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Hijacking “tradition” and “values”

April 21, 2013

“Thinking critically is at the heart of anybody transforming their life” – bell hooks.


I was reminded again of one thing I’ve been meaning to write more about, which keeps coming up in all kinds of contexts.

From a G+ post, a little while back:

Mari Thomas 10 Mar 2013  –  Public

Whenever i read “Traditional Values” I think of suppressing women, institutional racism, forced religious affiliations and lives relegated to living societal “norms” … and i can never see how anyone is for that..  I think my values are fairly solid.. but i cant call them traditional :P.. #justrambling

My response there:

As I’ve realized more as I’ve gotten older, my own set of values is actually rather traditional, for Tutelo-Cherokee (and more generally Native) values of “traditional”. That has more to do with egalitarianism, cooperation, and not interfering in other people’s lives, much less consciences, but yeah. Not even in the same universe as the cannibalistic social plans they’re using the term as code to cover.

I also more than occasionally get irritated at the way the paternalistic controlling blowhards get to define “traditional” for everybody, to the point that so many of us cringe at the word by now. (Not even going to start into the “family values” subset there. :-|)


Mari Thomas 10 Mar 2013<

+Rachel McCraw Yes, they have turned it into a code word.. and now that they have done that,  they can stick anything under it.. and people will automatically buy it.


Starting reading bell hooks’ Appalachian Elegy reminded me of that again today. As usual, she puts it better than I could. From the intro:

Later, attending college on the West Coast, I would come to associate the passion for freedom and the wildness I had experienced as a child with anarchy, with the belief in the power of the individual to be self-determining…

Their religion was interior and private. Mama’s mama, Baba, refused to attend church after someone made fun of the clothes she was wearing. She reminded us that God could be worshipped everyday, anywhere. No matter that they lived according to Appalachian values, they did not talk about themselves as coming from Appalachia. They did not divide Kentucky into East and West. They saw themselves as renegades and rebels, folks who did not want to be hemmed in by rules and laws, folks that wanted to remain independent. Even when circumstances forced them out of the country into the city, they were still wanting to live free…

It was not until I went away to college that I was questioned about Appalachia, about hillbilly culture, and it was always assumed by these faraway outsiders that only poor white people lived in the backwoods and in the hills. No wonder then that black folks who cherish our past, the independence that characterized our backwoods ancestors, seek to recover and restore their history, their legacy. Early on in my life I learned from those Kentucky backwoods elders, the folks whom we might now label “Appalachian,” a set of values rooted in the belief that above all else one must be self-determining. It is the foundation that is the root of my radical critical consciousness. Folks from the backwoods were certain about two things: that every human soul needed to be free and that the responsibility of being free required one to be a person of integrity, a person who lived in such a way that there would always be congruency between what one thinks, says, and does.

These ancestors had no interest in conforming to social norms and manners that made lying and cheating acceptable. More often than not, they believed themselves to be above the law whenever the rules of so-called civilized culture made no sense…

Sentimental nostalgia does not call me to remember the worlds they invented. It is just a simple fact that without their early continued support for dissident thinking and living, I would not have been able to hold my own in college and beyond when conformity promised to provide me with a sense of safety and greater regard. Their “Appalachian values,” imprinted on my consciousness as core truths I must live by, provided and continue to provide me with the tools I needed and need to survive whole in a postmodern world.

Living by those values, living with integrity, I am able to return to my native place, to an Appalachia that is no longer silent about its diversity or about the broad sweep of its influence. While I do not claim an identity as Appalachian, I do claim a solidarity, a sense of belonging, that makes me one with the Appalachian past of my ancestors: black, Native American, white, all “people of one blood” who made homeplace in isolated landscapes where they could invent themselves, where they could savor a taste of freedom.

Not as explicitly stressed in that introduction, but here:

She suggests that her own “radical critical consciousness” was learned at home in a Kentucky community of African Americans from the backwoods about the need for freedom and the responsibility that comes with freedom.

Unfortunately, “personal responsibility” is another ideologically hijacked term. I am still going to use it in a less mean-spirited sense, because it’s that important. Authoritarian jackasses don’t get to redefine all the terms. Without that kind of responsibility thrown in, we get the rugger kind of “freedom” to starve, etc.

All bolding added, BTW. My own family background is a bit different, but yeah. It sounds like we learned a lot of similar things growing up. Over the years, I’ve had to realize that my own values and general approach to the world are very much a product of time and place. Sometimes I have to get darkly amused at some assumptions about where my politics are coming from (much less some of the widgetry that gets assumed to be part of this). I’m not somehow “overcoming” my background, but rather stubbornly applying the values I learned from elders.

And I get more irritated all the time at the bossy blowhards who are trying to define “traditional” for everyone, as part of their strange set of code words. And at how often “these guys get away with it because they say Jesus a lot”, as is so excellent summed up here (you might want to read the whole post). That is still just not very compatible with the kinds of values we’re talking about here, but they still manage to push this crap a little too successfully.

See also:  Why right-wing populism works, from another blogger who seems to be approaching a lot of things with similar base assumptions.

The Republicans have also pulled off one of the greatest propaganda coups in American history, and that’s convincing working-class folks that Republican economic policies are good for the little guy. It’s really an amazing feat. Republicans have never had anything to offer working people on the economic front; they’re the party of businessmen and bankers. They are, almost by definition, the party that is against the little guy. And yet at some point in the past few decades, buoyed no doubt by their success in attracting people to their conservative social message, Republicans decided to try convincing working folks that the party of rich white bankers was on their side economically, too. And that the Democrats — the party of labor laws, unions, Social Security, and Medicare — was out to pick their pockets.

It’s goddamn amazing that they have succeeded. Really, just think about that. Take it in. Acknowledge it for the extraordinary propaganda achievement that it is. Not only did the Republicans succeed in making working people suspicious of good government, they also succeeded in deflecting traditional resentment of rich businessmen…

The Republican propagandists managed to turn that good common horse-sense upside down. They took people’s natural suspicion of The Powers That Be and re-directed it to the government. Re-directed it away from the profiteers, away from the rich white businessmen and bankers. Away from themselves.

And this is why you can now walk into one of the old mill villages in the South and find people making $11 an hour who will tell you that the Democrats are evil socialists who just want to spend our hard-earned money, and that what this country really needs is a laissez-faire free-market economy with tax breaks for corporations.

Fricking amazing.

This “traditional”, “conservative” social message they’ve used to suck people in relies just as heavily on propaganda, and on redefining terms for that purpose. It also relies on discouraging critical thinking through lousy education. Even if it takes keeping cutting funding, adding further propaganda to textbooks when necessary, and even trying to do away with the public education system. When the messages you are trying to cram down other people’s throats require enforced ignorance in order to have any chance of their not just saying “Hey, wait a minute; that makes no sense! What are you trying to pull now?!”, there’s something bad wrong with your whole plan.

I hadn’t intended to quote more bell hooks, but this ties back in a little too well (bolding added, again):

Already, the white Christian Right is targeting large populations of people of color to ensure that the fundamentalist values they want this nation to uphold and represent will determine the attitudes and values of these groups. The role Eurocentric Christianity has played in teaching non-white folks Western metaphysical dualism, the ideology that under girds binary notion of superior/inferior, good/bad, white/black, cannot be ignored. While progressive organizations are having difficulty reaching wider audiences, the white-dominated Christian Right organizes outreach programs that acknowledge diversity and have considerable influence. Just as the white-dominated Christian church in the U.S. once relied on biblical references to justify racist domination and discrimination, it now deploys a rhetoric of multiculturalism to invite non-white people to believe that racism can be overcome through a shared fundamentalist encounter. Every contemporary fundamentalist white male-dominated religious cult in the U.S. has a diverse congregation. People of color have flocked to these organizations because they have felt them to be places where racism does not exist, where they are not judged on the basis of skin color. While the white-dominated mass media focus critical attention on black religious fundamentalist groups like the Nation of Islam, and in particular Louis Farrakhan, little critique is made of white Christian fundamentalist outreach to black people and other people of color. Black Islamic fundamentalism shares with the white Christian Right support for coercive hierarchy, fascism, and a belief that some groups are inferior and others superior, along with a host of other similarities. Irrespective of the standpoint, religious fundamentalism brainwashes individuals not to think critically or see radical politicization as a means of transforming their lives. When people of color immerse themselves in religious fundamentalism, no meaningful challenge and critique of white supremacy can surface. Participation in a radical multiculturalism in any form is discouraged by religious fundamentalism.

This is part of a larger trend in godbags trying to take over all the rhetoric, and a disturbing one. Which also ties in with a draft I should maybe pull out of the mothballs soon.

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