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If you look back at the government propaganda of the Second World War, you will see that it was rather generic in how it framed the enemy. The propaganda about the Germans was not much different from what was used in the prior war, except this time the Nazis were often portrayed as stupid. The Japanese were portrayed as absurdly Asian looking and monstrously cruel. Both were described as villainous aggressors who had no reason to launch their war on the world.
In other words, there was nothing special about the bad guys relative to prior bad guys, other than some superficial differences. There has always been a circular logic to wartime propaganda, going back to the Greeks. The bad guys are bad because they are the enemy, and they are the enemy because they are bad. What makes them bad, of course, is they do things we would never do, and they never do the things that we know good people are supposed to do.
Fast forward to the present and villains are either Hitler or Bull Connor, who have morphed into a Janus like creature that haunts every conflict. The foreign villains are always going to be Hitler, while domestic villains are the generic racist. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were Hitler, despite the obvious differences, while every white conservative is a fledgling Bull Connor. Donald Trump managed to be both, despite his Zionism and love of black people.
The language of public discourse now sounds like wartime propaganda because we now live in the age of emotivism. The term “emotivism” comes from an early 20th century school of ethics that claimed all ethical sentences are actually expressions of emotional attitude, as in positive or negative. When a speaker says something is good or bad, he is not stating an objective fact, but merely expressing his own emotional attitude toward the object in question.
Like a lot of 19th and early 20th century ideas around ethics and philosophy, this one fell out of favor due to its lack of utility. You cannot build a grand moral theory if morality is a subjective construct that arises from tradition or superstition, so there must be some universal and objective morality. Similarly, you cannot make a career in ethics if ethics are nothing more than conditioned responses. There must be some universal ethical code buried in the desert that must be found.
That does not mean the emotivists were correct when they made their sweeping claim about ethical statements. Just because the war propagandists say the bad guys are bad as a way to generate support for the cause, does not mean everyone who says the bad guys are bad is merely acting on their conditioning. Nor does it mean that everyone saying the bad guys are bad is a propagandist. It is possible to think the bad guys are objectively bad and do so without emotion.
Even so, it is a useful concept when thinking about how modern humans interact with one another in the public space. America is an empire built by war, so it is built for war, and therefore it is always on the hunt for war. As a result, generations of Americans have grown up in a wartime culture, which means the public square has been flooded with what amounts to wartime propaganda. There is always a war, which means there is always an enemy that demands you jeer at it.
Public discourse in this age is not about presenting facts or contesting various claims, but about displaying your allegiance to a perceived moral divide. The white people installing the “Hate has no place here” signs on their lawn would never live within a bus ride of black people, but they feel they must show the world that they are on one side of the racism line, the good side. The yawning gap between their emotive gestures and their lived experience does not register with them.
This is why the people we call the Left love the word extremism. The word is meaningless but in the mouth of a Cloud Person it is ridiculous. They accuse normal people living normal lives of extremism, because those normal people do not want to dress their son as a girl. Logically, it is nonsense, but emotively it is highly appealing as it not only expresses the users state of mind toward the bad people, it amplifies the distance between the speaker and object.
Of course, this is why everyone is Hitler now. It is not that Hitler is the evilest person in history or that he is an outlier in political villainy. Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and many others were much bloodier and villainous. Unlike those other baddies from history, Hitler lets the speaker express a clear emotional state. That emotional state, of course, indicates your emotional commitment to a collection of people and ideas. Calling someone Hitler is like violently crying at a North Korean state funeral.
That is the way to think about public discourse in the emotive state. The ambitious and self-conscious are always looking around for a way express their “boo/hooray” instincts to the crowd. When the pro-Israel people rushed to their nearest platform to claim Hamas is Hitler, they were letting the world know their emotional state on this issue, not expressing an ethical or moral position. That is why the language spiraled into the absurd as they competed with one another.
That last part also helps explain the weirdness of public discourse. Since every issue is instinctively understood to be an opportunity to express an emotion, there is a natural competition to see who can be the most emotional. Piety in the emotive state is no longer about adherence to a set of ethical rules, but a consistency in showing the popular emotional response to issues. Instead of sacrificing a bull to the gods, the great and the good have a good cry at a candlelight vigil.
A biproduct of this emotionalism is that politics are purely performative. There is no practical point to any of it, as the primary motivation is to be seen expressing the best emotions at the time. While the mob sorts through their own emotional response to the emotive performances, the people with real power go about exercising that power to maintain and enhance their power. Politics has become the feelies from the novel Brave New World, rather than a marketplace of ideas.
While this is useful to the people with power, it may be short lived. There is a limit to how much raw emotion one can tolerate. Every day there is some new thing that everyone must emote about in public. Just as drug takers find they need increasingly powerful doses to get the desired effect, the emotive need increasingly stronger emotional responses. Like the drug taker, the end of this road is the inability to feel anything other than the lack of agony.
All human societies are moral societies. The rules governing virtue provide meaning and purpose to individual lives. The emotive state, in contrast, channels the natural desire to do the right thing, however society defines it, into the onanistic act of crying in public over violation of the right thing. As a result, the good life has no point, other than an endless crying jag. There is no point to this way of living, which may explain the catastrophic social measures of modernity.
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