Sunday, November 4, 2012

American Flag Shotgun Guy to the Rescue!

Last week someone heckled Mitt Romney during a campaign speech.  The man stood up and demanded the candidates stop their silence on climate change. 

His shouting was drowned out by the crowd chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!"  They took the chant up rather quickly, as if it was a perfectly logical or automatic response. 
I immediately thought of a meme I have seen, one the website calls "american flag shotgun guy."  I have included a Sandy-inspired use of him.

The response of the pro-Romney crowd to the heckler and the response of american flag shotgun guy to the pending storm struck me as vivid illustrations of something that we call a non sequitur.  That is Latin for "does not follow."  This describes a statement that does not logically respond to or arise from the previous statement.  

How are that flag and that shotgun going to stop Hurricane Sandy?  How will patriotism counter climate change?

(I have included a couple of my own american flag shotgun guy images below.  You can go to the website and make your own.)

I understand the crowd being upset with the heckler.  They had the right to be, since he was interrupting their event.  But I think their response is interesting.  The crowd did not respond with a counter-argument or even "shut up!"  Instead, they responded with a patriotic chant, as if they were attending the Heckler Olympics.

The assumption that talking about climate change -- especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy -- is somehow unpatriotic is strange or even nonsensical.

Or is it?  To address climate change seriously would mean to alter our lifestyles, and Americans do not like to do that.  (However, that begs the question: Don't frequent hurricanes alter our lifestyles?)  Also, to seriously address climate change could disrupt the economic structure of the nation -- that is, moving away from fossil fuels would be a threat to some very powerful corporations.  Those companies make very good profits from the lifestyles Americans prefer. 

(People tend to prefer things that are readily available to them, so if their choices are limited, so are the range of their preferences; therefore, lobbyists for established industries work hard to keep new industries from offering alternatives consumers might prefer.)

So, if patriotism means defending the established order of the nation, then the climate-change heckler was being unpatriotic.  If patriotism means calling for action against a threat to the nation's health (rather than its established order), then the crowd's response does not make sense.

In either case, I can see how the crowd's response is ideological.  In the first case, I would say it fits the definition of ideology as a form of discourse that serves to maintain the power relations in a society -- in this case, allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue dictating national energy policies, but also allowing people to maintain personally convenient but ultimately destructive lifestyles.  Terry Eagleton describes it this way in his book Ideology: An Introduction:

A dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparently inevitable; denigrating ideas which challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought, perhaps by some unpsoken but systemic logic; and obscuring social reality in ways convenient to itself.

In the second case, we can see the way an ideology can obscure the true nature of social or economic relations.  Through a process called "mystification," an ideology (quoting Eagleton again) "takes the form of masking and suppressing social conflicts."  In this way some ideologies are criticized for being "an imaginary resolution to real contradictions."

In the case of the Romney heckler, simply loving one's country is an imaginary solution to the real problems caused by our dependence on fossil fuels, problems such as climate change (droughts and hurricanes); economic exploitation and undue political influence by corporations; and the economic dependence of people on those corporations for jobs, especially during the recovery from a recession, a dependence that encourages people to sacrifice control of their lives and their environment -- and to chant patriotically when someone calls attention to that.

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