Occasionally, the Drudge Report links to the most absurd stories—part of Matt Drudge’s knack for bringing in the masses through sensational tabloid headlines. Yet, the stories are real, and as such they reflect the utter idiocy of our society. When life becomes too easy in a civilization, I suppose that natural selection ceases to function properly.
Today’s link of lunacy is to a (mercifully) short editorial by a reporter for the Kansas City Star titled, “Shame on McCain and Palin for using an old code word for black.” The word in question is not even “community organizer” but rather “socialist.”
When I first read the article, I thought perhaps that it was a twisted joke. Then, I looked up the reporter, and he has been at the paper for over thirty years with a column there for more than twenty years. The sheer illogic of his argument is amusing but nonetheless surprising, even given the tolerated inaccuracy and asininity of the American press.
The writer argues that many American black leaders in the past were called socialists by their political enemies who attempted to rally the nation’s misgivings about Communism in order to keep the black man down. Therefore, socialist is now code speech aimed at black leaders to rouse up Americans’ recidivist racial animosity. McCain and Palin incur the wicked white stain of racism by labeling Obama’s proposed policies socialist.
I expect such perversions of argumentation with stand-up comedians, but “journalists” should know better. Perhaps the quotation marks of skepticism around an occupation are code for black, too.
That socialism has content on its own without a racial context does not seem to occur to the writer, and neither does the thought that opposition to socialism may be rooted in political principles rather than tribal impulses. The reporter, moreover, does not consider whether the charges of socialism against his beloved civil rights leaders are accurate. None of this matters to one if all that matters is the tribe.
Patrick Buchanan’s piece this week, “Tribal Politics,” discusses Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama for president. In it, Buchanan quotes a Republican political strategist who worked on Bill Richardson’s presidential campaign. The fellow, who is Hispanic, explained his activity thus: “Blood runs thicker than politics.”
I suspect this tribal force to underlie much of the nonsense shouted from many corners—where opposition to Obama is taken to imply racism. Certainly, some of the noise is merely unprincipled campaign strategy. In American politics, all appears fair (at least to the Left, for which no price is too costly to usher in tomorrow’s utopia), and so if one can milk white guilt for more votes, then, by all means, make those folks at Starbucks celebrate their high-minded post-racial courage by voting for Barack Obama. However, the phenomenon goes beyond the party machine and seems to be readily believed by many if not most black Americans. I cannot explain away all of that conviction by noting that many black Americans have been useful idiots of Leftist demagogues for the last few generations and that they simply parrot the political opinions of the trickle down Marxism that has infected the black intelligentsia. Sure, what is decided at the D.N.C. will reach black pulpits and radio stations within weeks, but something larger than political manipulation is at work. I think that Buchanan is aware of it. Politics is naturally tribal—but the dominant white American culture has been indoctrinated otherwise. Indeed, it is part of American political principle that politics should transcend the tribe.
Since the founding of the republic, American civic mythology and religion have attempted to temper the natural human impulse toward tribalism. The old model of assimilation into “the American way” presupposed that such tribalism posed a risk for the unity of a representative democracy. The old model is surely right, and the founders themselves were quite concerned about the dangers of factionalism. The Federalist Papers address the basic political difficulty of competing group interests and propose various structural measures to manage (but never resolve) the problem. A bit later, Tocqueville remarked how Americans’ culture and value system helped to unify the diverse forces in the United States, and thinkers such as the perceptive Frenchman are correct to note how the regime written in the souls of the people steers the commonwealth more than any written constitution. How brilliant Plato was to see these truths about the human condition so long before . . .
Converging interests unite people (and divide them from others) in many ways, from class to trade to geographical origin to political philosophy to ethnicity to language to religion and so on. American society has dealt, and often stumbled, with these divisions with varying strategies. One, mentioned above, was to hold the old W.A.S.P. hegemonic order as the American standard to which all had to conform. Marxists (and their racial theorist progeny) claim that such social imposition is a form of control, and those controlled suffer from false consciousness when they assimilate. What does not occur to the Marxist is that such a unifying element might be a necessary control to maintain the viability of a diverse republic. The Roman empire maintained its integrity because the upper class from all over the empire shared adopted Roman culture and pedagogy. The caliphs buttressed their power with politico-religious support. The British spread their ways among the conquered peoples in their empire and anglicized the indigenous aristocracy. For a commonwealth to survive, it must have unity. In a monarchy or an oligarchy, the unifying element does not have to be widely spread. By contrast, in a democracy, the masses must be able to subordinate their particular allegiances to the republic as a whole. Democracy requires that tribal loyalty be directed toward all.
Such a feat is not easy, and you can look at the history of the contemporary world as Exhibit A. As democratic government spread, nationalism likewise spread. When the old aristocratic and imperial regimes were overthrown, separatist movements flourished and each tribe demanded its own self determination. The human being naturally craves the comfort of his tribe—or what he takes to be his tribe.
Hence, we see the trouble for the United States and the rest of the Western world where the majority population has recited as a mantra for generations that tribalism is quite unjust and dangerous (while diversity is good and to be encouraged). From Berlin to Birmingham, the typical Westerner has embraced the Kantian outlook where every man has an equal claim on every other man merely be being another rational being: Christian charity, German Enlightenment style. Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Europeans have been taught, with incessant cultural reinforcement, that their tribe is all mankind. Any allegiance to subsets, especially on the basis of ethnicity, is strictly taboo. The seeds of this view are, of course, in Christianity and Greek philosophy, but the real growth occurred in the Enlightenment. Yet, committed intellectuals could not move their fellow citizens away from tribal chauvinism until the world wars. The horrible consequences of nationalism were sketched into the consciousness of a civilization, and we have seen a reaction in revulsion against tribalism ever since.
Well, not quite . . . the swing has not been against tribalism but against my tribalism, if one is a Westerner. I think that a multitude of forces have contributed to the multicultural neurosis that is currently hemorrhaging Western societies in their own self-contempt, from Gramsci Marxism to Nietzsche’s critique of the Last Man. I plan to write of this topic again, but let it suffice for now to note that the neutering of the tribal impulse has not been applied to minority populations in the West for the last half century. Rather, tribal loyalties, tribal unity, tribal knowledge, and tribal obsession have been stoked repeatedly by the Left—the universalist, absolutist, damn all differences and particularity Left! Perhaps this has merely been Gramscian strategy, as John Fonte argues in “Why There Is a Culture War” in the Policy Review, where the Left utilizes base human tendencies to advance history’s progressive march toward the socialist omega point. Regardless of why the Left selectively advances tribalism that undermines liberal capitalist democracy, it is clear that such a situation has been unilateral disarmament by the majority population.
Indeed, even the slightest suggestion that this might be so incurs the wrath of the racial grievance hordes, who have convinced all the polite and gentile folks in white America that honest and independent thinking (by them, the oppressors) on race is taboo, while a forced diet of racialist indoctrination (by the “victims,” naturally) is an instrument of redemption (of whites from their ancestral colonialist, enslaving history). No Soviet weapons treaty was more effective.
Furthermore, potential black intellectuals are spoon-fed racial Manichaeism throughout their education and cultural formation, and as such, they do not provide a counterweight to the natural tribal impulse of the peasant masses but rather they have been conditioned to stoke such passions—to use such anger to “force the world to change.” Whereas true education and enlightenment ideally cultivate souls with a wider vision of reality—of its depth and complexity—and with a greater understanding of all the divergent forces at work in the world of human affairs, the activist-training of today’s so-called universities only serve as propaganda boot camps that churn out the foot soldiers of the forthcoming revolution.
So, humans naturally have tendencies toward tribal politics, and diverse democratic societies must employ their full cultural arsenal to deaden such clannish loyalties. However, the American cultural system for the last fifty years has encouraged blacks in particular to strengthen those tribal loyalties. Here, I propose, is the solution to the widespread perception among blacks that antipathy toward Obama has a racial impulse. For all their tribal centrality, men naturally project their self-understanding onto other men. Certainly, tribal animosity might lessen that identification, but nonetheless this understanding of the other through oneself serves as a basis for human relations. So, someone who puts his racial awareness and tribal adherence before everything else likely thinks that every other man does the same. The perception of McCain support as racist in origin is a reflection of Obama supporters’ awareness of their own racial allegiances.
Update: Jonah Goldberg’s “Racy Content” has fun with the Kansas City Star article.