This week, super-compassionate, deeply-caring progressive David Atkins (of Hullabaloo) read a story in the New York Times about farmers in the “Deep South” suffering from ruined crops after weeks of unusually heavy rains. The farmers face economic disaster not only from the loss of this summer’s crops, but also from the effects that the swampy weather is likely to have on fall crops as well. This follows last year’s ravaging droughts, which also left many farmers with ruinous losses.
But super-compassionate, deeply caring progressive David Atkins doesn’t give a damn about these farmers, or their families, or their communities. Why? Because he doesn’t believe they are fully human. He thinks that all the people in the “Deep South” are a single undifferentiated monolithic mass — not individual human beings with their own particular thoughts, feelings, beliefs, concerns, interests and allegiances. And he believes that this blank, subhuman entity that he calls “the Deep South” deserves to suffer.
Why? Apparently because not enough of the individuals in these states vote the way David Atkins thinks they should vote. These states — or rather, a subset of individuals in these states which sometimes accounts for a majority of those who bother to vote, but not the actual majority of the population — keep electing cranks who deny the existence of global climate change. (As do subsets of populations in, say, the Southwest, the West, and the Midwest.) And because of these subsets and politicians in the “Deep South,” it is not only fitting that the region’s farmers should suffer, but, in Atkins’ weighty thought, we are also intellectually justified in condemning the entire region, collectively, without the slightest nuance or differentiation.
Atkins reads the NYT story and writes: “I wish I could make myself feel more sympathy for the plight of farmers in the Deep South, but it’s difficult.” He then quotes 11 paragraphs from the story detailing said plight. He finishes with this biting rhetorical flourish: “One would hope that even the Deep South wakes up and realizes that whatever ideological reasons they might have to protect the oil industry, they’re not worth the cost.”
The entire story has 24 paragraphs. In not a single one of them is there the slightest mention allusion to the issue of global climate change one way or another. Nor a single mention of the farmers’ political beliefs or ideological inclinations or scientific knowledge. Nor how they voted in any election, local, state or national. Unless Atkins has carried out some hitherto undisclosed survey of all the farmers in the “Deep South,” he has absolutely no way of knowing what the farmers quoted in the story — or any single individual farmer in the entire region — thinks about global climate change. He has no information on this. Zero. Yet to him, they are all either vicious Tea Party types or ignorant dupes of the oil industry.
Atkins’ collective denigration rests on the entirely George Zimmerman-like assumption that certain kinds of people — kinds of people “we” don’t like — must all think and act in the same way. “They” are all “like that.” A black teenager in a hoodie is always a dangerous thug; a peach farmer in Georgia (of whatever race, creed, color, political affiliation, personal history, psychological makeup or national origin) is always a reactionary ignoramus.
But wait — that’s not an entirely accurate portrayal of Atkins’ stance. He doesn’t just believe that farmers in the “Deep South” are dangerous cretins who are killing the planet; he clearly believes that every single person in the “Deep South” is a dangerous cretin who is killing the planet. “They” are all “like that.” That is the import of what he actually says.
Consider again that stirring flourish: “One would hope that … the Deep South wakes up and realizes, etc., etc.” Not “politicians in the Deep South.” Not “the vested corporate interests who buy and sell politicians in the Deep South just like they do all over the country.” Not even “the majority of voters in the Deep South who keep backing politicians who won’t take action on climate change.” No, there is not the slightest differentiation in Atkins’ thought here: it is the “Deep South” as a whole, a single entity, that needs to wake up — and is scorned for not doing so.
Perhaps we’re being unfair here. After all, as Atkins never stops reminding us, he is himself an honest-to-God working politician, a middling muckity-muck in California’s Democratic Party apparatus. And no one expects a politician to be accurate, or nuanced, or even humane when they are pouring out partisan bile. So in that sense, we are wrong to hold Atkins to any kind of journalistic — or moral — standard. He’s a party hack; subsets of the various state populations in the South back his political enemies; therefore that whole region is “bad,” and everyone who lives there must pay for their sins by suffering Biblical plagues of drought and rain. In this, he is no different than the partisan hacks on the other side who glory in the ruin of Detroit or New Orleans because they don’t like the politics — and the certain kind of people — who live there.
Global climate change is a real threat. Many millions of people in the “Deep South” — including some farmers! — know this. Many of them are actively working to understand and address this threat. I have personally worked with many of these people, on the issue of climate change, right there in the “Deep South,” as long as 25 years ago (when I doubt climate change was even a gleam in Atkins’ eyes). But Atkins doesn’t know or care about these many millions of people. Even though he has made himself an ardent champion of global climate change, and preaches often about how this universal threat transcends all borders and political ideologies, he still can’t refrain from using it to score partisan points against his own ideological enemies, while denigrating entire populations who happen to live within the “wrong” borders.
This is modern “progressivism” in action: compassionate, caring, open, embracing — unless you’re the wrong kind of person, living in the wrong place. Then you are ripe for collective punishment. In Atkins’ case, of course, this blind, blanket “signature strike” is merely rhetorical. But in the hands of the national leader of Atkins’ party, the Peace Laureate himself, the modern “progressive” principle of undifferentiated dehumanization takes on a more literal — and far more sinister — cast.
Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.