Ritual Humiliation 101

This is an interesting post about Romney’s high school years as a bully ringleader and what it say about him today:

I don’t mean to suggest that Romney is without compassion. I believe, for instance, that he loves his wife and his children, and that he believes in God and the flag. But there is something in his character that I am starting to get frightened about, an unwillingness, or an inability, to feel remorse, to simply own up to a moral failing, to apologize not just if “somebody was hurt” but because you know, deep down, that you hurt someone.

Think about it: here are these half dozen men who took part in a savage act nearly fifty years ago. It has haunted all of them. And the ringleader, the guy who made the plan and led the mob and cut the victim’s hair off remembers … nothing?

It’s just bullshit, total fucking sociopathic bullshit. And it makes me sad that such an episode comes to light and all Romney can do—a guy who wants to be elected to our highest office—is nervously lie and make excuses, as if this were political problem. It’s not a political problem. It’s a moral problem. It’s a sin he committed for which any believer would seek atonement.

The other bully anecdote in the story has been somewhat overlooked, but it’s just as telling:

One venerable English teacher, Carl G. Wonnberger, nicknamed “the Bat” for his diminished eyesight, was known to walk into the trophy case and apologize, step into wastepaper baskets and stare blindly as students slipped out the back of the room to smoke by the open windows. Once, several students remembered the time pranksters propped up the back axle of Wonnberger’s Volkswagen Beetle with two-by-fours and watched, laughing from the windows, as the unwitting teacher slammed the gas pedal with his wheels spinning in the air.

As an underclassman, Romney accompanied Wonnberger and Pierce Getsinger, another student, from the second floor of the main academic building to the library to retrieve a book the two boys needed. According to Getsinger, Romney opened a first set of doors for Wonnberger, but then at the next set, with other students around, he swept his hand forward, bidding the teacher into a closed door. Wonnberger walked right into it and Getsinger said Romney giggled hysterically as the teacher shrugged it off as another of life’s indignities.

How different, really, is that from this?

I wasn’t joking when I said this would actually help Romney with the base. This bullying is one of the defining characteristics of modern American conservatism. The idea that the good people all work hard and it’s only the lazy that ever need help is fundamental to their worldview. Even the Tea Partiers who are on government assistance insist that unlike all the others, they have worked hard and so deserve it.

I’ve been writing about this for a long time, often in the context of the torture debate. But it also plays a large part in our political system. It’s actually a very well developed form of social control called Ritual Defamation (or Ritual Humiliation):

Defamation is the destruction or attempted destruction of the reputation, status, character or standing in the community of a person or group of persons by unfair, wrongful, or malicious speech or publication. For the purposes of this essay, the central element is defamation in retaliation for the real or imagined attitudes, opinions or beliefs of the victim, with the intention of silencing or neutralizing his or her influence, and/or making an example of them so as to discourage similar independence and “insensitivity” or non-observance of taboos. It is different in nature and degree from simple criticism or disagreement in that it is aggressive, organized and skillfully applied, often by an organization or representative of a special interest group, and in that it consists of several characteristic elements.

It’s a form of control that Mitt seems to have shown an early talent for. It worked well for him in business and I’d guess he’s quite adept at using it in politics. One wonders how it will play on the world stage, especially considering this:

Mitt Romney’s recent declaration that Russia is America’s top geopolitical adversary drew raised eyebrows and worse from many Democrats, some Republicans and the Russians themselves, all of whom suggested that Mr. Romney was misguidedly stuck in a cold war mind-set.

But his statement was not off the cuff — and it was not the first time Mr. Romney had stirred debate over his hawkish views on Russia. Interviews with Republican foreign policy experts close to his campaign and his writings on the subject show that his stance toward Russia reflects a broader foreign policy view that gives great weight to economic power and control of natural resources. It also exhibits Mr. Romney’s confidence that his private-sector experience would make him a better negotiator on national security issues than President Obama has been…

Mr. Romney was a leading opponent of the most recent arms-reduction treaty with Russia, ratified by the Senate and signed last year by Mr. Obama. Russia figures prominently in Mr. Romney’s book, where he calls it one of four competitors for world leadership, along with the United States, China and “violent jihadism” embraced by Iran and terrorist groups.

Here’s hoping he doesn’t think he can lead a “coalition of the willing” to hold Vladimir Putin down and give him a haircut.

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