Monday, September 15, 2008

The Politics of Resentment

I was thinking through some pieces from The Atlantic's conservative bloggers when I came across another article by my former professor Wendy Doniger.  The first set of authors make the point that liberal condescension towards evangelicals and rednecks is annoying and dooms Democrats at the polls.  My experience is that liberals are about as intolerant as conservatives--How many of your friends would rejoice an evangelical pro-life child?--but they tend to be more self-satisfied about it.  Then you have the issue that liberals dominate a good chunk of the media and academia and so eminate this disgust into the heartland, causing a status issue as well.

I know, this is more red/blue state garbage, which you've heard and rejected.  Perhaps you support a Presidental candidate who promises to take us beyond all of that.  But the resentment aspect--those working class who vote their values--is real and not unlike the support African-Americans give to the Democrats.  It's at work with the Palin nomination, in which liberals the coasts over race to see who can shoot themselves in the foot fastest over crazy ways to denigrate Palin's life and drive as many people out of the party as possible.  Doniger's piece is an excellent example in this genre.  

First, there is the old secular idea that separation of church and state is ironclad; that religion ought to be checked at the door much the same ways car keys are at bars.  I'm fine with this, but I also don't call people who believe the contrary "out of their mind" because, well, that's what I'd believe too if I genuinely believed in God.  As Rick Warren says,
I believe in the separation of church and state, but I do not believe in the separation of politics from religion.  Faith is simply a worldview. A person who says he puts his faith on the shelf when he's making decisions is either an idiot or a liar. It's entirely appropriate for me to ask what is their frame of reference. 
I respect Doniger as an excellent teacher and a wonderful person.  But it's painful to watch her reject Warren's worldview as unift for civil life (which it clearly has not been for the majority of American politics), and fail to make an argument against Palin without going into bits like:

Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman. The Republican party's cynical calculation that because she has a womb and makes lots and lots of babies (and drives them to school! wow!) she speaks for the women of America, and will capture their hearts and their votes, has driven thousands of real women to take to their computers in outrage. She does not speak for women; she has no sympathy for the problems of other women, particularly working class women.

And as for religion, I'd love to know precisely how the Good Lord conveyed to her so clearly his intention to destroy the environment (global warming, she thinks, is not the work of human hands, so it must be the work of You Know Who), the lives of untold thousands of soldiers and innocent bystanders (He is apparently rooting for this, too, she says), and, incidentally, a lot of polar bears and wolves, not to mention all the people who will be shot with the guns that she thinks other people ought to have.

Wow.  I'm no Palin fanatic, but I can at least understand how people in good faith can admire someone like Palin.  Remember, this is all written under the name of "not forcing beliefs on others."  This attempt to deny womanhood and dismiss a rather common set of beliefs as claptrap would really annoy me were I in a different demographic.  

One reason I bring is up is in regards to the infamous Doniger egg-fly incident and related charges.  The backstory is that Western Hinduism scholars analyze some texts in Freudian fashion, many people make idle threats, and reasonable people lose respect for everyone involved.  Many of the critics have no idea what they are talking about, but a few make interesting arguments that Freudian analysis doesn't really make sense when applied to Vedic scripture.  Doniger and company never really respond beyond "psychoanalysis is the most sophisticated language we have to talk about questions" (really?) but go on to link every online hooligan with a vast right-wing Hindu conspiracy arrayed against their academic freedom.  

I just want to note that the commentators on Doniger's page are every bit as vile as her detractors elsewhere; this is just something people do when they feel their beliefs are threatened.  That's why you shouldn't take their empty threats too seriously, and why you should disagree with your political opponents--as Obama does--without openly disrespecting them.

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