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Monday, November 11, 2002

Lileks vs. the Smug Monster

Lileks today has a mini-screed on the ingrained condescension and contempt of those on the left for those on the right. It's set off by an off-hand comment in David Denby's New Yorker review for the movie 8 Mile:

"People who are convinced that Eminem is destroying America might want to consider the delicacy of the white-black friendships in `8 Mile.' (Perhaps the specter of such friendships is what right-wingers actually hate the most.)"

There's no context for this remark. The on-line version of the New Yorker has only a few words about the movie (you have to scroll down to 8 Mile). So it does sound really stupid, and I'm sorry to hear that Denby wrote it. I enjoyed his Great Books, which was about his year spent (after becoming an established writer) studying a "Great Books" course. Part of the justification for both the course and the resulting book was to defend "Great Books"---the core literature of Western Civilization---from charges of being a tool of the oppressive Dead White European Male Capitalist Patrimony [TM].

But onward.

Lileks talks to a Democrat friend of his:

But we were exploring her opposition to the GOP, and she mentioned "Home schoolers, the religious right. They drive me nuts."


As for the "religious right," they are utterly irrelevant to me. I've been told for 20 years that they will bring a miserable double-knit Pat Boone theocracy, but the evidence seems lacking. There is nothing I want to hear, read, or see that I cannot hear, read, or see.

I would suggest that this is because he lives in liberal Minnesota. He should've tried spending the Reagan years in that hotbed of liberalism, Missouri.

When I was growing up the religious right was not some straw bogeyman in the pages of The Nation, they were our neighbors. They came to the door regularly, wanting to convert us to their brand of Christianity. Maybe I should say C*H*R*I*S*T*I*A*N*I*T*Y, because that's how they pronounced it. Being a regular Christian wasn't enough, no, indeed: you had to be a born-again Christian. And that demanded, not just a recommitment to the faith, but a whole set of beliefs---mostly dealing with the literal truth and inerrancy of the Bible. (For example, for them, Catholics weren't Christians. Or rather, C*H*R*I*S*T*I*A*N*S.)

These are the people who would start nearly every statement of opinion with, "Well, as a Christian..." They would attempt to argue with me by asking, "Are you a Christian?" The point was, of course, was that, as a Christian, I should know that this leads inexorably to that which comes unfailingly to a certain conclusion. But they never expected any answer but "yes" to "Are you a Christian?" On one memorable occasion, a group of fraternity boys were trying to tell me that it was my duty to have children. One of them asked if I was a Christian, in the tone one would use to ask, "You consume oxygen, right?" When I told him no, he was shocked and angry. "What are you then, a Jew??"

Perhaps Lileks forgets Ed Meese as Reagan's Attorney General. In St. Louis, St. Louis City Attorney (I thought he was St. L. County attorney, but apparently not) George Peach was trying to out-Meese Meese. He went on a rampage through the pornography bookstores, keen to close them all.

And maybe he forgets how potent a force creationists were (and still are) in some places in the South and Midwest.

There's more, but the point is that the religious right were in my face in the '80s, even if they weren't in Lileks's. They constitute much of the hard cold wall which prevents me from thinking of myself as conservative.

To hear some speak, though, this society is bound by the constricting bands of puritanism and repression, and we are but two laws away from confining pregnant women to the kitchen and denying them footwear, and this god-bothering cabal will now repeal the 20th century.

I suppose he's forgotten Phyllis Schlafly, too. Remember Phyllis? She was a lawyer (by training) who during the '70s and '80s jetted around the country telling women that their true happiness lay in staying home and out of the work force.

On the other hand, ol' Phyllis is no longer on the public scene, and Libby Dole and Condi Rice and a whole herd of righteous Republican mamas are, so this particular bogeywoman is not even fun-scary anymore.

The right panders to its religious base, uses it, gives it lip service; the left seems genuinely afraid of the consequences of confronting its irreligious base. Maybe that's the big difference.

This lip service is not a Good Thing. Every once in a while the Republicans must throw them a bone, which is probably something many of the rest of us won't like. Not only that, but it is just a wee bit hypocritical, y'know?

But with many there is a belief that liberalism itself is not just a superior method for achieving certain goals, but an idea that is inherently nobler, and bestows on the believer a moral advantage not available to people who believe otherwise.

Much like religion. That's why those people prefaced their views with, "Well, as a Christian..." That was your Assurance of Right Thinking.

The thing about religion is that you can't argue with it. If someone says, "redheads are inferior beings" you can argue with them, until they tell you their god Yobbo-Slobber has decreed it. You can still argue with it then, I suppose, but it will get you nowhere.

Now, further up in the column he says:

Some people can't enter any tent that has these people [the religious right] in it. Fine; as you wish. This means that some people who are themselves deeply religious find themselves aligned with people [a certain breed of liberal] who have an acidic animus to religion - and this I can't understand. I don't know how you can be a believer and be comfortable as a confederate of people who despite
[sic] believers.

And then he goes on to say:

The simple answer is that there is no common ground with people who think you're a political leper, a winged monkey in the service of a green-skinned Nancy Reagan in a witch's hat. Respect works both ways, and if it's not returned, then something changes. There's a difference between thinking someone's strategies are wrong, and thinking them a knave who acts from ignorance at best, and more likely acts from malice. If that's what you think, I am not interested in changing your mind. I am not interested in working together. I am not interested in suffering your insults or your condescension or any other form your preconceptions take. I am interested in defeating you, and getting down to work with the people who come in your place, and grant me the respect I'll give them.

Yeah, I remember that. I remember when "libruuuul" became a dirty word. (In fact, a lot people---and you know who you are---seem to think that today.) I remember when a lot of Christians were revelling in the idea that finally they were going to return God to the classroom/city hall/court house.

This would sort of be my point: once upon a time the Republicans used the religious right to win elections, and the religious right created an atmosphere wherein non Judaeo-Christians and liberals in general (and not just I-Hate-America nutdroids) were treated just as Lileks believes the religious are treated today.

Now, I'm not trying to argue that this is payback and you religious freaks are just going to have to suck it up. That would be mean and counterproductive. (This is also the time to note that not all Christians, then or now, were as rabid and inflexible as some of the ones I knew, or knew of.) And I will point out that the current gibbering (excellent example right here) about how the Evil Republicans are gonna rape the land and make all the women have babies and George Bush himself will preside over a revival on the White House lawn where spotted owls will be roasted over bristlecone pine coals and served on a bed of shredded Constitution (deep breath) is breathtakingly stupid. And dishonest.

But I will kindly ask you to remember that smug self-righteousness and contempt for the unenlightened is by no means solely the province of the Left.