Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Our Dark Side

"Man is not truly one, but truly two," Dr. Jekyll in Stevenson's famous novella discovers. I am re-reading this in preparation for a course this week I am teaching on Scottish writers, and I am intrigued by the dark side of the personality that this story explored just at the time, or a bit before, Freud's theories of the id and ego were published.

If part of us is indeed wild, uncivilized and violent like Hyde, potentially evil, we are saved from becoming savages (in this primitive summation of both the story and the psychology) by the better angels of our natures, or by what Freud called the Ego; others would call it the rational mind or the conscience.

Even before reading Maureen Dowd's column in the today's NYTimes, I see a connection between all this and the current political scene, with Romney and Santorum, most prominently, saying things they might regret, as if the Ego of the GOP establishment has lost control over their candidates.

Romney's gaffes show a lack of careful thinking; he embarrasses himself and his campaign by referring to his own wealth in a way that a more thoughtful man, like Obama, hardly ever does; in fact, I can't recall hearing any uproar over any gaffe Obama has made. He thinks before he speaks, even in spontaneous, unscripted interviews.

This does not prevent his many virulent critics, of course, from unleashing their attacks, calling him a Muslim, a socialist, an elitist "with a Kenyan anti-colonial worldview" (Gingrich), even a Nazi, all the while the President himself (as E. J. Dionne aptly observes in Commonweal) lives the life of the ideal family man who got ahead by hard work and education. His critics insist, however, on denying him this identity and portray him as an alien, somehow different.

Santorum calls Obama a snob perhaps because the President speaks in complete, coherent sentences, unlike his predecessor, or because he supports public education, which Santorum does not. Santorum doesn't believe in a real separation of church and state and declared after reading JFK's famous statement on the topic that "it makes me want to throw up." I suppose the Sanctimonious One would rather live in the 17th century or earlier. He seems ill-informed about many things, including the past, and expects Catholic voters to support him!

It is the same Santorum who said that universities are "indoctrination mills." You can't take such a man seriously as a balanced, sane candidate for any office, much less the presidency. His dark, aggressive side, which seems to appeal to the Tea Party people, has taken over, and maybe the only response is to laugh at the madness that passes as public discourse in recent weeks.

Comedy, indeed, is what Andy Borowitz makes of Santorum's dicta (Feb. 28 It's no wonder that so many younger people get their news from Comedy Central and Jon Stewart. Yet the ignorance of so many of these Tea Party politicians is serious, even tragic; it reflects not only a lack of thought but a stubborn refusal to consider the facts of history. And we know what Santayana said about those who are ignorant of history. And we know what Plato said about ignorance: it is the greatest evil.

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