Strange Brouhaha

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Fundamentalism: Not Just For Religious Loonies Anymore

If indeed it ever was.

Whereas fundamentalism is particularly noticeable in religion, its core characteristics can actually be found everywhere. That diet article I ranted about a few posts ago? If you think about it, they're peddling nutritional fundamentalism. "There is one way, it's our way, and it's the only way." Or as the editor put it in her monthly letter, "I'm getting really bored with people who don't eat carbs. Whose idea was it to cut out a whole category of food? Who ever thought that made sense?" Three things are happening here: defining an enemy, mischaracterizing it (nobody ELIMINATES carbs, fer chrissakes), and belittling it, all with an impatient, don't-we-all-know-better tone. It's designed, not to make us think and choose for ourselves, but to make us fall into line.

Recently, I had an unfortunate non-meeting of the minds with a fellow atheist online, who sternly informed me that the term "religious liberal" has no meaning. Apparently one is either a fundamentalist or an atheist; anything in between has no validity. This would be news to the large numbers of people who do think God literally exists, but who believe that evolution and other religions are also true.

When Spike Lee released his ludicrous movie "She Hate Me," about a man who hires himself out for sex with lesbians who want to have children, lesbians got mad. It is not hard to see why. But I read an article where a self-appointed spokeswomon of lesbiankind announced that "No lesbian would ever have sex with any man for any reason." Oh really. I bet large numbers of her constituency would be quite surprised to discover that they've been disqualified. I guess they can go sit with the religious liberals.

And who can forget the incredible *political* fundamentalism of the Republican Party? You'd think that politics would be full of nuance and flexibility, but these guys have made it as hard as a rock and as simple as a light switch. I stand in awe. "Death tax!" "Free markets!" "With us or against us!" "Dead or alive!" "Less government!" "Life!" "One man and one woman!" "Mission Accomplished!" With slogans like these, they have indeed made politics every bit as simple as they wanted to.

But self-help, you say. Surely a field designed to help us find happiness is unaffected by such boneheadedness. Hahahahahaha!! Ever heard of Dr. Laura? She wrote a book called "Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives." Among them was "Stupid Living Together," which was always a "stupid" thing to do. Rob and I lived together for five years before we got married, and you know what? It was fun.

Oh, but I fear I've crossed the line of *today's* current popular self-help Diktat, "He's Just Not That Into You." You see, I was the one who asked Rob to live with me, so, clearly, He's Just Not That Into Me. Sorry. My mistake.

That phrase is the authors' answer to everything. There are never any extenuating circumstances, never any allowances for personal style, never any exceptions. If the sober, employed, well-dressed, clean, nice-smelling, spiffy man is not right there with flowers, e-mail, phone calls, witty bons mots, thoughtful surprise gifts, and the appropriate proposals for every stage of the relationship, He's Just Not Etcetera. To give their ruthless fundamentalism an extra kick, the authors only consider the most obvious case studies, as in "He makes fun of me to my friends," "He gets up and leaves right after we have sex," "I've only seen him loaded," and "He owes me $5000." If you need a book to tell you to break up with these kinds of guys, then you need far more help than that book can provide. Hearing "He's just not that into you" will do nothing to change whatever deep emotional issues caused you to pick him in the first place. But gee, it sure sounds attractively simple, doesn't it?

But real, true psychology--that's okay, right? HAHAHAHAHAHA!! Freud was a major fundamentalist. "What? You dreamed of a butterfly? Obviously you want to kill your mother and eat her brains while being anally violated by your father. What? You say I'm wrong? That proves I'm right, because the more a patient resists, the more they secretly agree." (I am not, by the way, making that up.)

We will never deal with religious fundamentalism until we deal with FUNDAMENTALISM. Let's hope it's soon.


  • (Ham) In general, I think everything you've said here is right. In particular, it's good to see somebody else taking issue with the He's-not-into-you fad. It reminds me of 'Dr. Brad Goodman's Guide to something-or-other.' You've got to admire the sack these guys have to put that one out. Every woman (and man, for that matter) knows that when your partner ignores you, or doesn't have sex with you that it's going badly. Most likely the book doesn't address one's self-esteem problems related to why one would choose to stick with him or her even though you know that "he's not into me." What utter self-absorption. This book has nothing to do with self-discovery and real work. It's cheap entertainment for the masses, and will largely be forgotten in a year, and nobody will be the better for it, sans authors and publishers.

    To the larger points, though: my guess is that people aren't much different than they always have been through the ages. I suspect this is all an economic matter of what's cheapest. In this case not so much in terms of actual goods or anything, but more in terms of where you spend your attention. Entertainment in this country is really, really cheap to consume. Boredom is pretty expensive to consume; nobody wants to do that, it's just awful to be bored. Self-education is probably in the middle. So, given the choice between reading constitutional law or staring at the wall, constitutional law will start to look pretty good after several hours of wall-staring. But given the choice between constitutional law and watching 'Law and Order,' I'd have to choose 'Law and Order,' and I'd probably be the poorer for it intellectually, but I'm alright with that. Most folks in the US have average IQs, and would rather watch Survivor than Jim Lehrer simply because it costs them less in terms of mental work. I don't know what you can do about that, short of complete eradication of boobery on TV, and I don't think that would fly.

    The problem with most of these diet things, and not-into-you things, and everything else is that everybody's in it solely for the money, and not for social good. Morally, I find them all reprehensible. The people who are putting them out all know better, but just don't care. But I'm generally good with that, even though it all makes me angry, because I don't know how you could legislate it any differently, and I can't really think of any other way to control it, certainly not in the short term at least. And that's not any job I ever want anyway; I wouldn't have the arrogance to be able to decide what should our shouldn't be put out.

    In general, I'm not quite as pessimistic as you about things. Women couldn't even vote 150 years ago, could they? Seems like there must have been a lot of fundamentalism surrounding that then, and it's gone (for the most part, anyway). Fads have been around forever. Everybody knows about snake oil, don't they?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:35 PM  

  • (Matt) OK, I've really got to start reading the by-line before I read the Blog. I was reading this in Robert's voice, and then I see it wasn't. It's like when you reach for a glass and take a drink thinking it's milk, but it turns out to be water. I like both milk and water, but the expectation was for milk.
    After all that rambling -- I just want to say I agree with you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:43 AM  

  • (JJB) Snake oil? That sounds like just the cure for what ails me. Where might I purchase some?

    [I don't have the stamina, attention span, patience, or probably intelligence to come up with reasoned discourse, so I'll stick with bad jokes]

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:47 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home