The Tempting Irrational

Voltaire observed that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”  Well, maybe; he sparked our adolescent conversations late into boozy nights – and forty years later we haven’t settled it. But we also feel the need of Satan, directing frustration and anger at Emmanuel Goldstein, internalizing a picture of Bush taking the form BDS dictates.  We laugh, but the haters’ anger makes us uneasy; we feel the impotency of rational arguments against passionate irrationality.

That disease is one I fear for myself. It is dangerous: to our understanding, our reasoning, and our souls. I don’t want to feel what I’ve seen from the opposition the last few years. I don’t want to simplify & ignore – the causes of war, natural catastrophes, history; I don’t want to become conspiratorial; I don’t want to ponder the sexual preferences of a chief justice’s four-year-old or gloat over the young death of someone whose chief fault is representing that opposition. I don’t want to lose my sense of proportionality, always a small enough counterweight to my passions and assumptions. I don’t want to become the worst of them and need to remember most of them are not the worst.

We suspected their speculations were a window on their imaginations, how they saw power’s uses. Positing it done by others, justification comes more easily. Villains relieve the tensions of cognitive dissonance – we project our ambitions and motives on others; our gut may know, but we can distract ourselves by accusing another. Understanding this about human nature prompted our wry laughs at Instapundit’s “they told me” links. The Bush invented in fevered imaginations arose to comfort as much as an exercise of wit, justified more than defined.

But when our world is threatened, we prefer simplicity – in times of rapid cultural change, wars and displacement, and, of course, economic uncertainty. A strong man is attractive; we like the balance of a villain. Focused on what we see as a Manichean battle in the present, we may sacrifice country to party, long term to short.  We are all susceptible.  This is most dangerous at the ballot box, that foundation for such a large history.

While I liked bloodyhell’s comments, I hoped they were a bit hyperbolic and shared MD’s worried response. But, they suspect rightly, I fear: we may be riding toward a perfect storm in this election.

My son-in-law has been visiting; he’s giving a paper at a conference on ’68. He complained some McCain supporters (perhaps abetted by McCain) were lighting dangerous fires. (And that is my conservative son-in-law – my optimism about this election is not high.)  Tu quoque doesn’t work when it’s not his hypocrisy but simply his worry.  And I’m not comfortable defending those harsh voices. I thught of his comment a few hours later as the nightly news showed McCain firmly cautioning a partisan crowd. He did what he needed: he argued Obama was a good man, that he was not “scary.” Indeed, McCain said, he would lead well – not as McCain would, but well. I was ambivalent, thinking of remarks quite beyond the pale and long-held Obama positions ignored so often. I wanted McCain to fight. I was irritated: how can he ignore that gulf separating civility and the left? McCain’s response (standing so often beside Lieberman) is that isn’t the left, not the whole left.

Such an acknowledgement seems beyond the imagination of those like Pelosi and Frank, of whom we’ve heard more than was especially helpful lately.  But McCain values his country more than himself; that prompted him to dp what needed to be done. He is likely to continue to do it. If he loses, he won’t take to the hills, inspiring guerrilla warfare in endless contests. He is right to do this. And Obama is more likely to do it because McCain did. Being a leader isn’t checking to see if the other guy is doing the right thing, just doing it. (And the reason I’ll vote for McCain, even if he makes it hard, is my confidence in his most important priorities.)

Unfortunately, McCain’s best is not likely to be good enough. Obama’s might not be either. A lot of anger has been unleashed by our economic troubles and this hard-fought campaign. And I’m not sure Obama has the historical perspective or the imagination to understand just how deadly that fire might be. If the election is decided in a landslide, Obama will have a strong mandate for programs I believe are destructive, counterproductive, and, well, wrong. But if he does that, the perfect storm may be avoided. Conservatives, believing in the fallibility of man, are less likely to be surprised; taking pleasure in larger institutions and faith from the long term, they are less likely to see this election as apocalyptic. They won’t like it and may grumble, Rush Limbaugh will have more listeners, but I doubt they revolt. I’m not sure it can be avoided if McCain wins in a landslide, for the other side begins with other assumptions. But, then, that’s not likely to happen anyway. A tight election will fan brush fires these campaigns (consciously or not) have kindled; with enough oxygen they have an awful potency.

If Obama loses, the msm and many of his supporters will blame racism (we’ve seen hints) and voter suppression. Such interpretations justify anger and rationalize bad behavior – McCain’s choices will be constantly second guessed, his motives questioned, shady registrations justified. Paranoia is likely to rear its ugly head. On the other hand, Acorn’s practices do bring up questions nor does its funding or Acorn’s history comfort. The belief an election was stolen tempts our side, too.

One person sees a sainted community organizer, another a con man. I side with the latter. I conflate Obama’s beliefs & choices with those that caused so much misery in the twentieth century. My fears aren’t groundless but are (I hope) exaggerated. And perhaps wrong: he has had a chance to understand better than most. After all, his life has moved through a system more ordered and less bloody than that of his father and his father’s family; the system in which he rose is defined by choices at the ballot box and by the most important equality of one man, one vote.

Paranoia is not healthy for partisans, nor for the country. I don’t want to see – our country to see – the election as unfair or rigged; such doubts are dangerous. This election, no matter who wins nor how, will set precedents; if close, it will be endlessly lawyered. That may be the only way to ensure validity in future elections.  Still, we will be walking through dangerous territory to get there. Putting our country and the importance of its unity above party and above self will be necessary. And perhaps impossible.

2 thoughts on “The Tempting Irrational”

  1. Enjoyed reading this thoughtful and insightful post.

    It is easy and tempting to demonize the other side, question their motives, paint with a broad brush, and retreat into simplicity. Despite trying, I’m often guilty of this. Thanks for the reminder that at the end of the day, we are one nation and more binds us together than sets us apart.

  2. Sorry, the brush fires were lit in 2000, fanned higher in 2004, and eventually there will be a terrible price. We’re long past the time when the left can climb down off the tiger of irrationality and it is unlikely that the right will resist climbing on for its own ride forever.

    It will be ugly, destructive, and the world will burn while we sort ourselves out on another basis than Democrat and Republican. Hopefully, there will be enough grownups so that the transition will be relatively swift and the damage survivable. I am not optimistic.

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