Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ideological transformations and the elderly

Salon has an interesting story of ideological transformation. It feels like a classical tale: Arts & Entertainment | The real war on Christmas

...The thing is, though, I know better than to bring up politics with my dad. Ever since he started listening to talk radio for hours out of the day, he's slowly lost his ability to objectively look at the facts and draw his own conclusions. If Rush, Hannity, Dennis Prager or O'Reilly say it, my dad believes it as surely as he believes anything. Thanks to this abdication of rational thinking, both of my parents completely bought into the Swift Boat liars, still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11, and recently decided to move to Montana, which my mother described as 'the real America' to me and my siblings. When Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor, my mom's impression of him, having worked with him as a model in the 1960s, mysteriously transformed from 'a steroid-shooting lech' to 'a total gentleman, who was always taking his supplements, which were injected in those days.'

They both ended up voting for Tom McClintock, not because Arnold was so clearly incompetent, but because he wasn't a 'real' enough Republican for them. These are the same people who took me to nuclear-freeze rallies almost every weekend when I was in elementary school. These are the same people who introduced me to the teachings of the Buddha and Gandhi. The same people who smoked pot in front of me, introduced me to Pink Floyd and the Beatles, and taught me to throw a Frisbee when all my peers were learning how to throw a football.
They are, of course, the same people. I would bet they are both very directed towards groupthink and tribalism. At one time that meant smoking pot in front of children [1], today it means taking O'Reilly as their guru. I would wonder too if both are desperately seeking simplicity, a trend that grows with age and the sadly normal senescence of the human brain (our brains are in bad shape by the time we hit retirement age).

Is there anything new here? It's tempting to think of Rush and O'Reilly as new, but the hate mongers of the 1930s to 1950s did quite well with the same radio Rush and O'Reilly use. Imitation and the urge to emulate dominant tribe members is quintessentially human. Alas, senescence has always been with us. So, no, this is not new.

[1] Many of us, of course, drink wine in front of children. I suppose it's not so much the substance as the intent of its use; I still suspect his parents were demonstrating the judgment flaws that later led them to Bush. Of course by writing this article about his family, their son has demonstrated a similar lack of wisdom.

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