I’ve been thinking (oh, dear; here she goes…) about what it is that makes people behave in the ways we’re seeing playing out on the national stage.
I mean, really; what is it about some people that they feel that not only are they entitled to tell other people what they can and cannot do/think/say, but that it is their god-given obligation to force others to live according to their dictates? What is it that makes someone so wound up, so fanatical, that they make it their life’s work to micro-manage other people’s existence?
I think I’ve come up with a theory, and I think that the people I’m talking about will tell me that I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.
I think those people are afraid. Deeply, desperately, wordlessly afraid.
My family and I watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night. Though I love the HP movies, this one is my least favorite of the franchise specifically because of the protagonist, Delores Umbridge; the character gives me PTSD flashbacks, and even though I know she’s coming, sitting through this film is an exercise in panic control for me. Umbridge is the classic abuser; sweet and proper in outward appearances, but scheming and vicious in private (add to that the shrill, just-below-the-surface seethe that the actress portrays so well and you’ve got a recipe for a significant element of my nightmares). What’s more, she’s interested in controlling literally everything about her environment, down to how much distance, in inches, boys and girls must maintain between one another.
Umbridge is a deeply flawed character. She is desperately insecure and not a little paranoid. She needs the affection of her superiors and the respect of those she deems beneath her, even – especially – if she has to get that respect through fear and the threat (or actual execution) of physical or psychological violence. She needs status to confirm her self-worth and actively creates conditions which allow her to prove her delusions correct, regardless of what the facts in front of her would indicate. Most of all, she has convinced herself that she’s doing everything she does for the greater good; as the centaurs are dragging her away at the end of the film, she pleads with Harry to tell them that she means no harm, to which Harry replies, “I’m sorry, Professor, but I must not tell lies.”
As I was watching the film last night, I started thinking about all of the frothing hysteria we’ve got brewing in our public discourse lately – God, guns, gays, and gyno – and it occurred to me that most of the people who are all worked up about what other people do (or what they’re afraid other people are going to do) are very likely motivated by an abiding, though wordless, fear. Observe:
• I read a piece the other day that laid out, carefully and meticulously, how Obama has spent the last 3 years lulling the unsuspecting American public into a false sense of security, but once he gets elected again, goddammit, he’s coming for our guns, so you’d better stock up!
• I’m listening to the insanity over the abortion/birth control debate (over which I actually unfriended someone on facebook; something that, to that point, I’d never done) – up to and including the state-ordered rape of women in Virginia (and yes it IS rape; if you don’t understand why, I’ll be happy to explain it to you) and the patently ridiculous hysteria over insurance coverage, and I’m wondering exactly what is served by these arguments.
• I’m watching as poll after poll, all over the country, proves that the bulk of the population has no problem with gay marriage, while at the same time legislatures all over the place (including my own) are working tirelessly – almost frantically – to either prevent or overturn laws that grant marriage equality.
WHY? I really want to ask some of these people; what exactly does MY birth control have to do with YOUR life? How does MY abortion change YOUR life? What real, tangible effect do my sister’s or my friends’ marriages have on YOUR relationship? What impact do my neighbors’ churchgoing habits (or lack thereof) have on ANYONE but them?
Here’s what I think – and I said it last week, but I’m saying it again; people are scared. They’ve been worked into a frenzy by the media and others who think like them (though I think “think” is too strong a word; in fact, I think it’s a decided lack of thinking that’s gotten us into this state) to believe (yes; that’s a better word) that if we let EVERYONE have rights, then NO ONE will be special. If we pay women the same as men, won’t there be less money for the fellas? If the gays can marry, then what makes MY marriage so special? If we can let women control their bodies, what ELSE will they want to control?
The fear that traditionally marginalized populations are going to “rise up” and start partaking equally in the society – that blacks and women and gays and (GASP!) atheists will have the same rights and privileges as the historically advantaged populations (read; white, Christian, male) – must be terrifying for some people who recognize on some level, whether they admit it or not, that they got what they got not because they were exceptional or because they worked especially hard, but because the house was rigged in their favor. Once that favor is gone, they’ll have to justify their positions of wealth and power; they’ll have to earn their place in the hierarchy, and I suspect that a number of those people know, whether they admit it or not, that they don’t have what it takes to compete on an even playing field.