“His name was Rambo, and he was just some nothing kid for all anybody knew, standing by the pump of a gas station at the outskirts of Madison, Kentucky. He had a long heavy beard, and his hair was hanging down over his ears to his neck, and he had his hand out trying to thumb a ride from a car that was stopped at the pump.” ~ the opening lines in David Morrell’s novel First Blood.
Rambo was a tough-guy. He was macho. He had deadly fighting skills. But mentally, he was feeble. He lacked the ability to overcome the deceptions of his mind and examine the issues critically. His world was in black and white—his side was good, the other side was evil. It never occurred to him that there could be shades of grey between the black and white, and that the character of his own side might not be white but grayish. He never thought of asking himself what made the other side evil. He believed that they were evil and they deserved to die.
Much of what Rambo remembered and believed was flawed or simply wrong, but he was not aware of this. He saw those who questioned him or interfered as an enemy. Wherever he went, he found enemies and he got into battles. If he had the power to think critically, he could have realized that his greatest weakness was his susceptibility to delusion, the tendency to hold false beliefs without any evidence. He had no way of knowing that he was not fighting for some kind of principles but for a delusional black and white view of the world.
This article is not about Rambo. I talk about him because he is an apt analogy for the conservatives. Most conservatives cannot go beyond Ramboesque thinking. They see the world in black and white: our side is good, the other side is bad; if the other side interferes, then our side will go to war and we kill them, in the Rambo style. Their worldview is a hotchpotch of false dichotomies: individualism versus collectivism, socialism versus capitalism, traditional morality versus nihilism, my culture versus other cultures, my religion versus other religions.
The conservative mind is linear and binary, since it moves in a straight line, on two parallel tracks, one side of the track (the conservative side) is good and the other side is evil. Incapable of thinking critically, the conservatives fail to realize that human beings do not live in a linear and binary world, that there are infinite number of tracks in which the human mind can move, that there are infinite number of ways by which the notions of individualism, collectivism, socialism, capitalism, morality, culture, and religion can be unpacked, analyzed, and repackaged.
Does individualism imply an independent mind, whatever that might mean? Does capitalism lead to free markets, liberty, and rule of law? Are the laws of morality subjective or objective? Who creates culture and how is a culture transformed? What is the relationship between religion, culture, and politics? The conservatives think that they have the right answer to all these questions but they don’t. No one does.
The conservatives think that the definitions of the social concepts with which they express their political opinions are unchanging like the formulae of mathematics, like the laws of physics. “Delusional” is the right word for this kind of thinking. Nothing is fixed in the political space. The values like individualism, collectivism, socialism, capitalism, morality, culture, and religion are constantly under attack by politicians, activists, and intellectuals. Their meaning is constantly being transformed, with the deletion of old agendas and the addition of new ones.
The leftist critical thinkers have always been in control of the areas in which the conservatives like to operate—individualism, capitalism, morality, culture, and religion. But the conservatives do not know this. They do not know that when they fight for their pet values, they are fighting futilely, like Rambo, who believes that he is fighting for principles even though his principles are not real, they are the outgrowths of his delusional worldview. The conservatives, or the Rambos, might win a few electoral battles but they cannot win the political battle for the nation’s soul.
The political battles are won by those who can think critically and do not get trapped in linear and binary thinking, who do not view the world in black and white, who can introspect and ferret out the false delusions from their mind, who can read the mind of their rivals to understand their concerns, and who know that human life has always been demanding, it has always been tragic, it always ends in decline and death.