The Tribalism of the Conservatives

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I usually regard liberals and conservatives as equally but not identically reprehensible, rather like the complementary halves of a migraine headache. Some differences do stand out. Peculiar to conservatives is a certain tribalism, often accompanied by subclinical paranoia. They seem to be looking fearfully about as the wolves circle closer. It doesn’t matter whether there actually are any wolves.

Recently I wrote of the quinceaños — i.e. fifteenth birthday party — of my Mexican stepdaughter Natalia. She’s a nice kid, highly literate for her years. I’m proud of her. She had dyed her hair blond, or golden I guess, which is something girls do. I got a lot of email wishing her a happy birthday, and then this:

Davy Crockett <davycrockettalamo@yahoo.com>

“Nice fred. Where are your children and grandchildren?

Interesting how the girl dyes her hair blonde in an attempt to be Anglo looking. Cheap escape. You offer, as usual, no defense of anything or anyone — apparently not even your own family and kin.

If we all bail as you and your skanky compatriots demonstrate, we face extinction — of land, race, nationality, language, religion — and the ones left will dye their hair blonde hoping/pretending to be something they can never achieve. And we gave it up voluntarily, just as you have. Not even honor will be left.

Dc”

God almighty. I’m step-dad to international extinction. And I even supplied her iPod. The horror. One day I’ll have to live with my guilt. You know, like Vidkun.

Actually my own very Anglo daughter once dyed her hair green. I suppose she was hoping/pretending to be something she could never be. A plant, perhaps. Or maybe she was just a girl kid dyeing her hair.

Note Davy Crockett’s fearful tone. Danger is everywhere. I need to defend my family. (The glowing eyes in the night are getting closer.) Our land faces extinction (how do you extinguish land?). Our religion — which one is that? — will be wiped out by intensely Christian Mexicans. Oh god. Curl up in a ball. Save the last bullet for yourself.

A curious delusion here is the notion that Natalia, and by implication all non-Anglos, want to be Anglos. This is characteristic of the psychically embattled conservative, that he sees himself as the envy of all, as a paladin of the Aryan super race fending off inferior wannabes. This springs I think from the tendency to see life as a struggle against enemies. Everyone is a potential threat.

The awful truth, to which Mr. Crockett will be impervious, is that Natalia has no desire to be an Anglo. She doesn’t dislike Anglos. She is just content being Mexican. She doesn’t want to live in the United States, and her first choice of a country to visit is France. Pocos Anglos there.

I suggest that Davy Crockett go to, say, UC Berkeley, or Harvard, and ask the (very large numbers of) Asian students whether they want to be Anglos. They don’t. In fact they quietly regard white Americans as lazy and not very bright, and they have the evidence to back it up.


The Threat of Extinction, between friends. Note perilous hair-color, that lasted a week.
I feel shaky just thinking about it.

The following is by John Derbyshire of National Review Online, in response to the question of why the whole world hates the West:

"They hate us from wounded ethnic pride. They hate us because of our cultural superiority; which is to say, at one remove, our political superiority. They hate us because they can’t organize societies like ours, in which security, prosperity, and hope for the future are available to all, and creativity flourishes. They can’t, they know they can’t, and the knowledge drives them nuts."

Now, "hate" may be a tad strong, when "resent" would describe attitudes of particular countries toward particular countries of the West. And the analysis seems a trifle overwrought. I picture myself walking in Buenos Aires and finding a man lying the street, frothing at the mouth. "May I help, sir? Epilepsy, perhaps?" I say.

"No, actually. You see, you organize such wonderful societies, and it drives me nuts."

I know Derbyshire — “the Derb” as we say — slightly by internet. He is a bright guy of mathematical stripe, neither solemn nor an ass, and in fact has a sense of humor, which cannot be said of all of his acquaintances. His wife is Chinese and he speaks Chinese. He is not the cloistered paranoid living under a rock.

And yet the underlying text is the same. The Derb says they hate us because we are wonderful. Davy Crockett thinks Natalia wants to be an Anglo. President Bush tells us that Moslems hate us for our freedoms.

But does the world hate the West? Do Kenyans hate Finland? Uzbekis hate Norway? It just isn’t so. In a burst of journalistic dutifulness, I asked various Mexicans whether they hated France. No. Europe? No. How about that abstraction, The West? No. The question puzzled them.

Most of the world detests the United States, yes, for reasons that you can accept or not according to your politics. It isn’t for our cultural or political superiority. Often it is an objection to being bombed.

Now, if I were to write that the damned liberals have destroyed the American system of education, so that the Thais and Singaporeans score better academically, and that lefty Hollywood and New York have us awash in trash music and moral filth, and so on, conservatives would say, “Yeah! Yeah! Stick it to ‘em, Fred!” If I mentioned that the French had noticed exactly the same things, I would be a commie lefty America-hater.

The point really is not whether the West or the US is or isn’t culturally or politically superior. Rather it is that most other countries don’t think it is. People who have anything resembling a civilization usually believe it to be better than all others. To an American, the authoritarianism of Singapore may look a bit constricting. The Singaporean, accustomed to it and eyeing the crime, drugs, and poor schools of the US, may think his political culture is just fine, thank you. Mexicans, believe it or not, envy the money but not the culture of the United States. The Japanese (unable to organize a secure prosperous society) are quite sure that theirs is a superior civilization.

These things may be endlessly argued, probably to no purpose. What intrigues me is the us-agin’-them mentality, the need for hierarchy, for a sense of superiority, and the closely associated habit of looking for enemies. Yes, Anglo-Saxons have done some remarkable things, and the white race has been for some centuries dominant in most things. It will be for several decades more. The West is the Rome of its age. It invented the modern world. Well and good.

But I really don’t care. I think that most people don’t care. Life is possible, even easier, without always measuring penises. If Davy Crockett were merely arguing for closing the American borders, I’d say fine. But there is something here, something mean and embittered and twisted. I’m glad I don’t have it.

Note for the record: Recently Vi and I went to Washington for a couple of weeks. Coming back, her US visa disappeared, probably pickpocketed in Atlanta is our best guess. On return, I went to the website of the consulate in Guad to report the loss. I expected to find a button saying something like "Report lost or stolen passports or visas." Nope. Lotta stuff about how we must fear terrorism, but no button. I finally found an email address for the consulate and reported the lost visa. Weeks later, no response.

Odd. State Department people, while a bit otherworldly, are almost always smart, well educated, and conscientious. I wonder whether the US is more interested in real security or the theater of terrorism.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. Visit his blog.

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