11/28/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Goodbye, Cruel World

The world would be a better place if the American right wing had never existed. Thousands of Americans and Iraqis would still be alive, tens of thousands or Iraqis would still be living in their own homes. The American economy would not have hopped from bubble to bubble if the right wing had not put all of their faith in deregulation, and American jobs would not have been sent abroad. Our tax dollars would not have flowed upward into the coffers of the rich, and the war machine would not comprise such a large part of our economy. We would have retained the respect of other nations, and not aroused the absolute hatred of those we have attempted to bomb into submission. We would get along better with one another if the right wing had not used tribal hatreds to arouse their base against black people, immigrants, liberals, and the well-educated. Our infrastructure, health care, and schools would be better if the billions spent on futile wars had been spent on domestic needs. The planet would be a better place if our addiction to oil had been broken 25 years ago.

But the issue goes deeper even that these practical matters. We would, in fact, be happier people if the right wing had not terrorized us with their horror-filled systems of belief. The Friedmanites are bad enough -- in their world, there are only winners and losers. Everyone deserves what they get, and if a child who gets melamine in his milk is a victim of "creative destruction", well, too bad, because some rich person is getting a little bit more money. In the capitalist world, you are not just supposed to starve, you are supposed to deserve starving -- insult added to injury, humiliation added pain. Of course, as Naomi Klein has shown, the "free market" is never free at all, it is fixed, by dictators and armies and oligarchs. But the thrust of the propaganda stands. We may call this the "Phil Gramm Position".

As bad as this is, far worse has been the effect of religious fundamentalism on the individual spirit and the national mood. By now, we all know some child (or former child) who has been terrorized by "the Rapture" -- who has come home after school to an empty house, only to panic because he or she is convinced that everyone else has been "raptured up." The left behind one has to reckon with the idea that not only is everyone he or she loves gone, he or she has done something wrong according to Jesus, and failed to deserve salvation. I call this child abuse. The religious right has been determined to enforce the unhappiness of others, no doubt so that that unhappiness will match their own. After all, they want to make sure that gay people understand that no matter how much they pay in taxes, they are second class citizens. They also want to make sure that every woman in the world understands that her interests are secondary to those of any embryo, any man, even, indeed, any sperm cell. This would be the "James Dobson Position".

The God of the right wing, and of the Bible, is a pretty arbitrary guy. He lays down the rules, but you can get those boils or those locusts even if you didn't knowingly do anything wrong, in fact, even if you didn't do anything wrong at all. Your personal God could punish you for something someone else did, as in the Bible he frequently punishes the enemies of Israel, men, women, children, dogs, cats, goats, etc., just for being the enemies of Israel. I love how right wing preachers pray away hurricanes, sending them to places like Bermuda. If your God is arbitrary, then of course you are always anxious and depressed -- your adrenaline is always pumping. And you are never motivated to understand how the world works. But locusts and boils and hurricanes have causes -- physical, medical, and ecological. Society can avoid locusts and boils and even mitigate the effects of hurricanes if it understands cause and effect, but if your God is an arbitrary authoritarian, and your father was an arbitrary authoritarian, then you never truly understand cause and effect in the world we live in. As we all know, no religion has ever successfully answered the problems raised by the issue of an omnipotent God. The best they offer is to forbid questioning, and to punish those who do. Because the right wing experiences the world as cruel and arbitrary, they have no inhibitions about enhancing that cruelty -- as in "Hurricane Katrina", as in "Iraq War", and in "Abu Ghraib".

This is the world we have been living in for the past thirty years.

In a week, we have a chance to leave this world behind. If we look at our two candidates, the differences between them are stark. John McCain, who was raised by and accepts the authoritarian model, is evidently never at peace. He is hot-headed, erratic, and has been remarkably cruel. He claims to have principles, but his principles change every time he loses his cool. The more he is pushed, the more it becomes evident that he lives by his own selfish desires -- for money, for power, for women. He's is a classic avoider, who can't even answer the simplest question -- if something "unpleasant" comes up, he changes the subject. Barack Obama rarely changes the subject, because he is fully capable of looking at an issue and considering it. He seems to have been reared in a non-authoritarian household, by a loving mother and loving grandparents. He thinks that the world is a rational place that can be understood and modified. His own family seems happy and loving. Right wingers think he is shallow, but he isn't shallow -- he's well-adjusted. And we've had two whole years to poke him and prod him and discover this. Obama has grown through campaigning because he has learned from it. McCain gets ever smaller and more weird as he campaigns because he doesn't understand what is happening to him. When we choose between these two men, we are choosing between two worlds -- the world of ignorance, fear, manipulation, and cruelty, and the world of rational investigation, weighing of options, and planning. This world is a world where sexual preference is not such a big deal, salvation is not an eternal mystery, and life goes on. It's a world where bad things happen, but there is no malign Godly intention behind them. It is world that understands the temptations of human nature and attempts to deal with them rationally and systematically. Some of these attempts will fail, but on balance, not as many as have failed in the last twenty-five years.

Most of my friends see the coming election as the most important we have known. The right wing has damaged our country, our livelihoods, our national honor, and our planet, but not yet fatally. If McCain gets elected, that could change.