The great old Stanley Kramer movie, "Judgment at Nuremberg" is about the trial of four nazi war criminals, each of which presents a question of ethics in sentencing. There's an unrepentant monster (played by Col. Klink, really), who continues to preach viciousness from the defendants' box; a colorless little nobody who says he was just following orders; an old man in advanced stages of Reagan's Disease, who neither remembers his crimes nor comprehends the proceedings against him; and a complex antihero played by Burt Lancaster, who ends up about as close to being a "good guy" as you can get after, um, willingly participating in one of the worst crimes of modern history.
Sound like any voters you know?...
This was a seminal movie that influenced my thinking. Of the four defendants, by far the creepiest to me is the colorless little nobody. He sits there all misty eyed, like Ollie North without the counterattack, the picture of wounded innocence, wondering why such a fuss is being made about him. Nothing is his fault. He was a good German. He was a patriot. He obeyed his government. That's what people are supposed to do. Surely, these silly people will soon realize their mistake, apologize, give him his severance pay, and send him back to suburban Munich to eat Jeufwurst and read the sports pages. His inability to think for himself is so profound that actually punishing him for war crimes becomes a moral conundrum, like punishing a dog that doesn't understand what it has done.
At some point it occurred to me that this man might be himself a crime against humanity, having failed in the basic responsibility to develop critical thinking, a conscience, perception, qualities vitally necessary for one to be fully human, a species higher than the aforementioned dog. The Col. Klink guy is easy; he's basic evil. He chose darkness over light, and stuck to it, knowing exactly what he was doing all the while. Defeat and clobber him and be done with it. This other guy's evil is much more haunting. He doesn't embrace darkness so much as allow it to take him out of a warped sense of duty. People should recognize evil, but he doesn't. People should know that they make choices and decisions every moment, but he thinks he has no choice. He fails to meet a basic standard of humanity--and, considering that the Third Reich was all about declaring certain persons to be less than human, there's only so far you want to go with this judgment before you want to scrub yourself.
Which brings me to a group of women I met in 2003 on Crimescene.com. The site itself is harmless fun. It's run by a guy at the U of Mississippi (that's Faulkner territory) who is himself smart, liberal, and fun. He creates interactive CSI-like mysteries in which clues are posted gradually over several weeks, and you can win mugs and T-shirts and stuff by submitting creative solutions.
The church ladies have nothing to do with creating or maintaining the site or the mystery games. They are some of the other solvers. And they interact on the site's message boards, sometimes sharing clues and theories about the mysteries, and sometimes talking about, oh, anything. They are mostly middle-aged ladies from midwestern states beginning with vowels. They go to church. They eat casseroles and Jell-o. They are warm, clean and polite on a surface level. They live wholesome, Norman Rockwell existences. And they personify the obedient, patriotic, defendant from "Judgment at Nuremberg."
Well, not quite. FOX News, which they accept as a valid source of news and information, has made them a bit more aggressive in their opinions than he.
They want to ban Harry Potter books, although they have not read them. They criticize the New York Times for being too liberally biased, although they have not read it. They do not think businesses should be regulated by government, ever, although they think something must be done about Hollywood, which they despise for its trashy product, which they have watched, often.They want to prevent same sex couples from marrying, because it would cheapen the institute of marriage, although most of them have themselves been divorced. They rail against profanity, although they post off-color jokes on the site. They sniff about declining chastity in women, although they have dressed their prepubescent daughters in provocative outfits and bade them bump and grind to Brittney Spears in school talent shows and JonBenet beauty contests. They are furious that Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument was removed from the courthouse, because those who objected to the monument must not love Jesus (the Commandments were strongly influenced by the book of Luke, you know), although they don't believe it says anything about their church's patriotism that they would not welcome the American flag displayed in the sanctuary at all times. And don't even get them started on marijuana decriminalization, or they will become so upset that they'll need a few drinks and a tranquilizer to get over it.
They support George the Turd because he will keep America safe, although they do not feel safer than they did four years ago; and because his free market policies will improve the economy, although they are uniformly worse off than they were four years ago. They condemn John Kerry because they accept the denunciations by Sean Hannity, the Swift Boat Veterans, etc., at face value, while any contradictory presentation is dismissed as just the "liberal media". Like clockwork, they all accepted the imminent danger posed by WMDs in Iraq, and then when there turned out not to be any, like clockwork, they forgot that that was ever a factor in the invasion, or that we had ever not been at war with Eastasia. And as a last resort, if all else was proved wrong, they would never, ever, bring themselves to vote for a Democrat, because of the party's support for late term abortions, which they always, always called "partial birth". They know everything there is to know about abortion law and the reasons people get late term abortions, although they have neither read Roe v. Wade (which specifically allows the regulation of third trimester abortions) nor ever met someone who had a late-term abortion.
In fact, not once in a year and a half did I see an original thought from any of them, or a sign that the Republican talking points they parrotted had been through any kind of filter between their ears and their tongues. It wasn't just politics. Every so often, one of them would post in great alarm about cockroach eggs in postage stamp glue, or some other urban legend, and someone would reply with a link to snopes.com, and oh how their faces would be red with embarrassment. Urban legends, after all, are small. FOX hasn't gotten around yet to denouncing Urban Legend debunking as a tool of the liberal media.
And I spent a good half of the year trying to convince them otherwise.
How accepting, how downright gullible the church ladies are concerning any neoconservative propaganda, and how skeptical they are of anything contradicting it. How foolish they thought I was to pay attention to the nobel scientists and economists who opposed Bush. After all, those were just a bunch of ivory tower intellectual elitists, out of touch with the real world, who didn't work as much in their whole lives as the typical farmer does in a day. How anti-American I was to listen to be swayed by the opinions of people from other nations about what was right for the world.
Hate the church ladies? Well, the questionnaire for the year asked if there was someone newly hateworthy in my life, and the church ladies were about as close as it got in my case (the politicians, spammers, Adam Sandler, the fat naked guy from "Survivor", etc., couldn't count, because I hated them already. It had to be somebody new). I don't really hate them. Idiot fatigue is a closer approximation. My head hurts a bit from banging it against the brick wall, but I did that myself, after all. Sometimes it was even fun in the perverse sort of way that the stunning discoveries of the true depths of human banality can bring a smile. Other times, I just wanted to nurture these people, get them to grow to the point where they wouldn't be so dangerous to civilization. And I have to admit, they seemed to like me well enough, when they weren't acccusing me of treason, falsehood, thoughtcrime, personal cowardice, antimilitarism, socialism, baby-killing, atheism and ring around the collar. Heck, they probably prayed for my salvation and conversion to Republigelicanism. And they loved my solution to the case of the jolly bumpkin who found a severed hand in his field and thought it was a funky root. Eventually, however, the pain of the site outweighed the pleasure, and I left.
But I haven't forgotten. Every time an American gets killed in Iraq, every time someone's job is outsourced to Kvetchnia, every time a teenager gets a felony conviction for pot because he's not the Governor's kid, every time someone gets sent to Guantanamo without a hearing or a lawyer, every time someone is assaulted because of sexual preference, every time a school closes due to budget cuts, every time the allowable pollutants in our air, water and food are increased, every time someone has to do without healthcare, I will remember them, and consider how puzzled they would look if anyone suggested that they had anything to do with it.