Forum Post: Who Owns the World? Noam Chomsky on U.S.-Fueled Dangers, From Climate Change to Nuclear Weapons
Posted 6 months ago on Oct. 29, 2012, 8:31 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Who Owns the World? Noam Chomsky on U.S.-Fueled Dangers, From Climate Change to Nuclear Weapons
Monday, 29 October 2012 09:36 By Amy Goodman, Democracy NOW! | Video
Pentagon Nixed 1998 US Nuclear Scientists' Probe of Iranian Program
Monday, 29 October 2012 13:50 By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service | Report
What's Still the Matter With Kansas - and the Democrats?
Monday, 29 October 2012 09:49 By Ira Chernus, Truthout | Op-Ed
Frank's Kansas is the popular metaphor for those millions of white voters who seem to vote against their own economic best interests. Talking to these folks, Frank found that they treated economic life as if it had nothing to do with politics. For them, politics is symbolic action. It's a way to express their enraged feeling of being victimized by elites from the Northeast and the West Coast. By voting Republican, they stick it to the effete (and Democratic, they assume) snobs.
However, another Kansan, Robert Wuthnow, paints a more complicated picture of his people. Wuthnow, perhaps the most prominent authority on American sociology of religion, stresses the strong sense of communal responsibility among the good Christians of Kansas. If you are in trouble, there's a good chance they've got your back.
Of course, it's not just Kansas. You'll find the same spirit of community wherever metaphorical "Kansans" abound. They will bend over backwards to help you out - as long as they judge you deserving. But, crucially, they insist on reserving that right to judge for themselves. They won't let any government bureaucrat do it. Why not? Wuthnow traces the distrust of the federal government back to 1938, when Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to follow through on the promises he'd made in the 1936 campaign (though he neglects to point out that FDR was blocked by a conservative Congress). Go back earlier, and there's a rich tradition of many Kansans voting Democratic for decades - people who understood the invaluable role of government.
Dig deeper into the work of Frank and Wuthnow, though, and you'll find a more nuanced view of Kansans. Through the 1950s, their powerful spirit of community was centered on home and church, where life made sense to them and they felt safely sheltered. They saw the nation's borders, too, as sheltering walls, which had to be buttressed against potential invaders. Then the upheavals of the Vietnam war era left them confused and shaken, afraid that their personal, communal and national life would never again be secure. Since then, that fear has only grown deeper.
Kansans still crave a life built on unassailable cultural foundations - "the solid rock of certainty," as Frank puts it. But they can't find certainty because they feel that life has "gotten too far away from the natural order of things"; the world has "forsaken the true and correct path," leaving "civilization in decay." So, they feel like "helpless pawns caught in a machine ... victims besieged by a hateful world," driven by huge forces that seem to know no restraint, erasing every last shred of predictability and control.
As Mark Lilla put it recently in The New York Times, the conservative mind has become "little more than a click-click slide projector holding a tray of apocalyptic images of modern life that keeps spinning around, raising the viewer's fever with every rotation" - and pushing the feverish viewer further to the right.
There's a growing body of scientific evidence to explain the conservative mind and its plight. Conservatives are generally more easily frightened than liberals. They tend to have more trouble than liberals tolerating ambiguous situations and unstable systems. They are less open to new (hence, unpredictable and unstable) experiences, which is all that the world seems to throw at them anymore, as far as they can tell. So, they are more inclined than liberals to want predictable order, to follow norms and rules laid down by others.
But looking out the windows of their homes and churches, they see a rising tide of Americans who seem to revel in breaking the rules and embracing ambiguous, unstable situations. They feel like victims of an earthquake, standing helpless as their cultural foundations tremble under their feet.
Kansans feels powerless to do anything about all this except (in Frank's words) to "join in mutual outrage against a common enemy" and go on battling "on behalf of the victimized," using the vote as their symbolic weapon.
Kansans ask political leaders to give them back their sense of a safe, predictable world, where they can feel some control over their own lives. For them, as Maureen Dowd put it, "Every election has the same narrative: Can the strong father protect the house from invaders?"