“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Snopes and the freeriders

If LI were a Democratic Party strategist (brrr!), this weekend we would settle down with our Faulkner. The utter rubbish being tossed around by the talking heads about the Democrats adopting Republican moral values to win presidential elections has been untempered by reality. Moral values, we think, had little to do with this election. Rather, what brought out the hicks was the promise of entertainment. Instead of cockfighting or bearbaiting, gaybashing of a high and rare type was on the ticket. This was as irresistible to your average Snopes as a guest appearance on the Jerry Springer show used to be to your average overweight stripper.

The Snopes sullenly populated the backreaches of Yoknapatawpha County in the days before the New Deal. Faulkner’s preferred novelistic time period was the twenties, which brought a lot of changes to Mississippi – but not like the Great Depression and the New Deal did. In the post WWII period, going through the Great Society, the Snopes, with their rabid angers and short term views and long term grudges, grew used to benefiting from multitudinous government entitlements that they never properly contributed to. They have continued to revel in the whole system. But there is a problem here that the system’s designers never considered. It is the problem of the freerider.

The freerider – the user of a public good who does not contribute to the maintenance of that good – has deep resonance in the Snopes culture. It is one of the reasons Jesus is so popular among them – he elevates the status of the freerider to a divine principle, in which, for no real act, a man can be forgiven for his sins simply by prostrating himself before Jesus and declaring to all and sundry the uninteresting mental tidbit that he believes Jesus is the son of God. This, from a man whose beliefs on any cosmological question have been unleavened by reading material since the age of ten. Given the amount of sinning that Snopes like to engage in (q.v. any c & w station in your vicinity), this is the kind of deal Snopeses can’t refuse.

The government, however, is different from Jesus. The government does come in and try to change your behavior, instead of knocking ineffectually at your heart. For instance, lynching, poll taxes, and other useful means of keeping down blacks were all knocked down by the government. This made the government very unpopular. They were against having fun. A moral libertarian, confronted with the government interfering with his behavior, would perhaps try to free himself from dependence on the government. This is why Snopeses can never be real libertarians. They have no sense of integrity. They don’t even understand the problem. For the Snopeses, Bush’s career looked unblemished – he got away with everything he ever did. That counts as a blessed sign of consanguinity among that crowd.

Your average Snopes, then, has no motive to get away from depending on the government, but every reason to denounce it. And this is how your Snopes votes. He sends his Republican congressman to Washington to do two things. One is to interfere with the lives of people that Snopes have no use for – gays, blacks, feminists, New Yorkers, Hollywood types. The other is to reward the Snopes with ever deeper experiences of freeriding. This is done by cutting his taxes – the Snopes, although they don’t make a lot, rely on those refunds to get them out of the most pressing of the enormous mass of debts they have piled up in lives unrelieved by any intellectual activity that goes beyond shopping at the mall and the aforesaid Jesus idolatry – and by borrowing money. Thus, the whole system, with its trillion dollar stockpiles of arms and its special pill provisions for the elderly Snopeses, runs of itself. When it starts to choke, some Democrat will step in and sacrifice his sense of the social welfare to the necessity of taming the deficit. The Snopeses call this God's country for a reason.

The Snopeses have been fortunate in that their opponents, the Liberals, have generally misunderstood the relationship. For instance, the Liberals were the ones denouncing the Bush tax cuts for privileging the wealthy. The odd thing about that is that the wealthy generally don’t live in Snopes places. There truly are a great many limosine liberals. One actually just ran for president. And the even odder thing about that is that the Liberals think that they have developed a credo that represents the income strata that encompasses the Snopes. So that your average Liberal is making an economic sacrifice of a certain sort on behalf of a people who dislike nothing more than a Liberal. This is a true comedy of errors. It is also American history, circa 1980-2004.

So the question for the next four years is: have the Snopes misjudged the situation. Having decimated the Liberals so that they cannot possibly defend the income strata of the Snopes, the rhetoric of conservatism can now become a reality. The Snopes always relied, partly, on the fact that their enemy/defenders were powerful enough to defend them. That’s done with. So will the reckoning finally come? Will reality bite? are the Snopes finally about to learn about the world outside free riderdom? It wouldn’t really hurt the Liberal, except morally.

LI has been enraged by the election, but we are fascinated by the aftermath. We’ve lived around the Snopes most of our life. And we were, until maybe three days ago, in the Liberal position. We were blind. Now we see. And what we see is the enemy. We want to see them suffer. Badly. And we want to see the self-destroying machinery they have set up work – oh so gloriously. So slowly, painfully, we are regaining our joie de vivre. This might not be so bad after all.

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