Turning human survival into a partisan contest

I wound up tagging along with my mother and a couple of her friends to a concert benefiting the Occidental Center for the Arts tonight. We got dinner at the Union Hotel, where I was fortunate our server was vegetarian and well-prepared to help me through to getting a vegan meal at a decidedly non-vegan place when it turned out the menu I had downloaded that made me think I could eat there was out of date.

The first thing I want to say about these performers is that they are wonderful musicians. Holly Near is an amazing vocalist, Barbara Higbie is supremely talented on multiple instruments, and Jan Martinelli could have been given a bit more volume on bass—she also occasionally played an acoustic guitar.

But I’m thinking more of the ethic of folk music. It celebrates struggles which may seem very large and very important except when viewed against what seems to be an increasing likelihood that we as a species will be extinct in a few decades.[1] Near really didn’t take this on. She worries instead about the prospect that a racist and misogynist Donald Trump may be elected as president this November and completely fails to address the despair that inspires his support.[2] As I sat near the rear, looked at the audience and the performers on stage, I saw people who will very likely vote for Hillary Clinton, who is even more a neoconservative and neoliberal than Barack Obama.[3] They advocate peace but will vote for someone who has been disastrously wrong on every major foreign policy issue over the last twenty-five years and who promises much more war to come.[4] They care about the environment but will support a neoliberal whose economic views have never been sustainable even economically,[5] let alone environmentally.[6]

These are people, in short, who think a bit of reform will make the world a better place that will enable them to continue to live their comfortable lives. They are people who utterly fail to grasp the magnitude of our system of social organization’s failings even as they pay lip service to acknowledging the threats facing humanity. For them, all that’s required is voting a Democrat—it doesn’t even matter which Democrat—into the presidency this November.

Near sang a song expressing fear of what people will do in the names of their deities. In it she expressed no fear of churches, temples, or borders. But she restored the original meaning of the word Kumbaya while obliterating the phrase “my Lord” in singing it.

It is absolutely true that people on the right are a problem. As I explain elsewhere,

Conservatives really are authoritarians[7] and, while the relationship between ideology and attachment style is somewhat less than perfect,[8] they generally express insecure attachment issues.[9] They devalue empirical evidence in favor of so-called ‘transcendent’ knowledge, which is to say, they knowingly and persistently engage in the naturalistic fallacy. Worse, they celebrate the suffering their ideology imposes as “God’s will” or in the name of the market.[10]

But in looking at the right, we turn human survival into a partisan contest and overlook much more fundamental problems.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2013/03/06/we-have-found-enemy-and-he-us-and-our-system-social-organization
  2. [2]Laura Bliss, “The Pessimism of White, Working-Class America,” CityLab, November 17, 2015, http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/11/the-pessimism-of-white-working-class-america/416379/; Ben Casselman, “The Economy Is Better — Why Don’t Voters Believe It?” FiveThirtyEight, November 12, 2015, http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-economy-is-better-why-dont-voters-believe-it/; John Cassidy, “How Will the Economy’s “Lost Decade” Play Out in 2016?” New Yorker, June 9, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/how-will-the-lost-decade-play-out-in-2016; Bill Curry, “Hillary’s in danger, Trump is sunk: The hard truths America is ignoring this election season,” Salon, August 17, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/08/17/hillarys_in_danger_trump_is_sunk_the_hard_truths_america_is_ignoring_this_election_season_thanks_to_the/; Ross Douthat, “Donald Trump, Traitor to His Class,” New York Times, August 29, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/opinion/sunday/ross-douthat-donald-trump-traitor-to-his-class.html; David Frum, “The Great Republican Revolt,” Atlantic, January, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-great-republican-revolt/419118/; Mark Hensch, “Trump: I’m winning because Americans are ‘tired of being the patsies’,” Hill, August 29, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/gop-primaries/252250-trump-im-winning-because-americans-are-tired-of-being-the; Paul Krugman, “Trump Is Right on Economics,” New York Times, September 7, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/07/opinion/paul-krugman-trump-is-right-on-economics.html; Suzanne McGee, “The US economic system is unjust. Says who? Says billionaire Donald Trump,” Guardian, September 6, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/06/donald-trump-us-economic-system-unjust; Evan Osnos, “The Fearful and the Frustrated,” New Yorker, August 31, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/31/the-fearful-and-the-frustrated; George Packer, “The Republican Class War,” New Yorker, November 9, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/09/the-republican-class-war; Robert Reich, “The Revolt Against the Ruling Class,” August 2, 2015, http://robertreich.org/post/125702366950
  3. [3]Robert Parry, “Neocons and Neolibs: How Dead Ideas Kill,” Common Dreams, May 13, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/05/12/neocons-and-neolibs-how-dead-ideas-kill
  4. [4]chrisgeary2016 [pseud.], “bell hooks, black feminist, can no longer be a Hillary supporter,” Daily Kos, March 12, 2016, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/3/12/1500212/-bell-hooks-black-feminist-can-no-longer-be-a-Hillary-supporter; Marjorie Cohn, “Want Endless War? Love the U.S. Empire? Well, Hillary Clinton’s Your Choice,” Truthdig, February 1, 2016, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/want_endless_war_love_the_us_empire_hillary_clintons_your_choice_20160201; Greg Grandin, “Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton’s Tutor in War and Peace,” Nation, February 5, 2016, http://www.thenation.com/article/henry-kissinger-hillary-clintons-tutor-in-war-and-peace/; Daniel Larison, “Clinton’s Reliably Bad Foreign Policy,” American Conservative, April 12, 2016, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/clintons-reliably-bad-foreign-policy/; Jackson Lears, “We came, we saw, he died,” review of Hard Choices, by Hillary Clinton, and HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, London Review of Books 37, no. 3 (February 5, 2015), pp. 8-11, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n03/jackson-lears/we-came-we-saw-he-died; Stephen Zunes, “Hillary the Hawk,” Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Winter, 2016, http://www.thecairoreview.com/essays/hillary-the-hawk/; Stephen Zunes, “The Five Lamest Excuses for Hillary Clinton’s Vote to Invade Iraq,” Foreign Policy In Focus, January 26, 2016, http://fpif.org/five-lamest-excuses-hillary-clintons-vote-invade-iraq/
  5. [5]Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013).
  6. [6]John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008).
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Defining conservatism,” April 12, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2013/04/12/defining-conservatism; David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  8. [8]Spassena P. Koleva and Blanka Rip, “Attachment Style and Political Ideology: A Review of Contradictory Findings,” Social Justice Research 22 (2009): 241-258, doi: 10.1007/s11211-009-0099-y
  9. [9]As described in Daniel Sonkin, “Attachment Informed Psychotherapy,” n.d.,
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).

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