The TSA wants to see you naked. As a strident opponent of modesty, I might be willing to get naked for them if they asked, but they don’t. And while I wish I lived in a world where nobody cared about being seen naked, that doesn’t mean I’m going to believe that the TSA or any other authority has the right to see a person naked without that person’s willing consent.
This all seems fairly obvious, but we live in a post-9/11 world, which means that
terrorists are hiding inside your vagina people are scared enough to give up basic freedoms if the government promises to protect them from brown people. The same government that shouldn’t be trusted to provide for your health care or regulate the economy is eminently sincere and trustworthy in its mandate to keep us safe from those outside the straight white male bubble. And if you disagree, you hate our troops and such. (See any of Amanda Marcotte’s many posts on what she calls “security theater” for some excellent reading about this attitude.)
This is the reason that my friend Mike segued immediately from naked TSA scanners to a great dissection of authoritarianism in America. It’s not just the people in authority who are authoritarians, after all – it’s the people underneath them who willingly let them maintain that authority. To use the ever-tasteful prison rape metaphor, they’re basically bending over and letting the government have its way with their buttholes.
There’s not much to say about it that Mike hasn’t already said, so I’m going to look at his point from a different angle: economic authority rather than political and social authority. Granted, the three are inseparably bound together, but that’s the very reason I felt that the economic angle was noticeably absent from Mike’s discussion of governmental authority.
Something I’ve observed in the past few years is the way people submit themselves to the authority of corporations, millionaires and billionaires, property owners in general. To their minds, they’re submitting to the power of the free market, by which reasoning the billionaires deserve their power because something something hard work mumble most productive cough cough invisible hand. Or to put it more legibly, they earned their money – and thus their power – through hard work.
But money is power, and that means that anyone who would tell you that money is a legitimate source of authority is pushing a philosophy of “might makes right.” This alone should be enough to make people shy away from the authority of the free market, except that America as a society actually does believe that might makes right. We have a right to stomp all over Middle Eastern countries precisely because we can, and no matter how many layers of justification we build about WMDs or freedom or security, when those all break down there are still conservative pundits arguing that we have a right to pick a third-world country willy-nilly and shove it against the wall just to show the world how tough and manly America is.
So pointing out the fact that the American people are basically being financially bullied into doing what the rich people want isn’t going to get very far. After all, we live in a country where John Boehner can stand in front of Congress and explicitly state that he’s favoring corporate interests over the good of the people and not get immediately impeached. Democracy can never function if the people want a king, whether that king has a crown or a gigantic net worth.
The rich use their power to influence the political process, as everyone knows, but they also use it to influence social attitudes. They want people to believe that what’s best for the richest is best for everyone; that an unregulated free market will favor people at every income level; that corporations can provide for people’s interests better than government can. And nowhere has this attitude gained more traction than in the US.
Gavin, in a rare bout of coherence, explains it thusly:
On this day in history, that first sentence could be the one that’s the most dense-packed with stupid of all sentences in an Erickson post, and therefore, until proven otherwise, in all of human discourse. “Continue to screw consumers with laws against business” is almost beautiful. It’s a stark, unadorned construction of ideas that required literally decades of work by the postwar right, first in the building of institutions and infrastructure, then in releasing payload after payload of bad-faith claims and contorted analyses into the atmosphere, until at last, a sufficient degree of besozzlement was realized that a sensible moderate-income American might expect to encounter such a phrase outside of the nearly plotless string of laugh-lines that make up a Sinclair Lewis novel.
The almost-beauty of Erickson’s word-sculpture, and I’ll repeat it: “continue to screw consumers with laws against business,” is that anybody with a lick of, and I quote again: “basic economic sense,” knows that consumers and business are inherently, tautologically, by the nature of what ‘consumers’ and ‘business’ are, opposed in their basic interests. For example, buyers want low prices, while sellers want high prices.
In a larger sense, the great project of the right in America since the reaction against Jacksonianism, or fundamentally since Hamilton, has been to advance the interests of the propertied and wealthy, the employers and sellers, in a system set up to respond to the will of the majority, who necessarily will mostly be employees and buyers.
This is not possible to achieve except by fooling the majority that their interests are different from what they are, manipulating them to exert their political power in various foibles and whoopsies: to shoot wealth away in a circus cannon; to be maneuvered into quarrels with the Blacksons next door and the Juanses around back; to put the car in gear and have the garage door pulled off by a sneaky chain, and that night to have the car driven off skidding and beeping from the wide-open garage; to find clowns switching your water and sewer lines, then run out to have other clowns switch the sewer and gas, then run in and someone flushes the john and blows out all the windows, then run out as clowns enter through the windows, then run back in, etc.
Conservatives were a nervous bunch back in the 40s – the Great Depression had shattered the country’s faith in the unregulated market, not to mention exposed millions of Americans to the realities of living poor; the New Deal had demonstrated that economic regulation actually does benefit most Americans; and World War II took an understandable toll on the popularity of fascism. FDR was more popular than a woman in the men’s locker room, and the Republicans were sweating.
And thus was born the seed of the modern Republican Party, which in recent years has reached the apotheosis of reality-denial, batshit rhetoric, and the replacement of policy with prejudice. It began with Yalta and the replacement of blacks with Communists as the scary group trying to take over America, and they never looked back.
It wasn’t merely a political coup – the wealthy benefit as well from this shift in political discourse, as was the intent. A scapegoat is created. The Pentagon is built to protect against that scapegoat, and to create more enemies to scapegoat later. And ultimately, those who question or attack the authority of the wealthy can be accused of sympathizing with or being a member of the scapegoated group. Basically, you want the Communists/hippies/Satanists/liberals/gays/terrorists to win. And the final result is that, in the middle of a recession so severe that it mirrors the Great Depression in many ways, John Boehner can stand in front of the nation and say, without subtlety or guile, “Don’t worry, rich people. We’ve got your back.”