Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Forging new realities

Article first published as Near the Mountains of Madness on Technorati.

At the Mountains of Madness is one of H.P. Lovecraft's most memorable works, a combination of science fiction, fantasy and Lovecraftian horror that deals with an ancient and alien city in the mountains of Antarctica. Near the end, one of the lead characters descends into madness because of what he sees.

H.P. Lovecraft was far from the first writer to dabble in the theme of madness, of course. One of his chief influences was a writer named Robert W. Chambers, who--in 1895--published a collection of loosely connected short stories entitled The King in Yellow. The first story in the collection is entitled "The Repairer of Reputations," and concerns a man who sustains a head injury and is eventually revealed to be stark raving mad.

The problem--for the reader--is that the story is told in the first person from the point of view of the insane man, one Hildred Castaigne. Thus, every detail the narrator shares, every observation he makes may not be reflective of reality, at all. In this way, it's is very reminiscent of the movie The Usual Suspects, insofar as it's impossible to tell what is reality, what is really happening.

And I can't help but wonder if we--all of us--are currently trapped within a similar situation, as we are subjected to political opinion after political opinion in the media that may very well be coming from people that have slipped into madness...

Consider this piece by Gary Kamiya at Salon. Entitled "The anti-Obama cult," it is a supposed analysis of right wing thinking, the how and the why such thinking has manifested itself as, for all intents and purposes, a cult springing from Christian roots with one primary goal: opposing the President.

The analysis--at first glance--appears deep, the language scholarly, the conclusions profound. A sample:
Because “big government” does not have a fixed meaning, attacking it can simultaneously serve as a rallying cry for racial resentment, an impassioned demand for personal liberation and a marker of class-and region-based solidarity. This is why when the Republican candidates inveigh against big government, which they do approximately every time they open their mouths, their rants have all the weird, malevolent imprecision of a Stalinist attack on “running dog lackeys of the bourgeoisie.” They are the ravings of True Believers, of cult members.
Kamiya breaks down the opposition to Obama and finds it based on a furtive totalitarian agenda, not unlike the ideology of Stalin and Mao, but rooted in faith and race. And because he cannot comprehend some ideas, they must not be truly meaningful. The oddest part of the piece is his conclusion of why "cult" is the appropriate descriptor. It is because:
...cults always delineate themselves by drawing sharp lines between Us and Them.
Like Hildred in Chambers' tale, he sees the conspiracy aligned against him--or Obama--and uses it to justify his own actions, his own beliefs, and his own creation of an "us" and "them." The problem, of course, is that he has got everything wrong.

And he is far from alone, in this regard. The madness extends far and wide, encompassing all sides of the political spectrum. For example, here is Thomas Sowell--a man whom I very much admire, whose depth of knowledge in economics may be currently unparalleled--arguing with a straight face that President Obama has fundamentally changed the nature of America. And Sowell can no more be accused of being "cultish" than can Charles Krauthammer.

So, where do we go for sanity? Aside from that last name I just dropped, I don't see a lot of it, these days. But maybe it's more of a symptom, a consequence of the need to be noticed, to say something new. I hope so. I really do.


  1. I loved "The usual suspects" :)

    The problem is two-fold. One, is the inability of people to fathom that some positions are actually based on different interpretation of the facts rather than on some malevolent intent. Hence if you don't want ever expanding budgets you must want people to starve, or if you don't want people to be held without any sort of trial, you must be siding with the terrorists.
    The second problem, is more prevailent on the left these days. For some reason, people see the power of ideology in their countrymen, but refuse to see it in other places. They would talk for hours about how crazy the Christian Right is, but when presented with evidence of far more crazy (and absolutely evil) ideologies in, say, Egypt, they start rationalizing, "no, they are really moderates, they don't mean it etc."
    The deterioration of logical skills and critical thinking abilities is truly disturbing.

  2. I read Maureen Dowd's Romney piece today. I don't recognize the reality she or a great percentage of her posters describe. I'm left, scratching head, do people really have this world view? Really?