Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Perfect Scam

Wow. Over a year since I made use of this blog space. Such a waste. I really should do better!

Okay, here's today's lesson. It's called The Perfect Con and no, in this case, it's nor directly about Donald Trump (although the implications of it worked to his benefit). Before I get into the details, though, let's define some terms I'll be using.

Many people on the left, particularly LGB/T persons, have had a rough experienced with organized religion and are pretty alienated to it. So when politically active Evangelical Christians (and their allies among Catholics, Mormons, Fundamentalists and Charismatics) behave badly, they generalize and say "All Christians...". I don't think that's fair. Whatever one might think of organized religion in general, or any particular theology, there are in fact a great many people who identify as Christians who are very kind, compassionate, and loving and who let their religion motivate them to good works and self sacrifice. 

So when I speak of the sort of folks who channel their religion into the sort of political activism that works to drive partisan conservative politics (even on subjects which have nothing to do with their religious views, I need another term. I can't simply say "Evangelicals" because not all Evangelicals run in that crowd and not everyone in that crowd is an Evangelical. I wanted a term that described anyone within the nominal sphere of Christian religions who's belief system and worldview motivated them to involve themselves in politics with the goal of invoking the secular political power structure to enforce their doctrinal rules and traditions on everyone, whether or not that person believed those things themselves.

As a brief example of how this works, take same sex marriage (and before that, interracial marriage). It is a historical truth that in this country the government's definition of civil marriage (and that's all the government has the authority to speak to - the marriages it recognizes in civil law) has not necessarily been conjoined to any specific religious tradition. When racists in the 20th century had laws against interracial relationships, they tried to defend them with religiously informed traditions but it was rightly determined that one could not legislate their religious views on those who did not share them. The state needed a secular reason for the ban and it had none. The same applies to same sex marriage. When someone argues that the state must defend marriage "as god intended it" they are asking the state to enforce a religious view on people who may not share it. Which is what these folks unabashedly wanted, still want, to do.  

So we are speaking of people who expect all people to obey the religious rules they determined to be correct by force of law and actively seek to manipulate the political system to lay that burden on the public. Sounds to me very much like the Pharisees described in the New Testament. For awhile I called them NeoPharisees but it works either way. When I say Pharisees, then, I mean the politically active professed Christian, of whatever sort, who seeks to manipulate the political system to support laws and policies that enforce religious traditions upon all by force of law, whether or not any individual subscribes to them, with little or no secular rational for the law or policy in question. Their history goes back to blue laws, anti-gambling measures, prohibition, so-called "decency" laws and segregation. In the current hour, they are almost uniquely obsessed with crusading against LGB/T equality.

Who are the Pharisees of our day? The most prominent face of this crowd is Tony Perkins. I'm not going to make this post that much longer by telling you about him, if you are reading this you already know. Anyone allied with, or in agreement with Perkins in the religious community in a leadership position is a NeoPharisee. The leadership of his organization, the Family Research Council and their mother organization Focus on the Family, the leadership of American Family Association and all their on-air personalities on the radio network. Prominent "ministers" such as Franklin Graham, literally hundreds of self-described "ministries" from NOM, to FML, scores of  pundits like Michelle Malkin and Erik Erickson, anyone associated with Liberty University, several legal defense organizations like Liberty Council and Alliance Defending Freedom. The whole scope of online "Christian" media like Charisma News and OneNewsNow (owned by AFA) and LifeSiteNews (a Catholic outfit). Basically anyone in a position of prominent political or media influence claiming to speak from a "real" or "genuine" Christian authority who exclusively supports conservative "culture war" political issues.

But there are millions more who follow these leaders wherever they are led. I don't speak of these as Pharisees because they are not the "lawgivers" but those being dictated to.  The term I use here is "Traditionalist" because inevitable the Pharisee appeals to the follower by asserting that their traditions are under assault. Indeed, very often the moral cause they are fighting for is rooted in human tradition that's simply been grafted onto their Christian doctrines (for example, there's no real Biblical support for opposing trans people, the whole doctrine is of human traditional origin). These folks have unwittingly shifted their first allegiance from the God they claim to worship, to the body of tradition they are indoctrinated into. Sometimes I'll refer to these people as "sheep."

Now, with that said, the purpose of this essay is to expand upon something I allude to in various conversations. It may only serve to be a resource I can link back to from time to time but there's value, I hope, in having it laid out in somewhat exhaustive terms. What I'm saying here I base not on an outsider's point of view. I spent most of my life as a loyal Traditionalist, so much so that I willingly allowed and supported the premise that I myself was a deviant and pervert  and hated myself for it. Whatever the Pharisees told me I believed and I was willfully blind to any info from the "liberal" sources outside my echo chamber. Not that I'm out of that trap, I have the wherewithal to analyze their con from all angles, and this is what I see. There's a sort of three point circuit in operation which requires all three to function properly. Pharisee leaders, Conservative - usually Republican - politicians, and obedient sheep Traditionalist voters.

Since the 1970s, Pharisee leaders have evolved a sophisticated machine which generates for them financial gain and political influence. I won't take time here to crib the excellent work down by others about the origins of this machine, for that see this excellent piece at Politico, and watch this segment (and part two) by the wonderful Samantha Bee. My comments are about the structure of what has developed since. Have you ever noticed that virtually everything that any Pharisee group set out to crusade against eventually gets worse, as they define "worse", the longer they oppose it? There's a reason for that: success isn't really their goal. As the linked resources above demonstrate, the original goals were political and they still are.

So herein, let me describe to you how the Machine operates.
1. Pharisee leaders declare the X (whatever "X" happens to be in the given moment, at this time you can easily think of "X" as crusading against the equality of trans people) is a grave threat to good people, and liberals are pushing X. "You," they say to the listener/reader "should be afraid of X and angry and those trying to force it."
2. Listener/reader becomes angry and fearful, wonders what to do
3. Pharisees say "vote conservative and send us money so we can fight against X"
4. Sheep obey
5. Pharisee goes to Republican politicians "here's a bill we want you to pass, if you do we promise you big greasy piles of votes. If it goes to court, our allied legal team will defend it for you at no cost to the state."
6. Republicans pass bill, regardless of whether courts will allow it. Think HB1523 in Mississippi, or HB2 in North Carolina, both written by these very organizations.
7. Pharisees to sheep: "See? Republicans are fighting X, vote for them and send us more money so we can keep fighting"
8. Sheep obey
9. Law is taken to court, Pharisee lawyers defend it, while soliciting donations for the cost of the fight which total much more than they would have made had the state paid them straight up.
9a. Law upheld "Victory! Send us more money so we can keep up this great work"
9b. Law struck down. "Outrageous! Send us more money so we can fight the evil liberal judges!"
10. whether or not X is ever defeated, Republicans get elected, Pharisees get richer and more politically powerful, sheep remain afraid and angry and ever more gullible.

It's a perfect scam.

There are, of course, variations on the model. For example, when Democrats attempt to pass pro-equality legislation (for example) and the Pharisees rush to crusade against it they basically play the same game "Send us money so we can fight it!" If they win "We won, send us more money (and vote like we tell you to) and we'll keep fighting" and if they lose "this just shows our evil opponents are strong and well funded so send us more money to fight harder." Either way, same set of results. Actually changing the law or policy is a bonus, even if they eventually lose that progress, the real goal is money and political power. This Machine will continue to operate as long as the sheep stay gullible and ill-informed.

Most observers believe that what turned the corner on the "gay rights" movement was when so many gay and lesbian people came out over the last 20 years or so, because people found it harder to hate people as a group when they knew and liked (or loved) a member of that group. Not that we don't still have examples, like the attorney general of Louisiana, who find it in themselves to be hateful even when it's towards someone the claim is a loved one, but many people can't do that. The knowledge that, for example, their sister is a lesbian opens their mind to rethink the traditions of thought they'd be saturated in all their life. That's why the Pharisees invest so much of their resources into keeping the sheep ignorant and gullible. Their greatest enemy is knowledge. So our greatest weapon against them, is knowledge. It may seem as if we're banging our collective heads against a wall, put it's the engine that is changing our culture, little by little, for the better. But don't think for a moment that the Pharisees are going to give up their Machine any time soon.

Photos by flipchip /