“Manichaean” may be the most precisely useful word that no one is using anymore. It is useful, because it describes so many of us, perfectly. Seems rather likely to me that it has fallen into disuse, for that same reason. We’d much rather not face a clear mirror – especially when we know we’re doing wrong – righteous rationalizations notwithstanding.
The Manichaeans were a religious group that believed life was a vicious struggle between primordial forces of pure good and pure evil. When we use the word in the modern world, we’re talking about a person or group who believes that humans are either good ‘uns, or else totally irredeemably awful.
One black mark – in the scope of an entire life – and you are obviously no good.
Over the last few decades we’ve seen increasing economic dislocation and a growing feeling of powerlessness and frustration – this is very hard stuff for people to deal with – which means catharsis really has never been so tempting. In many dramatic cases, the smackdown is also outright righteous – which is what makes manichaean enthusiasm so dangerous – because the primitive red-fang fun of the pitchfork mob quickly overwhelms the reserved perspective we all rely on for the rule-of law, which, square as it sounds, really is the basis for civilization.
Here’s the thing – the left and the right both fulminate endlessly about one another – but they also learn from each other constantly – in particular, how best to cause trouble.
Everyone always likes to think their special tactic is a unique product of their correct thinking or feeling (Cromwell is hilarious on this) – but the other side absolutely will get it, and use it back – always. Like a culture-war arms race. Think-tanks, civil disobedience, mass rallies, cheap but expertly-timed smear tactics, groundless rumours and wild conspiracy theories – all are pretty much universal now, right across the political spectrum.
It’s important to remember that there was a period of at least a century when the left (here, at least) always made fun of the right for their primitive Manichaean views – reducing everyone by scornful dogmatic judgment, placing huge swathes of “unclean sinners” outside their warm circle of acceptance, by policies which, while initially derived from moral urge, grew over time into utter absurdity.
We noticed also, that this narrowness on their part made them very un-Christian, and felt buoyed that we were the kinder team, and less hypocritical by far.
Now many are demanding that Manichaean character assassination coupled with instant career destruction should become our new “better” way of being.
Is there really anyone out there naive enough to believe that this tool will only be used for feminist purposes? Seriously? Don’t they even teach history now?
Even if we believe Obama had enough moral power to carefully restrain his extra-territorial flying robot assassination program (and I absolutely do not) – because he chose to normalize it – he had to hand that same kill-bot power to Trump! Restraint is not in his vocabulary – nor is morality or care.
My province of Ontario just lost the most policy effective leftist government in North America, a few weeks ago – first major jurisdiction on the continent to completely eliminate coal power (Canada’s largest city is no longer dangerously smoggy, all summer long – so we don’t have to use AC anymore – because even when it’s hot, the air is fine), massive new investments in early childhood education, infrastructure, and greener public transportation to take commuters off the highways. They even signed a cap-and-trade deal with California, as a way to ally and show leadership to both national governments at once.
But their most incredible achievement by-far, was that even when their political demise looked inevitable (stale) – they had shifted the needle so far that the duly nominated candidate for the Conservative party was in favour of progressive sex-ed, cap and trade, even mass-transit planning with global warming in mind.
You know what many who identify with our even left-er party called this shockingly well-meaning and progressive Liberal provincial government, the whole time they were in power? EVIL.
Naturally, that genuinely progressive conservative candidate was destroyed overnight by a rumour that he may have been creepy after a party, once (no assault of any sort) so that he could be replaced instead by a proud Trump clone who had already been laughed out of politics completely. A short-circuit of all democratic norms – celebrated gleefully, initially – by all sides. Somehow everyone achieves catharsis taking out the Frankens, and then the real psychos get handed the nuke button – sheesh!
Does anybody feel like we’re winning yet? Can you please tell me what?
Hubris and reclamation
I remember pointing out the foolishness of proud judgemental scorn, expressed in the form of political correctness, way back in the eighties, very simply.
“Who is the genius who thought it would be a great idea to start a sanctimony war with the reactionary right?” Still wondering about that, actually.
The first rule of magic is — Do not call-up that which you cannot put-down (doofus!).
Anyhow, I am still for the little guy, the underdog, the despised – especially the foreign poor who are so terribly put-upon, to meet the demands of our ever more oblivious and lethal modern lifestyles – but I think I am going to have to use a different word to describe my unchanging principles – just for now.
My left understood that Manichaeanism is itself, utterly evil – that it will inevitably turn around and cause great damage to those you love. The reason you don’t celebrate this sort of hate-force – is because you can’t hope to control or stop it! (Maybe begin with a little bit of French history, if you’re actually interested)
Not that I don’t still have great affection for the well meaning but self-destructive – but you can’t expect me to cheer, when you are pushing TOWARD fascism, by employing stubborn blind emotionalism, instead of using the sense and wisdom which was always the great and enduring PRINCIPLED strength of the left.
Humanes for humans. All of us or none of us – that’s the only choice here.
I’m either dancing to it – or I’m not coming.
(Yes Bill – the Hammer boat can sail without me too)