Friday, July 07, 2006

Two minutes hate + ritual defamation = ?

"The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic..." - George Orwell, 1984

In the novel 1984, "two minutes hate" was a daily routine where the citizens of Oceania gather in front of telescreens to watch two minutes of video denouncing an enemy of the nation. It was a means by which the passions of the populace were mobilized, for the purpose of control, by directing them at a demonized enemy. The point of the video is not to refute the argument of the identified "enemy" but to get the public to hate the target for making the argument in the first place. Consequently, the specific individual targeted is irrelevant, what matters is that the public knows to hate someone who is a symbol which is supposed to represent an abstract Manichean conception of "Enemy."

This is the image that comes to me when I reflect on the rampant accusations of treason that now litter our political landscape, and especially when I think about stories like the Travel section of the New York Times being accused of conspiracy to help al Qaeda assassinate Donald Rumfield and Dick Cheney and the former chancellor of UC-Santa Cruz being accused of sedition. In both stories, after readers were told that these respective targets were traitors to the nation, they were given the contact information of these "enemies" and told to hold them accountable.

Glenn Greenwald, writing about the intimidation tactic of "publicly railing against someone's grave crimes and then publishing their home address," says

These self-evidently dangerous tactics are merely a natural outgrowth of the hate-mongering bullying sessions which have become the staple of right-wing television shows such as Bill O'Reilly's and websites such as Michelle Malkin's (who, unsurprisingly, has become one of O'Reilly's favorite guests). One of the most constant features of these hate fests is the singling out of some unprotected, private individual -- a public school teacher here, a university administrator there -- who is dragged before hundreds of thousands of readers (or millions of viewers), accused of committing some grave cultural crime or identified as a subversive and an enemy, and then held out as the daily target of unbridled contempt, a symbol of all that is Evil.
Notice how Greenwald's description sounds to the description of "two minutes hate". The similarity is not superficial, as both have the same goal in mind, the repression or censorship of ideas. But what Greenwald describes is different in that unlike the novel, where the hate videos were directed at a somewhat abstracted political enemy (Goldstein), the targets of these pundits are actual people. In this instance, the "two minutes hate" of Malkin and compatriots is actually an act of ritual defamation.

Looking at the essay above, one could imagine it was written specifically in response to the tactics Greenwald is describing. The essay begins

Defamation is the destruction or attempted destruction of the reputation, status, character or standing in the community of a person or group of persons by unfair, wrongful, or malicious speech or publication. For the purposes of this essay, the central element is defamation in retaliation for the real or imagined attitudes, opinions or beliefs of the victim, with the intention of silencing or neutralizing his or her influence, and/or making an example of them so as to discourage similar independence and "insensitivity" or non-observance of taboos.
Wilcox, the essay's author, goes on to list eight common elements of ritual defamation. If we note that the primary tool of ritual defamation is character assassination and then look specifically at elements 4:

The victim is often somebody in the public eye - someone who is vulnerable to public opinion - although perhaps in a very modest way. It could be a schoolteacher, writer, businessman, minor official, or merely an outspoken citizen. Visibility enhances vulnerability to ritual defamation.
and 6 (which I truncated for emphasis):

In order for a ritual defamation to be effective, the victim must be dehumanized to the extent that he becomes identical with the offending attitude, opinion or belief, and in a manner which distorts it to the point where it appears at its most extreme. For example, a victim who is defamed as a "subversive" will be identified with the worst images of subversion, such as espionage, terrorism or treason.
And notice that the sum of the other elements are that others are directed to participate in the defamation in an effort "to bring pressure and humiliation on the victim from every quarter" we see that this is what the pundits Greenwald describes are engaging in when they identify some figure as an enemy to the country and then invite their audience to "hold them accountable."

In her response to David Weigel, which I wrote about here, Michelle Malkin asked the following straw-man question:

"Are we to withhold criticism now of all public figures because they might be going through 'troubled' times and any call for accountability might send them over the edge?"

If we substitute in "Two Minutes Hate" and ritual defamation for "criticism" and "call for accountability," respectively, (which I believe is justified from the obvious ways in which her behavior matches the elements described in the essay), then the question is no longer straw-man and Wilcox's concluding paragraph answers why such should be withheld.

Like all propaganda and disinformation campaigns [ritual defamation] is accomplished primarily through the manipulation of words and symbols. It is not used to persuade, but to punish. Although it may have cognitive elements, its thrust is primarily emotional. Ritual Defamation is used to hurt, to intimidate, to destroy, and to persecute, and to avoid the dialogue, debate and discussion upon which a free society depends. On those grounds it must be opposed no matter who tries to justify its use.


Smoovement said...

Are you aware of what has happened at these people's homes?

Have you ever seen the footage of schools buses showing up at Karl Rove's home and people beating on his doors and windows?

Now, if you're trying to make the argument that there aren't any people on the left would commit an act of violence - or consider it an act of violence to kills, destroy, or damage anything at those addresses posted than I will say that you are sadly mistaken. People like you would openly praise and support the attempted act of taking the lives of any of these gentlemen.

Hypocrisy on levels.

Hume's Ghost said...

1. I don't condone people showing up at other persons homes to protest.
2. No, I have not seen "footage of buses showing up at Karl Roves home and people beating on his doors and windows." I certainly do not condone such action.
3."People like you would openly praise and support the attempted act of taking the lives of any of these gentlemen."

Seeing as how "people like me" think that killing is wrong, then "people like me" would not praise an attempted take on anyone's life.