Saturday, August 30, 2008

Booknote: The Great Derangement

Find the WorldCat record here. After reading the first fifty pages or so, I saw that this is the perfect book for one of two things:

  • Have people read it in the hopes, infinitesimal as it may be, that the people will actually vote the whole lot of bums in government out once and for all.
  • Or, and this is the effect I feel it may have on me, to make people just say, "the hell with politics and politicians. I am just disengaging. It's not like I can do anything anyways."
This is not an easy book to read. The second chapter, which right away prompted me to make some notes, details how Congress really works in the middle of the night. It is basically work done behind closed doors that the people never see. And if lobbyists and special interests know exactly who to pay off (and they do), then they can get any legislation they want passed without even having to do a whole lot of real voting. The second chapter of the book shows us how, instead of passing legislation to help people after Katrina, Congress was more concerned with passing laws to basically repeal various environmental and safety rules and laws that the energy industry wants to get rid of. Basically, under the guise of dealing with gasoline price gouging, Congress really gave corporations some really nice breaks. To say I was disgusted after reading that chapter is to put it mildly. I just felt hopeless. It's a system that is not about to change anytime soon no matter who is power. I have known this for a while to be honest, but Taibbi has a way of presenting that just goes to the point. As usual with books like this, it's too bad that the people who should probably be reading it will not read it. And then the Democrats take control in Congress. It does not get better because the Democrats would simply prove that "it is possible in America to govern entirely on appearance of principle--while changing absolutely nothing" (113).

His experience with the Texas megachurch are not that much better. Reading some of this is only slightly disturbing that watching Jesus Camp (which I did, and it was not a happy experience). However, a lot of what emerges is the fact that certain religious leaders are doing nothing more than take advantage of very vulnerable people, brainwash them, and then use them for their purposes. That those same leaders put politics right into their religion only adds to the hypocrisy. That a lot of these folks vote on the basis of what their preachers tell them (which often ranges from barely literate to just plain bigoted, to put it mildy) should be of concern. Then again, in this nation, I don't think too many people would be surprised. Taibbi points out that some people advocate trying to reason with these extremist evangelicals and their ilk, but there is no reasoning with them. Here is some of what Taibbi learned from his experience:

"By the end of the weekend, I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to be 'rational' or 'set aside your religion' about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you've made a journey like this--once you've gone this far--you are beyond suggestible. It's not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc. that is the issue. It's that once you've gotten to this place, you've left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things" (87).

If that does not spook a few people, I am not sure what will. Personally, and I have probably said this before, I am not a religious person, but I am very live and let live. If your religion (regardless of which one) moves you to be a better person and to make the world a better place, go for it. If on the other hand it moves you to ignorance, bigotry, hypocrisy, and to try to impose your narrowminded view on the rest of society, then I have no use for you. And to those who say, "oh, but not all Christians (or Muslims, or so on, because they have their extremists too) are that way," I will say, "oh, and just what exactly are you doing to tell your loud and dangerous brethren to chill and shut up?" Because if you make that claim, but do nothing, you are simply enabling them, not to mention giving your tacit approval. And let's not even wonder why a church would need a potential member to submit social security number for a background check (see page 99).

Taibbi also looks at the military, and he looks at the Left as well, where he finds that they can be just as dogmatic as the evangelicals. He even looks at the 9/11 conspiracy people. In all, what he details is a nation that pretty much has gone insane and become so polarized that they pretty much let the government to its own devices with the worse possible consequences. I bet the Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves. Citizens engaged in their democracy? That's pretty much gone by now. Taibbi tries to remain optimistic, saying that maybe by now people are not buying the bullshit anymore (265). But I just can't bring myself to believe that. I think, if nothing else, a lot of people are still drinking the Kool-Aid. Sure, a lot of people may trust their government less, and/or they may be disgusted by it after things like 9/11 and Katrina, but memories tend to be short term. So what I see is a lot of people disengage (instead of being deranged) while special interests simply keep on with business as usual. It may be a different guy in charge, but things will likely remain the same. So in the end, the book just leaves no real hope, and it displays a terrible picture of the people in this nation, not to mention the leaders they keep electing. It just shows that those who should be educating the people and giving them the truth have chosen not to do so out of greed and a desire to hold on to power. And it shows most people pretty much gave themselves to ignorance and their own (mostly flawed) narratives. Does not exactly make the work of a librarian any easier.

I want to believe, like Taibbi, that things may be looking up, even in a very small way, now, but I just can't quite see it. I already know this nation is pretty screwed up. I did not need this book to tell me (though it did make me angry at times). I don't want platitudes. I want to see some serious action, and I will go futher and say it: I want heads to roll.

So for me, this book had some funny moments, and it had some angry moments. But I don't think it is that much different from other political books I have read lately. However, for some people who may be less informed, this may be a pretty good book. I will warn readers that Taibbi can get a bit wordy at times. I would say it was an "ok" book to read during this election year.

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