To put it in simple terms, that’s what I call it when a whole group, or sub-set of people are deemed the Emmanuel Goldstein of the moment by a dominant group, and set up as a focus for free-wheeling hate. In practice, this hate may range all the way from a mild disinclination to associate professionally or socially, all the way to 11 in marking the object of that hate as a suitable target for murder, either singly or in wholesale lots – and sometimes with the cooperation and blessing of the state. It’s more something that I have read about – either in the pages of history books, or in the newspapers – and increasingly on-line. Still, it is no end distressing to see it developing here in these United States in this century. Am I paranoid about this current bout of ‘otherizing’? Perhaps – but don’t tell me that it cannot happen here.
Some hundred and fifty years ago, the ‘otherizing’ reached such a pitch that young men marched against their countrymen – they were clad in blue and grey, and fell on battlefields so contested that lead shot fell like a hailstorm, and swept away a large portion of men recruited by regional-based units. Passionate feelings, words and small deeds, public and private regarding slavery were balanced against states’ rights. The pressure built up and up, like steam in a boiler – and finally there was no means for them to be expressed but in death wished upon the ‘other’. By the end of twenty years of editorials, speeches, and political campaigns had been worked to a fever pitch. Civil war became not only possible – but in the eyes of the editorialists, the speech-makers and the politicians – a wholly desirable outcome. And a goodly portion of a generation lay dead, as if a scythe had swept over a wheat-field. Everyone was very sorry afterwards, but the words could not be unspoken, the hatred and resentment re-bottled in a flask, or the dead re-animated, to go about their ordinary lives as if the great divisive issue of mid-19th century America had never been.
Words eventually lead to deeds – especially hot, angry words spoken or expressed by those in cultural authority. Which in this West of the World means politicians and intellectuals, and the popular media; even the not-so-pop media, come to think on it – like NPR, or lesser organs like CNN or MSNBC. (Which is my private jest to call PMS-NBC. See, two can play at this denigration game.) They used to say that sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me. But it’s the words, you see; eventually the tide of insult and slander takes a toll. The trouble is that words used with deliberation and intent will lead to application of the sticks and stones. It will also lead, as history demonstrates, to the misuse of the law to criminalize political opposition, to encourage mob actions to retaliate against the ‘other’ for perceived offenses, and at the very least to shun the ‘other’ socially.
Are we at the point of 1861 again, with a divide so deep, and the words spoken so incendiary that they might only be erased in blood? I don’t think so, not quite yet. But we are certainly closer today to 1861 then we have been in the last few decades. And that prospect scares the heck out of me – but it doesn’t seem like many of those in cultural authority, in the media, the commentariat or in politics quite feel the same fear. Just possibly they knew recent history about as well as Andrea Mitchell does … which is cause for even more alarm, if possible.
(crossposted at www.ncobrief.com)