Noble warriors vs. imaginary demons

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, January 27, 2011 14:38 EDT
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Looks like the wingnuts have taken hold of New Mexico. Here’s the new head of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department on Alex Jones’ show, ranting about how environmentalists are just undercover communists conspiring to create false alarm over the environment.

New Mexico is one of the most beautiful states in the country, but the leadership now will happily wipe their asses with it to show the imaginary commies in their minds who’s boss. That’s where we’re at as a country. What’s scary, too, is this sort of thing doesn’t even stick out anymore, since so much Republican leadership is engaged in hysterical rants against imaginary enemies, and spinning conspiracy theories so they don’t have to face reality. What makes this stick out from the herd is that it was done on Alex Jones’ show. I remember, in college, one of the ways we used to get cheap, adolescent laughs was call into Jones’ show and challenge him, just to watch him get even crazier. He was the leader of the black helicopter guys, and, if you can believe it, it’s gotten even uglier and weirder since then. It was always alarming to me how popular Jones was, but I rationalized that a lot of it was folks like me, who found his “nothing I believe in is real!” act to be amusing and, at times, endearing. But who fucking knows? It appears that a lot of people take this shit seriously, seriously enough to elect these folks to offices where they can do real damage.

In the many years since then, though, Jones has gone from an out-there kook to the role of a front runner in where the mainstream right is headed. He complains regularly that Glenn Beck steals his act, and he should, since Beck totally steals his act. Which means that we’re probably going to get some intimations that enemies are suffering from demon possession from Beck any day now. (Do Mormons believe that? I have no idea, but I don’t think Beck is constrained by something as simple as the actual teachings of his church.)

Fred Clark is a man of remarkable insight when it comes to the inner workings of the wacky right, since he’s basically made the transition from being in the thick of it to being a sensible person who lives in the real world. He recently wrote a post about anti-choicers, and their fantasy that they’re doing something important and noble and brave, when in fact they’re basically being petty little cowards. I think his thoughts are relevant when discussing the conspiracy theories of anti-environmentalists, as well.

Let’s pretend that our unremarkable lives of quiet desperation are actually epic quests in the service of something meaningful. Let’s pretend our lives are driven by some purpose. Let’s pretend we are engaged in the great moral struggle of our time — that we are opposing some massive and twisted evil. Let’s pretend that this struggle requires courage and commitment and let’s pretend that we possess those things. Let’s pretend that we are all that stands between this country and brutal chaos — that we and we alone are the ones keeping it all together.

Let’s pretend we are not who we actually are. Let’s pretend that our lives are not what they actually are. Let’s pretend.

It’s one of the best and most telling posts I’ve ever read, especially since Fred has lived it from the inside. I think his observations really apply here. Conspiracy theories and fantasies proliferate on the right because the right is basically about stalling progress, and putting up roadblocks to a better world. But saying out loud that you don’t want a better world is intolerable. The ego cannot handle admitting to itself that you oppose feminism and environmentalism because you’re petty, vindictive, or selfish. And so imaginary enemies are created. Fantasies like the ones Fred describes are lived in until reality feels less real than the fantasy. You don’t oppose abortion because you’re a petty person who can’t stand the idea that other people are living their lives without your control or even input. Oh no! You’re like an abolitionist! And you’re not an anti-environmentalist because you’re petty, hostile to change, and don’t want to be bothered to think about how wasteful you’ve been all your life and why that needs to change. You’re fighting a worldwide conspiracy of communism that just happens to involve the vast majority of scientists in the world!

Obviously, there’s liberal fantasists, as well. Anti-vaccination types and 9/11 Truthers come to mind, though it’s well worth pointing out that both subcultures have more than their fair share of right wingers, whereas most right wing conspiracy theory subcultures have few, if any liberals. And these folks have similar motivations—there’s a truth they can’t handle for some reason (in my experience, they’re highly privileged people who cannot accept the basic reality of bad luck, and bad luck is both the main reason for autism and the Bush administration being poised to take political advantage of 9/11), and so fill in a fantasy where they’re noble, brave people speaking truth to power. But generally speaking, this stuff hasn’t taken off with liberals and I think it’s because we have real problems to deal with, and are familiar with how tedious and un-noble it can feel to grind at these on a day to day basis.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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