frank_davis (frank_davis) wrote,

The Wheel of Fortune

As the Climategate scandal has broken on the internet over the past couple of weeks or so, and there've been howls of rage at the non-coverage of it by the mainstream media, I thought I'd take a look at the American left blogosphere to see how it was playing there. I visited the Dailykos and Americablog and Digby to find out. I found that they're paying no attention to it at all. I found one thread on Kos that mentioned it, and read the comments, and was interested that quite a few commenters were rather disturbed by it. They were being referred, rather dismissively, to a page which listed 'the 10 greatest lies about climate change', with each lie dealt with a perfunctory few words. Visitors were asked to select which they thought was the greatest lie.

So, if anyone's still complaining about the coverage given by the BBC to Climategate (and I'm not), then they they might be interested to know that the coverage of Climategate in the US left wing blogosphere is almost exactly zero. They know it's happening, but they're not talking about it. It's a non-event.

On Americablog, in just about the only reference I managed to find about it, I was directed to Wunderblog, and a long dismissal of Manufactured Doubt by tobacco companies, asbestos and CFC manufacturers, and climate change denialists. It ended up saying:

So, what is needed is a fundamental change to the laws regarding the purpose of a corporation, or new regulations forcing corporations to limit Manufactured Doubt campaigns.

Now, you might ask how it was that I knew where to go to discover what American left wing blogs are saying. And the answer is that 5 years or so ago, I spent a lot of time reading them. Back then I was (as I still am) an opponent of the Iraq war, and if you were such an opponent that was the place to find out the latest news, which - as ever - wasn't being covered by the mainstream media.

So I was back in familiar territory, reading these blogs. I recognised names that I'd not read in years. I was rather pleased to see that they were all still going, and still churning out words. I felt a pang of something like homesickness. Americablog was my favourite blog, for it's crisp and incisive news comments. Kos was also a favourite, as the biggest blog in America, and almost an empire in itself. Digby for the thoughtfulness of Digby himself.

So why did I stop reading them? Well, in part it was because public opinion swung heavily against the Iraq war as people found out that there weren't any WMDs and they'd been lied into war. The job was done. But it was more than that.

One day I started noticing that Americablog was beginning to carry strongly approving reports on smoking bans being imposed here and there around the world. I was a bit disturbed by this. Why did Americablog approve, I asked in the comments. The answer was delivered by Americablog's proprietor, John Aravosis. "Your right to smoke stops at my nose", he declared. Smokers, he went on, should engage in their filthy activity [he didn't actually call it that, but it was the implication] in the privacy of their own homes, and nowhere else. I wasn't the only commenter who protested. There were several others. They all got equally short shrift.

Now, one of the things about this response that really shocked me was that I knew that John Aravosis was a gay activist. What was an openly gay activist, pursuing equal rights for gays, doing demanding that smokers be driven into their own closets, and that smokers be made into pariahs a bit like, well ... gays? Couldn't he see what he was doing? And the answer, was no, he couldn't.

At that point my good opinion of John Aravosis and Americablog completely collapsed. He just wanted his own gay lifestyle recognised and honoured. But no way was he going to extend the same rights to filthy smokers like me. He had rights, and smokers had no rights. He was quite happy to see their rights removed, and smokers driven into the closet that gays like him were just emerging from.

Rather bewildered, I went over to the Dailykos to try to find out what the view there was. And there I discovered that Kos himself was also a virulent antismoker. Oh, dear. So I turned to Digby. Digby was much more sympathetic, but said that he himself was an ex-smoker who'd taken about a decade to kick the habit.

I'd thought I was among liberal, open-minded, accepting sorts of kindred spirits. And I'd now found out that I wasn't. They might have been 'liberal' about all sorts of things, including smoking cannabis, but they didn't want to know cigarette smokers. They didn't even want to think about them.

My exit from the US left wing blogosphere came the very next day. Overnight, any sense of mine that these people were open-minded, liberal kinds of people evaporated. They were simply people with their own list of approved and disapproved behaviours. Being black or gay was approved. Smoking tobacco was not. These people were as intolerant as the Ku Klux Klan. They were just intolerant and bigoted in an opposite sense. They were the mirror image.

I still find it a bit odd that I'm now regarded as a Libertarian and slightly Right Wing (see right margin). I'm not at all sure that I'm either. But these days it's mostly the Libertarian bloggers who speak the most sense to me. I can understand the rage of the Devil about all sorts of things, because I feel much the same way myself.

But have I changed? I don't really think I've changed very much. All that's happened over the past few years is that the wheel of fortune has turned, and I've found myself belonging to a newly-persecuted minority: smokers. There is an evil eye, it seems, much like the one above Mordor in the Lord of the Rings, which is directed first upon one set of people - Jews, blacks, gays - and then upon another - smokers, drinkers, fat people. The real moral lesson - don't persecute people for what they are - has not been learned. The righteous are proud of their record of protest against the persecution of blacks and gays and lesbians, but are completely blind to the wholly new persecution they have launched against smokers and drinkers and all the rest. They just can't see that refusing any place for smokers in pubs is exactly the same as refusing places for blacks on buses in Montgomery, Alabama.

What starts out as a radical cause becomes, a few decades later, the established orthodoxy. The street protester becomes a cabinet minister. The radical Left, once established in power, become the New Right (and also the New Righteous). The portly cabinet minister in his limousine still thinks of himself as a young firebrand, and remembers his days marching on the streets, and his nights in prison, but he is no such thing any longer. His previously radical views have become near-universal norms that must be protected and conserved. He has become a conservative of a sort, if not exactly like his conservative father. No longer a protester himself, he instead himself orders police to arrest protesters, whom he invariably identifies as rightwingers, whatever their cause.

The Right, in any age, might be said to be whatever protects and upholds the established order, whatever that happens to be. And the Left is whatever is perpetually trying to subvert and overthrow the same established orthodoxy, whose iniquities they perceive with singular clarity. Because any established order always contains iniquities The natural leftist is a critic of orthodoxy. While the natural rightist is an admirer and upholder of the same orthodoxy.

The doctrine of global warming is a newly established orthodoxy, adopted by presidents and prime ministers, broadcast on the mainstream media, and preached from pulpits. What could be more established and orthodox than global warming? And the new conservatives are the supporters of this new conservative orthodoxy. It's about conserving the earth, no less, isn't it? And the new radicals are the sceptics and critics of this new orthodoxy. 50 years ago those radicals would have been defiantly smoking marijuana as a symbol of their radicalism. Now they defiantly smoke tobacco for the exact same reason. And I've had the fortune (or misfortune) to have been a radical of both kinds.

The wheel of fortune spins, and the evil eye moves on.

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