Thursday, October 22, 2009
Mao-Maoing the Beck watchers
My apologies to Tom Wolfe.
By now you’ve no doubt heard of White House Communications Director Anita Dunn’s jaw-dropping paean to mass-murdering communist dictator Mao Zedong, first reported on Glenn Beck’s show. You might find the official “explanations” convincing. I don’t.
So what’s the deal? Is Dunn really a Maoist, or at least soft on Maoism?
There’s at least one alternative explanation. This incident reminded me of a bizarre student paper I read many years ago. The student had expressed an interest in writing something on the Marquis de Sade, and showed me some article about de Sade the student had been reading which was written from a pro-life point of view. I said it would be OK as long as the student could guarantee that the paper would be critical and argument-oriented – that is to say, that it would be an objective philosophical analysis of actual arguments and ideas, not a mere history lesson or political harangue.
After it was turned in and I started reading it, I could barely believe my eyes. It was, for one thing, little more than a recounting of the usual shocking facts about de Sade – his sexual perversions, physical abuse of women, rhapsodic descriptions of rape and torture, etc. But that wasn’t the beauty part. What was bizarre was how it was all summarized in a banal, matter-of-fact World Book Encyclopedia fashion – and then concluded with some commencement-speech style bromides about how de Sade “thought for himself” and “stood up for what he believed in” despite opposition from the political and religious authorities of his time. There was no acknowledgment whatsoever that de Sade’s views and actions, or the paper’s own “conclusions,” might be thought just a tad controversial (yes, even today!). No acknowledgement, much less any attempt to answer, the critical remarks about de Sade made in the pro-life oriented article which, as it turned out, had been the student’s only source material. Nor was there any hint whatsoever that the paper was the expression of some weird half-baked sexual nihilist philosophy arrived at, in standard college student fashion, via late-night, half-assed readings of Nietzsche and Anaïs Nin. Nor was it remotely well-written enough plausibly to reflect a clever attempt at satire. No, at bottom it had all the passion, grace, cliché-riddenness and general intellectual value of something acquired from a term paper mill.
So what was going on? Well, as near as I could figure, basically this: The student had to write on something and grabbed whatever was at hand as a topic, which for whatever reason happened to be this pro-life article on de Sade. The paper was then “written” by summarizing the facts cribbed from the article and then tossing in the usual “be yourself” clichés the student had picked up from the surrounding culture as a conclusion. Print it out, turn it in, and on to the next class. It was, I think, really that innocent – and therefore that awful.
The student’s name was not Anita Dunn, but – as you know if you’ve heard Dunn’s preposterous speech and noted what an exercise in the “banality of evil” it was – the similarities are otherwise striking. And it may be that Dunn’s mind has simply been so thoroughly rotted out by the surrounding liberal individualist culture and its endless celebration of “doing your own thing,” “being yourself,” “standing out from the crowd,” “thinking differently,” etc. etc. ad nauseam that as she prepared her speech, the first thing she thought of when she came across the Mao story she recounts is not “But this guy killed 65 million people!” but rather “Wow, he really believed in himself – this would make an inspiring anecdote for the kiddies!”
So, maybe Dunn is just a complete dimwit.
And then again, maybe she is a commie scumbag.