Smart people saying smart things (12.2.19)

Smart people saying smart things (12.2.19) December 2, 2019

Angie Maxwell, “Nationalizing Southern Identity: The GOP’s Long Game”

As team allegiance — to whiteness, patriarchy, or fundamentalist Christianity — grows stronger through rivalry, so too does the demand for total loyalty. Any changes to the rules, so to speak, whether by court or Congress, were met by many southern whites with creative noncompliance, or massive resistance, or both until directly enforced. Compromise, after all, was a slippery slope, and absolutism the only anchor. And yet there were moderates, a majority of whom were silent, who did not want to seem resistant to progress or to be judged by others or even by themselves. To remain loyal, those folks often needed deniability, a “Great Alibi,” as Robert Penn Warren called it. Coded rhetoric provided political cues without provoking rebuke or even one’s own conscience. Just as it had done during the southern atrocities of lynchings and slavery, noted anthropologist John Dollard, who studied the South in the 1930s, this moral passivity or non-engagement enabled extremism. There were only a handful of people in any given community who could, Dollard claimed, actually bring themselves to do the lynching. But there were multitudes who were content to watch. If they were not content, they were, at the least, not outraged enough or too fearful of the social consequences to protest.

Marc Maron, “On Comedy and ‘Woke Culture'”

There’s plenty of people being funny right now. Not only being funny but being really f—king funny. There are still lines to be rode. If you like to ride a line, you can still ride a line. If you want to take chances, you can still take chances. Really, the only thing that’s off the table, culturally, at this juncture — and not even entirely — is shamelessly punching down for the sheer joy of hurting people. For the sheer excitement and laughter that some people get from causing people pain, from making people uncomfortable, from making people feel excluded. Ya know, that excitement. If you’re too intimidated to try to do comedy that is deep or provocative, or even a little controversial, without hurting people, then you’re not good at what you do.

Chris Hayes on “The path of least resistance”

David W. Blight, “Frederick Douglass’s Vision for a Reborn America”

The aspiration that a postwar United States might slough off its own past identity as a pro-slavery nation and become the dream of millions who had been enslaved, as well as many of those who had freed them, was hardly a modest one. Underlying it was a hope that history itself had fundamentally shifted, aligning with a multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious country born of the war’s massive blood sacrifice. Somehow the tremendous resistance of the white South and former Confederates, which Douglass himself predicted would take ever more virulent forms, would be blunted. A vision of “composite” nationhood would prevail, separating Church and state, giving allegiance to a single new Constitution, federalizing the Bill of Rights, and spreading liberty more broadly than any civilization had ever attempted.

Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism

A mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. The mixture in itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynicism the vice of superior and refined minds. Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

What had been a demonstrable reaction of mass audiences became an important hierarchical principle for mass organization. A mixture of gullibility and cynicism is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements, and the higher the rank the more cynicism weighs down gullibility.

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