Birther Epistemology

Thoughtul observers, liberal and conservative, Republican and
Democratic, are watching this pseudo-controversy from hell with sick horror and fascination, because it’s from a Fundamentalist hell and has been designed, like so many Fundamentalist causes, to stick to the wall, above all: to be the man who came to dinner and stayed, logically ineradicable.

Although America is a post-Enlightenment society, Fundamentalism is also post-Enlightenment. The Great Awakening of the 1740s, the twisted attempts by Southerners to justify slavery on Biblical grounds of the 19th century, and today’s Fundamentalism (so popular with people who typically narrate themselves as hard-headed, technically oriented, and “practical”, a sort of demotic Enlightenment) all are responses to Enlightenment. Just as the humanist Renaissance was the theory but the bloody Reformation was the practice, Fundamentalism, and Fundamentalist logics, are the ways in which people deal with their sense of dehumanization and loss of community in post-Enlightenment societies.

Thus, the “birthers” will keep insisting as an article of faith that Obama’s certificate of live birth (although it would be perfectly acceptable in getting a passport or a job) somehow doesn’t look like theirs because (for example), it doesn’t have the attending physician or hospital. Hawaii designed the certificate to protect privacy in a more liberal way than mainland states, it appears, but this confuses the sort of people who have neither passports nor in many cases jobs.

The birthers are in fact posing, en masse, as the officious little clerk who “has it in” for the applicant in a lower middle class psycho-drama. Their conduct mirrors the worst of government conduct under Jim Crow in the USA and Australia’s “White Australia” immigration policy. Having lost the 2008 election, the “birthers” are now, quite unconsciously, subjecting the President to a literacy test designed so he’ll, in their minds, fail.

Fundamentalists accept in a surface way the need for canons of proof and evidence; but when the political subconscious is activated, they will not change their minds, whether on evolution or this nonsense. The Scopes “Monkey Trial” of the 1920s never settled anything, after all: the issue merely lay dormant until reactivated by the modern Republican party’s completely unprincipled attempts, commencing with Reagan, to play the race card.

Birther “logic” has its own rules. For the desired conclusion (something you want, or fear may be the case), any particle of doubt about the negation of what you want, fear, or claim to be the case refutes the negation.

This is based on my own experience. Lower middle class epistemology reduces to what you fear may be the case. Desire reduces to fear. The white middle class fears the truth, which is that within the USA, they will soon be a minority in an Afro-Carib society that has been deindustrialized by deliberate Republican policies that favored speculation over production. Its desire is merely the negation of this fear, a sort of stasis as obtained in the Reagan presidency, with its false “morning in America” and boom (that was driven by the first of several Republican party deficits).

Honey, we are in negative equity.

Blacks are movin’ in.

I may lose my job.

I will not have enough money to survive old age [which when you think about it is strange, for nobody survives old age].

A Negro Negro Negro might get elected President. Oops, scratch that. Mustn’t think that [cf Adorno on the “authoritarian personality”]. He did get elected. OK, he might have been born in Africa Africa Africa.

An illustration from the presidency of Warren Harding shows this; as in the Monkey Trial, the 1920s were decade in which the white political subconscious called the shots.

Democrats, in the election of 1920, were still dominated by Southern interests and Jim Crow racism, in which white people actually thought their own ancestors to be all white, and that any black ancestor (”one drop of ‘Negro’ blood”) mean you were black and to be shunned. The Democrats spread a rumor that the Republican candidate, Warren Harding, had African American ancestors…the “birther” controversy of the day.

The racial politics of the 1920s strangely mirror those of today, for in reaction to Wilsonian Progressivism (which as it happened did not include any push for civil rights, Woodrow Wilson himself being a racist), the 1920s were a decade of white privilege and Jim Crow.

Interestingly, the stock market crash, like the Panic of 2008, was caused by logic and language bearing some resemblance both to Fundamentalism and that of the “birthers”.

It was assumed until 1929 that “most Americans can get rich” and this meant white Americans desperate to escape rural poverty and forcible association with urban blacks were suckers for the promise of the stock market. Being “rich” was a white birthright, and note that then and now, the preachers of the gospel of wealth are at pains to make it parallel to Fundamentalist salvation, less a matter of works and more a matter of predestination: being at the right place at the right time, and manifesting inner election by way of a deportment that shows you buy the snake oil.

Essentially, this same phenomenon occurred between 2004 and 2008. The white wet dream was within reach, so it was thought. Just borrow money and buy a house.

In both booms, false but strangely irrefutable claims were made. Stocks would continue to appreciate: scoffers could scoff and be damned : they were Bolsheviks. In 2005, housing prices would continue to appreciate: this was an article of faith, especially in Republican districts, notably Orange County.

People were financial Fundamentalists, impatient with complex technical warnings even as Fundamentalists are enraged by mainstream theology and its incomprehensible “hermeneutics”.

Confirmation was seized upon, evidence to the contrary ignored. The fear, of lower middle class immiseration (that is, the reality almost by definition, actual adjustment to which is hard but can produce something akin to sainthood), became the desire for something which, looked at objectively, was folly: owning a fancy home fee simple without finding one steady job with one or at most three good employers for life.

Today, of course, the party is over, and the shills and snake oil salesmen are out of a job. They’ve moved on to creating the “birther” controversy which was hardly a blip in 2008.

In this “dialectic of Enlightenment”, the birthers will pose as “skeptics” and advocates of “reason and logic” because that’s what you call your ignorance and your big mouth. And, it gets worse.

Unprincipled politicians, some of them Democratic, will sponsor bills to require certifications “just to clear things up” because taking a commonsense and decent stand on the principle (see below) mea ns you lose the base.

The assertion “Obama may have not been born in the USA, and there is a cover up” has been carefully designed to not go away. It strangely resembles the mathematical assertions that Godel used in proving mathematics either incomplete or inconsistent, although unlike them, the Birther assertion does not self-refer.

This is because in the BA, it is axiomatic that the government is lying, therefore any “proof” is part of the cover up.

Remember “9-11 truth”? This was a relatively minor left-conspiracy theory which was abandoned because the WTC buildings collapsed when jet fuel destabilized their cores, and the conduct of the US government since 9-11 was so evil that we need not spread false rumors that Cheney authorized the attack. Cheney took advantage of the attack to make common cause with neoconservatives that wanted an imperialist foreign policy starting with an attack on Saddam Hussein.

Likewise, thanks to former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s research (in Reclaiming History) we know that a crazed pro-Castro loner with no real friends on the left shot Kennedy.

Conspiracy theory was designed-into the Birther pseudo-controversy in order to make sure it won’t go away.

Note that if common sense and decency prevailed, and in some scenario it DID turn out that Obama was elected but then it was found he was born in Kenya or on the Moon, a bipartisan effort would be mounted to amend the Constitution to remove the native-born requirement, which is considered by many Constitutional scholars useless and pernicious (Arnold Schwarzenegger might actually make a good President despite the fact that he was born in Austria).

This would be considered necessary to avoid the expense of a new election and the taint of illegitimacy attaching to both Obama and the winner of the new election…or the forced resignation of Obama and the Presidency of Joe Biden, who most of us think is a nice guy, but as unqualified as, well, Warren Harding.

When it was a matter of avoiding a complete Florida recount using identical standards for counting “hanging chads” in the election of 2000, the Supreme Court decided to let the apparently illegitimate result stand. But, the “birthers” haven’t thought this one through.
Their cause, like the Confederacy, wasn’t designed to win. It was designed as a way of avoiding real issues including the continued use of racism to distract white rural and working class voters from their immiseration.

It’s “born to lose” but also “born to raise hell” and as such mirrors, isomorphs, the dysfunctional lives of many whites. People can survive for a long time on their own idiocy as in the case of alcoholism. Like alcoholism, birtherism exists to “question” Obama’s legitimacy without risking getting whacked upside the head by the black guy next to you in the bar.

Grant Park 2008 was a false dawn. When will our long national nightmare, in which politicians use racism to distract us, end? And when will Obama cowboy up and get tough so as to avoid being a one-term President whose failure will guarantee that no African American will again be elected to this office? Note that the assassination of Kennedy may be said to have guaranteed that since Nov 22 1963, no Roman Catholic has been electable. Will the same phenomenon occur with regards to Obama’s failures?

Personal aside: in 1981 I was working all night trying to develop software for the early personal computer whilst my former wife complained, and kept insisting that we needed to “buy a house”. We were supposed to get parental help but it didn’t come through since my father, successfully in fact, ran his life on fear, but was also the genuine article being a neurosurgeon, so, while he did not help us, has later on spared his children the need to support him in his nineties.

The contempt my wife seemed to have for my software efforts, and her continued complaints about the hours and the need to “buy a house”, with the absence of parental support in an expensive community (Evanston, Illinois) led me to cave, and we bought a “fixer upper”. Oops. Neither of us had interest or skills in home repair.

Our Century 21 broker reacted to my father’s withdrawal with an early “creative” mortgage.

I’d failed to be clear, somehow. I wanted to get out of the Midwest and work all night if need be on software.

The marriage collapsed, my wife got the house. I hope-believe that in those years she may have made something.

But at the Silicon Valley company I fled to, as it happened, nobody seriously expected to “change the world”. Instead they drew down fat salaries while investing in California homes that to me were cheeseboxes and Malvina Reynold’s “little boxes”. Which made my own job rather pointless. Who needs an accurate compiler, much less a new one?

Live and learn…and tell the truth. I am familiar with lower middle class epistemology and logic by way of downward mobility. My snobbery is this fear of downward mobility, and my life still a search for an alternative, an escape from the class system. I am already a carpet chewer. I don’t want to be a Hitler.

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