Friday, September 12, 2008

"Teen Girl's Politics", anyone can play!

What do the Heathers and Karl Rove have in common?

Okay, I hated high school. All right, junior high, too. And the primary grades were no cup of chocolate either. I can't be certain why, but I do know one part of school life that I hated more than almost any other.

It's what I call "teen girl's politics". [1]

It's easy to spot if you've ever seen it. Airy superiority, disingenuous savagery, giggling at deliberately misconstrued gossip, making up and secretly spreading nastiness about people who've done nothing, and juxtaposing unrelated items in order to smear someone, making up stupid nicknames -- oh, and setting up third parties to do the damage while the Heathers sit back and smirk.

These days the tactic has a different label, "Rovian", but that's too dignified. It sounds like George Bernard Shaw's "Shavian" or Plato's "platonic". Karl Rove is no GBS or Plato -- far from it, and teen girl politics is no philosophical doctrine.

It is nasty, small, shameless and self-satisfied. It is devoid of any content but its own urge to win, no matter what else is lost in the process. It is dominion without service, cunning without reflection, and it corrodes whoever uses it.

Oh, and it seems to work. In the eighth grade or in the Oval Office, it's a hard strategy to counter. The strategies that work against it in the eighth grade, (avoiding the Heathers, setting up a new group of friends, finding areas of success outside the domains of fashion and sniping, growing up) are no help at all when Heather Rove gets into government.

There used to be statesmen who resigned in the face of dishonour. There are still some of those, but they're at a severe disadvantage. How often these days does serious reflection trump a juicy rumor? When real hockey moms watch TV at the laundomat, are they watching congressional hearings or FOX? Are they reading the business pages of the Times, or back issues of People?

One tactic of the Heathers is to discount knowledge itself. Math and history are soooo stoo-pid. Arguments and proofs are snicker-worthy geekiness. They have to do this, because all their self-importance is based on ... self-importance.

(Forget the "they do it because they're really insecure" argument. It's seldom true. They've found a winning strategy and they know it, and they also know that any bending to reason or sympathy will destabilize the whole structure.)

This discounting of knowledge also extends to other areas of value and reality as needed and it can change in the blink of an eye. Contempt is the key. And if asked for a reason, contempt for reason itself kicks in.

If you watch the Heather Roves of the world, you can see them flip the switch between one step and the next. One moment, senior generals and injured soldiers are heroes, honoured and respected (as long as they don't ask for money or services.) The next moment they are whiners, or mentally ill, or disgruntled -- exactly the way the Heathers suddenly decide you are not cool enough for them.

C.S. Lewis offers us a valuable view of the practices that enable this sort of contempt, defining flippancy for us so we can recognize it when it's in action. Flippancy is a form of contempt:

"In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke ...[but] any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.... it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it."

I hear it all the time on talk radio -- it enables hosts to make jokes about gays, women, blacks, Mexicans and others without exposure to the birch rod of the FCC. And if you talk about this being really hate in disguise, suddenly you're the one with "no sense of humour".

So, what to do? We can't grow up any more than we have already, and the TGP practitioners have graduated to a school where their shrewish savage skills earn them a huge salary and control of the levers of power.

A start has been made. Fact checking on the net is now a resource available to all. Holding Heather Rove's feet to the fire is potentially possible. Displaying the factual malfeasance and malice of the Heathers in power is available to all.

It's establishing recognition and rejection of Heather tactics that needs to be accomplished. This will be a long process -- people are out of practice, especially the rejection part. How do you reject the contempt and dismissal of a Heather? It was hard in school, and it's harder and more hard to pin down in adulthood.

I will propose a strategy in a follow-up to this post. Stay tuned, and meanwhile your suggestions would be appreciated.


[1] Obviously boys can do it too. They take longer to learn it, but if they are clever they can become real pros.

1 comment:

Alison said...

Ah yes, Grade 8 - the assumed airs of superiority while keeping careful watch on the balance of power among your peers, always ready to either jump ship or pounce at the slightest sign of weakness.
I think we used the word 'irony' quite a lot. It wasn't real irony of course; it was merely saying anything at all in a slightly mocking tone as if talking in code, and daring a challenge that never came.
All rather dull after a while and stifling to any natural creativity.
Some of us outgrew it while others went on to become politicians and media consultatants.