The incoherent pile of contradictory slurs directed at Obama and the Democrats ("fascist", "communist", "socialist", "radical", "big government", "Moslem", "atheist".) all mean the same thing: "die heretic".
The slurs and hate speech above are just how "heretic" sounds in the tortured languages of each fundamentalist splinter faction huddling under the Tea Party umbrella. If you think the term "heretic" is "quaint", you should check out the history of heresy below the fold.
As Gary Younge points out, The Tea Party is not new, or coherent. It's merely old whine in new bottles. As any aware person realizes, the Tea Party has no unifying program, except festering hatred. The Tea Party is nothing more than a corporate-funded container for many stripes of fundamentalist "true believers".
The "marquee" fundamentalists of the Tea Party are the hard-line libertarians, waiting to "Go Galt". These overlap with financial/market fundamentalists, who still see the market as perfect and Godlike in its omniscience - despite massive, corruption-induced financial disasters. Next in line are the "original intent" Constitutional fundamentalists of the Federalist Society, heavily in bed with the "America is a Christian nation" religious revisionists and the "corporations are people" lobbyist crowd. Then there are the fundamentalist Christian crazies who have been used by the "Culture War" for the last thirty years. They are trying to hijack the Tea Party back from economic to cultural rebellion. Whenever any of these delusional fanatics collides with reality, their reaction is to dismiss it and to threaten anyone who appeals to facts or scientific evidence. Anti-intellectualism is the other face of fundamentalism, and it has a long history in populist America.
Much as I would like to just laugh at these nutcases, fundamentalists are not funny; and a large mass of them in one place resembles a lynch mob more than a political meeting. They are too fractured to organize themselves; but they are being organized by big corporate money. The history of religion in society has much to say about where we are headed if such a fundamentalist zealot assault on "heresy" is not shut down.
The rest of this essay introduces the history of heresy, shows how the organized destruction of all facets of the New Deal/Great Society/60s counter-culture over the last thirty years resembles every other orthodox repression in history, comments on the refusal of the leadership of the Democratic Party to recognize what it is facing, and makes some predictions about where our particular mixture of fundamentalism, market worship, and anti-intellectualism is headed.
1. The History of Heresy
Before there were monotheistic religions, polytheism was; and polytheism, by its very nature, was tolerant.
The word "heresy" can only have meaning in monotheism.
Monotheism cruelly punishes the sin of "heresy", but polytheism does not recognize it as a sin at all. Significantly, "heresy" is derived from the Greek word for "choice", and the fundamental theology of polytheism honors the worshipper's freedom to choose among the many gods and goddesses who are believed to exist...'The pagan gods, even the gods of mysteries, are not jealous of one another', explains historian and anthropologist Walter Burkert. 'Envy stands outside the divine chorus', as the famous saying of Plato puts it.
- Jonathan Kirsch, God Against the Gods - The history of the war between monotheism and polytheism
But, when monotheism solidified, you got violent, delusional zealots "on a mission from God" destroying the infrastructure of society to "cleanse" it. The manipulation of extremists by the political establishment has been part and parcel of attacks on heresy since the concept of heresy was invented. For the zealot fringe, monotheism was authority-sanctioned angel dust that came complete with a "get out of jail free" card for any damage they did while high on God.
...monks boiled up out of the wilderness en masse and descended upon town and countryside as self-appointed "shock troops" in the holy war against paganism. Urged on by the most militant of the bishops, they took it upon themselves to search for and destroy any expression of paganism they could find. They delighted in pulling down altars, smashing statuary and ruining shrines and temples...
'As France long ago had its revolutionary mobs and China more recently its Red Guards', explains historian John Holland Smith, 'so too in the empire in the closing years of the fourth Christian century had its propaganda-directed gangs of rioters who went from place to place smashing, burning, looting and destroying in defiance of the laws and defence of their own cultural revolution. (p 272)
In 390, a mob of Christian zealots attacked the ancient library of Alexandria (which held) some 700,000 volumes and scrolls in all. The whole collection of parchment and papyri was torched, the library itself was pulled down, and the loss to Western civilization is beyond calculation or even imagination.
Hypatia, a pagan ascetic,...inspired only contempt and disgust in the zealous Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria, and he prevailed upon the (monks) to do something about (her). They carried her into a church, stripped her naked, tortured her with broken shards of pottery, and finally hacked her body into pieces...'With her the Greece that is a spirit expired', writes E. M. Forster, 'the Greece that tried to discover truth and beauty.' (p 276)
The United States stands on the verge of such an eruption of extremist violence from fanatical monotheists. If you think that is not a worry, because you too are a monotheist, think again. Listen to the Dominionist fundies rail against all other versions of Christianity (or Judaism or Islam). To them, everyone else is a pagan, and America's freedom of religion looks to them more like polytheistic paganism. (When the right-wing, corporatized leadership of the Inquisition against the New Deal cynically eggs on the lunatics with guns and bombs to put the torch to four hundred years of scientific and social advancement, just to add a few more zeros to their already bloated bank accounts, they are are tickling the dragons tail.) Nothing good can come of it.
Those are the historical similarities; but there are deeper (and more controversial) similarities. The issue is one of mentality. In the grip of a materialism that grows stronger with each electronic gadget, people are too busy to reflect on what is happening to critical thinking (or "interiority" of any kind), especially critical thinking about religion. It is so constantly interrupted, heckled, and branded as "elitist" or "atheist" that it is being driven out of the political discussion - which seems to run on nothing but sound-bites and hate speech.
1A. The Mentality of Heresy
This is an obscure topic that is, today, completely out of vogue. In fact, most of what I know of this topic came from one book Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West by Morris Berman. This 20 year old book is still being re-examined today. Here are a series of quotes that barely scratch the surface of his writing on the subject:
The heretical cycle is, at least in very broad term, invariable. There is a form that has outlived its ability to provide any genuine spiritual experience (the essence); a group arises that points this out, and demonstrates its own ability to deliver the goods; it finally succeeds and becomes the new orthodoxy; and in the space of a century or less, it itself has forgotten about essence and is preoccupied with form. As a result, it evokes a new heretical challenge; (and we have come full circle).
Pharasaic Judaism, bogged down in ritual observance, spawned magical and ascent practice in its midst; this led to a breakaway movement organized around the memory of Jesus Christ; and by the time the Roman emperor converted to the new religion, it had ossified into the most rigid and monolithic structure the world had ever known. Enter the Cathars several centuries later, and the cycle begins again; although the Cathars were wiped out before the cycle could run its natural course. (p 221-2)
Heresy says, "You can do it for yourself," whereas orthodoxy says, "We’ll do it for you" (for a political and economic price). This is no small difference, and it accounts, in part for the bitter war between heresy and orthodoxy that has characterized so much of Western history, in various forms. One is about direct somatic experience, the other is about fear of the same and about finding substitutes for it. (p 251)
The possibility that form and essence, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, are bipolar, are actually necessary for each other's existence, is one that continues to elude us...As a result, the response to this patriarchal framework is inevitably female revolt, the voice of the Great Mother Representative. If male consciousness wants to make separations, the Great Mother Representative wants to make connections, to the point of total merger (ecstatic experience). The "underground stream" of the West - witchcraft, alchemy, and most forms of gnosticism and heresy - is essentially a feminine stream...Historically, heretical movements thus often act as agents of cultural meltdown, but the problem is that these "feminine" values usually get colonized for "male" purposes. (pp 148-9)
Moved along by a periodic politicization of the mystical ascent structure, Western culture alternates entre le cristal et la fume, as the French biologist Henri Atlan once put it – between the rigidity of crystal and the evanescence of smoke. Heresy...coalesces within a congealed cultural pattern as an underground force every so often so as to make a new pattern possible. (p 298)
In the fourth century, the imperial state became the enforcement agency of Christian orthodoxy. The decisions of Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451) continued this trend of expanding organization and shrinking spirituality; they represent a massive attack on the human soul...the (orthodox) creed meant that Christ was to be venerated as an object of faith, not imitated as a true exemplar. (p 177)
Let us summarize the (Cathar instance) of heresy...The real development of the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries is the recovery of interiority, of which heresy and romantic love, both rooted in powerful somatic experience, constitute the most dramatic public expression. The reaction of the dominant culture – a culture profoundly cut off from body experience – was a combination of repression and co-optation, and the fallout includes the emergence of thought crime and the corresponding need for bureaucratic persecution of it; the secularization of romantic love; the collapse of cultural pluralism, and the accompanying rise of centralization and the nation –state as fact and concept; and the "official" absorption of dualist cosmology (the world is a battleground of Good vs Evil) into the mainstream of Western Christendom and, really, Western thought.
There are certain similarities between the (Gnostic Christian) and the (Cathar instances of heresy) in terms of pre-conditions. In both cases, we have (a) a situation of cultural pluralism overlaid by a dominant establishment; and (b) a situation of repression triggered by a perceived threat to that establishment. (p 219)
Berman's main thesis is that somatic experience, "being here now", being comfortable with having a body, is at the heart of spiritual experience, and that ossified, bureacratic religious organizations (including things like fascism and communism) despise and hate genuine spiritual experience. They label it heresy and try to wipe it out. But, since the body itself is the ground of heresy, it always comes back.
Berman's description of the destruction of the Cathars in the south of France by the Inquisition, based in northern France, offers very scary parallels to America today:
The Cathar heresy...provided a focus of attack for what the crusaders feared and hated most: their bodies, the natural world, the wild and the primitive, the interior Other who threatened them at every turn...The thirteenth century increasingly got caught up in a cyclone of hysteria, as the definition of heresy kept slipping and sliding, as torture was officially added to the interrogation process in 1252, and as townspeople denounced each other to the Inquisition; and all of this fueled by a violently uncorked spiritual drive, the frenzied desire "to purge civilization of the vast hidden army of Christ's enemies". Yet, in many ways the issue of heresy almost fell from sight. The war very quickly stopped being one against heresy per se, and turned into one of the north versus the south. The Albigensian crusade was finally a clash of two cultures, of two mentalites. (p. 192)
2. The twentieth century recovery of the body and the counter-attack against it
If there was one thing the 1960s did, it was to shatter the repressive, Puritanical stranglehold of the dominant WASP culture. That was why it was called the "counter-culture". It was a body-based rejection of a spiritually dead culture living under the threat of nuclear species-cide. That was why the counter-culture symbols were body symbols: long hair, no cosmetics, blatant sexuality, drugs like LSD and psylocybin to generate alternate consciousness - and especially Eastern body practices like yoga and meditation, and organizations which promoted such, like the Esalen Institute. That's why the compassionate child rearing of Dr. Benjamin Spock became such a flash point for fundamentalist outrage - how dare he not punish children!
As in all previous cases of body-based heresy against an entrenched, orthodox culture, reaction started immediately. Given the rapid pace of modern life, it took barely ten years for reactionaries to gain control of the government (i.e., the Reagan mob) and begin to kill the tolerant, polytheistic attitudes that led to the "heresy". This being the United States, such killing would eventually have to go all the way back to the Enlightenment "heretics" who created the US Constitution and Separation of Church and State.
To be honest, the corporate orthodoxy of the Reagan era was only using the fundamentalists; it didn't believe in fundamentalism. That's why they called them "country club Republicans". Their real goal was to kill the hated New Deal "heretics", whose regulations blasphemed their "religion" of the free maket. Building up fundamentalist cadres was simply a means to this end; a continuation of Nixon's Southern Strategy. To the present day, corporations have continued their strategy of funding (hopefully) defective/controllable "charismatic leaders" to manipulate fundamentalists. From Reagan, the senile, to Bush, the dry drunk, to Palin, the witch-doctoring Alaskan grifter, the corporations have been forced to pick crazier and crazier people to stay in front of the lynch mob they are funding and directing. The GOP is now further right than it was under Barry Goldwater; and this has allowed the Birchers (i.e., the Koch brothers) to come back strong to fight for control of the party. More on that later.
Chris Hedges pushes the horizon for repression back to the McCarthy era:
Davis argues that not only did socialism and communism become outlaw terms, but once these were tagged as heresies, the right wing tried to make liberal, secular and pluralist outlaw terms as well. The result is an impoverishment of ideas and analysis at a moment when we desperately need radical voices to make sense of the corporate destruction of the global economy and the ecosystem. The "centrist" liberals manage to retain a voice in mainstream society because they pay homage to the marvels of corporate capitalism even as it disembowels the nation and the planet...
Those who remained in charge of American intellectual thought went on to establish the wider "heresy of leftism" in the name of academic objectivity. And they have succeeded. Universities stand as cowardly, mute and silent accomplices of the corporate state, taking corporate money and doing corporate bidding.
It is worth mentioning that the Catholic Church, discredited by its non-resistance to fascism during WW2, made a comeback in the 1950s by being extremely anti-Communist. The Papacy always does well denouncing "heretics". This was especially true in the United States, where Catholic support for Senator Joseph McCarthy was strong, and included people like Joseph Kennedy.
But, to return to the issue of mentality and body-consciousness, the so-called Culture Wars are all about repressing the body. Women's bodies for starters. How dare women control their own bodies. How dare women take pleasure in, and perhaps control, sex. How dare homosexuals come out in the open. How dare people use recreational drugs like marijuana. How dare Buddhists seek enlightenment, instead of salvation. These issues are the same kinds of body issues that drove Catholic Church rage against the Gnostics and Cathars. That is why the shorthand for body-conscious people is "dirty fucking hippies". The term is used to conjure up repulsive images, similar to leprosy or "the eternal Jew", to stereotype and demonize the body image of an entire target population. Racism is back; another body image to demonize: the non-white as alien devils.
We also see the co-optation part of repression in action. What happened to all that touchy-feeley meditation stuff? It became "peak performance" or "flow" - just another gimmick to be sold by countless on-the-make lecturers, like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the former head of the psychology department at (wait for it) the University of Chicago.
Actual rebellion against corrupt, warmongering governments has been co-opted into what Thomas Frank called The Rebel Consumer. Non-conformity in all things trivial and personal; total conformity in all things important and political.
3. The Corporate Democratic Response ( or You can't wake a man who is pretending to be asleep.)
The corporate-sponsored DLC hijacked the party leadership back in 1992 (when the only successful DLCer, Clinton, was elected). Since then, the party leadership has been objectively pro-corporate and center-right. That is, when its not serving up outright Republican saboteurs like Joe Lieberman as VP candidates.
The corporate Democrats present themselves to the public as wimps, always rolling over for the increasingly radical GOP. Case in point, Obama's insane continued attempts at bipartisanship with a party that has never stopped hitting him in the face with racist brass knuckles. In reality, corporate Dems are passive-aggressive sellouts. They refuse to use their grassroots resources. In fact, they fight against grassroots lefists, such as labor unions or party activists. In comparison to the GOP's raw meat, street fighting rhetoric and Chicago-style election thuggery, the corporate Dems' talking points sound like naive high school debating tactics; and their cave-ins to the GOP are notorious. The Dems refused to press the GOP over middle class tax cuts BEFORE the election. They are either fools or knaves. We report; you decide.
Only those Democrats on the receiving end of the heretic/"Other" rhetoric have managed to "stay awake" (to use the Platonic sleepers/wakers dichotomy) as the corporatocracy erases the accomplishments of leftwing movements in America. So, the Democratic wing of the Democratic party contains the victims of orthodox witch-hunts, Inquisitions, and defacements: blacks, feminists, homosexuals, Hispanics, leftwing intellectuals, labor unions, and a few outright leftists, like Bernie Sanders (not technically a Democrat).
The corporate wing of the Democratic Party mindlessly repeats the agenda provided to them by their handlers (i.e., the lobbyists and corporate bagmen). They let the corporate media set the agenda and the boundaries of the conversation. They stay in the box they are placed in. They are neutered corporate apparatchiks. (Go ahead and flame me, Ralph Nader was right about that half of the party.) Pressuring them with appeals to support the common man, as opposed to threatening them with raw political power, is useless. As Upton Sinclair said,
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."
The bottom line is that only half the Democratic politicians can even be approached to resist the increasing looting of the middle class and the increasing destruction of our Constitutional guarantees of civil rights. Given those numbers, the conclusion (if people continue to take orders from the corporate wing of the Democratic Party) is foregone. The corporations will reduce the middle class to penury, elevate fundamentalists to control "uppity" leftists, and effectively destroy this country for their own personal gain.
Do the numbers. The left in America has no political party to call its own. It is done. Stick a fork in it. Barack Obama, the corporate Dem, has, by his refusal to use the mandate he was given, discredited the Democratic Party, Keynesian economics, and resistance to elite dominance, when he was the last hope of a desperate American people. Those people won't be voting Corporate Democrat any time soon. Those people now know that both parties' leaderships feed from the same corporate trough. Both parties' leaderships supports unending war, the suspension of civil rights, the destruction of the social safety net and public education, the non-prosecution of elite criminals, and the refusal to tax the super-rich parasites that have looted this country.
4. The future: Fundamentalism, market worship, and anti-intellectualism
I hate to be defeatist; but I refuse to be a pollyanna. Obama's response to his election "shellacking" shows that he is either clueless or a scripted phony. If there is to be any successful resistance to the latest rightwing power grab, it will happen because the base FORCES Obama to actually defend the middle class. At the moment, it is Ron Paul (e.g., AFDA), not Obama, who is defending our 4th Amendment rights - a situation that speaks to the utter captivity of corporate Dems.
The Democratic Party is dead in the water for the next two years, thanks to its passive-aggressive corporate leadership. The result of that will, in all likelihood, be the death of the middle class, the acceptance of the permanent warfare state, the suspension of civil liberties in the name of Homeland Security, and the legal enthronement of an above-the-law financial elite.
Anyone who doubts this is free to show me how the wimp in the White House is going to do jack shit to stop it. Hell, he is on-board with all of these things.
That said, here is how I think it will play out on the Culture War (i.e., heresy) front.
As the victory of orthodox repression over leftist "heresy" becomes unstoppable, critical thinking will be slowly ground out of the educational system (just teach to the test and shut up about the rest) and the soon-to-be-censored Internet. It will be replaced by a generation indoctrinated in vapid consumerism and patriotic chest-beating by slimy outfits like the Edison Schools. You can watch this generation in their creches today on Facebook and Twitter, letting corporations confiscate and surveil their private lives for profit.
As the "We can do it for you." meme of orthodoxy triumphs, the Constitution will become something to worship, not to actually use. It will become rigid, and "original intent" will be used to wipe out all social advances. The law will be whatever a precedent-smashing Federalist Society SCOTUS says it is. (Oops. My bad. This has already happened.)
What are currently gross violations of the Separation of Church and State (e.g., the evangelical domination of the Air Force Academy; the active preaching of politics from the pulpit in conscious defiance of the IRS; the "C Street" fundamentalist madrassa for Congressmen in Washington, DC) will become national policy, just as Constantine the Great made Christianity the religion of empire. (Since we are now an empire, I guess that's appropriate.)
The country will rapidly begin to circle the intellectual drain, and anyone still "awake"/conscious, and with the means to leave, will do so - just as they did in Iraq, Afghanistan, and any other hell-hole targeted by the American military-industrial-financial-media complex.
As recently as thirty years ago, this country was about science, economics and industry. Now its about fundamentalism, warmongering, and financial and legal chicanery. The Inquisition has all but won.
I have never been so angry in my life. I feel that I have been stabbed in the back by the party that I have supported all my adult life - the only alternative to fundamentalist insanity and elite predation that has been on offer.
Before you bash me as a "disloyal" Democrat, I invite you to suspend your disbelief for a moment and take my point of view - that Obama's policies are part of the problem, not part of the solution. (Obviously, GOP policies are ALSO part of the problem.)
As the mass of quotes above indicate, I fear that a very dark time is coming (a replay of dark times of the past) and that the powers-that-be (including Obama) are actively working to create that dark time for their own advantage. Furthermore, the system of legalized political bribery (Citzens United), coupled with an increasingly intrusive police state, will make both non-violent and violent rebellion against this course of action unlikely to succeed.
We will need some creative ideas, for sure. Just to end on a positive note, check out this bank protest action.
Nowadays what does it mean to be on the streets? To demonstrate? You swindle yourself. Anyway, that's not the way any more.
We don't pick up weapons to kill people to start the revolution. The revolution is really easy to do these days. What's the system? The system is built on the power of the banks. So it must be destroyed through the banks.
This means that the three million people with their placards on the streets, they go to the bank and they withdraw their money and the banks collapse. Three million, 10 million people, and the banks collapse and there is no real threat. A real revolution.