I watched “How To Survive A Plague” last night on Netflix Instant (because I am on break and this is basically the only time in which I have two hours free to zone out and watch the depressing documentaries that I love so much). What struck me about to movie (beyond its excellence as a piece of art) was the mainstream political callousness of an era where people were dying in droves across the country. Hindsight might exacerbate the negative appearance of those who opposed AIDS advocacy in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but there is an important lesson from that scary recent history concerning the baseline morality of those powerful individuals in this country. The simply truth of the matter is that there is presently a political party, which itself is a facade for a consciousness movement, that is based entirely on the bigotry and which thrives on inflicting pain and suffering on people deemed to be unworthy of basic human rights. The individual contemporary conservative might scoff at the notion that they are effectively a member of a hate group, but they have done nothing to discourage that designation.
After the death of Martin Luther King in 1968, activist and King ally Bayard Rustin wrote out of fear of a “resurgence of rightwing backlash forces” that would upend the civil rights leader’s lifetime of work. Rustin worried that America, facing a choice between “more sophisticated forms of segregation and exploitation” and “a genuine open, integrated, and democratic society” would out of desperation and anger follow the path of the former rather than the latter. Today in 2012 we can of course see that these concerns were more than appropriate.
Historians and political scientists both seem to enjoy engaging in revisionist studies of the 1960’s in particular in order to partake in ritualistic “hippy punching”. The term “overreach” is employed on a regular basis, as these academics gleefully (and patronizingly) tell blacks, gays, women, and workers that their public demands during that period were simply too much for society to handle and that the severe (and continuing) generational backlash was entirely their fault. The fact that these groups were fighting for equal status as humans with a white-wealthy-male establishment as well as the creation of a truly democratic society is forgotten. Instead these activists are told that their demands must be ameliorate under the banner of “moderation”- or else.
This demand for acquiescence is of course an act of violence in itself, and it is one that is not even trying to be subtle. Meanwhile the language employed by conservative movement today to describe their own priorities is equally disingenuous. Policy for the modern conservative, always takes a secondary role in lieu of platitudes about “freedom”, “prosperity”, and “traditional values”. These, and related forms of Orwellian double speak, are either accepted on their face by adherents to the movement or are generally regarded as code words for the more specific goals of the reactionary core of the right wing.
The same patronizing rhetoric from fabulously wealthy once used to justify child labor or 16 hour work days from the 1880’s has experienced a resurrection in a time of economic desperation as the utopian ideology of the modern conservative now requires the preservation of a state defined by gross income inequality. That demands, rights, and even safety of laborers are completely discounted as being unnecessary stumbling blocks to the “higher” needs for “innovation” and “success”. Simple requests for fair wages in exchange for work are regarded as akin to Soviet-style land reform.
The subjugation of those people who would otherwise challenge the demographic make up of our current power structure continues today, only now pointing out that very fact is regarded as an act of “bullying” by the cynically shallow denizens of the conservative movement. A new era of shamelessness by the right wing members of the courts and media has effectively delegitimized and suppressed any accusation of bigotry against the dominant forces in our society. The result of course is that those actual victims of intolerance are left to accept their status as second class citizens, as simply identifying the problem prompted such an idiotic response that most reasonable people would choose to not engage in the issue any further.
Those people who “choose” to deviate from the accepted sexual practices of the Catholic Church are treated even more harshly, and in many cases are condemned to die either from negligence (in the form of ignoring the AIDS crisis) or accepted forms of violence (ex: the decades it took to get a federal hate crime bill passed in this country). Conservative ideology explicitly reserves the right to enjoy sex to men with the means to perform it safely and without repercussions. Marriage, or the legal recognition of a sexual relationship is even further restricted to a specific interpretation of English feudal law. Any deviation from this property exchange is described as an affront to god and its participants are dehumanized through unflattering comparisons to criminal actors of pederasty and bestiality.
It is both sad and telling that in today’s post-modern and ironic society that we sympathize more with those reactionaries who lead the backlash against equality, democracy, and human rights rather than the activists who lead the struggles to expand access to the values that establishment Americans publicly celebrate so often. Today most people would associate the conservatives as adherents of free-market tax policies, support for defense rather than social programs, and “judeo-christian” views on morality. In truth however the overriding ideology of these individuals is a desire for vengeance against those who dared to once challenge the accepted norms in our society. The conservative rhetoric that we see in the media is a thinly-veiled call for supporters to inflict violence on those who upset the natural order of things in order to return to the nostalgic paradise of marital rape, lynchings, and Pinkerton Agents. Nothing has changed, nobody has mollified their message, and no one’s life is going to be better until this evil is explicitly identified in the public square.