A friend of mine — not a Facebook friend, a real one — was recently bemoaning the craziness of Teabaggers and other such freaks. Of course I also get a lot of similar handwringing from earnest ‘progressives’ and even from self-identified Commies on mailing lists and on Facebook, when I’m incautious enough to visit the latter. Everybody seems very worried about people who are, basically, Flat-Earthers.
Now it has always seemed to me very silly to pay any attention whatsoever to these clowns; but this was more a matter of intuition than careful thought.
Talking with my friend, I came to the conclusion — surprise, surprise — that my intuition was correct, but now I have some thinking to back it up.
I think my friend — and many other people — see political culture as a kind of arithmetic average. If you could just somehow eliminate the Teabaggers and kindred species, either by conversion or some other means, the center would automatically shift Leftwards — simple arithmetic, right?
This inorganic view of the matter seems not only wrong-headed but topsy-turvy to me. I don’t think the center is where it is because the Teabaggers are pulling it in a crazy direction. I think the Teabaggers are crazy because the center is crazy. That is, the fundamental, almost-universally accepted axioms of American political discourse are incoherent and delusional. My ‘progressive’ friends, who are capable of very sensible and cogent thinking on any other topic, start spewing word salad as soon as the conversation turns to Our Great Republic. Systematically unexamined concepts like ‘democracy’ and ‘the rule of law’ and ‘mixed economy’ and ‘extremism’ and ‘order’ and ‘chaos’ start to be flung around like badly-designed, un-aerodynamic Frisbees. They all fall to the ground; nobody ever catches them; and yet the pretense is kept up that some fun game is being played, out in the open air, to the general increment of cardiovascular health for one and all.
Seen in this light, the Teabaggers haven’t departed from the center; they’ve just raised it to a higher power. And maybe zeroed out some terms, as is the case with people who go the market-cult route. Put another way, craziness like the Teabaggers’ is simply a lemma of craziness like the center’s — an emanation, an epiphenomenon, a statistically predictable tail of the distribution, maybe one or 1.5 standard deviations out.
Of course this has some implications for the Left too. Maybe the abstract moralizing schematism of a lot of Left thinking is also an emanation of the Viral Center’s craziness.
So what do you do if you live in a crazy culture? You can’t simply bootstrap yourself out of it. You’re going to participate of the craziness around you, more or less.
Perhaps the best we can do is try to become, at least, a bit more aware of it — self-aware in the sense that any high-functioning crazy person has to be: There I go, being crazy again. Time to take a nap.