Conservative Postmodernism

By Ron Horvath | Sep 04, 2010
Ron Horvath

Did you know that Einstein's theory of relativity is a liberal plot? That's right, and it's all about relativism, or relativity, if you will.

It's one of the prominent opinions of Andrew Shclafly, founder and instructor of Eagle Forum University, and son of conservative scold Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly has written: "The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism.... " He goes on to insist that believers in Einstein's theory no longer read the Bible, probably leading them to even greater doubts on the absolute truths contained therein.

But it seems that truth, absolute or otherwise, is beginning to hold no allure for the conservative right in this country. In fact, they've come to believe that they can invent truth, or that truth is whatever they say it is, at any given time, even in co-existing versions.

One of the latest inventions of the right is something called "terror babies." Republican representative Louis Gohmert, of Texas, warned Congress in June about an alleged plot by terrorists to somehow have their babies born in the U.S., then taken overseas to be trained as terrorists only to return as citizens to commit horrendous acts against this country. Gohmert claimed to have information from an "unnamed" FBI source. After being told by CNN's Anderson Cooper that he interviewed "a former FBI official, a high-ranking one, who says it's ridiculous," Gohmert, who had no real information, began shouting at Cooper, probably in a misguided but habitual conservative belief that volume makes everything sound more valid.

We should be used to this by now. Every other week it seems the right has been making up such varied and fascinating stories such as "internment camps", "gun confiscation", "death panels", and, yes, the ever-continuing but increasingly sad "birther" conspiracy. It is startling that 46 percent of Republicans think Obama is a Muslim and most don't realize that the bank bailout was the work of the Bush administration preferring to believe it happened on Obama's watch.

"Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America -- a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age," wrote Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

Most people think defensively of misfortune as always happening to other people, until it doesn't. Conservatives always think it is happening, or about to happen, to them. For this reason, conservatism was once primarily a defensive political posture. But conservatives believe a good offense is the only defense and while a real defense is mostly passive, a real offense is mostly active, and therefore needs something to act upon. If the real is missing then the imaginary will serve.

And so it is that for conservatives, who hate relativism, truth has become ever more relative. You might even say the right has become postmodern. Richard Tarnas, in his book on philosophy, "The Passion of the Western Mind," describes postmodernism as: "... an appreciation of the plasticity and constant change of reality. Reality is in some sense constructed by the mind, not simply perceived by it, and many such constructions are possible.... " That certainly describes the recent Republican horror-infused propaganda fest.

The conservative right has become the soul of postmodernism, creating its own reality at every opportunity by filling the void in their life-view with hobgoblins, bogeyman, and terror tales from the crypt of their fevered imaginations. Conservatives need enemies the way that flowers need insects, to pollinate their fears into plots and conspiracies. Indeed, Glenn Beck may be the ultimate postmodernist. There is something eerie and perversely sexual about his sweaty, tearful, overly emotional performances as he brings forth yet another horror-filled scenario of being devoured by the maw of darkest government. Beck's act may be a form of masochistic exhibitionism, a twisted kind of performance art which turns his private demons into a public commodity, selling them like any snake oil salesman to thousands of empty vessels whose fear of the unknown makes them ready receptacles for the "substance" of Beck's fevered imagination. This is a plastic reality that contradicts itself constantly with impunity, and that twists and turns like Odysseus to face any opposition, needing only the insertion of a hated name -- Obama -- for factoring fear into too, too, solid flesh.

But, of course, there is a problem. Living these nightmares out loud can have real world consequences. "So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right," wrote Frank Rich in the Sunday New York Times, "that it has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus's last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative. How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?"

We've already seen the negatives effects of this. During the Bush administration, Dick Cheney's adamant refusal to "talk to evil," as he referred to any challenging diplomatic problem, gave the brush-off to Iran's former moderate president, almost certainly resulting in Ahmadinejad's election immediately after, and the increased tensions that followed. Where moderate evil could possible have been talked down, the current regime listens to no one. Obstinacy breeds more of the same, or as the law of Karma says, you get what you give.

Now the current talk is that Israel is readying for a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, confident that America can be lead by the nose into yet another endless war albeit with a much larger opponent. So, has Cheney's lack of nuance led us all to the brink of another disaster? Will the craziness of the right bare more such real world fruit? Or worse, when it happens will they, like Glenn Beck, have a convenient alternate reality, ready at hand, to explain how someone else got us there?



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