I write this at a calamitous and dystopian time in America. A troglodyte Donald J. Trump of immensely meager quality occupies the U.S. presidency, a national election is just two weeks away, and he has threatened nothing less than a coup if he is not re-elected. He and his Republican enablers are busily destroying democracy at home with OrwellianBritish author George Orwell who wrote a dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was published in 1949 and contained many social and political dystopes that have recently come to pass. It is generally considered a bad thing to be Orwellian. tactics and vilifying us abroad while their corporate and Wall Street masters loot and pillage. Meanwhile the Democrats remain true to form by seeking safety in cowardly inaction. They back away from every fight so they can live to not fight another day.
“What’s wrong with these people?” Indeed.
Driving past a neighbor’s house the other day I was surprised to see a re-elect Trump poster in their front window. They are both retired public school teachers, educated, reasonably intelligent-seeming, with grandchildren who are the focus of their lives. Those are all qualities one would like to think militate against being a Trump supporter.
One of them, when challenged about their Trump support, reportedly said, “What difference does it make? They’re all alike.”
That comment struck me as extremely naïve and uninformed, to put it charitably. How many other people I know, I wondered, are in their category (for lack of a better term). It reminded me of my long-ago experiences in Europe. I was a musician and worked all over Europe, but my home base was in Germany. So I was around, knew and interacted with a lot of Germans. This was in the 1960s, which was not really all that long after the end of World War II.
Whenever I met a German for the first time, if the person was old enough to have been an adult during the war, I would wonder if that person had supported or been a member of the Nazi Party. Many of them must have been because just before the war 43 percent of German voters voted for Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party (the Nazi party). But there was really no way for me to know who had and had not been a Nazi because they never voluntarily talked about the past and it would have been a social faux pas for me to bring it up.
Hearsay was the only way I learned anything about Germans’ political positions before and during the war. A fellow musician, Igon, for instance, told me about three close members of his family who had survived the war. His older brother had been in the Hitler Youth, a Nazi organization infamous for its National socialist propagandizing of its members. His brother was still, at the time I knew Igon, fervently in support of Nazi ideals, although he was quiet about it and only his closest family members knew. The Catholic Jesuits would understand this. They’re the ones who say “give me a kid till he’s seven and we’ll have him for life.”
Igon’s uncle and mother had believed in the tenets of the Nazi Party up to and into the beginning of World War II but later came to regret their support. Like Igon, most of the Germans I knew who were too young to have been Nazis had stories of relatives and other people they knew who had at one time or another been Nazi regime supporters. I eventually concluded that there were three reasons — either altogether or singly — people came to regret their Nazi involvement or support: Guilt, embarrassment, and political correctness. But they felt that way only after their world began to crumble and the writing on the wall became evident to all except the most ardent supporters of the Third Reich.
About the Germans back then I was mostly just curious. Today my curiosity about Republicans is much more serious because it appears to me the United States is in a condition somewhat similar to Germany of the 1930s when the National Socialists were forming and coming to power.
“Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt.” Germany, Germany, above all, above all in the world. This is the first verse of the German national anthem, and it is now illegal in Germany to sing this first verse when the anthem is sung. “Germany above all.” That states explicitly what is mostly implied in Make American great again. And here is a typically Republican phrase from our own national anthem: “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is justLyric from the full version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” (And you thought you knew all the words to the U.S. national anthem.).”
The total social, civic and political disruption in Europe that resulted from fascism and nationalism has already begun in the Western world. Many find it easy to ignore reality and pretend everything is alright. It is not. Malevolent menMostly men, but there are plenty of malevolant women, too. have been elevated to positions of power, abetted by a largely somnambulant electorate in thrall to corporatists and thugs. There is in fact a national malaise that defies any description I can come up with. Today my fellow Americans are unhappy in a deeply unAmerican way. The country has drifted away from the sense of purpose and optimism that used to be its driving force. Its élan vital.
Liberal democracies all over the world are giving way to sinister, horrifying authoritarian tyrannies. Barbarians are in the ascendance, breathing new life into fascist hype and blather, subverting language, eviscerating values, punishing courage and replacing it with their own loutish bullying, and blurring vision and critical consciousness with a relentless stream lies and obfuscations.
So who are these perpetrators of barbarity, and who are their supporters? What makes them tick? What can be done about them? These three questions have been on my mind a lot the last several years — since 1979, actually, when the Brits elected Margaret Thatcher, and 1980, when the U.S. elected a vacuous actorRonald Reagan who immediately began dismantling everything. The political road has been downhill ever since. The coup de grâce came in 2016 when America went berserk and elected a vile, phony dipshit president. That is, it will prove to have been the final, killing blow if Trump is re-elected in a couple of weeks.
[Update: Since I wrote this the election has been held and Trump lost to Joseph Biden. Trump is now busily proving his insanity by denying he lost. The Electoral College certified Biden the winner of the election and Trump has become the whiny Loser-in-chief.]
We know who many of these barbarians are, whether we want to or not. There are plenty of mad-eyed citizens loudly proclaiming their conservative convictions at the drop of a MAGA cap. Many are armed and dangerous. Not all conservatives are loudmouths, of course. Many are not first- or even second-brick throwers; they are malevolently quiet; lurking, mewling, say, in the anonymity of a Trump political rally or watching it on TV in their darkened homes. And there are clearly many who are closet conservatives and only occasionally feel strong — or deranged — enough to make their political position public. Like my neighbors who surprised me with the Trump sign in their window. After being challenged they removed the sign and have not been seen since. That was a disappointment because if people insist on being stupid I would like them to at least have the courage of their convictions.
There are conventional conservatives who strongly dislike Trump but who will vote for him because they prefer the poison they know over the poison they don’t. As far as I’m concerned that is an operational definition of shit-for-brains. Far too many on the political left also fall into that category, voting for whomever the Democratic Party tells them to. There is plenty of that kind of ignorance around; ignorance has become the primary stanchionWhen I was growing up in farm country a stanchion was a frame that held the head of a cow in place, especially to facilitate milking. Think about it. of American Society.
Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, said “know your enemy.” Americans don’t. Liberals don’t know much about conservatives and conservatives don’t know much about liberals. In my early adult years I was what today would be called a political operative. I ran, co-ran, and helped in numerous Republican electoral campaigns ranging from county commissioner to governor. In those years I had plenty of opportunity to observe Republicans of every stripe. My conclusion about them was that conservatives are hardly ever deep thinkers. They would almost always rather spend more of their time in action than thinking. Democrats, on the other hand, are more devoted thinkers but seem to have never seen a fight they couldn’t run from.
Based on my own experience — and on his high esteem among conservatives — I would say Russell Kirk’s 1953 landmark book The Conservative Mind is a good source of information about how conservatives think, their principal beliefs and principles in general, and how they differ from liberals. A brief and more concise online overview of Kirk’s idealized version of conservative values can be found in his article, “Ten Conservative Principles.” You can read a brief biography of Kirk in “About Russell Kirk.”
My reference to Kirk is simply to provide a readable source on mainline conservative values. In my opinion he was (he died in 1994) a middleweight thinker who, along with William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Kristols, did much of the (shallow) thinking for a long list of conservatives. (Frank Meyer, George Stigler, Milton Friedman, Phyllis Schlafly, George Will, Peggy Noonan, Nixon, Thatcher, Reagan, Bush … need I go on? Trump is not mentioned in this list because he does his own, well, whatever it is that passes for thinking with him.)
Mainline conservatives and liberals (as distinct from the radicals of either direction) differ in ideologies which in turn stem from differences in perception. We now have plenty of neuroscientific evidence — particularly in the form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — that brain physiology contributes to, or even determines, conservative or liberal orientation. The cognitive styles of each are different and correlate with the size of the anterior cingulate gyrus (smaller in conservatives) and the right amygdala (smaller in liberals) in their brain. These differences are present very early on, perhaps at birth.
Correlations have been found even in very young children. Whether the differences are there at birth, or are the result of environmental influences, is not yet known. But this goes a long way toward explaining the hard-headed stubbornness of conservatives to any form of rational argument against their beliefs.
People with a relatively larger cingulate gyrus have shown in research to be more amenable to belief change. But not a lot! Take any fundamental tenet of conservatism and try to get a liberal to agree it has any merit at all. You will see the same intellectual brick wall for which conservatives are notorious. They just won’t pull a gun on you.
The (probably) genetic differences between conservatives’ and liberals’ cognition explains why they see the world differently. Liberals see the glass as half full while conservatives see it as half empty. A more subtle test might be the way people see ambiguous figure-ground illustrations. Looking at the illustration on the left, the conservative initially sees a vase while the liberal sees two faces. I just made that up — which sees one or the other — but I’m probably right.
On the other hand, if one looks at an ambiguous figure long enough it tends to flip back and forth. One minute you might see the vase, then suddenly all you can see is two faces. Then it might flip back again. And so on. Does this mean that people can be conservative or liberal at will? Or if a liberal stares at at conservative long enough does he begin to look like a liberal? Nah. Not a chance.
Unless you can get them to look you in the eye for an extended period of time, and you do the same to them. Eye-to-eye gazing causes positive affect and social bonding. You see it happening between just-born children and adults, and between pets and their people. Although it usually drives pet people nuts because they can’t figure out what their dog wants, just quietly staring at them. The dog doesn’t want anything, he’s just adoring you. Stare back and he’ll love it.
Just so you’ll know there is science behind what I am saying, here’s what happens. The eye-to-eye gazing causes the amygdala to produce oxytocin which is secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. This is sometimes referred to as the cuddle hormone. ‘Cause that’s what it makes you want to do.
Don’t try this eye-to-eye gazing with just anyone. Pick the wrong conservative and you might get shot.
This might be a more practical example of the difference between conservative and liberal thinking: Observing themselves and fellow human beings, conservatives come to the conclusion that humankind is not perfectible and therefore must always be kept under control by external forces. On the other hand, the same observations by liberals convince them that humans are infinitely malleable and utopia is possible along with great individual liberty and freedom.
Cognitive predilections do indeed have a profound influence on what we perceive. We might see the same things but what we perceive can be quite different. We don’t see eye to eye, as the expression goes.
Liberals are optimistic about human potential whereas conservatives believe Edmund Burke was correct when he wrote, “…nothing could be more fatal to mankind than his success.” This at least partially explains the strong dislike conservatives have for anything that smacks of socialism. Liberals generally have less trouble with it. In fact, the Republicans have made themselves so hated by the thinking classes that there is now a whiff of democratic socialism in the air. Populations here and around the world are beginning to rebel against the predatory capitalism of neoliberalism which has concentrated much of the planet’s wealth in the hands of a hateful, undeserving financial elite.
The financial elite have found willing henchmen in evangelical Christians and batshit crazy conservatives like Moscow Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and William Barr. I avoid listing Donald Trump because he is mentally disturbed and belongs in either an asylum (other than the White House) or just, you know, dead. [Update: Barr just resigned. Good riddance.]
Today’s Republicans are despised by the Left and frankly by everyone capable of finding their way out from under a MAGA cap in the dark. You know a Republican when you see one, but you might not have taken the time to inventory their characteristics. I’m about to do that. Keep in mind that no one is likely to be all of the things at any given time. Also keep in mind that there can never be a complete list because Batcons What else could we call them? They’re just batshit crazy conservatives, as opposed to just garden variety conservatives. lie awake nights thinking up ever new ways to be mean and obdurately stupid.
- Facts are foolish. Batcons will always choose alternate facts when they don’t like the real ones. In fact, most facts are anathema to them because facts force reality to intrude on their fevered dreams.
- Government is bad. The less there is of it, the better. Which goes to show the Batcon’s almost total absence of rational thought in light of the next point.
- Batcons MUST have a leader. Clearly they will follow anyone who can properly feed and maintain their self-delusions. The only requirement is that the presumptive leader must (1) already wield some power; (2) be willing to throw the first brick; (3) be male; (4) be annoying, painful or destructive to everyone and everything hated by the Batcon (and that’s just about every intelligent, civil and worthwhile human on the planet); and (5) be generally as batshit nuts as they are. (Cf. Trump.)
- Global warming is a myth concocted by prissy liberals “who think they’re so damned smart just ’cause they got college degrees and shit like that.” After all, climate change is normal and to be expected and, anyway, even if there were such a thing, it’s certainly not our fault.
- Everyone but us is lazy. People have to be forced to make their own way. Nothing should be free. Anyone can get a job who’s willing to work and lift themselves up by their own goose-stepping bootstraps. Hence any form of welfare (except bank and corporate welfare, of course), free healthcare, or any other form of freely given largess will only subvert capitalism and put a dent in human ambition. Any weakening in a leftward direction must be resisted.
- The death penalty is good. It helps cut down on the number of Negroes and Mexicans running loose, and other elements of the surplus population. An additional bonus is that it feeds the Batcons’ insatiable need to hurt and kill anyone who disagrees with them. (Why else would firearms be such a fetish, and absolutely essential, for them? There are other bases for a fascination with guns, of course, but that’s an unrelated topic.)
- Commies, queers and darkies should be killed when they riot. And every left-leaning demonstration is to be considered a riot. What else are we supposed to do with all these guns? Oh yeah, and Mexicans too. In fact everyone who ain’t white like us. Probably Gypsies too [spit]. And the towel-heads (that’s Muslims to you, you over-civilized mugwump). [Okay, my bad. No Batcon is likely to know what a mugwump is. I’m a mugwump. A person who remains aloof or independent, especially from party politics.]
- Socialists should also be killed. Capitalism, although only dimly comprehended by your garden variety Batcon, is the only acceptable system. Free markets and corporations should be unhampered by taxes and government regulation.
- Guns are good. They are not to be controlled in any way, in case this needs repeating.
- No universal healthcare. Like Medicare for all, for example. Again, in case this needs repeating: Freeloaders must not be encouraged. (Keep in mind that this sentiment is held even by the Batcons who are on Social Security and Medicare. They are supremely ignorant of almost everything except what they have been told to believe. And, being true believers, they believe fervently.)
- The United States is a Christian nation. Everyone should be Christian just like us. A Christian theocracy in the U.S. would be just fine. Forget all that science and all those fake facts. Just pray (beats the hell out of having to actually think about anything because thinking is hard!).
- Same-sex marriage and all forms of gender difference are bad. Forget all that alphabet crap lgbtqrsdbd…argh!
- Batcons really, really hate logic, reason and rational discourse. Thus they deprive themselves of even the simplest understanding of civilization’s foundations and everything that is the result of several millennia of human thought, value and work toward a civilized world.
- Batcons are driven by anarchic impulse. The world is so screwed-up, in their opinion, so far from being the way the garden variety Batcon would like it to be (not that they really know in any detail how they would like it to be), that only destruction can produce improvement. Anarchy is welcome.
- Equality is unrealistic and unachievable. [A belief also commonly held by mainline conservatives.] That goes for every kind of equality. No two things in this world are exactly alike. You want to be equal, you should have been born a white male. If that’s not what you are, go back where you came from. And if you are a white Christian male, and you don’t agree with me on every single point, drop dead. Here, let me help you with that…
- Utopia is impossible. [Related to the point above and also commonly held by mainline conservatives.] Not only is the concept of utopia unrealistic, it would be fiendishly boring if ever achieved. If no utopia is possible then any effort in that direction is a waste of time. THIS IS A KEY TENET IN BATCON THINKING! All attempts at liberal achievement are considered a waste of time, energy and — this is particularly important — resources, some of which either belong to the Batcon or are provided through taxes. Therefore they are to be stopped and eradicated at all costs. This partially explains why Batcons are so mean, cruel and despicable. At least in the view of anyone with even the slightest leanings toward Enlightenment values.
- Batcons have a Manichean vision of the world. They are in an irreducible struggle between good (themselves) and bad (everyone else). There are no shades of gray.
- Private property ownership is the foundation of all great civilizations. [Another belief held also by mainline conservatives.] An attack on the concept of private property is an attack on civilization. That is, civilization as interpreted by Batcon warped metrics, of course.
- Compassion is for sissies. Don’t bother me with all that touchy-feely crap.
- Wisdom is whatever I say it is.
- Meta-cognition is stunted. Okay, this one is a toughie to explain to anyone who is not a cognitive scientist. It is the collection of mental processes that guide our thoughts. In addition to emotions, motives, and visceral responses, thoughts are also influenced by other thoughts. That is what meta-cognition is about. Meta-cognition helps us:
- Check ourselves when we are wrong.
- Investigate complex issues to gather a broader range of perspectives other than our own. Legitimately consider the diverse perspectives of those with whom you don’t agree.
- Construct a big-picture view.
- Recognize the limits of ones own knowledge and experience intellectual humility.
These, then, are at least a beginning list of the primary descriptors and characteristics of Batcons. There are others. There will always be others because Batcons do not have values. They entertain only the unfounded beliefs that have been handed to them by those who know how to manipulate and control them to forward their own selfish ends. Batcons readily and willingly serve the wealthiest, elitist elements of society.
A Batcon’s mentality can only be comprehended through an understanding of the mentality of his masters, whom Batcons will unquestioningly follow. No assault upon a Batcon’s beliefs and attitudes will change them except in the unlikely event the assault is from Batcons’ enablers. Batcons are notoriously hard to proselytize, once they have committed to their leaders, because they have been inoculated against any information that (1) deviates from their received dogma or that (2) does not come directly from their leaders.
Just as measles virus cannot invade an inoculated host vaccinated against it, new or opposing ideas cannot gain purchase in the mind of a Batcon inoculated against them.
Reasoned discourse with Batcons is a fruitless waste of time. The inoculation of Batcons has rendered all forms of logical discourse and reasoning ineffectual.
The recruitment of Batcons in America takes place primarily through conservative talk radio, Fox News, and social media (Facebook and Twitter). How talk radio came under the total control of batshit conservatism is a story in itself, and Fox News has long been recognized as a primary Batcon propaganda ministry. Batcons have voluntarily subjected themselves to thousands of hours of far-right-wing propaganda spewing out of these media sources. Few humans can withstand that kind of sustained, withering brainwashing.
Nascent Batcons are initially attracted to illogical tenets of batshit conservatism because it seems to offer them strength to compensate for their own unacknowledged weakness and vulnerability, and retribution against those they have come to hate. They are quickly and easily hooked. The daily media doses of far-right drivel indoctrinate them beyond redemption. Thus is constituted both their instruction and their inoculation against any and all opposing views. Like the citizens of North Korea they are soon beyond saving. There is no logical, reasonable, humane way to break through their self-chosen bubble of irrationality and hatred, and their sense of invincibility.
They are frightening. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the many conservative talk radio stations are frightened by their audience. They live in terror of the monster they have created.
Censorship, though, is not the solution. The way to combat bad ideas is with good ideas. But it is now obvious that Fox News and talk radio must be dismantled if we are ever to get control over the Batcon epidemic among the susceptible.
One of the reasons there is such a large susceptible segment of the American population is the failure of our educational system. It must be reconstituted and begin teaching children the Enlightenment values so essential to the kind of culture and society in which most people prefer to live.
So how many Batcons are there in the world? This brings me back to my earlier comments concerning my curiosity about how many of the Germans I met were ex-Nazis. How many Americans truly fall into the Batcon mental sewer?
There is no way to be sure and the number is constantly changing because, as with any structurally defined population unit, there will be at least a few on the fringes who slip in and out of the defined group, depending upon how they think the world is treating them at the moment. But here’s an educated guess.
Begin with the assumption that the genetic tendency toward conservatism or liberalism is normally distributed in the population. As you can see from the normal distribution curve on the left, half of the population is conservative leaning and half is liberal. The beliefs and behavior of those in the very middle region of the curve might be hard to distinguish one from another, while those who fall into the farthest right and left are the more rabid cases; liberals on the right side conservatives on the left. On the farthest left are the Batcons. (Please note the intentional reversal of traditional “right” and “left” in the diagram.)
Considering the best evidence I have found (certainly nowhere near conclusive), I estimate the percentage of the American population that are Batcons to be nearly ten percent. About 75 percent of Americans are 18 or older. With a total U.S. population close to 330 million, that puts the adult population at roughly 250 million (or near-adult population, one could argue).
According to my estimate, then, there are close to 25 million Batcons in the U.S. I don’t think they are evenly distributed around the 50 U.S. states but if they were that would be about 495,000 in each state. You can see by the U.S. map below the political ideology of the population in each state. Whatever the distribution of Batcons actually is, there are plenty of them to go around.
To say that one out of every ten Americans are Batcons might seem a lot, but frankly I have the impression they are everywhere. Maybe it just seems that way because they are so noisy and obnoxious.
There used to not be nearly as many as there are today. About a half a century or so ago when I was active in conservative politics there were a lot fewer Batcons. As noted above, conservative talk radio and Fox News have really done a number on the American population, serving to divide as nothing else has since the Civil War.
And keep in mind that over and above that number are the hard-core conservatives who can still be plenty unreasonable. They are the people represented in the right-hand side of that 13.59 percent part of the curve (the second gray section left of center), between minus one and minus two standard deviations from the mean. (You don’t have to know about standard deviations if you don’t want to, just know that “deviations” in this context is a statistical term, not a slur on conservatives. At least, not intentionally.)
Batcons are clearly a threat to civil society, a kind of threat that extreme liberals will never be. Not from overt aggression, anyway. It is the Batcons who are the domestic terrorists (they fashion themselves “militias”), killer cops, and kamikaze drivers into crowds of demonstrators. Most of them are too far gone to be converted into compassionate, thinking human beings. And they cannot be allowed to run rampant over everyone else. They can only be subdued, and to do that requires a massive, concerted effort on the part of those who recognize Batcons for the miscreants they are.
The more rational conservatives have already begun attempts to reign in the Batcons. There is widespread awareness that conservatives’ fortunes are sinking and American culture is turning against them. Their views, commonplace only yesterday, are coming under more and more condemnation. American conservatives’ redoubt, the Republican Party, has show itself willing to tear the country apart rather than face a bleak future of failure to win elections. Their main strategy is to narrow the electorate to give it a better chance of winning legislative majorities with a minority of votes. They have stacked the courts with incompetent, Batcon-leaning judges who can be relied upon to vote as their corporate sponsors direct. The henchmen of this disturbed and sinking order are the Batcons, and they must be constrained.
To get moderate conservatives on board with this will require shunning of Batcons, ridicule of them, and outright rejection by the rest of society. Only when Batcons are widely shown to be foolish and inept — and only when the Batcons themselves realize how foolish and inept the rest of the world considers them to be, even though they will never agree — will they pull in their horns and go back into philosophical and political hiding. They have to be forced back under the rocks from whence they came.
However, it is extremely important that things not be made to look hopeless for the more moderate conservatives. If they come to the conclusion that they will be permanently excluded from government by electoral politics, they may well reject democracy altogether. Some of the more benighted Republicans in Congress are already making disparaging remarks about democracy and representative government. Some of them would clearly rather bring down the whole national edifice than lose their cushy jobs and preference.
The kind of concerted social demonstration needed to send the Batcons running will require participation by moderate conservatives, and to get them onboard will require a minimum of two things:
- Conservatives must not be made to believe that all conservative causes and concepts have forever been plowed under. There must remain a glimmer of hope for them and they must be made to believe that losing elections in a democracy is preferable to winning in a state of anarchy. Some might of course actually prefer anarchy under the delusion that their own personal “specialness” and exceptionalism will keep them on top of the heap. They must be disabused of such thoughts.
- Liberal extremism must be toned down. Liberal principles need not be abandoned, merely moderated and made less extreme. This does not mean there should be movement toward the middle in the way the DNC and mainline Democrats would like to see. That would merely be continuing to kiss the collective ass of the One Percent. Mainline Democrats — but not progressive Democrats and some Independents — have been doing that for too long. It is that prolonged butt-smooch that has contributed in large measure to what got us into the current mess in the first place. It must be avoided at all costs.
So changes will have to be made on both sides of the divide. But the biggest, most important changes will be required of the conservatives. They have already damaged their standing and reputation, perhaps beyond salvage. Already there are clear signs of many Republicans trying to distance themselves from Trump and his ilk. But whatever their fate, they must re-join the more humane segments of the people and embrace the tenets of liberty, equality, and reason. Batcons must be vanquished and dispersed, and anyone who sides with them should suffer the same fate.