Saturday, December 31, 2011

Andrew Sullivan's Hippie Problem

Avedon linked today to this post (actually a couple months old) by Andrew Sullivan, which reminded me all over again why I hate him. That's a strong word, I know. I'd been mulling over writing a post on how easy it is for other people to hate Rick Santorum, but I can't work up a lot of bile over him. Yes, he's evil, but he's also a joke in the "mainstream"; hating him is like hating Fred Phelps -- easy, safe, conformist. Santorum couldn't even get re-elected to the Senate. Sullivan is also a right-wing Catholic, but he has more street cred in the corporate media. But I think I would hate him anyway, even if he were an obscure blogger with no traffic to speak of, just for his ongoing and unrepentant stupidity and dishonesty.

So here's Sullivan on his change of heart about the goddamned hippies of Occupy Wall Street:
A lot of us have to confess something about the Occupy Wall Street protests: we have a hippie problem. As a post-boomer, I’ve been trained to giggle at them my whole life. And anyone who has had to listen to an unsought diatribe about corporations in a line at Target, or has a friend who’s been trying to talk you into going to Burning Man for a decade, will know what I’m talking about. The crustier edges of the fringe can be as smug as they are alienating—from replacing applause in Zuccotti Park with silent finger-wiggling to the occasional, asinine assertion that the U.S. government is a greater evil than al Qaeda. I have to say I feel exactly the same ambivalence toward the Tea Partiers, with their strange 18th-century costumes, occasional racist diatribes, and gun-toting. Their cultural signifiers distract from their message—which is diffuse and vague enough to begin with. Before too long, I find myself inclined to move on, to zoom out.
I like the "a lot of us" in there -- what if Sullivan was one of us, just a slob like one of us? And "hippie problem" -- was that a conscious allusion to this notorious neocon polemic from 1963? Probably not, Sullivan is too ignorant of history for that. Ah, what a sign of his bold individualist stance, that he giggles at hippies because he was "trained to" do it all his life. He's such a bold freethinker. But didn't his parents ever tell him (however insincerely) that you shouldn't make fun of people's appearance? Even if they didn't, does it never occur to him that a guy who chooses to look like this:

shouldn't throw stones? (The shaved head to distract from the baldness; the bold bandido mustache -- everything that's risible about today's gay male culture.) And "as smug as they are alienating"? Physician, heal thyself. Sullivan's own smugness oozes from every word of this paragraph, as from his self-chosen photograph.

I suppose it must be very unpleasant to have to "listen to an unsought diatribe about corporations in a line at Target." (That's of a piece with his "If I hear one more gripe about single payer from someone in their fifties with a ponytail, I'll scream.") I do feel Andrew's pain. But those of us who live outside (or even, I should think, inside) the Beltway are more likely to hear unsought diatribes against hippies than against corporations in the line at Target, but unlike Sullivan I don't expect everyone in my vicinity to share my personal political convictions, or at least to refrain from saying anything that I disagree with in my hearing.

As for "the occasional, asinine assertion that the U.S. government is a greater evil than al Qaeda," well, asinine assertions turn up all over the place, and more than occasionally in Sullivan's writing.
Comparing evils is a treacherous enterprise, but there isn't any doubt that the U.S. government has killed far more innocent people than al Qaeda has, or that the U.S. government has on numerous occasions used jihadist terrorist groups (including many operatives who went on to form al Qaeda) for its own purposes. Whether that makes the U.S. government a greater evil is open to debate, but I think it means that the assertion Sullivan derides isn't necessarily asinine. It stands in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1967 assertion that the U.S. government was the greatest source of violence in the world, which was true then and I believe is true now. Sullivan has a record of indignant unthinking fury at anyone (except himself) who presumes to judge the morality of the U.S. government, of course. And as I've said before, I don't judge all gay people by Andrew Sullivan's frequent asinine assertions.

Sullivan goes on to say that he saw the light, maybe because of "seeing a more diverse crowd in D.C. than I expected, or absorbing online testimonies from 99 percenters, or reading yet another story about how corrupt the banking system has become (Citigroup was the latest to have me fuming)." Ah, that's Andrew for you: shooting off his mouth before he knew what he was talking about, even though the information had been there for a long time. (The corruption of the banking system, for example, didn't suddenly become knowable this fall.) But you see, it was the hippies' fault. If they hadn't set up their drum circles, Andrew would have taken them more seriously. Then, of course, he backtracks:
The revolts in the West require nothing of the courage displayed by Egyptians or Syrians or Tunisians standing up to tanks and bullets and torture.
True, true: U.S. state violence has been less extreme (for college educated white folks, that is) than Egyptian or Syrian or Bahraini state violence. But it still takes more than a little courage to face the state violence that had already occurred by the time Sullivan posted this piece on October 22: random and unprovoked pepper spraying, beatings with clubs and fists by cops who had been trained in that work. Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was nearly killed by Oakland police a few days after the post went up, and we've seen a lot more police assault since then. And before then, too: anyone who wasn't blinded by hippie-hatred and love of corporatism would have noticed that a pattern of state violence, intended to intimidate dissenters, has been in place in the U.S. for many years. Not just Seattle, the various "globalization" summits, and the national party conventions, but America's long and violent labor history testify to it. But Andrew couldn't see any of that. It was the hippies, you know.

Warning to OWS: If this guy has suddenly decided that he likes you, you may be doing something wrong. But don't worry about it too much; it was probably a lapse on his part, and it isn't your fault.