Reality? Irrelevant.

Pardon me while I fumble around a little. I’m trying to understand something that is fundamentally at odds with anything that I would normally concede as being possible. I may have to toss out a few untested hypotheses.

I’d certainly be happier if Rick Santorum were just “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato,” as Dickens put it. If there were “more of gravy than of grave” about him, it would be a cause for celebration. But alas.

I’m contemplating three or four bits of indigestible Santorum at the moment. In a 2008 public appearance, he asserted that Satan is attacking America. He is on the record as claiming that climate change is a hoax, a position in which he is supported and encouraged by quite a number of other highly visible opinion-makers. According to a well-researched opinion piece by college president Brian Rosenberg in Huffington Post, Santorum wants to see fewer young people going to college, because colleges are “indoctrination mills”; in Santorum’s view, “The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.” The very act of educating young people is, in his view, dangerous. As if that weren’t enough, Santorum has stated in public (and quite erroneously) that forced euthanasia is practiced in the Netherlands.

We pause now for context: In the Republican debate this week, Newt Gingrich accused Barack Obama of infanticide. On what grounds? Who knows? Are rational grounds even needed any longer?

There’s no shortage of news items along these lines. I could go on for days. And that fact leads to the question I want to look at tonight: What’s going on here? How is it possible that a leading contender for the office of President of the United States can be so utterly out of touch with reality?

One possibility is that Santorum is actually smart — that he knows perfectly well he’s saying things that can’t stand up to any sort of scrutiny, and is banking on the likelihood that his loyal followers, being as stupid as rocks, won’t be able to tell the difference. He’s playing to the groundlings, and he doesn’t care what the rest of us think, because he has concluded by means of rational calculation that making outrageous claims will give him his best shot at the Presidency.

Another possibility, even more cynical, is that Santorum is a smoke screen. He is being trotted out and paraded around so that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, will look like an intelligent moderate by comparison. When ordered by his invisible masters, Santorum will stick a pin in himself and pop like a balloon (mixed metaphor — sorry), leaving Romney smiling and waving at the crowd.

Right now I’m leaning toward the idea that it’s even worse than that. I don’t think we can ignore the possibility that these people (Santorum being by no means unique) simply don’t know that reality exists. The only thing that is real to them is the stuff rattling around inside the huge echo-sphere of their own heads.

Not even day-to-day consistency is required. Santorum has no problem stating on Monday that he supported Title X (which funded birth control through Planned Parenthood) and then stating on Tuesday that he opposed Title X. Both statements were true, in his mind, at the moment when he uttered them, because the only test of truth is what his unconscious emotions are telling him at that moment. Checking a statement, any statement, for logical agreement with concrete external reality is not simply inconvenient or unnecessary — it’s inconceivable, because external reality does not exist.

We have a term for a society in which external reality does not exist. It’s called the Dark Ages.

In one of his books (possibly Coming to Our Senses) Morris Berman characterizes the Dark Ages with the phrase “the loss of interiority.” That is, people in the Dark Ages were unconscious of their own inner processes. Those processes dictated their behavior in an automatic fashion. Nobody reflected on what they were doing. They only parroted dogma.

The Catholic Church, which is the denomination to which Rick Santorum claims allegiance, has never quite emerged from the Dark Ages. Obedience to ritualized forms and abstract systems of ideation is still more important to the men who run the Catholic Church, as it was 500 years ago, than giving a moment’s consideration to reality.

The human capacity for self-delusion is, in all likelihood, boundless. We cannot assume that people of this sort can be swayed by any consideration whatever. Even if journalists were willing to ask them tough questions (and that’s a topic for another time), the questions would bounce off, leaving not a dent.

The entire Republican enterprise is about the raw exercise of power. And when you wed love of power to a complete refusal to look at reality … well, people like that tend to start wars and throw their opponents, real or imagined, into concentration camps, don’t they?

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3 Responses to Reality? Irrelevant.

  1. Ron Greenman says:

    The Republicans have taken the the chapter from the NSDAP playbook entitled “The Big Lie.” that is the bigger the whooper is, and the less verifiable, the more believable it is to the average person. And particularly so if it something they are predisposed to hear. We are all susceptible to it, including you and me, and the only possible defense is to be aware of he susceptibility and be wary of all that you hear, especially to comments where you tend to say “yeah” when immediately upon hearing them. For example I just signed an email petition in support of Bernie Saunders’ amendment initiative to reverse the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. FEC without looking too much into what it said merely because I disagree with the decision. For all I know Bernie wants to talk personhood away from corporations but also grant it to video game characters. I know I tend to “like” anything said on FB I’m predisposed to agree with. Fortunately I’m aware of this and tend to vet important issues, say like voting in favor of such an amendment, with a bit more scrutiny. The problem is that most people aren’t aware and/or don’t care that they are susceptible to the Big Lie (except when a Big Lie is made concerning something they are already predisposed to dislike) and so in application we see over and over validation of dear Dr. Goebbels’ theories of propaganda (ORIGIN: Italian, from modern Latin congregatio de propaganda fide ‘congregation for propagation of the faith’).

    • midiguru says:

      You’re assuming that their strategy is conscious — that they know they’re lying and set out to manipulate (or take advantage of) public opinion by lying. I’m not quite willing to buy that. I might be inclined to believe that of Newt, but I’m not sure Santorum is consciously aware that he’s lying.

  2. First of all, thinking you understand reality is the first step to not understanding reality. Making the assumption that a human is fit to “live in reality” requires quite a bit of hubris in the face of modern physics and cognitavie sciences, much less an understanding of our history, beliefs, and politics. Rick displays lots of such hubris, for the people he appeals to are people who already know everything that matters.

    Second, there is another definite possibility for his concious, or not, intent, which you have not considered here. Rick may, or may not, be personally well aware that his real job is to ensure that Obama gets elected, because Barak has much more lee-way to pursue the same big-picture hierarchic objectives. I would consider the race an actual serious contest if Obama wasn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to US, and world, citizen human rights, and wasn’t focussed on escalation of useless wars that we are already over-commited to from the perspective of much of our military “leader”ship (and revolutions against it/us/them).

    For Obama to put war crimes prosecution off the table, bury the evidence in state secrecy, and expand the summary mass execution powers of the executive, far more undermines the rule of law, our social economic and military security, and the path to local and world-wide peace, than any previous war criminal.

    I’m not sure who exactly is under the illusion they are in control, but I am sure that corporations are actually in charge.
    The legal fiction of corporate persons, and the laws relevant to them, can not create anything but profits at the expense of all else.
    They are postulated as at war with all reality and living things, including each other, they have no compassion even for their own members.
    Yet all human decisions are being made to benefit imaginary beings that have no real value to living things, the water, air, et cetera.

    The problem with this is that corporations are still evolving primitive brains, and do not as yet make decisions all that well compared to humans.
    Let’s hope that we abandon these imaginary overlords before they become more manifest than human(e) decision making.

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