But as always, my greater interest is in considering the mythological implications, because our American attitudes, our American prejudices, our American blindness and naiveté are determined by the unconscious ways in which we attend to our American myths. And to do that, we have to look at how the “left” also engages in FEs. Sorry, no Greek myths here.
Throughout almost all of American history, the witch-hunts and hysteria that crop up every generation have mobilized the right wing, especially including those males who could be manipulated into identifying as white rather than as working class.
Or at least until our generation. Perhaps it began with the fluoridation dispute in the 1950s. It picked up intensity with the JFK assassination and blossomed fully after 9-11, when many serious, good-hearted, influential progressives absolutely demonized some of their brethren who dared to articulate the latest “conspiracy theory.” Last year Tim Wise (www.timwise.org), a profoundly important activist and writer, exploded in maximal sarcasm:
So please, stay at home 24/7, insisting to yourself and all who will listen about how vaccinations are the cause of autism and how Tower 7 was brought down by Dick Cheney or whatever, and how hyper-oxygenation can cure HIV/AIDS (or at least it would, if HIV/AIDS really existed which it doesn’t of course), and how everything – yes everything – is a “false flag” because Alex Jones said so after skipping his meds for like a month. So there was no Sandy Hook shooting, and no 9/11, and no attack on the Pentagon and no shooting at the theatre in Aurora: all those folks who supposedly died are hanging out on an island like in “Lost” where they are fed and cared for by the NSA and CIA, along with those folks who faked the moon landing and the curvature of the Earth. Oh and while doing this…claim to be a progressive or leftist or radical. Because saying it makes it true!
Tim Wise is a good man who is justifiably angry and extremely articulate within his areas of expertise, racism and white privilege. And I’m not saying that he’s wrong (the broader issue, once again, is not about right and wrong; it’s about innocence and experience.) But look at the language of FE, how he lumps progressives who question certain dominant paradigms that he takes for granted together with severely right-wing loonies. In his mind they are all conspiracy theorists, and they deserve nothing but ridicule. And I’ve found that his opinions, and worse, his tone, are quite characteristic of opinion pieces I’ve seen on normally reliable websites such as Moveon.org and Alternet.
Ridicule is a tool of the gatekeepers. Now the above quote is way too far over the top to characterize “reasonable” (NYT, etc) opinion, but its intention is the same: to marginalize people rather than engage with them. When did sarcasm and ridicule ever change anyone’s mind? Is it even intended to be read by people who don’t agree with him?
Look at Tim’s assumptions: by using the language of the gatekeepers, he is demonizing other people, and in the world of polar opposites that he seems to have fallen into, either you are with him on every single issue or you are not to be trusted on any issue. Change the terminology just a little, and we are back in the language of the American frontier, where you are either among the elect inside the pale of the innocent community, or you represent the dark (ironic, considering Tim’s huge heart on the race issue) evil on the outside that is inscrutable: we just can’t understand why they hate us so. And in American myth, evil is so, well, evil that it must be utterly and permanently obliterated and removed from memory. There is no middle ground.
This is the language of a demythologized world, in which subtle nuance (supposedly something that progressives claim to understand, has been replaced by dualistic language. However, as I write in Chapter One of my book:
The Aramaic word spoken by Jesus and translated into Greek as diabolos and into English as “evil” actually means “unripe.” What if we used “unripe” instead of “evil?” “Unripe” persons are simply immature. Aren’t communities responsible for helping them “ripen,” rather than punishing or eradicating them? This is critical: if we can’t imagine a sym-bolic (“throwing together”) world, then we are left with a dia-bolic world.
This is the language of Fox News.
And worse: they want him to sound shrill and intolerant. It makes their work that much easier. It assists in their broader intentions, to convince more and more of us to simply turn off to the cacophony of bitterness and ranting. Tim Wise is really much better than that.
The language of ridicule reveals how leftists are also engaging in FEs. Most of the progressive print and online voices that I read have got on board the “ridicule the anti-vaxxers” train, and in a very specific way. They have bought the gatekeeper line that actually lumps many legitimate anti-corporate, anti-military dissenters together with Tea Party loonies simply because of their views on vaccination.
This particular smear campaign has succeeded; progressives view the vaccination issue as just another left/right dispute, and so they no longer need to think about it. If they were experiencing anxiety over this issue (as we all do when our mythic thinking is called into question), now their anxiety has been reduced. But the myth of American innocence is inherently unstable. Like any other addiction (alcoholism, consumerism, fundamentalism, Marxism, free market libertarianism, workaholism and our greatest addiction of all, fear), it has very little nutritional capacity and must be constantly fed. But I say this issue is most certainly not about right and left.
And keep in mind that it was the CIA that coined the phrase, “conspiracy theorist,” and only when it perceived the need to marginalize those progressives who were questioning the official story of the Kennedy assassination.
Are you feeling manipulated, that you’ve read this far only to be dragged into the vaccination argument? Well, isn’t manipulation the real issue here? Can you at least entertain the possibility that for our entire history Americans – yes, all Americans – by the nature of our mythology, by the nature of our vast cultural shadow, by the nature of our historic crimes against Africans and the indigenous people, have been particularly susceptible to hysterias and violent witch-hunts? That we have always been willing to suspend our sacred individualism and give our identity over to the spokespersons of centralized control in the desperate hope that it might push away the nightmares that they themselves have created?
Let’s make three things clear:
1 – To use the terms “anti-vaxxer,” “conspiracy theorist,” “assassination buff,” “9-11 Truther,” etc, is to begin the conversation from the position of the dominators. It is to concede to the colonialist, misogynist or white supremacist who establishes his superiority by determining the language: native, my dear girl, nigger.
2 – Things are always more complex than ideological purists or centrists would prefer. As in all political debates, there is a continuum among those who question the vaccination orthodoxy, from those who will not allow their children to receive vaccines under any circumstances, to those who want to space out the frequency of vaccination, to those who would allow the MMR treatment (read about it) if the components were given separately, to those who would allow any vaccines if the aluminum (read about it) were removed. These people are not monolithic, and every one of them that I know is a political progressive who hates Trump, votes Demo or Green, donates to good causes, marches for peace and has no interest in Alex Jones. So stop the damn FEs and try to be willing to listen, because:
3 – Accusations about the “war on science” are yet another form of FE, in which the gatekeepers lump those who question the vaccination orthodoxy in the same garbage bin of ignorance as climate deniers. Most people who raise doubts about vaccination, not just the doctors and immunologists (read about them), have approached the issue with open minds and made well-informed decisions. I’m talking about the corruption of science. In a time when the great myths of western culture are collapsing, it follows that all of our institutions are collapsing, or at least falling fully under the sway of late capitalism. Can anyone deny that Big Pharma is one of the most corrupt of all? Can anyone deny that long before Trump’s deregulation crusade, both the FDA and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) were drowning in accusations of fraud and bad science? And coverups, as well.
I don’t want to get too far off topic, so if you are open to “rational debate,” please consider some of these links:
And specifically on the subject of vaccination, its orthodoxy and its critics:
Read Part Eight (the conclusion) here.