Quite some time ago, I remarked regarding the run-up to the Iraq war that,
In an American version of Ionesco's Rhinoceros--the brilliant, "theater of the absurd" rendering of the mass insanity that beset Germany in the 1930s--the American population was progressively whipped in to war frenzy through a series of lies, more or less brazen, to the point that, while no one in their right mind in the summer of 2001 would have described Iraq as an urgent security threat to the U.S., by the late fall of 2002, a large portion of the U.S. population actually believed that.
This writer has done an even more interesting job developing the Ionesco theme, and bringing it to bear on today's political and cultural environment in America; an excerpt:
Thanks to an online friend, I recently rediscovered Eugene Ionesco's play Rhinoceros—the one about being fully human in a totalitarian state. Berenger, the play's protagonist, is a humanist stranded in a society slowly becoming monsters. Rhinoceroses to be exact, a symbol for a herding mindless ugliness in an unthinking stampede. Ultimately Berenger is the last pink flesh and blood man left in a stampeding rhinoceros herd, and comes to grasp that the stampede itself is what it is all about. It is the stampede, the mindless charging off together that causes the metamorphosis of people into rhinos....
I had drinks and bar food with the rhinos last night at a bar called King Harry's (not the real name) and I can assure you they are having the time of their lives, snorting and bellowing and charging everything in sight.
King Harry's is not the working class tavern I usually patronize, but one of those faux English pubs frequented by local business types, which here in Virginia is to say blood spitting neo-conservative Republicans. Rhinos of the first order who want to kill and eat liberals and reduce such threatening enemies as France to a glowing cinder. Though I generally avoid King Harry's—a man can stomach only so much jingoism at a sitting—I am nevertheless popular there as an object of derision, being an ultra-liberal...When they get a genuine socialist at the table, it is like having an unarmed space alien drop in for a beer....
Anyway, given the sort of university graduates states such as Virginia grind out, they tend to equate socialism with Joseph Stalin and the Democratic Party with "urban liberals." Urban liberal is, of course, to those conservative one of the code words for "taking everything away from working white people and giving it to non-working welfare niggers and Porto-rikkins up Nawth in the big cities." Which is why it really frosts my ass to hear the Democratic leadership saying that in the next presidential election they will need a candidate from the South, a Clinton or an Edwards, in order to win. A Southern Democrat is simply a free trade capitalist Republican who has renounced lynching and comes carrying an armload of southern charm. (Any readers who think Clinton was a real liberal can bail out here.) We Southerners learn early on how to cover our darkness with Southern smarm. Erudition with a Southern accent works on nearly everybody . . . .
But underneath it is sheer conservative meanness in most cases, something Southerners by no measure have a franchise on, but do better than most people. Southern meanness has experienced a renaissance in the last few decades because of the unholy alliance of GOP corporatist America with fundamentalist Christianity, and the sheer bald-faced aggression of neoconservatism these days. Urban liberals just do not understand how absolutely mean Republican heartlanders, under the tutelage of Southerners, have become over the years. Northern and coastal liberal failure to grasp this is understandable. For reasons of diversity, this sort of aggregate meanness is not as common in big urban centers. It requires a certain critical mass of repressed homophobic, Christian white people who feel threatened by everything, plus gobs of money and guns to make it manifest. We've got it all here, honey, and there is no rhino meaner than the Southern rhino.
Okay. Just how mean are we talking about? Blind stupid mean. Meaner than a goddamn sack of snakes. Here is a sample of standard rhino conversation, which I have clipped from the local online forum so as to be completely accurate in quoting them. But these quotes are from the very same people who say the very same things night after night at King Harry's and actually believe what they say. I remind you that these are some of the better sort of rhinos in this town, rhinos who own businesses, professional rhinos, etc. You do not want to meet the real wooly boogers.
- Who cares what the rest of the world thinks of us? They do not live here and they do not count!
- The United States will be forced to engage in tactical low yield nuclear attacks, in particular against Iran & North Korea.
- I support the complete destruction of Arab/Muslim culture and nationality. The complete destruction of their capitol cities and money centers. Then we will see how long they taunt us.
- Put an end to all this stupid political correctness crap and then simply beat some sense into those who don't comply. The hell with what the euro tribal councils whine.
And my personal favorite rhinism of all:
- If Americans stand together and quit questioning themselves so much, we can rule the world. But all this liberal whining is ruining American business here and abroad.
" . . . the very stampede itself is the most telling and tragic of all arguments. For when Berenger considers going out into the street 'to try to convince them,' he realizes that he 'would have to learn their language.' He looks in the mirror and sees that he no longer resembles anyone. He searches madly for a photograph of people as they were before the big change. But now humanity itself has become incredible, as well as hideous. To be the last man in the rhinoceros herd is, in fact, to be a monster. Such is the problem which Ionesco sets us in his tragic irony: solitude and dissent become more and more impossible, more and more absurd."—- Thomas Merton's essay, The Rain and the Rhinoceros
...[S]ome very ordinary middle class liberals are finally feeling like Berenger. Starting to feel that creepy sense of alienation (the kind that we American lefties have become used to), catching a whiff of what smells like approaching totalitarianism. This has been very hard for white-collar liberals who pride themselves on balanced judgment and restraint from political excess. But ever since the suspect skin-of-the-teeth election of George Bush, I have been able to coax honest confessions of fear out of at least a few mainstream Democrats around the company water cooler....A few of these meek liberals are starting to smell the fear, catch the scent of the herd.
But they need more evidence. Liberals always need more facts. After all, nothing appears much different since the November elections. We get up in the morning and everything is the same as when we went to bed. We still have our jobs and the mortgage still comes due on the first of the month. Television is as bad as ever. Yet, something has changed. One keeps one's opinions more to one's self these days. There is something in the air they cannot quite put their finger on, and if one cannot name the beast, well then, it's best not to comment on it lest people think you are starting to fray at the edges, becoming aberrant. And besides, in looking around, nobody else seems overly upset except a few aberrant types on the Internet....
Calling weird, weird is very hard for educated liberals. Most have nice lives, either in the middle class or perhaps living comfortably amid less affluent but intelligent and artistic circles. Others are middle class educators and such, raising families among decent open-minded friends in a community of like souls. Of course some do smell the fear. But they think that if they remain invisible and deny any such thoughts they will escape the trampling of the herd.
Then, too, acknowledging that we have devolved into a one-party rhinoid system, the party of business, but with two wings, Dem and GOP, would put the average American liberal in the position of having to take action. Or not. And let's face the truth about modern middle class American liberals—they are a rather gutless lot who would not take to the streets no matter how bad things get. That is all but impossible when your house is on a good street and your kids' college fund is in place, even if it took a second mortgage to pay for it. Denial is easier, as was proved when the so-called American left failed to rise up when the 2000 elections were rigged, something which doesn't even fly in the Ukraine these days, as was proved by its massive protest of similar elections there. Yet I must admit, to stand up in the face of a rhino herd takes a lot of ass. Maybe denial buys enough time to get the kids through school and the mortgage paid off before the rhinos tear up the lawn. Denial can sometimes work, but only if you are buying time for yourself....
[T]o be honest, I sometimes doubt myself, just like those middle-of-the-road liberals. Like theirs, my senses do not perceive much physical change. I get up and brush my teeth and every day is the same as the day before. I look over at my sleeping wife, who is untroubled by any of the impending political specters that so often haunt me. And I wonder, am I nuts? Have I finally fallen off the precipice over which I have so long stared? After all, the dog still chews the corner of the carpet if I don't keep an eye on him. Are not these the things of ordinary earthly life? Maybe I should be paying more attention to the mundane stuff, which any reflective person knows constitutes most of living.
Then that national creepiness, the distant rumble of the herd, rattles me again.
So next spring I am shopping hard for a house in Andalucia, or St. Kitts, or Normandy, places where there are still secular humanists political parties of the type the rhinos see as the heart of evil....
If as is claimed, American politics are a pendulum, then that swing has been a mighty damned short one of late, somewhere between corporate feudalism abroad, and a domestic form in which rhinos happily play video games and watch football while their kids charge around on the ever expanding rhino empire's wars for oil and turf and more slave labor.
Call me hyperbolic if you want, paranoid even. But millions of people with swollen bellies around the planet are nodding yes, along with all those unemployed youths in Fallujah, and Mindanao, and Bolivia, loading AK clips, in anticipation of bagging an American rhino.