectualism, and such people need to be held accountable for their vile behavior, the better to keep them in check before they act out violently on their delusions.
Hey, Stupid! takes your questions about weather, or climate or whatever.
Questioner asks: Last week was bitterly cold throughout much of the U.S., and of course you chimed in about that on Twitter. This week, high temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast are forecast to rebound above freezing, and in Washington, D.C., where you can sometimes be found when you’re not on a golf course, are forecast to be in the 50s, 60s, even 70s. That’s pretty warm for mid-winter, even in D.C.. Will you be making any follow-up comments about that on Twitter?
Hey, Stupid! responds: Pffft! Sounds like good weather – or climate, or, you know, whatever – for hitting the links. Nice to get in 18 holes without having to go all the way to Mar-a-Lago this time of year.
Q: Does your public denial of climate change have anything to do with protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry?
HS: What a dumb question! You’re always asking dumb questions! Of course it does.
Q: When you say “throwing red meat” to your base, what exactly do you mean?
HS: I mean I know what they like, and what they like is anything that gets a rise out of pointy-headed, know-it-all liberals and scientists. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Facts are irrelevant. What matters is reassuring them in their ignorance.
Q: My, that’s a remarkably cogent and well-spoken analysis coming from you. Did someone write it for you?
Q: So it doesn’t make any impact on your base of support to point out how climate change will affect everyone, even them, and especially their kids and grandkids?
HS: First of all, nothing ever affects everyone equally. The rich will always manage to skirt the consequences of their actions. It’s the poors who will suffer the worst effects – and I’m not saying there will be any, because you know it’s a Chinese hoax – anyway, the poors will suffer if there are any problems, and no one cares about them. Meanwhile, get what you can today, Make America Great Again, and let the Chinese worry about tomorrow if global warming is such a big deal to them.
Q: It’s hard to believe you’re openly admitting to contempt for the poor, instead of merely implying it as you always have. Aren’t a fair amount of your supporters working class or poor?
HS: Yeah, but they all imagine they could be like me one day. The people I’m talking about, and they know who they are and my supporters know who they are, are the Other ones, the ones who are looking for government handouts and are rapists and druggies.
Supporters of the current president turn out to welcome him on a fundraising trip to Greensboro, North Carolina, in October 2017. Photo by Anthony Crider. The same flubs and ignorant or hateful remarks that dismay Democrats and even some Republicans serve as badges of solidarity for these people.
Q: Ah ha. So getting all this straight now – the cold weather last week was an opportunity to beat up on the libs and the scientists for the benefit of your base, who don’t care whether climate change is real or not because people they resent stand for it’s reality, and your base prefers to take the immature position of opposing whatever those other folks are for, regardless of the merits, and they are either ignorant of or do not care about how they are being used by you and your cronies in the corporate oligarchy. Does that sum things up?
HS: Yup, that’s about the size of it. You forgot to mention jobs. Dangle jobs in front of them and they’ll go for anything, never mind whether the jobs materialize or not, because when they don’t, it happens down the road. They have short memories, these people, Lord love ’em. By the time the temperature hits 70 later in the week, they won’t make any connection with my comments from last week. That kind of critical thinking is for people wearing pointy wizard’s hats, not good ol’ MAGA hat wearing Americans like my people, the Second Amendment people – they’ll only remember the rosy glow of how I outraged the libs and scientists and got them sputtering mad over my very stable genius remarks. Never mind the change in the weather. Or climate or whatever.
Since 1968, when the New England Journal of Medicine editors precipitously and unfairly saddled adverse reactions of some people to Monosodium glutamate (MSG) with the name Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, MSG has been stigmatized as a food additive that is apart from and somehow unhealthier than other food additives. The first person to report symptoms to the Journal was a Chinese-American doctor, Robert Ho Man Kwok, who complained of numbness at the back of his neck, general weakness, and heart palpitations after eating at a Chinese restaurant. On this slim testimony and that of several others, the Journal coined the phrase Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
A type of kelp known as Dasima in Korea, and Kombu in Japan, is a key ingredient in Dashi, a broth from which Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda identified the quality of umami in 1908 that led him to the discovery and production of MSG. Photo by freddy an.
Use of MSG is not limited to Chinese cookery, however, and it can be found in many processed American foods such as Doritos, which millions of Americans appear to consume regularly without complaint. It would be interesting to see if more people would attest to adverse reactions to eating Doritos if they were made aware the product contained MSG. It is listed among the ingredients on the package, and using its most recognizable name, too, rather than one of the many names that can hide its presence, such as autolyzed yeast.
This is not to say no one can have a real adverse or allergic reaction to MSG. But for just about any ingredient in food there are some people who react badly to ingesting it. The main thing to remember is that in scientific studies of MSG, as opposed to the purely anecdotal stories that appeared to satisfy the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968, no one has found that MSG is any more dangerous than any of a multitude of other food additives. If it were as dangerous as some people appear to believe it is, not only would the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) likely take it off its generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list, but thousands or even millions of Asians and Asian-Americans would be suffering every day from its effects.
Yet Asian chefs and home cooks continue to add MSG to their meals. They are either perverse in their determination to eat the possibly unwholesome ingredient, or they are unconvinced by the nearly hysterical denunciations of it coming from some people in North America and Europe. Given the ubiquity of MSG in highly processed foods that Americans eat and enjoy every day, any real or imagined adverse reaction to it could just as easily be called American Junk Food Syndrome. There is already one name for that, which is Obesity. American food processors discovered around the time of World War II that MSG was a useful flavor booster for otherwise bland or even flavorless foods like canned vegetables and corn snacks. MSG by itself does not encourage obesity, but its overuse in helping to make some rather unpalatable and non nutritious foods delicious does contribute to obesity.
Shavings of Katsuobushi, a preserved and fermented skipjack tuna used in Dashi, the umami broth from which Professor Ikeda first isolated MSG. Photo by Sakurai Midori.
At the same time as food scientists and agribusinesses were discovering how to make cheaply made, highly profitable junk food flavorful, they were also inadvertently taking the flavor out of healthful foods by manipulating them to improve qualities like pest resistance, standing up to shipping, or tolerating being confined on factory farms, all at the expense of flavor and nutrition. Those practices yielded bland, watery supermarket produce, and meats needing seasoning and breading and all sorts of treatments in order to taste like much of anything. It’s not all that mysterious why shoppers, particularly poor ones who can’t afford to seek out higher quality ingredients, turn to highly processed, highly flavorful foods, even at the cost of poor nutrition and cumulative destructive effects on their health.
In this country, people like to blame the victim. After all, free enterprise and free choice means people don’t have to eat junk, doesn’t it? It’s also useful to have an Other to blame, as in Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. The sensible thing would be to teach children in schools about moderation in all things, including sprinkling additives on their food. A little bit of MSG on already healthful food gives an umami flavor boost and has not been shown to do harm to the great majority of people who eat it that way. MSG put on every unwholesome, processed food cannot be healthy since the bad effects of poor quality food combine with excessive amounts of this otherwise relatively harmless additive. Enormous amounts of any additive are probably not healthy, not just MSG. School administrators could stress in the curriculum healthful eating instead of allowing vending machines full of snacks, sodas, and sugary fruit drinks in the hallways. In the case of young people at least, free enterprise and free choice should take a back seat to learning healthy habits.
Regardless of the outcome of today’s runoff election in Mississippi between incumbent Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democratic challenger Mike Espy, Senator Hyde-Smith will have exposed herself at the very least as an insensitive idiot through her recent remarks, and more likely as someone whose cossetted upbringing among conservative white people in Mississippi never gave her an idea how offensively her remarks would be received by those outside that bubble.
John C. Stennis takes his seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1928, the same year he received his law degree from the University of Virginia. Between 1928, when Mr. Stennis started his career in government as a Democrat, and 1988, his last year as a senator from Mississippi, the major political parties realigned, with the major shift coming in reaction to Civil Rights legislation passed during the Lyndon Johnson presidential administration.
Senator Hyde-Smith has of course attacked those attacking her for her idiotic remarks regarding public hanging and vote suppression because that is what plays best these days among emboldened white supremacist fascists in the Make America Great Again (MAGA) crowd which constitutes her major constituency. Retractions and sincere apologies are signs of weakness to those people, who would call for her lynching if she ever showed any human decency. Instead she has claimed her words were twisted by the media and by her political foes, even though she can be seen speaking those very words on video. As for suppressing the votes of liberals, she says she was only kidding.
Ha-ha, Senator Hyde-Smith, you are very funny with your joking about Jim Crow vote suppression of liberals, by which of course everyone in the 37 percent black state of Mississippi knows you mean suppressing the votes of black folks. That stuff is indeed side-splittingly funny! And your “good old gal” remark about how you like someone so much that you’d be at the front row of a public hanging if he invited you, by which everyone in the state of Mississippi, where public lynching of black folks over 100 years from the Civil War to the Civil Rights era was a well-known occurrence, why that’s a knee-slapper, and goodness knows little ol’ you meant no harm by it, did you, Sugar? Bless your heart!
It is likely that hundreds of thousands of Mississippianswill vote for Senator Hyde-Smith in the runoff election. Unless those voters were living under a rock, they had to have heard the Senator’s remarks or heard of them. They will vote for her anyway. For too many of them, most likely the MAGA fanatics among them, her recent remarks will be reason enough to vote for her. She is an awful person, and like the awful person currently occupying the Oval Office of the White House, she is a symptom of what’s wrong with the country, not the disease. The disease is carried by all those voters in Mississippi and elsewhere who are laughing with her, rather than being appalled not just by her remarks, but by the mindset that brought them out of her mouth in the first place, and then made her turn on everyone but herself to quiet the uproar over them. Look at your friends, neighbors, and family for those carrying the disease of not taking cruelty seriously, and laughing at the debasement of the Other.
Secretary of Defense designate Elliot Richardson, right, talks with Senator John C. Stennis, D-Miss., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, prior to his nomination hearing at the U.S. Capitol on January 10, 1973. By the 1970s, Republican conversion of conservative southern Democrats was nearly complete. Mr. Stennis would retain his Democratic Party affiliation through the remainder of his career, though in name only since he was aligned ideologically with conservative Republicans. In 1982, he was the last Democratic senator elected from Mississippi.
With the full moon coming on Monday, September 24, it’s fair to wonder how much influence the moon, the planets, and the stars have on earthly lives and events. This full moon is known as the Harvest Moon for obvious reasons, at least in the Northern Hemisphere where the agricultural harvest begins in September. Linking the moon to telling time is sensible considering that through most of history people did not have or require time pieces accurate to minutes and seconds. That would await the Industrial Revolution. Before then, knowing the months by the phases of the moon and the hours by the daily movements (as it appeared from Earth) of the sun and the stars was good enough.
Where things got fuzzy and slipped from astronomy to astrology was the attribution by some people of powerful influences to the celestial bodies. Those influences went beyond gravity and tides to the extent of determining the character and fate of people. What an extraordinary hypothesis! Until the Renaissance, when Copernicus and Galileo disabused humanity of the notion that the Earth, and specifically its Homosapiens inhabitants, were the center of the universe, people could indulge a belief in astrology and not be out of step with mainstream scientific thought. Now the idea that the moon, the planets, and the stars have any influence on people’s lives beyond the purely physical is magical thinking along the lines of palmistry and Tarot.
A Harvest Moon rises over Washington, D.C., on September 19, 2013. Photo by Bill Ingalls for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Most people now believe astrology’s rightful place is in the same pages of their daily newspaper as the comics and the crossword puzzle, and certainly not in the science section. The trouble begins when people in authority ascribe credence to magical thinking, and by extension astrology and other pseudo sciences. The determinism of astrology appeals to people with an authoritarian mindset because it restores a kind of certainty to a life that has become, for them, uncertain and therefore frightening.
“Moon Dreams”, performed by Glenn Miller leading the Army Air Force Band in 1944, was written by Miller’s long time pianist Chummy MacGregor, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
Feeling in control is comforting to them, even though oddly enough they are ceding control to an impassive universe. This is where the all powerful leader comes in, to reassure them that they are indeed still at the center of the universe and endowed by it with special qualities, rights, and privileges. The more thoughtful among them might reflect that special rights are accompanied by special responsibilities, but most are not troubled by such an uncomfortable thought, nor by the exclusion of The Other from the universe’s benevolence, as interpreted for them by their leader. What for most people is a harmless diversion in the funny papers becomes for a few true believers another reality, with its own truth they are determined to foist on everyone else. Ordinary people don’t take the true believers seriously at first, and then too late the decent, ordinary folks realize their fanatic neighbors weren’t kidding with their foolish, dangerous nonsense.
“America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” — John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
There has always been a strong strain of paranoia in American political life, and it erupts occasionally in official policy, from the Alien and Sedition Acts signed into law in 1798 by John Quincy Adams’s father, President John Adams, to the Patriot Act of 2001, signed by George H.W. Bush’s son, President George W. Bush. In the early days of the republic, when the Adams family was prominent in national politics, there was of course no social media or Fox News to whip up hysteria about The Other, though there were plenty of locally circulated broadsheets that made little effort at objectivity.
Now the media landscape is far different than it was in 1798, and people who feel threatened by cultural changes which erode the power and influence of white conservatives have platforms like Fox News, Twitter, and Facebook that reach far and wide. As the self-styled Silent Majority slips to Ranting Minority status, their paranoid hysteria ratchets up in intensity to the point that Fox News is not a strong enough salve for their imagined wounds, and they turn to fear mongering websites like InfoWars. The information available in the bubble in which angry, old white conservatives live can’t exactly be called news, but more a drug that reinforces feelings, thoughts, and ideas they already dwell on resentfully, nursing their grievances like mean drunks wallowing in self-pity.
Here Comes the Bogey-Man, an aquatint print from the 1799 set of 80 known as Los Caprichos, by Francisco Goya (1746-1828).
Pooh Bear has a bad dream.
They tend to lash out angrily, these constant consumers of spoon-fed rage, and because they tend to be more conscientious about voting than other groups in American society, their views make it into government policy more than the views of less paranoid people, at least when they coincide with the interests of corporate and political leaders. And then support for those policies among the general populace becomes tied to patriotism in the minds of these people, because they have bestowed on themselves the mantle of True Americanism. True Americans want to build a wall along the Mexican border. True Americans don’t want gays marrying each other. True Americans believe climate change is a liberal hoax, and therefore no steps need be taken to restrain the fossil fuel industry. That particular list goes on and on. There is another list about what True Americans believe and want, and it starts with changing the definition of who they are to include everyone who lives here, not just one group raging and warring against all The Others.