May 7, 2005

Maureen Dowd's chimeras.

Maureen Dowd riffs on the idea of the chimera -- a mythological monster combining parts of different animals. She notes but doesn't seem to take any position on the fears about research that combines human stem cells with animal embryos, then moves on to the place that she usually moves on to: criticizing Republicans.

First, the two Bush wars:
President Bush's experiments in Afghanistan and Iraq created his own chimeras, by injecting feudal and tribal societies with the cells of democracy, and blending warring factions and sects. Some of the forces unleashed are promising; others are frightening.
And then the party itself:
The Republican Party is now a chimera, too, a mutant of old guard Republicans, who want government kept out of our lives, and evangelical Christians, who want government to legislate religion into our lives.

But exploiting God for political ends has set off powerful, scary forces in America: a retreat on teaching evolution, most recently in Kansas; fights over sex education, even in the blue states and blue suburbs of Maryland; a demonizing of gays; and a fear of stem cell research, which could lead to more of a "culture of life" than keeping one vegetative woman hooked up to a feeding tube.

Even as scientists issue rules on chimeras in labs, a spine-tingling he-monster with the power to drag us back into the pre-Darwinian dark ages is slouching around Washington. It's a fire-breathing creature with the head of W., the body of Bill Frist and the serpent tail of Tom DeLay.
Is the scary thing she's perceiving the combination of different things or the components that she would disapprove of whether they were in solo form or not?

I would have thought that the need to combine small factions into a larger party to achieve national power is a source of moderation.

Time to reread The Federalist, Number 10:
AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction....

The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked, that where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, a communication is always checked by distrust, in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary....

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States: a religious sect, may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it, must secure the national Councils against any danger from that source: a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union, than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.
To bring it back to Dowd's genetic metaphor: let's remember the good of hybrid vigor and the disadvantages of inbreeding. Politically, inclusion, diversity, and assimilation seem to work better than exclusion and the enforcement of ideological purity. Is it any wonder the Republicans have outplayed the Democrats recently?

UPDATE: Here's Captain Ed's reaction to Dowd's column. One point:
Dowd's argument is that democracy somehow is not only foreign to Arabs, but unnatural -- about as racist an argument that the New York Times has allowed in its editorial pages in decades.

And let me add that the whole fear of the chimera struck me as awfully similar to old racist fears about "miscegenation." Just substitute "mongrel" -- as in "mongrelization of the races" -- for the fancy-schmancy word "chimera." The horror of mixing divergent lines? It's a rather ugly metaphor.


bill said...

You had me going there for a minute. I thought she was talking about the Democrat party and what has become of it.

Dowd is getting worse with age.

Bruce Hayden said...

I am finisishing up reading "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad" by Fareed Zakaria. In his section titled "The Mischiefs of Faction", he suggests that instead of cancelling each other out, as suggested by Madison, factions in this country in some cases are more addititive. This is especially true in the case of money, as they seem to often take the approach of using each other as examples of why they should be getting more money. In other words, instead of viewing government financing as a zero sum game, they often view it more as a rising sea raising all boats.

I agree to some extent with Dowd on factions. But her religious paranoia is (IMHO) misplaced. Recently, there has been worry about a coming theocracy. But what those worrying about it miss is that if we did try to have a theocracy here, we would never be able to determine which theology should be enforced. We have the reality of conservative (in the traditional sense) Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and even Muslims, making common cause - something that would be unimaginable a couple of generations ago. The doctrinal differences among just the Protestants alone would preclude acceptance of any common theology.

What they have in common (IMHO) is a belief that the increasingly secular, liberal, society is increasingly encroaching in and threatening to destroy their world, and in particular, in their ability to raise their children in the way that they would wish. They view the liberal elites as enforcing their values over these conservatives' kids through the mass media, and more importantly, the public schools.

Yes, the conservative (almost) majority in this country is a marriage of convenience. Some are there for conservative religious reasons. Some, like me, are there for more geopolitical / military and economic reasons.

But this is no more, and probably less, a marriage of convenience than that found in the Democratic party. The strains there are probably even more noticable. Yesterday, I was listening to Medved on the radio, and he was playing some segments of Farakann (however you spell it), illistrating his rabid anti-semitism. This was in response to Mr. Clinton recently endorsing him. Indeed, I would suggest today that probably the most anti-semitic portion of the population are the African-Americans. Add to this, that one of the groups hurt the most by Affirmative Action are the Jews. On the other hand, the segment of the population most hurt by the education lobby's opposition to school vouchers are these very same African-Americans, who are its biggest supporters. Indeed, they tend to be more opposed to abortion and gay marriage than the general populace (but at least, there is no evidence yet that they oppose the teaching of evolution).

And indeed, that may be why the Democrats are having a hard time right now - the alliance that FDR built over 70 years ago is cracking, arguably because the differences between many of the factions making up that alliance dwarf in many cases the differences between them and many Republicans.

Getting back to Madison, this is just natural, factions banding togeter for awhile in common cause. It is only surprising that that alliance of factions lasted as long as it has. Madison seemed to suggest that these faction alliances of convenience would be trasitory. This one hasn't been.

Bruce Hayden said...

Sorry, as I reread my post, I noticed numerous misspellings.

Tom Nally said...

Bruce said:

> Sorry, as I reread my post,
> I noticed numerous misspellings.

Not to worry, Bruce. The US Secretary of Education is the embodiment of Ms. Spellings!

---Tom Nally, New Orleans

leeontheroad said...

While I think you make a lot of good points about factions and factionalism, Bruce, I think you're way off base here:

"Indeed, I would suggest today that probably the most anti-semitic portion of the population are the African-Americans."

It's a huge mistake to view African-Americans as though they comprised a faction in themselves ("the African-Americans"). I am wracking my brain for what group of African-Americans (other than the Nation of Islam) you could possibly be referring to and, even there, the 60's break between Farrakhan and Malcolm X demonstrates ideological breaks in what started as a Black Nationalist movement early in the century (and whose influence has declined, Slick Willy endorsing inner city programs notwithstanding).

Any antisemitism that results from conservative Christian literalist readings of, for example, the Gospel of John ("no one gets to the Father except through me") are common to any folks who believe that remaining true to one's beliefs requires a stance against religions that do not "confess Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior." That poses a degree of problem between the Nation of Islam and some Black Christians, too-- just an example of looking at two groups within the very diverse group of African-Americans and other Black folks in the country.

Further, if your statement were true, how might you account for the overwhelming Black vote for a 2000 Democratic presidential ticket that included an Orthodox Jew? Voting top of ticket only? That wouldn't be an anti-semitic thing to do. . .

Dan Kauffman said...

Bruce Hayden said...
Sorry, as I reread my post, I noticed numerous misspellings.
Not to worry I have never been attracted to "form" over substance myself. ;-)

I found you a very good read.