In the post immediately below, I argue that it’s an error to label John Howard as a “neocon” comparable to George W Bush. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t some interesting and instructive parallels to be drawn, especially in terms of the rhetoric and mindset of conservative pundits in both countries. They frequently seem to be reading from a common hymn book. One of the favourite hymns is the one that bemoans the imagined oppressive leftie domination of the media and academia. This comment from Michael Warby (on Mark Bahnisch’s recent post about the rhetorical failings of the left) is fairly typical; you can read similar things from Tim Blair, Professor Bunyip and other RWDB pundits almost any day of the week:
I get a laugh out of the left complaining about the alleged propaganda advantages of the right. Let’s see; the left-of-centre dominates academe, curriculum development and implementation, literary grants, ARC grants, Fairfax metros, the ABC, the SBS, advocacy NGOs, unions, hunts in packs …
It’s an article of RWDB faith. But precisely the same phenomenon is evident in US conservative pundit rhetoric, with the New York Times and commercial TV networks (except Fox) being endlessly excoriated as bastions of socialist evil. Thomas Frank explains it this way:
The basic idea of victimhood on the right it’s even worse than Rush Limbaugh. His brother wrote a book and the title is one of these one-word titles that conservatives love: “Persecution.” The idea is that Christians are persecuted right here in the U.S. of A. – you know, right here, right now, Christians are being persecuted by the liberal elite, of course.
The idea is that there is this elite that controls society, and that there’s almost nothing you can do about it. You are powerless and helpless before these people, and they fiddle with your culture. They change what’s on TV, and they change the language however they want. They’re not accountable and there’s almost nothing you can do about it except get mad. This is the conservative fantasy of victimhood – that they are society’s greatest victims.
This is particularly interesting, given that a guy like Limbaugh and a guy like O’Reilly love to talk about the culture of victimization. Conservative pop culture has the biggest victim fantasy of them all. You raise another very important issue, which is one of the things that I want people to take away from the book, and that is the gigantic contradiction in conservatism that the free market capitalism that they profess to love delivers this culture that they find so offensive and so abhorrent.
The only way they can get out of this contradiction is to imagine a liberal conspiracy that controls things, so they can get free-market capitalism off the hook. All you have to do is talk about this. If the Democrats just talked about this, I think that contradiction could be made unavoidable. And that contradiction is fatal for conservatism, in my opinion.
Further thoughts – Frank has a point. But there may be additional elements to the RWDB victimhood rhetoric and mindset. We shouldn’t ignore the Straussian influence, for example: leftie cultural elites being calculatedly conceptualised as a common internal enemy/threat to unite the lumpen masses in opposition to an imagined ‘Other’.
And perhaps the psychological insights of transactional analysis theorist Eric Berne might even be relevant:
Eric Berne, the originator of Transactional Analysis and social game theory, defines a game as “sets of ulterior transactions, repetitive in nature, with a well-defined pay off” [Berne, Eric, MD. – What Do You Say after You Say Hello? (New York: Grove Press Inc., 1972)]. Satisfaction of position hunger is the existential advantage of the game. This, as we said, is the need to feel “one-up” or “one-down” in relationship to another person in order to vindicate a not-OK existential position. The arrogant position, I’m OK – you’re not OK, is the basis of the common domestic squabble game called Uproar where insinuations of worthlessness are tossed back and forth like a hot potato with escalating vehemence in order to avoid intimacy.
Games vary in intensity or degree from the relatively harmless first degree to the hard third degree game which leads to personal injury and involves tissue destruction. In any given episode of a game, the players must initially adopt one of the three complimentary attitudinal stances referred to as: Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor. The participants then engage in ulterior transactions leading to a switch in stances for each player. This usually comes as somewhat of a surprise, at least for one of them, after which comes a moment of confusion called the crossup. The cardinal symptom by which a person can recognize that a social game is in progress is that momentary feeling of being off balance, at odds with what she thought was happening, of elation over a sudden sly victory, or frustration of having been conned. With the switch and cross-up comes the psychological payoff in which each player collects positive or negative strokes. Since a negative stroke is regarded as better than no stroke, the game may then proceed to the next round with the players each in a new victim/rescuer/persecutor role. Dr. Stephen Karpman developed the diagram below, called the Drama Triangle, to illustrate the three game role positions and their interchangebility [Karpman, S. – TA Bulletin, 7, (April 1968) P. 39-43.].
It rather reminds me of the feeling I sometimes get from participating in the Troppo comment box dialogue, actually.