August 08, 2005

Huffington Post, DailyKos, Democratic Underground

Going around various online hangouts for the political left is a very interesting and enlightening foray into the minds of leftists. It's useful to see what animates people. I look especially at what they choose to communicate - and not to communicate. They all have their different focuses (Huffington Post is elitist, DailyKos is hyper-activist, DemocraticUnderground is raving rartisans), but I've come up with a few basic observations that often hold true when reading over a large sample from such sites.

#1 The ENEMY! There is almost always a personified enemy. This is also true of places like Free Republic or LGF comment sections, but it's significant that your stock partisan leftists like to see a personified enemy. They even like to build up individuals into mega-enemeies, even when it doesn't fit the facts. Nixon, Bush, Reagan, Giuliani, anybody who can be forced to sit as proxy for all the evil things every imagined right-winger supposedly once considred doing will receive rhetorical lashings. I find this habit disturbing wherever it crops up, first because it usually involves a fair amount of anger, hatred and vitriol, and second because it usually involves an incredibly narrow-sighted view of people in order to turn the scapegoat into pure evil. Hopefully nobody is comfortable with the practice of projecting extreme hatred at scapegoats, fueled by ignorance or untruths.

I don't know about you, but I like my true enemies to be actions and concepts, and people are only evil inasmuch as they do evil things.

#2 The story. There's got to be a story. There has to be a good guy and a bad guy and the good guy is all good and the bad guy is all bad. The good guy usually can't do anything without help from outside himself, whether it's from a friend, a community, or a political group. The bad guy is devious, greedy, insensitive and inhumane, and he does not seek redemption in the end. The story need not be true or plausible, it only has to send the right message and be both trite and coerced.

#3 The hyperbole. Both the enemy and the story are usually found with the hyperbole. The enemy's hyperbole is that he deceives everybody or that he bought everybody's loyalty, he's dumb as a board or his father gave him everything. The story's hyperbole is usually something like a protagonist that's orphaned, poor, outsourced out of a job, and Hispanic, or a black single mother fighting against all odds, or a single female struggling to make it in a man's world, or a simple peasant farmer forced to work in a textile factory. The hyperbole underpins the whole experience, because if you're too stupid to get who's good and who's bad, the hyperbole really socks it to you.

Of course, the hyperbole should insult the intelligence of people who hear it for the same reason. It should also insult the stylistic tastes of anyone forced to listen to the story about the beautiful young, outsourced, lesbian, Hispanic, black, Asian single mother working eight jobs just to decide between paying for heat and paying for food, who also happens to be handicapped but not in an unattractive, let's-pull-the-plug sort of way, who is then forced to confront the ugly, fat, sexist, racist, homophobic, evangelical, white, anglo, domineering father, mega-corporate executive who starts wars for money and forces people to buy deadly products they don't want but who is defeated by the government regulators without repenting or reforming.

I'm forced to exaggerate the exaggeration to a ridiculous degree simply because the hyperbolic stories I've read are already so unashamedly exaggerated.

#4 The team. It's astounding how often 'we' and 'us' are used in these venues. The constant reassurances that a group of people support the speaker or that the speaker supports that group comes off as an emotional dependency. It's almost as though the identification with a group is the goal in itself. I think a lot of leftists seem to just want to be in the good-guy group, to the point where it's more important than being actually good, independent of the group.

#5 What's not said: the principle. What is tragically under-emphasized is an objective principle that could apply to any situation and hence could be used against a person of any party (or race, sex, religion, etc.) objectively. A political exposition should flow from principles to lead to the solution. Without stating the principles - those things we want to accomplish - the search for a solution is disorganized. The result is often confusing or even contradictory views of different subjects, like emphasizing near-absolute liberty of action for women getting abortions, but emphasizing the need for government ownership of retirement accounts. Picking and stating simple principles that can be applied outside a unique situation is often missing in the places I've mentioned. They're cast out to make room for more hyperbole.

Overall, the image I'm left with is rhetoric tailored almost exclusively to emotional self-validation. We're good, they're bad. I'm good, he's bad. The enemy is critical to the dichotomy, the hyperbole strengthens the differences, the team gives approval that the good guy is good, and the story is the difference itself. A principle would only get in the way by forcing one to admit that people don't always neatly fall all on one side of an objective principle.

Naturally, not everybody at these places is like this and even the people who are like this are not solely or completely like this. I wish only to make the point that it seems to be a factor in the political identification of many leftists to create enemies and stories in order or fill the void left by a lack of objective principles.


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