October 20, 2012
Big Bird, Liberalism, and PerversionBy Stephen Rittenberg, MD
Fifty years of clinical observation have taught me the unwillingness of many to relinquish childhood dreams of perfect bliss. Utopia seems to be the goal for many from their first frustrated cries following ejection from the womb.
The outraged reaction by liberalism's defenders to Gov. Romney's jocular threat to take away Big Bird's government subsidy shows that he touched a nerve. The screaming and caterwauling, the marches announced to defend the puppet, reveal some important truths about contemporary liberalism and its adherents. Gov. Romney in one witty comment suggested that it is time to grow up, to relinquish the utopian fantasy of a blissful androgynous childhood free of conflict. In one comment, he leveled a blast at the feminized metrosexual culture of contemporary liberalism. He went on to link his opponent to childhood, by likening him to his own boys when they were young, a time when wishes often prevail over reality.
No wonder liberals reacted with rage. No wonder the president mentioned his defense of Big Bird thirteen times in the week following the debate. Liberals long for what Big Bird represents: that utopian childish dream world where differences of gender, talent, fortune, looks, race, color, intelligence, etc. do not exist. Big Bird, the perfect symbol of liberal fantasies, is neither handsome nor ugly, has no discernible sexuality, is neither smart nor stupid. He is never threatened by the need to work hard to accomplish things, because he has no discernible ambition. He never demands anything and never has to deal with aggressive wishes. Anger is not a problem for Big Bird. Competition is not for him. Unlike the creatures of classic fairy tales, he is just a bland, unthreatening being purveying the liberal fantasy that in utopia, we are all equally lovable and all think good thoughts. No doubt there are graduate students at our elite universities composing theses on the postmodren significance of Sesame Street.
I have written previously in American Thinker about perversion as a mode of thinking, not just a form of sexual behavior. Perversion (see the Marquis de Sade) seeks to abolish all differences -- of gender, of generations, of species. The incest taboo is overturned, species differences are abolished, and the distinction between animate and inanimate is dismissed as all things are reduced to fecal sameness. Sade anticipated the dreams of postmodern wordsmith intellectuals.
In the world of perversion, the Old Testament story of God the father creating the world, differentiating the creatures, naming and separating male from female, children from adults, species from species, etc. is overturned. The roles and functions of the father are undermined as the paternal world of the biblical creation story is rejected. Sade makes clear that the central perverse wish is to overturn the paternal universe, deny difference, and return to a blissful undifferentiated state. The problem is that utopian wishes such as those embodied by sexual perversion and perverse thinking can never attained. No matter how many affirmative-action programs are installed, politically correct egalitarian yearnings are, in reality, unrealizable. Differences cannot be abolished. When utopia fails to arrive as promised, when the seas don't cease to rise, when the earth fails to heal itself, when postmodern, politically correct fantasies collapse, scapegoats must be found. Suppressed rage then erupts. In the therapeutic world of modern liberalism, while praising itself for caring about the downtrodden, liberals will vilify as evil those who puncture their illusions. Romney's and Ryan's policies are not important enough to deal with because Romney and Ryan are bad people -- "liars." Instead, let's all rally to protect Big Bird from the heartless conservatives.
We all remember the name-calling schoolyard bully who was really a weakling and a blowhard. As grown-ups, these are the people who insisted that George Bush was not just mistaken in his policies; he was a bad person. He was another Hitler. In these wordsmith tantrums can be glimpsed buried infantile rage. This is Sesame Street thinking by adults. Big Bird symbolizes the perverse childhood thinking at the heart of utopian ideologies like liberalism. Bland, asexual Big Bird masks the seething, frustrated rage of thwarted children.
Liberalism as an ideology has devolved into a system that represents perverse thinking in its most obvious form. Liberals are quite correct to angrily defend Big Bird, for he represents their shared fantasy of a blissful world, free of conflict. Liberalism has become an emasculated ideology for all the utopian children who have grown up but failed to relinquish their childhood fantasies. It is an ideology of arrested development.
Optimally, childhood ends, and adults develop a mature, tragic acceptance of limitations. They come to terms with differences of talent; some are more intelligent, better athletes, better mathematicians, more creative. Accepting this is, paradoxically, a necessary step toward real achievement because it allows discovery of one's own unique talents. By age 12 I had to recognize that I wasn't going to succeed Joe DiMaggio in center field for the Yankees. I was a nearsighted kid who didn't run well and, most importantly, couldn't hit a curve ball. Learning to accept that freed me to discover my own unique abilities while enabling me to enjoy the superior skills of professional athletes. I didn't seethe with resentment. Instead, I learned to appreciate the hard work necessary to actualize any talent.
Utopians who remain immature in their thinking feel an aggrieved sense of entitlement. A fair and just world would mandate that they play center field for the Yankees. Society hasn't recognized their wondrous attributes. Why have those other boys and girls, so much less verbally gifted, done so well? It's an outrageous injustice. After all, teachers all praised these future liberals for their verbal skills, yet some of those non-verbally adept kids who were not such good little boys and girls have achieved tangible success way beyond that of the aggrieved. It's not fair.
Sesame Street promised otherwise. Being good should be enough. After all, Big Bird is good just by virtue of existing, and even if it's a fantasy, everyone loves him. Well, let's introduce government programs to make up for the unfairness. Let's legislate a utopian egalitarianism. Let's apply "Sesame Street" modes of understanding to foreign policy, and everyone can join hands and show they care. We can redistribute everything in accord with "fairness."
Nuclear weapons in the hands of fanatics? As Joe Biden laughingly suggested, we should all just calm down. Isn't Iran's "culture" as valid as Western culture? Given that Israel possesses nukes, wouldn't it be fair to give nukes to 7th-century savages? (Sorry, they're not "savages" -- just believers in alternative cultural values.) Our government leaders went to elite schools, where postmodern disquisitions on "narrative truth" were taken seriously and Machiavelli was just an old Italian guy who lived a long time ago. Of course, when their postmodern "narratives" result in disaster, someone else must be to blame, and it can't be liberals, because their hearts are pure.
Notice the rage erupting from those who think of themselves as pure and good. An important aspect shared by liberalism's true believers is their self-flattering conviction that they are good, smart, better in every way than non-liberals. Infantile rage results when infantile fantasies go awry.
Almost any Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd column is illustrative of the grandiose self-regard and rage of frustrated infants in grown-up bodies. Notice the glee expressed when Joe Biden, the "elder statesman," behaved like a six-year-old. They loved it! Tantrums are a way helpless children sometimes force concessions from adults. It is the effort by the powerless to coerce the powerful. Bullies who compulsively smile and address the objects of their bullying as "my friend" are actually cowards.
Joe Biden is an example to illustrate Heywood Hale Broun's definition of a liberal: "A man who leaves the room when the fight begins." He was fortunate that Ryan chose to remain calm in the face of provocation. What really undergirds the delight over Biden's rude tantrum and his bizarre affect is rage at the fact that Romney proved himself to be a mature man while his opponent revealed himself to be a child, a weak and immature person -- in short, a wimp.
Women noticed this, and there remains, despite the efforts of the utopian egalitarians, a yearning by many women for "real men." Like many, a part of me would have enjoyed my own immature pleasure had Ryan reached over and punched Biden in the nose. That's how we dealt with bullies in the schoolyard. Ryan was, however, mature and restrained, the adult in the room. Liberalism has in fact become a collective ideological tantrum, a final rebellion by pampered and cosseted children against the demands of adulthood.
In the coming election, America is choosing not just between different domestic and foreign policy alternatives. It is choosing at a deeper level the shared idea of America. There are two competing and conflicting versions. There is the shared liberal fantasy of an America that is an egalitarian utopia. It is a slightly more benign version of all totalitarian utopias, where government seeks to fundamentally alter human nature to achieve perfection. In this view, America is like all other nations, not exceptional. The shared vision of America that propelled us to save the world from totalitarianism in WWII and in the Cold War is viewed as insulting to other nations. The utopian vision precludes using aggression to defend our unique nation because we're not unique, and use of force in defense of Western civilization is evidence of our failure to measure up to Big Bird values. Perhaps Big Bird will replace the bust of Churchill that used to be in the Oval Office.
This liberal vision of America is now in a contest with another, older shared idea of America. This older idea asserts that our greatness lies in our uniqueness -- the uniqueness of our founding and of the generations that followed. It asserts that we are unique in our history and composed of individuals, each with different abilities and limitations. It is a realistic, even tragic view of human nature that regards the androgynous, radically egalitarian view of America as alien. In contrast to the perverse thinking of utopian fantasists, this older vision includes acceptance of difference, especially of the difference between men and women. This vision regards adulthood as an ideal to be striven towards, even if not always attained.
One of the remarkable aspects of the presidential campaign is that we have been able to see a candidate who represents the postmodern blurring of gender -- a metrosexual man who is, in the current cant phrase, "in touch" with his feminine side. Who would have guessed we'd have a president who tosses a baseball like a girl?
Let us not underestimate the skill with which the president is able to represent his postmodern, androgynous, egalitarian vision. He goes on The View and schmoozes with Oprah, just like the gossipy woman next door. He prides himself on identifying with angry women and children. You would not be surprised to hear him share his deep feeling for what women go through physically when the patriarchy forces them to submit to men. Maybe a government program can correct this unfairness. His opponent, on the other hand, represents an older American ideal -- a proud, unapologetic ideal that doesn't blur the differences between the sexes, but celebrates them. He is combating an elite media, educational, and journalistic culture that has been promoting the utopian views of aggrieved, entitled liberalism for years. How far has America gone down that cultural road? This coming election will tell us a great deal about where we are and what we have become.
(Dedicated to the memory of Janine-Chasseguet Smirgel.)
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