Cruelty Is An Ideology

Last week, there was considerable uproar over the Trump administration’s decision to not fund the Special Olympics (Il Trumpe himself ‘heroically’ intervened to stop this, though some reports claim this was a White House initiative). Many commentators noted that this seems to exemplify what Adam Serwer has described as “The cruelty is the point.”

While I won’t deny that people who enjoy being cruel (i.e., sociopaths) would embrace this, I didn’t like Serwer’s treatment when he first wrote about it. He treats cruelty as if it were a Lovecraftian Elder god, lurking behind the veil, corrupting those who approach it, and occasionally breaking through to wreak havoc and destruction. It is indestructible, and can not be destroyed.

But I think this misses the ideological component to this. We’ll return to the Special Olympics in a bit, but consider, instead, healthcare. A fair number of conservatives don’t have a problem with our current system. Why? Because they believe those who have problems paying for it likely deserve it. If they worked hard, saved more responsibly, were better liked by their neighbors, and had a church that would help them, then healthcare wouldn’t be a problem. If they were good people–and good people, oddly enough, seem to be disproportionately white evangelical Christians–then they would not be receiving this misfortune (or, at least, would have the previously mention support systems). Besides, we know how those people are. This is an abhorrent melange of Ayn Randian libertarianism, Prosperity Gospel, and racism.

Put another way, what many people see as cruelty, they see as a just order. Like racism (and in part, derived from it), the cruelty provides a powerful organizing principle for understanding the world around them. Someone can’t afford healthcare? It’s their fault.

So how does this relate to Special Olympics? Movement conservatives, when they think nobody is looking, have tried to eliminate government funding for programs like this (and Meals On Wheels, which they hate too). Why? To justify their worldview, they believe government has no business in helping people (except via tax cuts for the rich). If you can help the disabled, or elderly shut-ins, then you start down the slippery slope of helping people who have lost their jobs, and the next thing you know, it’s TEH SOCIALISMZ! all the way down.

We shouldn’t underestimate psychological dysfunction or the need to create ‘others’ for group identity, but the ideology of cruelty is a force that gives too many people meaning.

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5 Responses to Cruelty Is An Ideology

  1. thesseli says:

    Reblogged this on Thesseli.

  2. Adam Eran says:

    Don’t forget the point of many of the attacks on social safety net programs: Labor discipline. These attacks send the message that if you don’t take whatever crappy job is on offer, you will suffer the indignities of poverty, homelessness, even starvation. If you are extra ornery, we’ll incarcerate you (the U.S. incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners, but only has 5% of the world’s population).

    The traditional name for what you describe is “salvation by works.” It’s a form of heretical religion that was rejected by all major denominations in favor of salvation by grace (where we landed is a gift). Arrogance chooses to believe it deserved to be in current circumstances, rather than disabled, or born in, say, Somalia. Ironically, the political right accuses the left of “arrogance,” but embraces these tactics.

  3. Pat says:

    Our society also has a centuries’ old meme that suffering is important and necessary for other people to experience, that it will improve their lives and teach them important things. This concept threads its way through many aspects of life.

    How many times have you heard the saying, “no pain, no gain?”

  4. Jeff Dutky says:

    The only reason that the right is against social programs is because they don’t get to dictate the terms. The entire right wing program is about dominance and social control, which is undermined by the rule of law and equitable distribution of resources through government aid. If, instead, the poor and disabled must beg for help from private entities (wealthy philanthropists and religious organizations) then the power of entrenched elites is increased, because the private entities can set onerous and capricious prerequisites for the relief they offer.

    The right doesn’t give two shits about TEH SOCIALISMZ (or the fetuses, or personal responsibility, or whatever the talking point du jour is), the only thing that matters is who gets to tell who what to do.

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