Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Manichaeism 101

Adolf Hitler as child
Demagogues dine on hopelessness. They’re like the quarterback on fourth down who  throws the Hail Mary, but there's even something more apocalyptic about the totalitarian mentality. After a string of rejections, have you ever experienced the wish that planet would be hit by a meteor with civilization thrust into darkness? Then the hierarchy would disappear and there would be no top or bottom anymore. The radical reordering of French Republicans like Robespierre (who literally attempted to rewrite history by changing the calendar) finds its modern equivalent in dictators like Pol Pot, Duvalier, Milosevic and Idi Amin. But now a particularly exotic new political cocktail is being brewed. Demagoguery has resulted in the birth of a dialectic. America’s feeling of hopelessness in the face of Islamic extremism (Hegelian thesis) is laying the ground for Donald Trump’s campaign (anti-thesis). In an article entitled “95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Donald Trump’s Tongue,” (NYT, 12/5/15) The Times quotes Matt Motyl, “a political psychologist at the University of Illinois” thusly,  “ ‘We vs. them’ creates a threatening dynamic where ‘they’ are evil or crazy or ignorant and ‘we’ need a candidate who sees the threat and can alleviate it. He appeals to the masses and makes them feel powerful again: ‘We’ need to build a wall on the Mexican border, not ‘I,’ but ‘we.’” What Manichean views share is a simple view of the world as being filled with right and wrong, with the opponent being objectified in the way that Martin Buber described in his I/Thou v. I/It formulation. Essentially extremist Muslims like Baghdadi and politicians like Trump derive from the same school of oration and semantics. Trump has been accused of perpetrating untruths to make his arguments, but such criticisms are beside the point. Trump like his extremist counterparts in the Middle East is appealing to passion and passion by its nature fuels hyperbole. If there were schools for millenarianism, then all students, regardless of the ideology they upheld, would take the same classes.

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