Tuesday, September 27, 2005

(Q + A) x 2 

1.) Via our indefatigable colleagues at Cursor: The Toilet Paper Blog interviews Matt Taibbi, author of Spanking the Donkey, who has just left the New York Press for a regular gig at Rolling Stone:
Matt Taibbi: As for why the left's writers are dull, that's probably the reason — anybody who's doctrinaire is also always going to be dull. If I know what your opinion is going to be on any subject, why should I bother reading you? Plus, most of the left's writers are like Democratic politicians in general — always worried about offending somebody. And they're always trying to stay on message. There is something there left over from the old communist dictum about art for art's sake being dangerous and unorthodox. What's most infuriating about this is that humor is the most subversive force there is. If you can become the place where people go to laugh at the system, you will attract all the dissenting energy in the population. But the American left has no sense of humor and no sense of fun at all. And so the would-be revolutionaries all avoid them like the plague, go into day-trading and shit like that.

TP: You've written about how few people on the left (or elsewhere) seem to understand that right wing Christianity isn't a passing fad, and that no one ever proposes that it be taken on directly. What might a struggle with the forces of darkness look like?

MT: I suppose you could divide it up into specific things and non-specific things. Specifically I'd like to go after their tax-exempt status. More generally I'd like to see abandoned that usual party line that the nonreligious take in public — the one about respecting the religious beliefs of Christians, but disagreeing with their politics. Why should we respect those beliefs? One, they don't respect mine. Two, they're idiotic. That whole Left Behind phenomenon now is widely believed all over the country — the idea that Christ is going to come and the believers are going to be whisked away to heaven, while the rest of us will be left to rot on earth.

I run into people who believe in this stuff all the time. A few weeks ago I talked to a guy in Texas who said he was liquidating his mutual fund account because the end of the world was coming and he didn't want the businesses of nonbelievers financed with his money after he went to heaven. I have another friend who goes to school with someone whose Christian parents came around to approving of their secular daughter's career choice only after concluding that medicine will be a good field in the near future — because doctors will be badly needed in the bloody chaos that will rule the earth after Christ comes.

If this stuff wasn't masked in pseudo-Christian theology, we'd call these people lunatics — which we did, incidentally, when exactly this [same] belief system popped into the public consciousness via the Heaven's Gate cult story. Personally I think society, and in particular the mass media, needs to start treating all of this stuff like a dangerous cult. I don't know why there aren't ten-part series in the major dailies debunking these religions. I mean, it's not like that would be hard. But we have this idea in America that questioning someone's beliefs is somehow inappropriate or bigoted. Somehow it's okay for them to go door to door trying to convert us-- but it's cruel and discriminatory to run a story in the New York Times exposing Left Behind as a bunch of crap . . . .

TP: Have you thought about how you want your ashes to be disposed of and/or what celebrities will host your funeral?

MT: I want my corpse to be thrown in the tiger cage at Six Flags in New Jersey.
2.) Courtesy of our indispensible colleague Chris Floyd at the Burley-cue, a BradBlog interview with an interesting writer who is new to us, one Chris Floyd:
Chris Floyd: But although today the toxic spike is at all-time high, this right-wing tide has been rising for almost 30 years now – and I've been trying to speak out against it for almost that long. I could see it coming, could feel it in the air, way back in the Seventies. I used to watch these TV preachers late at night, back when everyone thought they were a joke -- Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, the whole sick crew. I didn't think they were a joke. I could tell they were introducing a new kind of poison into American society, a new kind of hate and intolerance and blind zealotry, demonizing their opponents, giving no quarter, no compromise, and telling the most outrageous lies and distortions to serve their purposes. I could see they were striking a chord with too many people, they were deliberately stirring up old fears and prejudices that, if left alone, would have eventually died off as any kind of active force in society. But they brought it all back, juiced it back to life like Frankenstein's monster. I saw too that they were harnessing religious fervor to very specific, secular, right-wing political causes.

I saw the other side of this two-pronged assault on American democracy start to take hold in those same years too. The Young Americans for Freedom, the fanatical tax-cutters, the slanderers of the poor, the war junkies -- little weedy twerps who got all het up fantasizing about killing Commies and building arsenals of big, throbbing nukes or what have you. This was the beginning of that right-wing conveyor belt that has produced hard-hearted apparatchiks like John Roberts and all the other Grover Norquist clones that infest our government and culture now -- stunted souls, people who hate the very idea of a "common good."

Then Reagan got elected. Now, I DID think his candidacy was a joke. I'd been reading his newspaper column for years. He was an idiot, a fool, a mean-spirited operator who kept himself deliberately ignorant while pushing the most virulent lies. A fantasist too, who claimed he'd liberated Nazi death camps, when he'd never left Hollywood during World War II. Of course, by the time he reached the White House, his brain was already deteriorating. But he'd been peddling his mental trash for decades before then.

I was glad when he got the Republican nomination. I remember saying, "Now the press will tear him apart." I thought they'd go after his established, indisputable record as a racist, a militarist, a corrupt bagman for corporate interests, a kept man of his sugar daddies, an out-to-lunch incompetent. But of course, the joke was on me – on all of us. The press coddled Reagan like a month-old baby. The last vestiges of reality departed the political process at that point, and it's never come back. I knew then we were on our own; the heroes of Watergate weren't going to save us. The watchdogs turned into sycophants.

I remember watching a Reagan press conference. Somebody asked him a tough question about something. Reagan sputtered and fumed – went a bit nuts, actually. He started babbling, "I know who you are. I know who put you up to asking that. I know the people behind all this, they'll get what's coming to them," words to that effect. It was a meltdown, a spasm of weird paranoia. The next week, Time Magazine ran a story on it: "A Touch of Irish Flint," they called it, painting Reagan as a charming, feisty character, larger than life, ready to mix it up with a twinkle in his eye, like John Wayne in The Quiet Man. It was all a lie, it was demonstrably a lie – but nobody questioned it, not the press, not the Establishment, not the Democrats. After that, there was no hope that you could just get on with your life and trust that the "watchdogs" of the nation's institutions wouldn't let things get too far out of hand. You were going to have to be your own watchdog, you were going to have to dig out the truth for yourself – without any institutional backing, without any leverage at all.
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