Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style

Ok, I have about 30 minutes to try to dash off a post. So this might be disjointed, but I'm using this post to get my thoughts down so that I'll be able to return to them at a later date. By now I'm guessing most of the readers who come here are familiar with Richard Hofstadter's seminal essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics. I will be using that as a frame to understand the absolutely insane Talking Point that Bill O'Reilly used on his program last night.

Hofstadter begins by explaining

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wind. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics., In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

Of course this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content. I am interested here in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric. The paranoid style is an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent.
The gist of last night's Talking Point was that billionaire philanthropist George Soros is the head of a conspiracy to control the Democrat party and is funding through various front organizations Media Matters, a site which O'Reilly describes as a viscious smear site. In addition, Soros is the mastermind behind other far left America haters such as Paul Krugman, Rosie O'Donnell, NBC News, etc. (this is from O'Reilly's perspective, remember) Newshounds has further commentary and footage.

First, please note that George Soros does not fund Media Matters. Secondly, as someone who has observed O'Reilly's program for some time now, I have come to the conclusion that O'Reilly has some kind of pathological inability to tolerate criticism of any sort.* Media Matters quotes him in context, providing links to transcripts or video footage when they do so. If the site challenges some assertion of his, they link to sources of evidence supporting their position so that a reader can read the links and come to a determiniation for oneself. That is how normal discourse works.

But not for O'Reilly. For O'Reilly he is above and beyond reproach, and anyone who does reproach him is a far left S-P America hater. He's developed quite an enemies list.

But here is the point that I will raise in brief. O'Reilly has been pushing his meme that traditional Americans (aka conservative Christian Americans) are under assault from radical far-left socialist Secular Progressives. And his paranoid mind has seen fit to announce that secular progressive George Soros is the Evil mastermind behind this nefarious S-P cabal.

Now one of the things that I plan on blogging about once I regain my mind is the development of paranoid "right-wing" authoritarian memes over the course of the 2oth century and up until today. I touched upon this previously in this post where I noted what appeared to be the evolution of the War On Christmas meme, where you see the demonological scapegoating evolving as such:


But the thing is that in the paleofascist groups that remain among us (Stormfront, for example) all three of the above are synonymous. And guess what, George Soros just so happens to be ethinically Jewish, so O'Reilly's paranoid conspiracy would fit perfectly into the hate-literature of the extremists which he claims to detest (and for what's it worth, I believe he does detest them.)

What I think we see here is what Ludwig Wittengestein (and Orwell) warned of. The use of language to hide the consequences of our beliefs from us. O'Reilly's S-P conspiracy, appears to me, to be little less than a politically correct version of the aforementioned Jewish and Communist conspiracies that have dominated the "right-wing" mind for the last century (with especially disastrous consequences when those conspiracies were put in practice in Nazi Germany). On one hand, we can look at this as a sign of progress, as the mind of the bigot has had his conscience raised in that he's no longer blaming international Jews for all the world's problems; but on the other hand, what O'Reilly is doing is providing a bigoted hate-ideology directed at an artifical stereotyped class (i.e. "S-P"s) which can be interjected in the mainstream, providing extremists the cover they need to make their hate seem legitimate. What's more, there tends to be this kind of feedback loop that triggers where O'Reilly becomes more defensive when he's criticized and tends to insulate himself and listen to the extremists as he sees them as common allies against his "S-P" enemies.

And when O'Reilly's millions of viewers or radio listeners start to make that journey with him there is a problem a brewing. For more on this phenomenon, I suggest reading this segment from Dave Neiwert's Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis essay on media transmitters.

Update: As I was finishing this up I went over to Media Matters and see that they've now put up a column responding to O'Reilly's paranoid delusions. As you can see from the link, virtually everything O'Reilly said in his Talking Point rant is factually false.

Update II: For more demonization of George Soros as the Evil mastermind behind Media Matters, see this rant by Melanie Morgan. And please, hurry up and read The Authoritarians if you haven't already done so. There is simply no other way to understand the insane persecution complex demonstrated by Morgan without some kind of understanding of the social psychology that produces such an individual who can routinely go on the radio and talk about killing people, then claim to be a persecuted victim when someone *gasp* records her and puts it online.

And while I'm at it, much credit should be given to Spocko, a blogger who started a personal campaign to alert the sponsors of Morgan's program that they are funding hate-speech. Spocko serves as an inspiration because he has demonstrated that an individual can make a difference and improve the level of discourse in this country. But he needs our help, as this column from Eric Boehlert demonstrates, the mediaocracy in this country would prefer to silence critics than have to part company with the hate-mongering ideologues that they employ.

Update III: Something else I think worth noting, is that up-is-down reality that O'Reilly seems to inhabit. Now, if someone wants to examine the influence that George Soros has on politics and the organizations that he funds, that is a perfectly legitimate enterprise. However, as demonstrated by the links above O'Reilly has not done that. He has instead just made wild allegations about Soros being a mastermind behind some vast S-P far left conspiracy that he fears is overtaking the country.

I really find it difficult to express how unfathomable I find it that a man working for a network created specifically to shill for the Republican party by media mogul Rupert Murdoch could be so worried about this phantom "S-P" movement that does not exist. What's more, there actually is a conservative movement in this country that is well funded, has a deep infrastructure and receives funding from the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife, the Coors family, the Coch family, Rev. Moon, etc. Yet somehow O'Reilly is completely oblivious to these folks and their influence on the Republican party, even as moderate Republicans like Christine Todd Whitman (see here) warn that the party is being purged by ideological religious and authoritarian zealouts. And recently a former Goldwater speechwriter released a book entitled Invasion of the Party Snatchers in which he writes that the Republican party has become "a party of pork-barrel ear-markers like Dennis Hastert, of political hatchet men like Karl Rove, and of Bible-thumping hypocrites like Tom Delay."

Yet still O'Reilly remains unconvinced, trapped in his hermetically sealed Fox world where he is always right, and everyone else is a far left S-P socialist open-borders America hater infected with Bush Derangment Syndrome. And the more you try and reason with him, the angrier he gets. And the angrier he gets, the more paranoid and irrational he gets. But remember, Bill's anger comes from his fear that the "traditional" America he loves is threatened by Mexicans and Islamofascists and S-Ps.

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” - Yoda

There's a lot of fear in the world right now. As well as anger. As well as hate. As well as suffering. It's time to take our country back, to put fear to rest. To put our anger and hate aside, and to start making the world a better and a safer place.

*This much has been evident to me ever since O'Reilly's incident with Al Franken in which he demonstrated both a juvenile inability to admit that he did not win a Peabody coupled with an obsessive desire to take down Al Franken (via a law suit that was laughed out of court.)


steeplebob said...

I'm half way through Chapter 5 of "The Authoritarians" and I've been nodding at the screen while I read. It casts a light on (and offers helpful conceptual vocabulary for) the behaviors of many people I've been close to over the years -- none more so than my self -- as it explains in very resonant language the path I've taken from High Authoritarian follower to Low over the last ten years.

It's timeliness and seeming applicability to current American politics is pure gold.

It's tragic just knowing that I could ask my brother (who has a degree in psychology) to read this and he would compartmentalize, rationalize, and deny until the very book itself is an example of how he is Right and Altemeyer is wrong.

Hume's Ghost said...

I hope when you get to chapter 7 you take Altemeyer's call to action to heart. Individuals such as yourself are going to be invaluable - daywalkers I call them - who can help to provide the cracks in the authoritarians walls for people to walk out of. The essay I linked to from Mrs. Robinson over at Orcinus is pretty good in that regard.

There's no need to try to proslytze your brother or anyone you know, but simply be able to be a living example that the "other side" isn't evil, as well as being able to articulate and defend the posistions that you hold. And it is key not to get angry, and to try and keep anyone who argues with you from losing their temper as well.

I'll get more into this in the future.