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Death Grip
August 29, 2007 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Death Grip: How Political Psychology Explains Bush's Ghastly Success. Interesting article on the work of psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski. [Via Disinformation.]
posted by homunculus (68 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought this was posted just a couple of days ago, but maybe it was deleted.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:56 PM on August 29, 2007


link to deleted post
posted by bhnyc at 5:39 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I saw the article on Disinfo a couple of days ago, but I didn't see the deleted post until just before I posted this. Since jessamyn said the problem was the style of the post rather than the substance of the links, I figured it was fine to post this.
posted by homunculus at 5:50 PM on August 29, 2007


Huh, this is interesting, thanks. It's too bad that "be nice" isn't the traditional value people fall back on when they're fearing their own mortality. (Or maybe for some it is.)
posted by salvia at 5:53 PM on August 29, 2007


Gag. TNR is a neocon rag.
posted by delmoi at 5:55 PM on August 29, 2007


Delmoi, are you perhaps confusing The National Review with The New Republic?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:05 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's tempting to think that if you scare the shit out of people -- really convince them, down to their bones, that hurricanes, diseases, and starving refugees are hiding just around the corner -- that mass mobilization against global warming will at long last ensue.

There's good reason to doubt it. Fear causes fairly predictable reactions, which do not include international cooperation, equitable distribution of resources, cost-benefit analysis on a multidecadal scale, and short-term sacrifice in the service of long-term problem-solving. They do include increased xenophobia, reactionary moralism, and susceptibility to demagogues.
Nothing to fear ...
Fear of death leads to authoritarianism, not sustainability

posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:11 PM on August 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


TNR is worse than a neocon rag. It's an ostensibly "liberal" magazine that has, for the past three decades, embraced the finer points of right-wing ideology in order to provide bipartisan cover for some of the crazier aspects of contemporary Republicanism.

They do manage to publish a decent article once in a while, but this one doesn't do much for me.
posted by bardic at 6:11 PM on August 29, 2007


But, right now, it doesn't look promising for any candidate who hopes to follow Bush's 2004 script. The voters of 2008, including those in Martinsburg, will probably be buffeted by competing emotions about Iraq and the war on terrorism, and therefore less inclined to base their decisions on gay marriage. Barring another assault on American soil, the moment of September 11--and the reminder of mortality that it brought--may well have passed.

Uh Oh.
posted by haikuku at 6:13 PM on August 29, 2007


Gag. TNR is a neocon rag.

Huh. I'd heard that, but this article certainly doesn't give that impression. I thought it was just a similarly named publication.

Someone might want to edit its wikipedia page, as the current version lists it as a 'modern liberal' publication.

That said, your objection doesn't touch on the substance of the article.
posted by Rictic at 6:18 PM on August 29, 2007


Delmoi, are you perhaps confusing The National Review with The New Republic?

Nope.

Someone might want to edit its wikipedia page, as the current version lists it as a 'modern liberal' publication.

Liberal like Joe Lieberman. The magazine was a great supporter of beltway insiders, the DLC, and the War in Iraq, IIRC
posted by delmoi at 6:23 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


(It does seem like they are trying to sort of lose that baggage now that Marty Peretz is no longer the owner, though.)
posted by delmoi at 6:24 PM on August 29, 2007


So, OK, the neocons have done their homework.

But the longevity of the current administration is mainly because they are essentially unchallenged. The Democrats, even with a current majority, don't do much. They'd rather keep the status quo, than rock the boat (much less fix it).

As discussed in the Gonzo & Rove threads, the current administration can hang on because they knew a real challenge isn't coming, and that the longer they hang around, the greater the chance that they escape scrutiny or punishment.

The greatest Democratic campaign slogan would be "Look what those GOP fuckers just did to our country!!! How can you trust any of them???" But they'll never use it, because it seems that they're mostly pink-tinged versions of the same type of politician, and they want their chance at the wheel/trough, too.

Man, you guys really need a true multi-party political system.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:29 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


The greatest Democratic campaign slogan would be "Look what those GOP fuckers just did to our country!!! How can you trust any of them???"

That was the Democratic Party Platform in 2006.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:34 PM on August 29, 2007


Ah, you're all just too afraid of your own mortality to discuss the article.
posted by anthill at 6:50 PM on August 29, 2007


Eerie to see my college in the banner ad. Certainly lends credence to the idea it is right-leaning. Still, I thought that was a fascinating article. I look forward to being told why I am a moron for thinking so.
posted by absalom at 6:51 PM on August 29, 2007


Delmoi, Bardic, et. al. I pretty much share your opinion of TNR, but it does seem to be moving left as the wind seems to be shifting. Still, their political tack still sits well to the right of, say, your average Canadian.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:54 PM on August 29, 2007


Found this very useful. I knew this was happening and saw it in myself, but the empirical evidence is pretty convincing.

Look, the complaints about TNR are actually explained pretty well by the article itself. TNR was liberal, after 9/11 not so much. We can look at a lot of liberals and better understand why we lost our way by this mortality salience phenomenon. Christ, look at the case of Christopher Hitchens. I could rattle off ten different intellectuals and critics who all went a bit off the deep end after that shit hole of a day. Nice to now understand now how and why that might of happened.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:56 PM on August 29, 2007


SCDB, that's definitely a point in favor of keeping the outrage machine on high. 2006 wasn't exactly a failure for the Dems.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:58 PM on August 29, 2007


Ah, you're all just too afraid of your own mortality to discuss the article.

Ditto. I stopped reading TNR years ago for the same reasons delmoi lists, but I don't really see how all that applies to this article. Someone want to break it down for me? Where's the subtle neocon agenda in this article?
posted by salvia at 6:58 PM on August 29, 2007


I don't know if it's true (the evidence sounds compelling) but I'd be willing to bet Bush and Rove think it is, it would certanly explain things like this
posted by delmoi at 7:00 PM on August 29, 2007


Where's the subtle neocon agenda in this article?

It's a sheepish justification of their behavior since 9/11?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:00 PM on August 29, 2007


Let's write things off blindly because of a perceived ideology! Nevermind the fact that this article has nothing to do with neoconservatism and is in fact about three social psychologists and terror management theory (which is, in itself, a controversial issue among psychologists).

Talk about a derail.
posted by proj at 7:09 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Peretz is still running the magazine, and the people he sold it to share his worldview.
posted by aaronetc at 7:11 PM on August 29, 2007


...that's definitely a point in favor of keeping the outrage machine on high. 2006 wasn't exactly a failure for the Dems.

Won't work. The Dems were the minority party in 2006, and their platform was "Give us control and we'll clean things up."

So the voters did give them control, and they haven't cleaned things up. They can't run on the platform of aggrieved-and-outraged-minority-party in 2008 because they don't seem to be one. Evidence shows they didn't really want to clean things up, they just wanted to take their turn feeding at the corruption trough.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:17 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


The New Republic takes a consistent line of "we hate liberals" contrarian "liberalism," their publisher is viciously anti-Arab, they were consistently beating the wardrums for the invasion of Iraq, and they reflexively serve to shift the national dialog over to the right by always endeavoring to choose the "middle ground" between whatever the mainstream liberal stance is and whatever the crazy right-wing stance is even as former comes closer to the center and the latter goes more and more off the right-wing deep end.

Yet despite all this, the magazine manages to pretty consistently have a few good articles and it always turned out that a couple of the young writers they hire turn out to be very talented.
posted by deanc at 7:19 PM on August 29, 2007


Rational choice theory is the new Bolshevism to outlive.
posted by Brian B. at 7:26 PM on August 29, 2007


So the voters did give them control, and they haven't cleaned things up.

Well, tell that to Alberto Gonzales.

But seriously Steven C. Den Beste, in your infinite wisdom, what exactly you think the democrats should do, keeping in mind that they don't have the votes to over-ride a veto or overcome a republican filibuster? Shut down the government?

(that said, I'm certainly not happy with their acquiescence on wiretapping was pretty lame)
posted by delmoi at 7:28 PM on August 29, 2007


They can't run on the platform of aggrieved-and-outraged-minority-party in 2008 because they don't seem to be one.

How about if they run on the platform of not-busy-sucking-cock-in-the-mens-room-party in 2008?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:29 PM on August 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


Evidence shows they didn't really want to clean things up, they just wanted to take their turn feeding at the corruption trough.

It's a ditto head!!
posted by billysumday at 7:29 PM on August 29, 2007


Great post. Could have used more blockquotes.
posted by orthogonality at 7:31 PM on August 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


But seriously Steven C. Den Beste, in your infinite wisdom, what exactly you think the democrats should do, keeping in mind that they don't have the votes to over-ride a veto or overcome a republican filibuster? Shut down the government?

Turns out that some of what they promised to do didn't require a presidential signature on a law. They also promised to update some rules in the House and Senate. The Constitution gives each chamber full control over its own procedures, and as majorities in those chambers they could have implemented changes.

For instance, they promised to clean up the "earmarking" morass. They didn't do it.

And their response to the "Dollar" Bill Jefferson situation has been less than impressive.

[Meanwhile, my wisdom is definitely finite. Small, even.]
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:45 PM on August 29, 2007


Very interesting article. Thanks for that. I'm gonna file this along side of The Power of Nightmares.
posted by snwod at 7:56 PM on August 29, 2007


MetaFilter: Talk about a derail.
posted by homunculus at 7:56 PM on August 29, 2007


Ignoring SDB, who has nothing whatsoever to say about the linked article or about TNR....

What I was trying to say is that this is one of those really insightful articles. What I think a lot of us don't realize is how many people in the USA, pre-Sept.11th, thought that America was somehow "specially blessed." Isolated as they were from the wars that tore much of the rest of the world apart and the possibility of ever being refugees, most people could wave away any of America's problems or any thoughts of problems they might face in their lives by saying to themselves, "Oh, we're special. America is special." The problem, of course, is that, we're just another country. We happen to be the richest, the strongest, and one of the largest and most populous countries, but that doesn't accord us any insulation from what other countries face, and September 11th made that abundantly clear, assaulting the faith that a lot of people had about the USA.

Instead of, of course, simply adjusting their perception of the USA and realizing, "ah, we are not special after all. We need to figure out how to deal with this reality" instead they redoubled their efforts to view the USA as somehow specially blessed, specially isolated from consequences, and somehow specially able to do things without regard for real live consequences.

Furthermore, they dealt with their agitation and fear not by realizing what their fear was about-- ie, their confrontation with their own mortality and inner fear of death -- but rather by exaggerating outward threats to justify their feelings... which is why you hear people droning on and on about how if we leave Iraq, the next thing you know that al-Qaeda will invade america, enslave Americans, and force our women to wear burqas... it's the only threat that justifies their feelings. Since that threat is not real, they have to create it in their minds.
posted by deanc at 8:01 PM on August 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


For instance, they promised to clean up the "earmarking" morass. They didn't do it.

Well, they did change the earmarking process to require disclosure, that is actually major change. They've also changed some house rules. That said, there is always going to be low-level corruption in congress in this country, regardless of which party is in power. Complaining about that is like arguing the democrats are full of FAIL because they haven't handed out bricks of $100 bills to every citizen without raising inflation. The question isn't "does corruption exist" but "has it gotten better"
posted by delmoi at 8:08 PM on August 29, 2007


Delmoi, I wouldn't complain about it if it weren't the focus of the Democratic Party's platform last year.

Fact is, I'm not really complaining about it now. I'm just saying that 2006's platform of "We'll clean up the corruption" won't work as a rerun in 2008. The electorate's response will be, "So why haven't you already done it?"
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:25 PM on August 29, 2007


They're saving the best for just before the next election, you just wait. That's the way these things have always been done, keeps the positives fresh in voter's minds when it's time to vote.
posted by IronLizard at 8:42 PM on August 29, 2007


And the response will be, "because the GOP is filibustering at a rate three times greater than any other time in US history."

In fact, Congress's approval rating is lower than the president's now, because around 20% of Democrats view it favorably (as opposed to roughly 60% of Republicans favorable on the president). That's because Democrats are unhappy with the Congress's failure to rein in the excesses of the GOP on the Iraq escalation and warrantless wiretapping without oversight.

As to the article, it's about damn time the rational choice theorists were exiled to math departments, and kept safely far away from anything involving the actual behavior of actual humans. And it fits in with something I've realized lately, with the assent of Giuliani-- it doesn't make sense to only evaluate a party's program on the basis of the best argument that can possibly be constructed for it by PR experts. It's necessary to understand what the program is intended to convey, and how it is actually understood. The "Al Qaeda is coming for West Virginians just like when Saddam flew the planes into the World Trade Center!!" mentality certainly explains better than 100 Mike Gerson columns why people voted for George Bush in 2004.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:48 PM on August 29, 2007


I really thought this psychological phenomenon was fascinating, much more fascinating than discussing the Dem's 2006 platform.

What I wonder is, in what sense have politicians, marketers, advertising designers, and so on understood these psychological phenomena? Is this just a matter of psychologists playing catch-up and writing down the minutae of tricks that have been known forever? Did Machiavelli know about this trick? And how come they didn't do any comparisons to post WWII America, where the threat of death from atomic warfare was fairly significant?
posted by anthill at 9:16 PM on August 29, 2007


Interesting article, even if it is a bit of American navelgazing. North America doesn't have a protracted history of what is now termed "terrorism". I'd be interested to see the results of those studies if the had been conducted in Northern Ireland, Sicily or even Germany during the R.A.F. days. I suspect that in the initial aftermath of a serious disruption of normal life, the results would have been similar. What would be interesting is to study how people react once this type of chaos becomes common enough to be part of everyday life. Not in places where there's absolute chaos, like Iraq or the slums of Haiti, but in first world societies that have had to incorporate a prolonged threat of terrorism (domestic or other) into their daily routine. Now that would be an interesting study.
posted by tighttrousers at 9:17 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and a blockquote for orthogonality:
IMAGINE HOW YOU WILL FEEL AS YOU EXHALE YOUR LAST BREATH
Who wants to flag some posts?
posted by anthill at 9:18 PM on August 29, 2007


...with the assent ascent of Giuliani

Fixed it for you.
/pedant
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:19 PM on August 29, 2007


Dude Steven C. Den Beste the country's disapproval of the congress stems from its disapproval with its disapproval of the Democrats' efforts to redress the seven layer shit cake of a disaster that the war mongering family values whoring while gay sex in airport bathrooms soliciting republicans have gotten us into, both domestically and abroad. Given the currently incorrigible two party system, the question of "why haven't you cleaned up their mess yet?" takes a deep back seat to the question "are you as pathetically incompetent as the republicans?" To which, I think, the answer is thankfully still no. Though I grant I'll change my mind on that if a single American tank ends up in Iran.
posted by polytropos at 9:21 PM on August 29, 2007


Buy antibacterial soap or you will DIE.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:22 PM on August 29, 2007


[subtract the second "with its disapproval" to render my comment intelligible, thanks]
posted by polytropos at 9:22 PM on August 29, 2007


Previously : (Ernest Becker)
posted by semmi at 9:51 PM on August 29, 2007


*sigh*

Everyone in America should read this. [pdf]

The data is a little old, but I doubt it's changed considerably in the 15 years since it's been collected.

By far, the greatest cause for fear of death among Americans is heart disease, with approx. 720,000 Americans dying from it each year. This is far, far, far more Americans than have ever, or even probably will ever be killed by terrorism.

Every year.

Every year about 40,000 Americans die from car accidents. Many of us on MeFi have had loved ones die from auto accidents. Are Americans scared shitless of their commute? Piss their pants every time they run to the store?

30,000 Americans kill themselves every year. No war on suicide? No $300 billion dollars for suicide prevention?

25,000 Americans per year die from liver disease. War on alcohol? Already tried that, I guess. Didn't work out, as I recall.

The fact is, the 2,992 deaths that happened on 9/11 have inspired the United States to embark on an international multi-trillion dollar military adventure. We've willingly stripped ourselves of fundamental constitutional rights, elected demagogues, propagandists and ideological hacks to dictate our public policy and also plunged our nation into diplomatic and financial ruin.

All for the sacred memory of 3,000 people.

The war on terror, the Bush dynasty, the war in Iraq -- none of these things can be understood through rational thinking or logical discourse. Our current (very sad) political situation is purely psychological. We've embarked on disaster after disaster since 9/11 not because we sat down, thought it over, consulted our friends, weighed our other options and finally came to a conclusion.

No. We've done what we've done (and what we continue to do) because the psychological symbol of 9/11 -- the symbol of national defeat and death -- is more threatening to us than the very real three-quarter-million deaths per year caused by McDonalds.

tl;dr: We listen to our "guts" rather than our heads, and we're fucked because of it.
posted by Avenger at 10:11 PM on August 29, 2007 [11 favorites]


This is interesting stuff, but it's a big jump from lab experiments that take a few hours to effects in the wild that are observed over months and years. There's a lot of leeway for all sorts of other influences, such as whichever ideology a person subscribes to.

As a stupid example, there are studies that show that people subconsciously "primed" with words relating to the elderly will walk slower as they leave the lab. I'm sure that not long after they leave, whatever typically affects the way they walk will re-exert its influence and they'll speed back up.

Unfortunately, doing a controlled study over months is much harder than doing a one-time lab study.
posted by parudox at 10:32 PM on August 29, 2007


Bush Wants $50 Billion More for Iraq War

And if he doesn't get it, TERRORISTS WILL KILL US ALL!!!
posted by homunculus at 10:33 PM on August 29, 2007


anthill - And how come they didn't do any comparisons to post WWII America, where the threat of death from atomic warfare was fairly significant?

I really like that idea. What, really, where the chances of a nuclear war - and what was the populace's estimate of the chance of a nuclear war?

At the time how many people knew about the unstated politics and how many people dug (entirely inadequate) fallout shelters in their backyard? (And how many people bought ducttm tape and plastic sheeting?)
posted by porpoise at 10:52 PM on August 29, 2007


Avenger; great post, but you're preaching to the choir.

You We need to figure out how to make this message understood and meaningful to everyone else.
posted by porpoise at 10:58 PM on August 29, 2007


Bush Ramps Up Iran Rhetoric, Warns of “Nuclear Holocaust”
posted by homunculus at 11:07 PM on August 29, 2007


while gay sex in airport bathrooms soliciting toe-tapping republicans

FTFY . . . IMHO "toe-tapping" is an awesome replacement for the various meanings of gay. . .
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:19 PM on August 29, 2007


Since we're talking psychology here: a few thousand deaths from a single terrorist attack are easier to mentally undo than hundreds of thousands of individual deaths from entrenched patterns of behaviour. (See here for a good overview of counterfactual thinking.)
posted by parudox at 11:37 PM on August 29, 2007


...The "stab in the back" holds that America was only defeated in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight. And those who sapped our will, those who betrayed our fighting men, were cowardly protesters and craven politicians. As Bush told "Meet the Press'" Tim Russert in 2004, "The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War."

As Kevin Baker noted in an in-depth analysis in Harper's, the "stab in the back" thesis is the ur-right-wing credo. It brings together two keystone beliefs: the idea that America is omnipotent and incapable of defeat, and that any war the U.S. engages in must be noble and heroic. Therefore, if America is defeated, traitorous elites -- craven politicians, un-American punks, degenerates, longhairs, pinkos and agitators, and the cowardly elite media -- must be to blame. Nixon and Agnew's demonizing of "nattering nabobs of negativism" and Reagan's claims that war protesters were giving "comfort and aid" to the enemy sprang from this belief.

In fact, the Vietnam War was a terrible mistake, and America pulled out because politicians and the American people alike realized it was unwinnable. But the "stab in the back" myth never died: It stayed alive in the resentment-filled caverns of the American right, for whom it is an article of faith that America's wars are always justified and our military omnipotent. It is not an intellectually respectable idea, but it has currency with Bush's core supporters. Bush usually prefers not to make his ties to the far right so obvious, but his situation is so dire he felt compelled to reach gingerly into this muck of Ramboesque resentment...

Needless to say, this is not a winning argument. Its sole virtue is that it invokes the War Myth -- but in a form so debased that it defeats itself. That Bush felt he had to make it reveals the desperate straits he is in.

...Eventually, harsh reality trumps even the totemic power of patriotism. The National Intelligence Estimate released last week confirmed what objective observers already knew: There has been no political progress in Iraq, and none can be foreseen...

This is not surprising when you look at the numbers. The war has resulted in an estimated 650,000 Iraqis dead, 1.1 million internally displaced and close to 2.5 million who have fled the country. These figures mean one in six Iraqis has been killed or is a refugee. Translated into American terms, this would work out to 50 million Americans killed or turned refugee -- a figure roughly equal to the population of the northeastern United States, including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and all of New England.

The inescapable truth is that Bush's war of choice has destroyed an entire nation -- and there is no way for the United States or anyone else to control what happens next.
The waning power of the War Myth
posted by y2karl at 5:48 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Delmoi, I wouldn't complain about it if it weren't the focus of the Democratic Party's platform last year.

That doesn't make any sense.

Fact is, I'm not really complaining about it now. I'm just saying that 2006's platform of "We'll clean up the corruption" won't work as a rerun in 2008. The electorate's response will be, "So why haven't you already done it?"

So now you're a psychic? As far as I know, no democrats have been indicted, not even the aforementioned "Dollar" Bill (that one does seem inevitable). Meanwhile republican corruption is still bubbling up. You've got Ted Stevens and the whole Alaska delegation looking at trouble. Unless Democrats start getting arrested en masse, the public would have a good reason to think that they're doing a better job of not being criminals then the republicans. To say that they "havn't cleaned it up." There are no more anonymous earmarks. So by some measures it has gotten better. I think what was bothering people was all the crime not legal but annoying practices like (nonymous) earmarking, pork, and that sort of thing. But obviously that's a decision each voter is going to have to make for themselves.

Obviously, if you only pay attention to conservative media (as you do) you're going to have a warped view of what's going on, and that's going to make it much more difficult to make predictions.

As far as the 'platform' in 2006, it was a real mess, because high-level democrats supported the Iraq war, they couldn't campaign, as a party, on it. They ended up talking a lot about corruption, but that wasn't why they won. It was individual candidates criticizing the war that did it. And when voters talk about 'corruption' in exit polls, they are probably not talking about legal acts, but all the illegal ones that the republicans were (and are continuing to be) doing
posted by delmoi at 6:00 AM on August 30, 2007


Bush Wants $50 Billion More for Iraq War

That's funny; in 2002 Donald Rumsfeld said the entire war would cost "something under $50 billion" and Lawrence Lindsey was fired for estimating the cost at $100-200 billion.

August 2007: Analysis says war could cost $1 trillion: Budget office sees effect on taxpayers for decade

Bush Ramps Up Iran Rhetoric, Warns of 'Nuclear Holocaust'

Why is he letting us live "under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust" cast by North Korea? Why is he allowing "the world's worst regimes to develop and hold us hostage with the world's worst weapons"?
posted by kirkaracha at 7:35 AM on August 30, 2007


Since we're talking psychology here: a few thousand deaths from a single terrorist attack are easier to mentally undo than hundreds of thousands of individual deaths from entrenched patterns of behaviour. (See here for a good overview of counterfactual thinking.)
posted by parudox at 2:37 AM on August 30


Ah, but the psychological impact of the attacks wasn't because of the deaths. The right wing doesn't view terrosim as bringing death.

The liberal viewed the 9-11 attack as a strike - a punch in the face, a stabbing, a gunshot - attempted murder. The right-wing viewed it as a rape.

But here's were I disagree with the authors of the post - the West Virginians don't see terrorism as bringing death. Subconsciously, they see it as domination and penetration. The 9-11 attacks brought them (far removed from the immediate human impact of the attacks) shame, anger and humiliation.

The right wing and the terrorist ideology behind the attack share a psychological characteristic - they both indulge in hyper masculine fantasy. In America, the right wing seeks to restore the patriarchy of the good old days. The men are hypercritical of homosexuals as effeminate, they secretly criticize aggressive women, and vilify their opponents as effete. In the fundamentalist Arabic culture, women are marginalized out of existence, etc.

Where I disagree with the authors of this piece is that I don't think the deep right wing is concerned about death. In my opinion, their denial of death is so extensive than they have already constructed elaborate fantasies in their mind about how they would survive an attack, and perhaps how they would have survived the 9-11 attacks.

Everything the country has done in the last eight years has been for the purpose of giving us the appearance of safety. We are securing our nest from invaders. They'd gladly give up rights and privacy to avoid every feeling that shame or humiliation again.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:54 AM on August 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


Where's the subtle neocon agenda in this article?

It's a sheepish justification of their behavior since 9/11?


See, I saw it the other way, not as defending it, but as an overarching critique that impugns anyone who supported their behavior -- "only people who are half-crazed from a fear of their own impending death could ever consider their behavior justified." So this TNR derail confused me.
posted by salvia at 8:29 AM on August 30, 2007


great post. There's a decent amount of presence out there that fear of death makes people irrational, but I haven't before seen anything discussing the nature of the irrationality and honestly I would have expected it to be more random.
posted by kigpig at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2007


The Power of (Right Wing) Myth

"The key to understanding right-wing rhetoric can be found in an episode of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation."
posted by homunculus at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fear causes fairly predictable reactions, which do not include international cooperation, equitable distribution of resources, cost-benefit analysis on a multidecadal scale, and short-term sacrifice in the service of long-term problem-solving. They do include increased xenophobia, reactionary moralism, and susceptibility to demagogues.

This pretty much supports an conclusion that I came to a long time ago - that a right-wing candidate can win an election based on fear, whereas a left or center-left candidate must be loved.

This is also why I support Obama over Hillary. Nobody loves Hillary. Nobody really loved Kerry either.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:22 AM on August 30, 2007


Hey, Dems: Run against Bush -- and toughen up -- or lose in '08. Drew Westen, author of "The Political Brain," evaluates the Democratic presidential candidates' ads and the party's messaging in general. Short version: More Jim Webb, less John Kerry.
posted by homunculus at 10:47 AM on August 30, 2007


Political psychology is all well and good, but has anyone considered that a large part of Bush's success can be attributed to the fact that most people are dumber than a bag of hammers?
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:42 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


@The Card Cheat

Well in a way that's the argument. People are not always rational, due to the actions of our subconscious we are not always in full control. In this case a politics of fear, specifically of death, made people irrational in choosing a less than capable leader, as evident from Katrina etc etc. Exploiting primal fears is what good propaganda is about.
posted by vodkadin at 3:41 PM on August 30, 2007


Speaking of republican vs. democratic scandals check out this timely video.
posted by delmoi at 4:48 PM on August 30, 2007


"Exploiting primal fears is what good propaganda is about."

Not to Godwin the thread, but this is pretty much what Goering said about controlling the populace.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:02 PM on August 30, 2007


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