Davidson Loehr  @  ChelseaGreen

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The Flying Saucers Aren't Coming

Posted on Monday, March 9th, 2009 at 11:56 am by Davidson Loehr

What a show — the Republican Party and its operatives, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, staging righteous rants against All Things Obama. Limbaugh praying our President fails, and one of Glen Beck's guests actually referring to the present administration as "a tyranny of incompetence"? And all this after the failures of a president destined to go down as one of the worst in US history. You’d think they’d all be lining up at the Confessional booth, or at least begging the public to whip them. Yet they seem more arrogant and unrepentant — as though the social, economic and military innovations of the past eight years were points of pride rather than shame.

This may just seem like early dementia or the aftermath of a bad drug trip. But actually, this is a famous phenomenon, first identified over fifty years ago in a similar situation.

A charismatic woman they called Marian Keech had a devoted cult following who believed her when she said the world would be ending at midnight December 20, 1956. The faithful, thank goodness, would be ok — a flying saucer would be picking them up and saucering them away to safety as the world crumbled.

Social scientist Leon Festinger was studying the group, and accurately predicted what would happen to the group when the world didn’t end. Those who had never really bought her theory in the first place would just quietly get as far away from her as they could. But the true believers, those who had invested heart and soul in her teachings, would become even more devoted after the real world proved to be way out of touch with her.

The world just kept on keeping on at midnight, as her faithful followers began to get nervous. By 2 a.m., the actual fact-based world had sloughed the little cult off. But at 4:45, Ms. Keech had another revelation, as creative as the first. The world had been saved, she announced, by their faith! “And mighty is the word of God!” she trumpeted, as they swooned the swoon of true believers trying for their second wind. The fact that the world remained reality based was the world’s problem – they’d been right all along! Certainty, as Festinger had predicted, is just an attitude with no necessary connection to facts at all. And being dead wrong can make you even more dead certain, if you had bet the farm (and your public image and perhaps livelihood) on the fantasies.

This makes it easier to understand how Limbaugh can actually pray that our President fails, those determined Fox hounds can line up the true believers to yearn for the good old days of social, economic and military disasters. It helps understand how and why Republicans in Congress would stand as a lump against All Things Obama. The real world hasn’t ended (though theirs has), there’s no sign of spaceships, and they are trying for that second wind that lets them trump facts with certainties.

We don’t much care what people believe as long as they don’t affect anybody else. You can find about anything you want out there. But the past eight – or twenty-eight – years weren’t harmless. The innocent victims outnumbered the smug victors by twenty to one. A bad and unreal story was imposed by force, as even the most minimal protections of our citizens went up for sale. Health care to protect citizens, unions to protect workers, enough protection to keep needed jobs at home were sold out because a few had seen how to turn rights for the many into profits for the few. This was so much worse than a sad little religious cult. Still, it’s worth remembering some pesky facts.

No flying saucer is coming to rescue Republicans still clinging to the miserable failures of the past eight years. Those who defended Bush’s economic, social and military policies have lost all rights to question almost all things economic, social or military. Maybe it’s time to consider politics grounded in a reality that serves at least 95% of the people 95% of the time, and time to move away from both Republican and Democratic cults.

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