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December 08, 2010

Food Fights: Sarah Palin vs. the Liberals

Lately I've been thinking a little about culture, and how it's really just made up of three basics: Language, food, and sex. Oh, there is some stuff that is not language, food, or sex, but I'd say that stuff like tv, movies, and music are subsets of the "language" category, and stuff like manners is either a subset of the sex category or a subset of the food category.

Someone's culture, someone's basic preferences and mores in these things, are important to his sense of of identity, often in ways that are invisible to him. For example: Do you, like me, not only turn off Spanish-language music radio stations faster than any other station, and not only faster, but with a little extra punishment-pressure on the Scan button? Like you're annoyed that your radio actuall dared to pick up this station and present it to you?

Why do I do that? I know I'm annoyed by it. I'm also annoyed at people pushing such suspectly alien stuff on me. World Music. Foreign films. Foreplay. It's an intrusion. Not a violation, but I do sort of get my hackles up about it.

I reallly shouldn't. In the end, it's no big deal, isn't it? Who cares?

But I do care. It annoys me when people push elements of an intruder culture on me. It may be irrational, but nevertheless, it's real.

Behavioral psychologists often say that this is the mark of a conservative, and liberals are much more "open" to new experiences and different cultures. But behavioral psychologists tend to be overwhelmingly liberal, and wind up "proving" that which they want to be proven; their research tends to be directed, subconsciously, not towards objective results, but towards self-flattery. One cannot help but notice so much of results of soft/pop science tend to, oddly enough, flatter the liberal sensibilities of the researchers performing the experiments or collating the data. I doubt very much this is a coincidence. (But liberals do have an excuse for their biases: The Truth has a liberal bias, they will say, when cornered.)

I don't think that in this respect -- "openness" -- there is much of a difference between conservatives and liberals. I think the main difference is what each is open to. Liberals are open to foreign crap because they hate their own culture and therefore anything not of their culture is superior; sampling other cultures, untainted by the despised home culture, is therefore ennobling.

Conservatives tend to like their home culture and have the opposite take on things.

Liberals are not more "open" to "foreign" things or new experiences, I would contend-- they just define the foreign or new differently. Try getting a committed urban liberal to watch NASCAR once. Just once. He will refuse, and if he does try it, he will fill the air with snarky insults about the sort of people involved in racing and the sort of people who enjoy it. He will begin indulging in cultural stereotypes and insults that he'd be aghast at if directed at, say, the giant guitars of Peru.

Liberals like calling people "savages" just as much as 1920s xenophobes did. They just call different people "savages," and have learned the word "savage" is itself a catch-word among xenophobes, and they are definitely not by self-definition anything like a xenophobe. But that just means they avoid the word itself. They will employ any number of synonyms or ideation-equivalents to express the same disdain and distaste.

I don't really blame liberals for that, exactly, since I do something like that (watch how fast I turn off Spanish pop music); I blame them more for their hypocrisy and self-obliviousness-become-self-flattery -- that is, I blame them for not realizing they are, in fact, doing precisely what they curse and despise others for doing.

I keep noticing this sort of Disdain For the Barbarians effect coming up in cultural fights about something I could frankly give a shit about, food. Liberals have turned "organic" into an ersatz religion, critical to their sense of place in the world, crucial for differentiating themselves from the savages beneath them. Conservatives rely on more traditional modes of self-identity -- religion, patriotism, family -- and are less prone to fetishize a dietary selection, but they do it too: Witness how the words "arugula" and "latte" are used on the right.

You are what you eat, the saying goes. And if others eat a low diet, then it stands to reason they must themselves be low; or if they eat an unserious, effete diet, they themselves must be unserious and effete.

In two recent cases of food-fighting, Sarah Palin was, no big surprise, at or near the center of the storm. I find the responses of liberals to her very telling.

First, Palin weighed in on typical nannystate crap on health in school lunches. Forbidding candy vending machines and also, it seems, school cookie bake-sales. Unhealthy, you know. She tweeted, basically, Let Them Eat Cookies.

One part about culture I haven't gotten into yet is cultural dominance and cultural presumptiveness. This causes a lot of conservative reaction (or over-reaction, to some minds) to stuff like this. This is the Who The Hell Do You Think You Are? effect. People get their hackles up at being lectured or dictated to as if they were children by people who presume to be their superiors. The person doing the lecturing and hectoring may claim to not be putting themselves over their target as if they were their superior, but in fact, in life, there are only a few people who do in fact get to treat us in such a paternalistic fashion -- our parents, most importantly, especially when we're kids. Our bosses -- who are often called our "superiors," at least in the business heirarchy.

So if you're instructing me, unsolicited, with advice (or dictates about my behavior), as if I were a child and you are my parent, how the hell am I supposed to take that?

This gets a lot of conservatives pretty pissy about liberal nagging. It's not that the advice offered is always bad. It's just -- Who the Hell Do You Think You Are to be telling me how to live my life, buddy? Surely you must think you are higher on the food chain, because privates don't go lecturing lieutenants, and lieutenants don't lecture generals.

So if you are intruding into my life, telling me how to live it-- you must, by necessity, believe you are in some kind of paternalistic relationship with me, I your subordinate and inferior, you my superior.

And if you do think that -- kindly fuck off please, and with all due haste.

Liberals get very pissy about conservatives doing stuff they think is similar -- especially stuff about sex or God. Liberals don't notice they're doing the same thing. (I'd say conservatives also don't notice they're doing the same thing, except they actually do realize this at higher rates, possibly because the media is always pushing back against them, and have adopted a bit more of the live and let live libertarian philosophy.)

Now, after Sarah Palin sounded off, asking the government Who the Hell Do You Think You Are? (always a good question to ask of government), liberals of course (predictably) freaked out. Here's an unfine example.

It's bad enough that President Obama is nationalizing our health care -- that he's leading the economy to socialist ruin -- and generally seeking vengeance against the white man on behalf of his African ancestors.

But now his bossy wife and her government minions want to tell you what to eat. Just like your mother when she said you couldn't have dessert until you'd finished your peas. Except more sinister. Way more sinister.

This is the latest paranoid fantasy being hostaed by my compadres on the right: that, in an effort to fight rising and dangerous levels of obesity amongst Americans, Big Mother is going to come into your homes, snatch that breakfast soda out of your pudgy hands, and force feed you a fresh carrot from the White House garden.

As Rush Limbaugh warned his listeners on Nov. 9:

Anyway, Michelle Obama's on this big obesity kick, right? Gotta eat healthy stuff, gotta eat the garbage that she grows in the garden, nothing but fruits and vegetables...Michelle Obama wants to spend $400 million to combat food deserts. She's all upset that the only food available to poor urban people are convenience stores, the 7-Elevens. What did Biden say, you can't go in one without finding an Indian? Yeah, that's what Joe Bite Me said. So she's complaining about food deserts, and Michelle Obama wants to punish Big Food and Big Retail for not putting quality food stores in poor neighborhoods, right? And that's why there's an obesity epidemic, right?

And Big Mother ain't stopping there. She's going after your children, too. She wants to undermine your parental authority and tell them what to eat: no more greasy pizza slices, deep-fried processed chicken parts, transfat-injected "cake" substances, and high-fructose soft drinks in their school cafeterias.

It rambles on like this, in this kind of exhausting manner. Her basic point is that this is super-duper good advice, so that of course the smart people in the government, informed by the very smart liberal people who elected them into government, should now begin dictating to inferior parents how to properly raise their children.

She doesn't use those words. She doesn't have to. It's pretty clear that she's is Very Concerend Indeed about all those adults who do not have the benefit of her enlightened wisdom, and she seeks to inflict this wisdom on them, by force of law, if that's what it takes.

To her, these would-be laws are perfectly sound guidance offered from Those Who Are Good At Thinking to Those Who Are Good At Doing Things But Not Thinking So Much, and the latter (troglodytes, thralls, sub-creatures, and assorted dirty-handed laborers) should be happy to be the recipients of so much love and care.

She completely misses the entire How Dare You Presume angle, because she's the one doing the presuming.

Contrast this to Sarah Palin's own utterance about what's good to eat -- and the inversion that happens, as Maureen Dowd loses her shit over it.

The doomed caribou gazed calmly across the Alaska tundra at Caribou Barbie.

The female caribou could easily have escaped, since it took the Wasilla huntress six shots, two rifles and some help from her dad to bag her prey. (Giving credence to Levi Johnston’s contention that she isn’t all that proficient with guns.)

But, inexplicably, the caribou just waited to get gunned down by Sarah Palin, who came across less like a pioneer woman than Private Benjamin with her camo, her French manicured nails, her cap that says (in pink) Girls And Guns, her 72-year-old father and her TLC reality show crew.

Sarah checked her freezer at home before she flew 600 miles to the Arctic, trying to justify her contention that she needs to hunt to eat. Wasn’t it already stocked with those halibuts she clubbed and gutted in an earlier show?

“My dad has taught me that if you want to have wild, organic, healthy food,” she pontificated, “you’re gonna go out there and hunt yourself and fish yourself and you’re gonna fill up your freezer.”

Does Palin really think the average housewife in Ohio who can’t pay her bills is going to load up on ammo, board two different planes, camp out for two nights with a film crew and shoot a caribou so she can feed her family organic food?

It’s amazing that Palin patronized Neiman Marcus during the campaign. Couldn’t she have spun cloth to sew her own clothes?

Hunting seems more sporting with birds — at least they have a better chance to get away. Unless the hunter is Dick Cheney, who would shoot pheasants that were pen-raised and released from a net to make slaughtering them easier.

The poor caribou in the Arctic Circle, a cousin to Santa’s reindeer, had to die so Palin could show off her toughness to voters and try to boost ratings on her show that have slipped since its premiere. (Next Sunday, she’s dragging up nine Gosselins to go shooting and camping.)

Sarah’s view of America is primitive. You’re either a pointy-headed graduate of Harvard Law School or you’re eviscerating animals for fun, which she presents as somehow more authentic.

In movies with animals, they often have a line in the credits assuring that no animals were harmed. In “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” they should have a line at the end assuring that “almost every living creature involved in this show was harmed.”

There are a couple of things going on here -- typical Palin hate, typical Palin-mention hit-whoring, and the much-noted tendency of those who are in fact entirely separated from The Land to aesthetize the land into some sort of cartoony abstraction and react with enlightened revulsion towards those who are so low as to use The Land for its intended purposes. In Dowd's world, the great unspoiled wilderness exists primarily for purposes of National Geographic photo-essays. Those who actually go out into The Land for traditional purposes are just low. And icky.

But that's not why I'm linking this. I'm quoting that to point out the inversion of liberal attitudes here about platitudes about food. When a liberal offers a platitude about food, they are shocked that anyone could be even the slightest bit annoyed at the presumptiveness of telling another adult to eat his vegetables. They cannot believe the depths of ingratitude here -- all we were trying to do is help you with some paternalistic advice; how can you get so angry about that?

But here Palin offers Maureen Dowd -- well, her and other liberals -- some good, not-really-all-that-controversial advice about eating organic. See? Now, Palin is offering the liberals some advice, and the advice is pretty inarguable -- it is hard to dispute that a wild caribou is entirely, indisputably, and wholly organic; indeed, until the hunter's killing shot is fired, it has grown and lived and ate and mated without any interference by humans whatsoever. (Unlike the tomatoes or steaks you buy at Whole Foods.)

So, that's all she's saying: There's organic, and then there's really organic, and food you yourself hunt or fish falls into the latter category. Whole Foods tomatoes? Not so much.

You can't argue with that, really. It's just... good advice.

But notice how Maureen Dowd freaks out in anger about it. She sputters: Are you suggesting that women (such as myself?!) must go out and hunt our food? Are you saying that we cannot be truly organic unless we do? Are you suggesting we cannot be truly alive and well-rounded people unless we do?

How dare you, Woman, presume to tell me about how to live my life! Just Who In The Hell Do You Think You Are?

Maureen Dowd had a sense of self, and an idea about Proper Culture. And Proper Culture, food-wise, meant eating locally-grown vegetables and buyin' stuff from Whole Foods.

Sarah Palin walked in and challenged her sense of self -- implied, without saying so, that Dowd was living a less-than-perfect life, or at least one with gaps, and therefore was deficient in some aspect of her dietary culture -- and Maureen Dowd freaked out over it.

But contrast Dowd's reaction to Palin's small-beans cultural imposition with liberals' reaction to Palin's reaction to their own cultural impositions -- liberals instruct us to just take the good, wise advice they offer, without calling foul or asking them Who In The Hell They Think They Are?, but when the shoe's on the other food -- when a bit of good advice is sent their way -- they get irrationally angry about it.

Because in their world, it should be the Maureen Dowds and idiot writers on the Huffington Post who give paternalistic advice to the rough-hewn clods of Middle America. That, of course, is the natural order of things, in their thinking.

When Middle America offers some advice back to them... well. That's just not done, now is it?

And I circle back to the point I was making 12,000 words earlier -- but a liberal will tell you she's more "open" to different or foreign ways of doing things, whereas conservatives are all close-minded and xenophobic.

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posted by Ace at 04:30 PM

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