The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'hobbesianism'
Sociological term of the day: elite panic: basically, the tendency of those who have clambered to the top of an unequal society to take a brutally Hobbesian view of the rest of humanity, and to live in fear that those under their feet might not stay there:
Elites tend to believe in a venal, selfish, and essentially monstrous version of human nature, which I sometimes think is their own human nature. I mean, people don't become incredibly wealthy and powerful by being angelic, necessarily. They believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface -- that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn't actually happen; it's tragic.
But there's also an elite fear -- going back to the 19th century -- that there will be urban insurrection. It's a valid fear. I see these moments of crisis as moments of popular power and positive social change. The major example in my book is Mexico City, where the '85 earthquake prompted public disaffection with the one-party system and, therefore, the rebirth of civil society.The relevance of this term is left as an exercise to the reader.
If this article is to be believed, the young people who grew up in John Howard's Australia have taken the Tory government's values wholly to heart:
The language of the Howard Government on religious minorities and refugees has resulted in a generation desensitised to the very human realities and manifestations of global inequity and ethnic difference. When Howard talks of "queue jumpers" and "illegals" to describe refugees, there is a knee-jerk tendency among young people to apportion blame rather than feel empathy. This is a state of affairs that Howard has personally overseen, a significant paradigm shift that entrenches a deep and pernicious ethos of social hierarchy and privilege.
Simultaneously, there is a tendency of young people to flock to evangelical religious movements in the past five years, particularly in the outer suburbs of our capital cities. Without wishing to speak disparagingly about young people seeking spiritual depth, we can say that within these new popular religious movements disengagement with mainstream political reality is fostered. To many of these groups, "family values" becomes a code for being anti-gay, anti-euthanasia and anti-abortion. It is alarming to hear how frequently young people today embrace this kind of neo-conservatism, almost like a race to see who can be more right-wing.
Moreover, with Howard's constant talk of a very white-bread brand of traditional family values being paramount to a good society, we have seen a sudden rush of young people to get married early, get a home loan and shift to the suburbs at the first opportunity. This obsession has even extended into the gay community, which after fighting for 30 years to keep the government out of the bedroom, now appears to be fighting for the approval of Howard for their relationships.
Coupled with this, we have witnessed in Australia a new kind of hyper-consumerism. The social centre of town on any given evening is now the local shopping centre. Young people are all too eager to get the biggest credit limits possible, and max their Visa cards out with the casualness of a walk in the park. Indeed, the Howard era has brought us closer to US style ultra-materialism, where "retail therapy" is the new buzz word. Feeling bored or depressed? Better get to Chadstone shopping centre. The so-called metrosexual male has become little more than a crass marketing ploy.The lack of empathy, hyperconsumerism and devil-take-the-hindmost mentality could be the same Hobbesian muscular nihilism witnessed in the United States. Though the rise of US-style right-wing evangelical churches and acceptance of conformistic ideas of "family values" is more alarming, especially coupled with the thread of intolerance for difference hinted at. Australia may be changing, on a deep level, into one large Red State, one in which nonconformity is something to be punished and straightened rather than embraced.
John Birmingham puts forward the case that the political right pretty much has a monopoly on humour, with the left having become too puritanical and politically correct to laugh, with the voices that dare to be outrageous being predominantly right-wing, from shock-jocks and reactionary bloggers to institutions like VICE Magazine (infamously offending the uptight by pejoratively calling things "gay") and the creators of South Park and Team America (who skewered Hollywood liberals and left-wing sanctimony alike).
Of course, this relies on a rather broad definition of "right-wing", as anything that goes against a doctrinaire liberal/progressive view of propriety and "political correctness". By this token, one would classify Coco Rosie as a right-wing band, placing them in the same ideological milieu as Pat Robertson and Little Green Footballs, because one of their number attended "Kill Whitey" parties. And while VICE's Gavin McInnes claimed in American Conservative to represent a hip new conservatism (a view he later retracted, claiming he was joking/being ironic), the cocaine-snorting, nihilistic libertinism epitomised in the magazine, as much as it may offend "liberals" (or straw-man caricatures thereof), hardly fits well with the canon of conservatism and its emphasis on values, tradition and authority. However, it does fit in with the recently noted shift towards Hobbesian nihilism and radical individualism.
On a tangent: some American conservatives are concerned about FOXNews' alarming slide to the radical left; the channel, once the shining beacon of all things Right-thinking, has been compromising its Fair And Balanced™ reputation by running programmes on topics such as global warming. Pundits blame the influx of liberally-inclined ex-CNN reporters, the staffers having spent too long in Godless New York, away from the Biblical certainties of the Red States, or Murdoch not really being "One Of Us", but rather a cynical opportunist.
And finally, a study on the neurology of political belief has showed that True Believers of both stripes are adept at ignoring facts which don't jive with their beliefs, and experience a rush in the reward centres of the brain when they do:
"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts."
The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say. Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.
It's official: according the the UN, American nationals cannot, by definition, be war criminals, and crimes against humanity can only be committed by non-US nationals. At least for the next 12 months, renewable annually. And so, justice comes from the barrel of the biggest gun.
(What happens when China comes into its own as a world superpower, and demands that Chinese nationals be exempted from prosecution, threatening to sabotage the UN process if it's unfairly denied this privilege that the US has (as would be the rational thing for China to do faced with such a snub); or when Israel pushes for exemption for its operations in the Palestinian territories, with US backing? Or when Indonesia (the world's third most populous nation, and a potential economic and military powerhouse) starts doing so, and pushing its weight around? Or when a dozen other countries do the same? The criterion for exemption from prosecution doesn't seem to be anything other than "might makes right" (unless you believe in the doctrine of America's God-given Manifest Destiny or some other system of teleological mumbo-jumbo, of course). So we'll end up with a club of powerful nations who are above the law, and a puppet kangaroo court existing solely to try their defeated enemies and keep the small fry from rising above their station in world affairs.)
Did the era of human rights end on September 11? It looks a bit like it, with the preservation of Empire taking precedence over feeling warm and fuzzy about doing the right thing, western countries diplomatically shutting up about their new allies' human-rights problems and everyone from Australia to Zimbabwe using "terrorism" as an excuse to dismiss human rights issues as a holdover from a softer, more decadent era.
But, as the Cold War should have taught the US, cozying up to friendly authoritarians is a poor bet in the long term. America is still paying a price for backing the shah of Iran. In the Arab world today, the US looks as if it is on the side of LouisXVI in 1789; come the revolution in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, American influence may be swept away. The human-rights movement is not in the business of preserving US power. But it should be concerned about stability, about moving strategically vital states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia from closed to open societies without delivering them up to religious fundamentalists.