Dr. Dawg

Conservatives making stuff up

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Ezra Levant’s latest spew of bigotry—for which he has now issued yet another empty apology (around @14:00), and substantially modified his “Canada Love It Or Leave” T-shirt hawking—reminds us that Conservatives habitually create ideological narratives that do not stand the test of empirical adequacy. Their description of the world is easily falsified by even the most elementary observation. But perhaps that’s not the point.

The Levant piece has now been so thoroughly debunked, even by some embarrassed conservatives, that no more need be said about it here. But at the very same time, a made-up controversy was unfolding south of the border. At a Veterans Day memorial concert in Washington, Bruce Springsteen performed a cover of John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” (hear the original, above). Conservatives had a fit of the vapours over it. Once again, they were easily refuted—the song is obviously not “anti-military,” but a cry of class anger that juxtaposes the war-exempt chickenhawks with the grunts who actually went to Vietnam.

That put me immediately in mind of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” which was praised by conservatives, right up to Ronald Reagan, when it was released. They seemed completely unable to grasp the palpable irony of the refrain (read the lyrics for yourselves) in its context.

Is this simply a matter of comprehension? Or of a deliberate, tendentious misreading? I’d suggest that it may be a bit of both, generally speaking, but there’s something more fundamental going on. Conservatives (ok, #notallconservatives) are literal-minded folks who tend to read in a certain way. It’s an odd kind of reading for those of us who actually pay attention to texts. Context becomes insignificant, in and of itself. Words and phrases serve merely as take-off points for self-centred ideological preening. It’s a case of the blind men and the elephant, except that here the elephant-observers are, seemingly wilfully, closing their perfectly good eyes.

I’m not saying that we on the progressive side of things are immune to seeing what we want to see (take trutherism—please). A recent blogpost at rabble.ca, thumpingly refuted by another a few days afterwards, is a case in point. But somehow this sort of thing seems far more prevalent on the other side of the aisle, where we are not necessarily dealing with tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory (although there are many, many instances of that), but a kind of systemic carelessness. There is nothing straightforwardly delusional, after all, in the casual misreadings of documents and popular songs that I’ve cited. There’s not a trace of conspirazoid apophenia there. Instead, we have a strange and stubborn refusal to grapple with texts in their entirety; we observe a near-pathological cherry-picking and wacky, textually unsupported interpretation. It’s like reading A Modest Proposal as evidence that the English were seriously proposing cannibalism as a solution to Irish famines, or Moby Dick as an unfinished mystery novel about Ishmael’s real name.

By the way, as of this writing, Levant’s poisonous screed is still up at the Toronto SUN. Let us, then, place Levant’s apology in its proper context. Too many of his political siblings, I suspect, especially those who mindlessly went along with him in the first place, will be congenitally unable to do so.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on November 13, 2014 10:52 AM.

Remembrance Day as empty signifier was the previous entry in this blog.

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