Change, Reaction, And Conservatism: Reading The Tea Leaves


Noah Millman uses gay equality to make a larger point:

It gets worse before it gets better – indeed, it gets worse even as it’s getting better. That’s the way the politics of these sorts of issues goes, issues that appear to present very fundamental challenges to an entire worldview. At the outset, the worldview has a variety of sources of support: longstanding traditions and patterns of behavior; a larger societal consensus on the rightness of a position; the support of scientific authorities; etc. But as these supports fall away, as patterns of behavior change, as the question becomes contested rather than settled, as the scientific consensus dissolves or even switches to the other side, the defender of the traditional understanding is left with only one actual argument: if I give this up, I will have surrendered everything. And so I will never give up.

This isn’t even a specifically religious phenomenon, something I think Andrew is reluctant to recognize.

The pieds noirs grew more radical even as their political position grew untenable as they were abandoned by Paris. Ditto for Rhodesia. Ditto for defenses of segregation in the American South. The challenge of homosexuality is distinct in that gay people appear everywhere, in all kinds of families – the solution of separatism is not a viable one. But otherwise, it’s a pretty familiar dynamic. And we’ve probably got a decent idea of how that dynamic will play out:

It’ll get worse before it gets better. Indeed, it’ll get worse even as it gets better, even because it gets better.

I think that's exactly right about the dynamics of certain aspects of change. And, yes, it's not just religious, as Noah notes - although religious fundamentalism does become more psychologically helpful in periods of social change and personal bewilderment. I think this also helps explain the intensity of the cultural reaction to Obama. There is a rational argument against some of his policies, of course (health insurance reform primary among them). But the passion of opposition stems, I think, in part from a sense that the way the world once was is disappearing, that this is inevitable, and a repressed acknowledgment of the inevitability actually intensifies a resistance to it.

The America of the future will not be the America of the 1950s, the teenage years of many of those in the Tea Party movement.

It will be majority-minority, it will be one where gay people are not only visible but equal, it will blur racial identity and more and more people will have very complicated and mixed-up selves. The Tea Partiers want "their country back" in an almost poignant way - because their country will never come back, because change is now here for ever. That's also why there is an irrational resistance to any kind of acceptance that 12 million largely Latino illegal immigrants simply need to be integrated somehow, because mass deportation is impossible and a total control of the border very very hard (though still worth attempting). But the babies are already here! And American! So we have the panicked bizarre proposals to tear up birthright citizenship, the settled way of things for a very long time, because emotion - fear - is flooding the frontal cortex.

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