Projection in Politics

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The other day I came across an article in which it was claimed that an unnamed “expert” said that solar collectors could drain the sun of energy so that it would go out in 300-400 years. The point seemed to be that solar energy was worse than petroleum-based energy.

That’s the kind of assertion that leaves me scratching my head. Can someone actually believe that, or is it a satire on some of the other ridiculous things conservatives have said? The sun radiates energy in every direction, the earth is a very small fraction of the sun’s size, and the sun has been radiating this way for billions of years, and seems likely to do so for at least millions, if not billions of years more. That’s what science tells us, at least, and I’m inclined to trust science on this instead of people who seem to have a political agenda.

I recently came across a man who denies that human activities have anything to do with so-called global warming. That seems to be because we had a relatively cold winter this past year, because not all the arctic ice is melted, and the polar bears haven’t gone extinct. I pointed out to him that these things haven’t happened YET, but that I thought they were likely to. His reply was that they had been predicted to have happened by now, so he didn’t believe they were ever going to happen, that Obama lied when he said 97% of scientists agreed that human activity was largely responsible for climate change, but mostly his position seemed to be that it was false because liberals were saying it, and liberals wanted to take our money through phony claims. In his last post on that thread he said that conservatives didn’t just THINK liberals were lying; they KNEW it.

My snide first response, which I didn’t say, was that lying is an area in which conservatives have some expertise, so they might have some insight into other people lying. An interesting perspective on lying is found in William Patrick Patterson’s Eating the I. In one scene,  Lord John Pentland, Patterson’s teacher, says that all we can know is that we are alive, and eventually will die. Everything else is theoretical. Someone asks if good and evil aren’t part of everyone’s life, so that we can know more from that. Pentland replies, “There is no good and evil. Only lying.”

The denier mentioned above would be unable to hear this, since he has chosen his scapegoat. In his world, apparently, only liberals lie. Pentland’s point was that EVERYBODY lies, often without even noticing it. How many of us ever tell the whole truth, assuming we know it (which we probably often do not)? Lying is something no one has a patent on; some are more skilled than others, and some more outrageous than others. In place of truth we have ideology and rhetoric. Conservatives like to point out liberal hypocrisy and political correctness, not realizing that they’re exposing their own. We are unable to see in others what we don’t have in ourselves.

So both sides accuse the other of having failed the country; both have. Both sides accuse the other of corruption; both are corrupt. Both sides try to punish each other for things they excuse in their own side. Conservatives attack liberals for political correctness, but have their own version.

In psychological terms, this is called projection: accusing someone of doing something that you do yourself. The accusation may not be entirely untrue; you may have an insight into the particular lies told because you also lie, maybe about the same sorts of things. Historians tell us that Adolph Hitler had pretty good interactions with Jewish people in his early life. They treated him generally well. But there were things about himself that he didn’t want to accept. They were things that MOST people wouldn’t accept, things he was unable to feel good about. So he projected them on people he considered to be enemies: Jews were the best-known of the groups, but he also killed Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, and developmentally disabled people. No doaubt he thought that when these groups were gone, the world would be a better place. But he has been quoted as having said, “I suffer from tormenting self-deception. I wonder how many people DON’T suffer from that.

Don’t most of us have secrets we don’t want others to know? Don’t most of us have groups as well as individuals we don’t approve of, especially if we see them as having wronged us somehow?

This is a familiar situation in world history. It seems to be very difficult to have an objective discussion about important issues because we identify with our side, and reject any arguments that don’t fit with what we already believe. And historically, we have tended to defeat anyone who disagrees with us, not through rational discussion, but through violence.

I noted in a reccent post the Catholic Church’s crusade against the Cathars in what is now southern France (but was then an independent country). Cathars claimed to be the true Christians, and pointed to Catholic corruption, which was already obvious. The Catholic response was to kill all the Cathars.

That response was rooted in a dualistic worldview in which my side is all good, and yours is all evil. We’ve seen that play out in more recent history: the American Civil War was fought by two sides who firmly believed they were right, and the losing side changed their tune about what the war was about, after realizing that no one would accept their justifications of slavery, except themselves. Each considered the other side evil–neither was entirely wrong. The greatest of the actors in that war, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee were also compassionate, but few others were. The war and its aftermath remains an unhealed wound in this country.

Compare this with projects in Africa to reconcile persecutors and victims. After South Africa abandoned apartheid, a commission was set up to reconcile black and white citizens. In Burundi another project tries to reconcile the perpetrators and victims of the genocide of about 20 years ago. These are processes with some promise: forgiveness can open up our worlds. Suppression only closes them.

Nazis and Communists, as everyone knows, chose suppression to deal with their perceived enemies,. Their theory was that it was possible to kill all evil people, so that only good people (by their definitions) would be left. This never works. Evil, however you define it, keeps resurfacing. Telling the truth can be excruciatingly painful, but is the only way to actually resolve things. When, however, people are too invested in lies, telling the truth is at its most daunting, and few care to try it.

The gentleman who denied human activities are a major cause of global warming, climate change, or any other term you care to use, had little to say about anyone other than liberals who are fraudulently taking our money. Machinations on Wall Street were a major factor in the collapse of the economy six years ago, but it was Wall Street that got bailed out (the precedent for which was set by Ronald Reagan’s administration during the Savings and Loan crisis). In my opinion, the people who DESERVED to get bailed out were the people who were sold mortgages they had no hope of repaying. Shame on them for not understanding what they were getting into, but shame too on the companies who sold them the mortgages and didn’t inform them.

And the problem caused by the bailouts kept the banks from learning their lesson. I recently reread an article about how major banks in the US had been buying heavy industries. One of these banks (at least) stored their stockpiles of aluminum in warehouses which they also owned, and shuttled the stocks between them to artificially raise the price of aluminum. Since aluminum is a widely used metal, especially in soda cans, consumer prices went up. This is why regulations are needed for big corporations in particular: when free to do as they please, big corporations opt for anything that will raise their profit margin, without concern for who gets hurt. That’s why Ronald Reagan’s statement that “…government is the problem…” is misleading at best.

Government CAN be the problem. Governments can be and are too big, too corrupt, or too authoritarian. But the same can be said of corporations. Corporations can be unaccountable to anyone, except government.  One of government’s jobs is to regulate corporations to prevent their taking advantage of the consumer, but since politicians usually depend on contributions from wealthy people and corporations, and have to pay them back with laws the corporations like, government regulatory agencies can rarely do their jobs as they ought to be done.

One of the myths of conservatives is that the free market automatically corrects itself, but that doesn’t happen if corporations can rig the law to favor what they want to do. And what a lot of corporations want to do is make money fraudulently.

So a lot of conservatives say that liberals are pushing for green energy because they want to make a lot of money that way. Conservatives are pushing back against green energy because the companies producing coal, oil, and natural gas want to keep those sources of energy dominant in this country, at least until they’ve extracted every last dime from the people who use the power those materials generate. Which includes the vast majority of us.

So their message is, (whether they believe it or not), that green energy is too expensive and won’t work. Profit is their only ethic, and they have no concern with any damage they cause to anyone or anything as long as they’re making their money. If it’s okay for conservatives to do that, why isn’t it okay for liberals?

Because liberals have been defined as evil, far too many people accept that idea, confuse liberty for individuals with liberty for corporations, and blame the wrong people for their problems. Do liberals lie? Of course. Who doesn’t? Do conservatives lie? Of course, who doesn’t?  And a look at the people making policy can explain just what people of various political persuasions lie about, and why.

It has been pointed out that a lot of President Obama’s appointments to Cabinet positions have worked in the past for Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street company that was as deeply implicated in the economic collapse of 2008 as any. Why have executives of Goldman Sachs and other firms not been prosecuted for fraud? The answer seems obvious.

During the previous administration Halliburton (the company Dick Cheney had worked for before he became Vice President) was awarded contracts in Iraq. They prospered from the war. I think few others did.

George H. W. Bush was the one who called the “trickle down” theory of economics  before the 1980 election “voodoo economics”, in other words a sort of magical thinking that giving rich people what they wanted would benefit everybody.  We have since discovered that allowing wealthy people and corporations to keep more of their money does NOT benefit everyone else too. Instead, it concentrates wealth and power at the top, which means that the powerful can arrange things to suit themselves without concern for anyone else. A post on today’s Facebook says, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”

Why do conservatives complain about entitlement? Because it’s something they see in themselves, but are only willing to recognize in others. Why don’t Democrats fight harder for poor and middle class people? Because they too take contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations, and owe them something in return. Consider for-profit prisons. Do they seem like a good idea to you? They seem like an opportunity for even more corruption, by making laws to keep their cells filled and using their prisoners for cheap labor.  And now they make donations to both political parties.

So BOTH parties could potentially lead us in a totalitarian direction. Conservatives describe liberals as favoring big government as the solution to everything. Government could potentially restrain the “free market” (which isn’t free for most workers or consumers), so government and taxes are evil.

But it’s not just a matter of the size of government, but of whom the government actually SERVES. If the government actually serves EVERYBODY, regardless of wealth, skin color, religion, or political beliefs, it can be a good thing. Occasionally, it has even worked that way. But not usually. Wealth and power usually go together, so the times when the American Dream has really worked on a large scale have been rare. One such period was the 1950s in the USA, when rich people weren’t nearly as rich in comparison to others as they are now. There were still poor people, but not nearly as many of them. Most people had jobs that paid well enough that they could live in reasonable comfort, bring up their children, and save something for retirement.

One probable reason why conservatives don’t like to admit that climate change is happening is because liberals have talked down to them about it. If, as I believe, so-called climate change is largely the result of human activities, it would be nice if we could start doing something positive about it. But the country is too divided partly due to liberal preachiness, and that conservatives tend to be angry at the way liberals have represented them; partly because each party wants its own way; and partly because each is willing to characterize the other as evil.  A more objective view is that there are always negative forces. Not necessarily negative or “evil” in themselves, but in relation to other forces. They can never be totally eliminated, so revolutions and concentration camps won’t solve any problems–more than temporarily.

Nor will excluding people from the democratic process. That’s a totalitarian move, which goes nicely with racism, which is as much institutionalized as it is individual.

Each party supports things that can lead to totalitarianism. An already large government can can lead to over-regulation, wrong regulation, and dictatorial behavior. So, perhaps less directly, can a government that’s either too small or too unwilling to strictly enforce the regulations it has. Inequality and corruption lead to more inequality and corruption. Being moralistic about inequality, in the sense that being poor is always one’s own fault has increasingly been leading some politicians to try to exclude groups they don’t like, and who probably will vote against them, from the political process. That suggests they don’t believe their message can be sold to a large percentage of the public, but are unwilling to change it. They claim to be for liberty, but their actions tell a different story.

There are always divisions in the country, and what Benjamin Franklin said is still true: “We must hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.” Hanging separately seems the more likely of the alternatives, at the moment.

 

 

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