[FoRK] 4 ways we're still fighting the Civil War

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Sat Apr 16 22:25:50 PDT 2011

On Apr 16, 2011, at 8:43 PM, Stephen Williams wrote:
> But you have to be willing to put up with thinking they are hypocritical for a bit until both sides get out of feud mode.

It is not that simple; the hypocrisy is in the flagrant double standard. If everyone was turning over a new leaf it would be one thing. In this case, they are demanding from others what they are transparently unwilling to do themselves. Cynicism is appropriate. If the political class does not take it seriously, then no one else will either.

>> As a case in point, the use of "Third Reich" above has no material relevance to the discussion of political polarization in the US except to signal status by casting aspersions on "others".  Everyone is correct when they assert the other guy is a big part of the problem.
> I disagree, except with the "in the US" part as we are, of course, not so stupid to let things get that bad.

There is no "let" about it, the analogy fails on multiple levels. The US is fundamentally not an analogue of Germany, the mechanics would not work. A correct model would be something like the EU producing the same result at an EU level; offhand, I cannot think of any such analogues in history.  Something similar might be able to happen at the level of a US State, but individual States simply do not have the power to take things very far. At the State level it has happened but not once has it gained traction outside of the regional culture it originated in.

>  However, as I've pointed out before, the Third Reich arose, and was enabled by a very similar religious surge that caused a similar, but far more extreme type of political polarization.  By a population that held some questionable views already.

Never in all of history has there been a culture where the major political factions were not, as a group, Kool-Aid swilling quas-religious reality-deniers. If "questionable views" is the bar then it is a bar so high that no population will qualify. People do not have rational views, they have rationalized views. There are plenty of religions that don't involve a deity.

That said, the current situation in the US is unusual. For the first time I can remember, both parties seem to genuinely fear the wrath of the population at the same time. That might be an improvement but the population is still fundamentally irrational.

> But at the Dachau exhibit, the populist rise of Nazism drew specifically on religious polarization, fears, and claims of piousness.  Regardless of the lack and twisting of religion later, that's how they, essentially, started a civil war that became a world war.  Hence, my mention.

Except that, again, it has no relevancy. The piety of Naziism was not literally religious so much as it exploited quasi-religious templates for more banal political control purposes. There is no religious polarization except to the extent a few nuts on the extreme left and right play off each other. Normal people don't invest that much.

The reason this argument will never work in the US, no matter how much echo chamber pundits on the left and right assert otherwise, is that the US contains several strong, self-sustaining, non-political cultural identities that are tied to geography. Americanism is a thin idea; most Americans are products of durable regional cultures and histories which often have little in common with each other.

Arguably one of the great strengths of the United States is that it is not capable of a deep nationalism in the sense that many countries are. There is no coherent American culture or ethnic identity. Every elected majority usually requires buy-in from at least three of the major native cultures of the US and getting them to agree on anything is a major chore.


J. Andrew Rogers

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