There’s something a little bit endearing about right-wing extremism

happy-go-lucky-posterPeriodically, my Facebook feed gets riled up when some ultra-rightwinger decries multiculturalism or eulogizes the antebellum South or says that Obama is going to put us all in concentration camps or engages in some other tacky political display. And then everybody will jump in there and be like, “Grr, those people are ruining America.”

Which is totally okay. I don’t support those beliefs, and those people certainly are harming America, and everyone tends to view these things through the filter of their own experience: if I’d had more negative interactions with ultra-rightwingers or with their policies, then perhaps I too would be extremely enthused about bashing them.

But I was recently watching a British movie, Happy Go Lucky (directed by Mike Leigh) that crystallized some of my mixed feelings about right-wing fanatics. In this movie, there’s an abrasive driving instructor who slowly develops a romantic attraction for his pupil, a kindergarten teacher. And this teacher also becomes somewhat fascinating with the driving instructor. She wonders what made him so uptight and abrasive and tries to probe him and figure out whether he was bullied in school.

And then he goes off on this tirade about how school is all about shoving you into a box and making you regurgitate the status quo and how if you do that then you end up successful and happy, but if you insist on thinking for yourself then you end up shunted out and miserable. And I am totally onboard with that…right up until the tirade turns into a racist rant.

I really liked the driving instructor. I admire anyone who really cares about what he does. One of the most charming parts of the movie is where he explains his teaching philosophy to the kindergarten teacher after she laughs at one of the silly mnemonics that he’s trying to make her memorize. He takes his job really seriously, and he honestly believes his instruction will save his pupils’ lives someday. This is a guy who’s schlubby and lonely, but he’s not pathetic. He’s found a way to live, and, to me, there’s something gloriously countercultural about that.

Oh, and he’s also a crazy racist who believes that the government is forcing nonwhite people to immigrate to Britain and shoving multiculturalism down peoples’ throats in order to deprive the noble British people of their heritage. And he also believes in some crazy connection between the American Government and Satanism. The Illuminati might be in there somewhere, too.

Now…are his beliefs deplorable? Yes.

But is he ruining the world?

I don’t know.

To me, it almost feels like he’s part of the solution and not part of the problem. This is a guy who’s obviously very switched on. He thinks for himself. He forges his own path in life. And he’s figured out a way to live in accordance with his own values. And, to me, that’s much more important than what you believe about immigration.

I mean, you just need to look at the medium and the message. The things that the guy says are repulsive. But the way he lives is admirable. During the five minutes per day that he talks about politics, he might be making the world a worse place, but during the whole rest of the day, he serves as an example to all the other sad, lonely, and trapped people who are searching for some way—any way—to live with integrity.

5 thoughts on “There’s something a little bit endearing about right-wing extremism

  1. Terra

    “During the five minutes per day that he talks about politics, he might be making the world a worse place, but during the whole rest of the day…”

    I live in Atlanta and Atlanta is full of racists. Lots of them are nice people with redeeming qualities. That doesn’t make them admirable. We have a particular guy–a regular at our tattoo shop–who is a white supremacist neo-nazi. It’s easy to forget his belief system is abhorrent, because he looks and dresses like any other customer and he’s intelligent, articulate and kind… to ME. Because I am white, blonde, blue-eyed. Then the conversation will shift, and eugenics will come up (because really, doesn’t that come up in every conversation? ) or something else, and I will swiftly be reminded that this guy is a person who has, knowingly, done deplorable things to make the lives of non-white people worse. I have reason to suspect he has, in fact, done violence to non-white people simply because they were non-white and unlucky to come in contact with him in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Sometimes we become friends with our regular clients, beyond the tattoo shop. and with that particular guy… it’s SO WEIRD. When I forget who he is (a neo-Nazi white supremacist) I think “Man, [Name] is such a great guy! Why do we always decline when he invites us to…” *remembers* “…oh yeah. Because he’s a racist [redacted profanity].”

    It’s not the 5 minutes a day of talk that’s a problem. It’s that people with those beliefs do damaging things to innocent people when given the opportunity. Our neo-Nazi customer (and to be clear, we have a standing policy not to tattoo gang signs, period, and we include swastika etc… as gang signs. I forget what the guy has. His kids’ names or something…) anyway, if you didn’t know him, he seems like someone you could look up to. He works hard and seems like a good father and husband. But he is a horrible person who has done awful things, who thinks nothing of those awful things because his belief system absolves him. It’s almost never just 5 minutes a day of talk. Our customer is maybe an extreme example, but … ugh.

    1. rarelytame

      Poor phrasing here: “It’s easy to forget his belief system is abhorrent,” I meant to say that it’s easy to forget he has an abhorrent belief system. To be clear. 🙂

    2. R. H. Kanakia

      I get that. But, at the same time, most of the people who my Facebook feed spends its time decrying are not your neo-Nazi customer. They’re more like the guy in this movie, or like the guy I met in Northern California: a federal irrigation engineer whose 1000 guns had been taken from his house after an FBI raid and who believed that the government of the United States had been usurped in a secret conspiracy by FDR and replaced by a shadowy cabal. They’re sensitive people who’re responding to what they see as the fucked-upness in the world. Like I said, maybe if I’d had more negative encounters with right-wingers, I’d find them to be more upsetting, but, as it is, they’ve really done no personal harm to me.

  2. afdanv

    Yeah, I get your point about actions defining people more than rhetoric, but I don’t think it’s as harmless as you’re painting it. If a lot of people believe something, that has a legitimizing effect. And that broader, cultural legitimacy can have lasting effects. I would actually argue that the folks who jump down the throats of anyone who says gays deserve to die or Obama is the anti-christ or whatever is doing something valuable–enforcing the moral standards of conversation in among civilized people. It’s like operant conditioning. I want people to know that if they’re going to say hateful things, people are going to call them out on it. And maybe some people get off on just having the conflict. But by arguing back, I do think that we as a cultural are helping to set moral norms.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Sure, that’s all worthwhile. I’d never tell someone to not be all down bigoted peoples’ throats. I just wanted to post a little bit about the countercultural aspect of right-wing extremism. People act as if these right-wing extremists are, somehow, the people who’re in power, but they’re not, they’re rebels. And, to a certain extent, they’re reacting to the same things in society that left-wing radicals are reacting to…they just went in a different direction with their solutions.

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