A Shared Mythology

I’ve semi-seriously discussed quasi–pseudo-academic debate of monopuppyist versus duopuppyists i.e. was science fictions attempted right-wing coup in 2015 one movement (with internal differences) or two movements (with some shared features). One reason I keep looking at those events (and those distinctions) is the way they were a microcosm of broader ideological movements among the right.

Taking stock of those broader movements, similar issues arise. How are things different and how are things the same? There is scope for error in lumping diverse beliefs together and in becoming too focused on points of difference to see the commonalities. I spend a lot of time reading rightwing websites and comment sections (not just former Sad Puppy related ones) and two things stand out as commonalities:

  • Unmoored anti-leftism. ‘Unmoored’ because while the anti-leftism is common the rationalisations offered are not. For example, left opposition to the Bush Jr. Iraq war remains a sore point for many on the right (who ignore Democrat support for the war) but is ignored by the section of the right who also opposed the war (who don’t ignore Democrat support for the war but do ignore left opposition to it).
  • Common mythology. By this, I mean a set of beliefs about the world that are quasi-factual in nature.

The common mythology is a social glue and also a medium of cultural exchange. These are beliefs about how the world is that are:

  • Very specific, i.e. more specific than economic or social models that may be more ideological in nature.
  • By their nature beliefs that can be examined critically against facts but…
  • …which are either NOT examined critically against facts or more often run counter to established facts.

That such mythological-like beliefs exist among the right isn’t a new observation. However, many which we might associate with the right lack this common currency aspect. For example, many people in this broader right I’m discussing are not creationists (although most creationists are of the right), likewise Holocaust denial is still regarded as objectionable by many on the right. Anti-vaxxer beliefs are drifting more rightwards but still cross ideological boundaries. However, a broad habit of believing things that just aren’t so has become entrenched on the right.

I’d like to suggest the following as a core-common shared set of mythologies that act as a means of group identity. These ideas are shared uncritically in diverse parts of the US/Anglosphere right and questioning them too much leads to social ostracisation.

  • Global warming data and theories have been corrupted by politically active scientists. Note this isn’t quite the same as denial of global warming but obviously works very closely with it. The belief that temperature records and other aspects of global warming have been meddled with allows discussion of the reality of global warming to be avoided.
  • Universities and colleges routinely indoctrinate students with Marxist social theories. This belief over-extrapolates the existence of actual courses (perhaps a course somewhere on queer theory) and asserts that this is the norm for all students. The belief has a bedrock of fears by evangelical Christians about their children becoming less religious at college or exposed to things like evolution but in the form, I am describing is more general and less tied to religion.
  • The Democratic Party routinely engages in mass voter fraud at a highly organised level. The belief is very pertinent today given the headlines but the work on this idea is constant and on-going. US conservatives are primed to believe this idea against any facts to the contrary.
  • Mass illegal immigration is an intentional policy of leftists and foreign governments. This deeply disturbing myth and surrounding rhetoric about ‘invasion’ is widely believed and extends beyond the alt-right & more overtly ideologically racist parts of the right.
  • Europe is on the verge of (or already is) being controlled by or dominated by Islam. There’s a vagueness here as to what the actual proposition is. Partly this is due to the age of the claims. 10 years ago, claims about an imminent Islamic take over of Europe were very common on the right and 10 years later the claims are similar. In the face of ridicule of some claims (e.g. ‘no-go’ zones in places that aren’t ‘no go’ zones), the broader beliefs have become vaguer and less open to immediate refutation.
  • Cities are places of rising violent crime. At some point, of course, this idea gets to be true. Crime stats go up and down but what is remembered is the ‘ups’ and what is ignored is the ‘downs’ as well as general trends. What marks this belief as mythology is that it remains unchanged over decades: violent crime is always rising but somehow the point where violent crime was low shifts around.
  • Home invasions and violent attacks on middle-class suburbs or rural areas are common and imminent. These two form a pair and of course relate closely to gun ownership and NRA propaganda.

There are other beliefs that I could list but which I feel are more clearly ideological. For example beliefs around public healthcare relate to specific policy positions overtly advanced by conservatives for decades. Similarly, beliefs around affirmative action or even ‘PC culture’ have a closer connection with ideology. There is a common thread of seeking to avoid facts or to examine these ideas critically that gives them a similar quality of belief that would only be true in a parallel universe.

A relevant question is whether these beliefs are sincere. Salon writer Amanda Marcotte had a recent Twitter thread where she examined some of the anti-factual claims of the right and argues that they are insincere i.e. overtly lies:

Her argument is a strong one and there’s a longer analysis in this 2016 piece she wrote: https://www.salon.com/2016/09/26/its-science-stupid-why-do-trump-supporters-believe-so-many-things-that-are-crazy-and-wrong/

Clearly, some of these viral claims are trolling. The argument that ‘birtherism’ was insincere holds water. However, I think the ones above are held with sincerity of a kind. There is a lot of advocation of beliefs that don’t stand up to critical scrutiny going on that CAN’T be primarily about trolling people on the left. I can be confident of that because these are often beliefs that people on the right do not wish to discuss with the left or raise with the left. To point out factual or logical errors in particular beliefs is seen as trolling BY the left rather than the left being trolled. Readers familiar with the Sad Puppy debarkle will have many ready examples to hand.

Marcotte also raises the group identity aspect as part of the issue i.e. that asserting false or dubious beliefs ties people together, as they act as a marker of loyalty. However, in addition, the soup of false beliefs fostered by creationism on one hand and corporate propaganda on issues such as pesticides, smoking, guns and global warming has entrenched confused thinking as a habit among the right. These poor cognitive habits encourage the ‘grift’ culture I’ve talked about before within the right, that often makes them prone to both perpetuate and be victims of scams and dubious money-making schemes. Marcotte points out Trumps willingness to say what he is thinking is often mistaken for honesty and forthrightness by his supporters. This kind of uncalculated, unhedged speech without weasel words can be refreshing in a world where many people try to avoid being caught in a literal lie. Meanwhile, the new acting Attorney General of the USA was himself part of a company that deliberately targetted military veterans in a scam https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/09/matthew-whitaker-acting-attorney-general-wpm-scam

What’s trolling, what’s an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of public misbelief, what’s a scam and what’s people being scammed and what is just the inevitable confused belief of poor thinking habits is hard to disentangle. What the shared mythology has in common is that I think these are largely internally believed and which act as defence mechanisms for other beliefs or expressions of fears. In particular fears about race and social change among conservatives who see themselves as ‘libertarian’ and ‘not-racist’ require hoop jumping rationalisations that they can express by changing classifications (racial fears changed to fears about violent people in cities or rule-breaking immigrants). The ‘scam’ part here is that more openly racist parts of the right (i.e. the parts that are more willing to own the label ‘racist’) can control those fears via propaganda.

 

Advertisements

34 thoughts on “A Shared Mythology

  1. Speaking as a university student in cultural studies (one of the hotbeds of left-wing indoctrination according to the Always-Right) may I point out that these days Marx and Engels don’t get much of an airing in the classroom, due to everyone having picked up on other theorists instead. I have them on my “read this to fill in the gaps” list, so I can actually argue back coherently against people insisting they’re the root of all post-Modern evils, but that’s mainly because I’m a completist when it comes to things (one of the joys of being on the autism spectrum), and apparently one of the things my brain has decided I need the Complete Set of is “Western Social and Cultural Philosophers”.

    If you’re really wanting to hear about Marx and Engels in a university setting in Australia, you’re probably best off joining the campus branch of the Socialist Left.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The thing with the imminent Islamic takeover of Europe, the supposed no-go zones, prevalence of rapes, etc… is particularly infuriating, because no matter how often you tell these types, “I live in Europe and know many muslims. There are no no-go zones here. There are actually fewer rapes than in the US. I feel perfectly safe here”, they just don’t listen. Either they tell you you’re deluded or living in a bubble/gated community (which we don’t even have) or they start wishing awful things on you.

    Ironically, we get the very same delusions among our own far right. Supposedly, immigrants are taking away people’s shrinking pensions (demonstrably wrong, because pensions aren’t shrinking, but have actually risen, albeit modestly, and besides, pensions are financed from a completely different pot than welfare for refugees and immigrants, i.e. there is no chance of immigrants taking anybody’s pension) and women everywhere are afraid to go out at night because of roaming muslim gangs. And apparently, there is a rape and knife crime epidemic, too. When you ask them to give a link or point you to a news report, they either trot out the same five actual cases which have been covered ad nauseam by the media (while similar cases where the perpetrators were white Germans were ignored by the media or used as cautionary tales about horrible women lying about innocent men) or claim that the news media is not allowed to report about all of those alleged rapes and knife crimes. As for how they know that those rapes and knife crimes happened, if it wasn’t on the news, well, they saw it on Facebook somewhere.

    The problem is that you can’t argue with those people because they genuinely believe all this demonstrably untrue stuff and cannot be swayed by fact. Earlier today, I saw a clip from a documentary about the German far right, where a pensioner yelled obscenities at the young man who manned an mobile information truck of the German parliament. The old man yelled that the government let in all of those foreigners and that he does not want them here and besides, they are cutting his pension to give the money to the foreigners. The exasperated young man manning the information truck said, “Well, first of all, pensions haven’t been cut, but they have actually been raised three years in a row”, only to be yelled down by the old man. Actually, if I’d been manning that truck, I would’ve just thrown the guy out, which is probably why no one should give me that sort of job.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Regarding no-go areas, I remember A few years ago on Fox News, there was a commentator there who stated that The entire city of Birmingham UK was a no go area for white people, which certainly confused the 75% white people living there.
      In that case, the absurdity was mocked relentlessly, and the man had to apologise and blamed it on his researcher.
      I also wonder if some glimmers of self-awareness are creeping into the right, I recently saw this rather surprising article, where a Conservative man hates political correctness but doesn’t much like when people are called r***ds because it’s offensive to mentally disabled people
      https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-thin-line-between-political-correctness-and-decency/rr

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been to Birmingham, including some immigrant neighbourhoods, where the curry is good. It’s a nice city, very diverse and probably safer than many places in the US.

        Like

      1. Not to mention, of course, that Melbourne is over run with African gangs. My father-in-law was quite concerned for my safety when I had to go there for work a couple of months ago.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. More than one right winger has insisted it’s much worse to be raped in Muslim countries than here, so people complaining about how rape victims are treated in the US are complaining about nothing! A nice two-fer, slapping feminists and Muslims at once.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your list is good, CF. Could we add the generalized and virulent misogyny and anti-feminism that has revealed itself to be such a potent motivating and justificatory force in these circles. Incels, PUAs, men going their own way, pup debarkle, Supreme Court nominees, electoral candidates, the entire techbro industry, online comment sections, onslaught of dick pics and death threats, mass shooters with a predictable history of domestic violence, restrictions to abortion access/health care/birth control. Misogyny permeates it all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, in some ways it’s all of a kind at the lower levels.

      That ‘kind’ being ‘I’m not getting the respect I feel I deserve, how can I blame this on someone else?’

      The rampant misogyny than becomes obvious as ‘having lots of sex’ is used as a form of cultural respect for men and disrespect for women.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Agreed, at some point it becomes a big ball of undifferentiated horribleness. I remember fondly the campaign for “Giant Meteor 2016: Just End it Already.”

        I always enjoy your smart and direct observations, FWIW.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. This whole “I’m not getting the respect I deserve” justification lies at the root of a lot of hatred and bigotry. At any rate, we’re hearing similar “But no one respects what they’ve done in their lives” arguments to explain racism, xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny among entitled white dudes here in Germany. Whereby “respect” means that these fragile white dudes constantly need to be told how wonderful they are and that they of course deserve well-paying jobs and high pensions and participation trophies in the form of East German workers medals. These are the true special snowflakes who feel entitled to all sorts of things just by virtue of existing.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. @Regular Commenter:
        Thanks. Mostly it’s a matter of having been reading places like Slacktivist and We Hunted the Mammoth for years. Though also being brought up by a family who kept me grounded in reality. Being around for a while, and paying attention… the trick is to pick up the patterns without letting that run amok and going into conspiracy thinking.

        If I knew how to explain it I’d probably be able to make a living as a cult deprogrammer or something. Though the programming and deprogramming can be disturbingly similar. Critical thinking isn’t easy to teach even when there isn’t a whole industry trying to subvert it.

        Like

    2. YES, yes, yes. Such a big part of the angry right’s rhetoric. I often thank (metaphysical force of your choice) that I’m past menopause, as an American woman. And am average looking and a tad chubby.

      Like

  4. This is quite, quite good, Cam.

    Though, I’m with Regular Commenter in wanting mention/discussion of the rise in open misogyny. It’s a yooge part of the right as a whole, and it’s gobsmackingly more aggressive than ever, at least in the US.

    Perhaps RC could write us a contribution?

    I, of course, am here while I’m waiting for my weekly dose of the apoplexy-provoking new Doctor.

    Like

      1. Although you don’t have to travel nearly as far in Europe as in much of the US if you need an abortion. The organization that sends abortion pills to countries where it’s illegal has now started shipping to the US, since it’s de facto unavailable so many places.

        Like

      2. Germany has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, stricter than even Ireland. Abortions are not exactly legal, but tolerated up to twelve weeks and you have to attend a mandatory counselling sessions first, where someone tells about all the child benefits and support you’ll get if you have the baby, because obviously women are unable to google. Meanwhile, doctors who perform abortions are not even allowed to mention this fact on their website, because that is illegal advertising. Health insurance doesn’t pay for abortions either, unless a woman is desperately poor. After twelve weeks, you can only get an abortion in case of maternal health issues and fetal defects. And this is actually the improved version of the law, up to the 1990s you had to prove that you were raped, your health was in danger, the fetus was nonviable or had severe defects or that you were unable for social reasons (too young, too old, too poor, too many kids) to have a child.

        If I’d ever needed an abortion, I would’ve gone to the Netherlands or the UK, where the laws are better. Not sure if the organisation that ships abortion pills ships them to Germany yet (I know they ship them to Poland), though when I was at university, there was a thriving black market of morning-after pills smuggled in from the UK, because at the time you could only get it the morning-after pill on prescription, by which point it was too late.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Wow, Cora, I did not know that. Leftover Catholic pressure?

        It’s still not as far to go to the Netherlands as it is in many places in the US, and at least you can get one if you jump through the hoops. Lots of places in the US, you have to travel a looong way, hear all the “counseling”, go through a vaginal ultrasound, then wait 3 days and go back for the actual procedure.

        That’s a week away from home, job, children, etc. plus gas/bus/plane fare and days in a hotel/motel. Poor or middle-class women can’t afford that.

        North Dakota has ONE abortion clinic. For an area of 70,762 sq. mi./183,273 sq. km. And it’s on the border of the state, in Fargo (you betcha).

        Like

      4. I can get to the Dutch border in one and a half hours by car. Another twenty minutes or so and I reach the first bigger city, which should have reproductive health clinics (there are smaller cities closer to the border, but I don’t know, if they offer reproductive health services). The UK is maybe an hour to an hour and a half away by plane. Even with recovery time, a night spent in a hotel, etc… that’s a lot quicker than the distances some women in the US have to travel.

        The influence of traditional Catholicism was very strong in West Germany post WWII. The current Christian Democratic Union, i.e. the party of Angela Merkel, directly grew out of the Catholic Zentrum party of the Second German Empire and the Weimar Republic. Five of eight postwar chancellors were CDU members, including the first, and three of these served extremely long terms, so (West) Germany was governed by a strongly Catholic influenced party for 49 of 69 years. Angela Merkel was initially controversial in her own party, because she wasn’t Catholic, but a Lutheran pastor’s daughter and where shall this lead? There are also a lot of outspoken Christians, both Catholic and Lutheran, in other parties, including the Social-Democratic and Green Party.

        As a result, the separation of church and state, though it exists on paper, doesn’t really exist in practice in Germany and the Catholic and Lutheran churches still have big privileges (including the state still paying compensation for church property confiscated by Napoleon Bonaparte more than 200 years ago), which are nigh impossible to dismantle. The churches also control a lot of social services via their own hospitals, care homes, kindergartens, schools, etc… (there are parts of Germany where it’s very difficult to find non-religiously affiliated hospitals, kindergartens, etc…) and they also get to influence politics via ethics commissions, etc… Restrictive abortion laws, near bans on stem cell research, etc… are one result as are church taxes collected by the government (which are the actual reason I left the Lutheran church, because they wanted my father, who’s not a church member, to pay church taxes for me and my Mom, because they considered me, a university student, and my Mom, a housewife, freeloaders), strict restrictions on shops opening on Sundays, dance, party and entertainment bans on certain holidays like Good Friday, the fact that labour laws don’t apply to churches (and this does not apply only to pastors, but also to nurses, teachers, etc… working in church run institutions), the fact that religious education in schools is mandatory and separated according to confession, etc… Even though about one third of all Germans are not religiously affiliated and many of those who are nominally members of a church don’t practice.

        Now the two big Christian churches are important allies in the fight against the right (and the self-styled “defenders of the Christian West” have been known to harrass and threaten priests), the churches have always supported refugee rights (and they don’t try to convert those who come to them for help) and a lot of the people who work for religiously affiliated social services do good work. I worked in a town for a while where pretty much everything – education, healthcare, social services, etc… – was under Catholic control and I met a lot of good people in those institutions and was never discriminated against for not being Catholic. But the church privileges still need to go.

        Reactions against the Third Reich are another factor with regard abortion and reproductive health laws. Because the Nazis infamously sterilised and murdered people they considered deficient, there is a strong opposition even from otherwise liberal folks against abortions in case of fetal abnormalities, genetic tests on embryos created via artificial insemination, etc… Of course, there is a huge difference between carrying genetic tests on frozen embryos to help people with horrible genetic diseases in their families to have kids that will actually live to adulthood and the Nazis murdering disabled people, but there’s still a lot of opposition against the former due to the latter.

        Like

  5. “The belief has a bedrock of fears by evangelical Christians about their children becoming less religious at college”
    Which is not entirely without foundation; exposure to the real world can make people aware that liberals aren’t trying to destroy Christianity, gays aren’t child molesters, etc. As some conservatives make these beliefs inseparable from Christianity, that knocks the props out from under their kids’ Christian faith as a whole.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Which incidentally proves their faith wasn’t very strong to begin with, if it can’t stand up to a little bit of reality.

      That’s the fear of the righties, that the kids will throw out the baby Jesus with the bathwater. Lots of non-fundies go to college and meet other kinds of people and manage not to have a crisis of faith — but they’re the ones who don’t (as you say) intertwine things so closely.

      A lot of people raised fundie become atheists — but a lot of them simply become some more liberal kind of Protestant. All that peace and love stuff Bible Jesus said, instead of Republican Jesus. Which is just as bad to the parents.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I seem to recall stats somewhere which stated that more people who leave fundamentalist churches identify as atheists while people who leave more liberal churches either identify as non-practicing Christans or as agnostics. But I can’t recall or find my source so take it with a grain of salt

        Liked by 2 people

  6. While I don’t want to dispute the findings of the study that showed less birtherism if the question was reframed, I have to disagree that that proves birtherism wasn’t sincere. I’m sorry, the long and complicated discussions I’ve had with some of my McCain-voting relatives made it extremely clear that they sincerely, vehemently, and adamantly believed that Obama was born in Kenya, was secretly a Muslim, and so forth. While I’m willing to believe many of the people spouting it were insincere, there is an extremely hard-core among the evangelical right that Obama is a foreigner.

    So while it is an interesting phenomenon, I can’t help but think that discussing it is as useless as trying to discern which Nazi-slogan-spouting people are sincere…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I think Drumpf was spouting birtherism for attention (like everything he does), but a whole lot of McCain and then Drumpf voters really, truly believed that Obama was a Kenyan Muslim. Even after McCain himself spoke out firmly against that.

      Like

    2. But it’s not really sincere belief when they do that. Because they are not unintelligent people and they know that there is a birth certificate for Obama and a newspaper announcement of his birth and they know, logically, that those things were not faked to give him citizenship, could not have been faked. But what they also know is that he was a black man who ran as the Democratic candidate and won, beating the white man who represents their values. Which means the world changed. So what do you do when the world changed and obliterates your whole world view? You pretend that the world didn’t change, that it was a con, because then you don’t have to change, because then you don’t lose. In telling you their complicated reasons for why the first black president cannot have been an American, they are telling themselves that the world is still as they know it and relied on it to be. They know it isn’t true, but if it is admitted to not be true, then they are not the people they knew themselves to be and they cannot bear it. So they passionately defend what they know is a lie.

      Right now, the QAnon folks are in disarray because everything that was promised in the conspiracy hoax that promised them that their world view, themselves, was intact, has not come to pass, like your average doomsday cult. Some of the people are accepting that they’ve been conned, probably those people who mostly considered that QAnon might be true, not definitely was. But others are frantically trying to re-jigger the conspiracy, as they had re-jiggered it before, including trying to create an even bigger conspiracy that the current California wildfires were caused by laser beams, etc. Because QAnon promised them that their world had not changed and to hold on to that lie, they have to keep adding lies and professing to all that they sincerely believe them to be true. Because then they haven’t lost power, meaning and control of the world. They are just beleaguered fighters against evil.

      A myth offers an explanation and justification for why things are the way people want them to be, need them to be to maintain their identities and their sense of meaning and power. What the myth is always becomes less important than what the myth does, which is protect the world view that they feel they need to hold on to and that this world view is true and good and makes them true and good. So Obama cannot be an American because then he was truly president, so every lie given to them about that, they claim is truth. But they know it’s a lie and eventually some of them will give up the lie they claim to seriously believe when the cost of holding on to the lie becomes too much in their lives.

      That’s what happened to a lot of people who were anti-gay and then discovered that they had gay relatives who wouldn’t hide. For some of them, losing those relatives was too high a cost to hold on to their world view/identity against their relatives. So they drop the beliefs because their relatives wouldn’t let them pretend that the world hadn’t changed and rejected the myths, because they knew it was lies and holding on to those lies against their relatives would also hurt their identities as true and good. And the same with men who claim to sincerely be against abortion and then arrange for their lovers to get abortions. They are willing to circumvent or adjust the lies to uphold the myth, and if you’re willing to do that, then it’s not a sincere belief that the myth is reality, just an excuse that they feel protects them.

      Like

  7. Democrats have their own problem. All this screaming about how almost all problems in US elections are caused by russians are giving me a headache. And at the same time the cognitive dissonance in the defense of George Soros while totally ignoring how he himself spent lots of money to manipulate elections in eastern countries (see Georgia and Ukraine as examples).

    https://www.google.se/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

    Like

    1. “George Soros spends a lot of money to influence elections” is a standard right-wing talking point they make about him spending money in the US too (even though spending money to influence elections is perfectly legal). It ain’t comparable to Russian covert tampering.
      And an awful lot of anti-Soros paranoia is based on him being Jewish and a Jewish international banker no less. As witness the NRA now warning against him, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer in one tweet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is a standard rightwing talking point now, because of all conspiracy theories around him. But what people seem to miss is that 15 years ago, Soros influencing of eastern european elections was mainstream news and that criticism came mostly from the left.

        If you want to accuse The Guardian of using standard right-wing talking points, then it is up to you.

        Like

Comments are closed.