The sons of Turner

December 20, 2006

There’s always been a strong conservative thread among writers and especially readers of science fiction. It certainly does explain the origins of so many of the notions that have been most dear to the hearts of wingers over the years: building space platforms to shoot down missiles with “brilliant pebbles”; arguing that a 21st century technological society can operate like an unregulated 16th century farming community; promoting democracy by dropping bombs and promoting torture in the Middle East; promoting individual initiative by giving welfare to the rich while taking it away from the poor. With poppycock like that occupying their thoughts, it should come as no surprise that conservative writers like Jonah Goldberg and John Podhoretz show more enthusiasm for Star Wars and the novels of Robert A. Heinlein than for any of the classics in the Western Canon they claim are being undermined by liberals.

So here they are now, at the end of a quarter century largely dominated by conservatives and their propagandists, and few right-wing ideas have survived intact. The president they once hailed as the embodimentof conservative ideals is about as popular as leprosy; his delusional war in Iraq, which most of them supported with full-throated enthusiasm, has turned into the worst foreign policy disaster in AMerican history. 

Is it any surprise that so many wingers are retreating back into science fiction? This L.A. Times columnist notes the recent spate of winger fantasy titles, most of them lurid tales in which Islamist terrorists and lefties take over American government, or civil wars in which righteous wingers get to drop the tiresome pretense of free speech and simply blast their opponents to pieces. The Orson Scott Card title reminds me once again of how far the author of Ender’s Game has fallen; but all of them read like successors to The Turner Diaries, the race-war fantasy that served as the Bible of the white supremacist movement.

Dystopian visions, from George Orwell’s 1984 to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, have a long and honorable history in science fiction, but few of these titles appear to be dealing in ideas. A popular wingnut comic book like Liberality for All, in which Sean Hannity and G. Gordon Liddy serve as jut-jawed resistance warriors, is so preposterous it seems like the work of writers for The Daily Show, but the readers aren’t laughing:    

This is not normal behavior. It’s coping behavior. It’s similar to the tricks some doctors teach young patients who are struggling with cancer or other fatal diseases: They should visualize their maladies. If they picture the tumors ravaging their bodies, they can picture their bodies fighting them off and blasting them into oblivion.

Culture war fiction serves the same function. “Liberality for All” simply continues the one-sided conversation that’s been taking place across right-wing media with increasing fury since 9/11. If you think the media, the courts and the United Nations are in cahoots to destroy your way of life, beating liberals in elections won’t solve the problem. Better to dream up the final battle between liberals and liberty that has been framed by Hannity (the real-world blowhard, that is, not the fictional action hero) and fight it out in the funny books.

And why not? The wingnut nation, which stretches all the way from William Bennett’s favorite casino to the Rose Garden of the White House, has insisted on treating the invasion of Iraq as a replay of World War II, complete with “loose lips sink ships” admonitions for dissenters who point out inconvenient truths — like, say, the fact that our indicriminate and self-defeating use of torture doesn’t exactly put us on the side of the angels.

Faced with an insoluble problem — the stubborn refusal of reality to stay in whatever shape they care to twist it into — wingers are inventing their own reality. There’s an old joke from psychology that said neurotics build dream castles but psychotics actually live in them. I don’t know if that joke is relevant anymore in the medical profession, but it certainly tells us a lot about the state of contemporary American conservatism.    

One Response to “The sons of Turner”

  1. Django Says:

    I view the rise of wingnut literature like “Liberality for All” positively. If events have forced these people to withdraw into their own private fantasies, that’s good for the rest of us. Unless, of course, they choose to act them out, McVeigh style.

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