Thursday, March 25, 2010

Life, Art and Catch 22: Brethren, Let Us Hate

Life, we're often told, imitates art. 

Lt. Milo Minderbinder, Joseph Heller's villainous parody of capitalism in "Catch 22," has transmogrified into today's real-life Republican Party.

In the novel, when Yossarian and a young crewman in the back of the plane desperately need morphine, it turns out that Milo has snatched all of the morphine in the medical kits and sold it.  Think of Yossarian and the kid in the back of the plane as 40 million Americans without health care, 40,000 of whom die every year of treatable ailments.  Think of the Catch 22 morphine as the health care bill for which not a single Republican voted.  Or take war itself:  Minderbinder strikes a deal with the Germans to bomb his own squadron, but ultimately is forgiven because . . . the doublecross turned a healthy profit.  Now we are engaged in endless war because . . . it turns an enormous profit.

Not even Heller would have thought, however, of a Supreme Court granting personhood to Milo's criminal M & M syndicate. 

But Milo was a callous, amoral product of the Engine Charlie Wilson school of thought: What's good for General Motors is good for the country.  He wasn't a hater.  Hence he was able to strike deals with the Germans and his own side and profit both ways. 

Look at the most avid followers of today's Republican party and the Catch 22 parallel no longer applies. True, they prattle a great deal about "American free enterprise," the real life version of Minderbinder's syndicate.  But what really motivates them is hatred.

Remember the disruptions of the town hall meetings during the Congressional recess?  Those people weren't merely angry; they seethed with hatred.  Go back further.  Remember the Palin rallies in the 2008 election?  Hatred.  Fast forward to today.  Congress passed a health care bill despite a Republican campaign of lies, distortions and . . . yes, hatred.  And Republicans responded by throwing bricks through the office windows of members of Congress in their home districts, criminally cutting off utilities to their homes, and shouting "nigger" and"faggot" and "babykiller" at elected officials trying to do the jobs they were sent to Washington to do. They're even threatening to kill those who supported the bill.

Barack Obama's election, despite the pipe dreams of the optimists, did not herald a new post-racial era in America.  Rather it brought to the surface the long simmering racial hatreds that millions of Americans still harbor.

And yet the hatred that motivates millions of Americans is not merely racial.  These citizens of the United States thrive on hatred of "other."  Immigrants, legal or otherwise, are "other."  Barack Obama is "other;" whence, for example,  the so-called "birther movement."   Non-Christians, non-theists, or Christians who believe that women have the right to control their own bodies, including the termination of unwanted pregnancies, are "other."  Otherness fuels a hatred so blind that doctors whose humanitarian instincts impel them to provide needed services to such women are considered fair game for murderers.  They're not killers; they're saving "unborn children." If Muslim civilians, women and children are killed by our drones, don't bother counting them as victims.  They're just . . ."other." In these United States, otherness embraces the espousal of progressive or liberal views of the Constitution, civil liberties, human rights and ethical behavior.  And  only in America have the haters managed to make the terms "liberal" and "progressive" into derogations.  Indeed, hatred has captured and turned upside down entire sections of the American vocabulary.  Once perfectly honorable words like "patriot"  have been made into code for the actions, attitudes and objects of hate. They are "pro-life" but they would kill doctors and congressmen who don't agree with their extreme beliefs.

Only Joseph Heller knows for sure, but I suspect that even Milo Minderbinder might be appalled by some of this.

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