Thursday, October 07, 2010

Desert sojourn, day 28

On my long drive yesterday -- about seven solid hours of driving, all the way from Joshua Tree to Laughlin, NV and back (click for map) -- I listened for a while to right-wing radio foamers. I usually can't stand listening to them for more than about 30 seconds, but I was kind of a captive audience -- I couldn't get anything else on the radio. Plus, it's material for my book, which in part involves characters who have adopted a paranoid view of the state of things. Man, it's all just fear, fear, fear. One guy repeated what he said he'd heard from some right-wingers in the U.K., some tall tale about Pakistani drug gangs and their enslavement of 13 and 14 year old English girls -- white English girls, of course. The American commentator repeated this blather not only without critique but as if it were an oracle of what was about to happen in the U.S. And it all comes from building mosques, he said.

Just an example. I won't waste my time even saying how stupid it is, or how classically xenophobic and racist. What struck me was not the paranoid fantasy, but the enthusiasm -- spoken in a voice trembling with fear and loathing -- with which it was repeated and the explicit prediction that this is where the U.S. is headed.

And I had to remind myself -- Obama isn't even up for re-election for another two years! What will it be like after another two years? How far can they ratchet up the hysteria? Then I realized: that's exactly why terrorists blow shit up, to stoke exactly this kind of hysteria. Thus the right-wing foamers' talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or at least that seems to be the only place it leads to.

Let me say one more time -- I never can stand to listen to this stuff. So it's really true that I've never heard it before, not full-force for a couple of hours. And the millions of people who thrill to this stuff listen for hours, all day every day. Kind of an astonishing moment in the history of the U.S. experiment with democracy, really. A real test of the question "How much free speech can we stand?" (Coincidentally, the Fred Phelps cult went before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday so the court could address just that question.)

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