Craving Forbidden Intimacy

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Rush Limbaugh, in his private life, was a warm, funny, and affectionate man, generous and welcoming to those drawn by his charm. Yet he spread public poison in his radio persona.

I feel sorrow that Rush Limbaugh apparently died unrepentant of his poison. It’s a big load of karma to have deliberately cultivated and to have dragged along to the grave.

I really do feel sorrow for Rush Limbaugh. He could’ve spread a far different worldview by giving voice to his warm and loving inner life. Instead he built an angry militarized minefield around his walled inner needs. And, since the artillery of mythic psychosis needs ideological targets of appropriate emotional and spiritual significance, targets were duly designated. No need to identify them here. They’re part of the battered political landscape where it’s either Red or prepare to be bloodied. Stand back and stand by. White American identity or die. This is the extremity the well-funded propaganda of fear has brought us to politically, even as the magnitude (and frequency) of climate-related disasters increase our End Times predicament.

I also confess to a sigh of relief: The wicked witch is dead. But Rush Limbaugh was not a witch—declining for the moment to streak down a rabbit hole in search of the cultural etymology of “witch.” Limbaugh was a male wizard (like Donald Trump sort of still is, only he’s now a certified kick-down-your-sandcastle sullen loser), one of those fairly rare human types who make a pretty decent—or indecent—living by arousing public agitation as the substitute, spiritual onanistic gratification for a private need transmuted like bad alchemy into intense public aggravation that, commercially successful, was built of superego adulation—a house of electronic cards juiced by lots and lots of money.

Just as Donald Trump has a deeply hidden inner wimp (which is a rather cruel way of saying he has a gentle core that’s repulsed by violence, especially personal violence), so Rush Limbaugh harbored an inner need whose suppression and thwarting constituted the explosive power targeting the embodiment of his needs.

Let’s say Rush’s fear was, in relation to his artillery targets, a bit irrational. Or more than a bit. But why was Rush so preoccupied with those targets? For artillery to be morally justified, the targets have to deserve what they’re getting hit with. What was so deserving about Rush’s targets?

Let’s say the targets were politically attractive in an exceedingly convenient way for Rush’s national recognition—honorary congressman, no less, plus a medal of freedom—powerful supports for his choice of targets. But if we withdraw the ballistics from their targets, suck the shells back into their cannons, so to speak, we’ve only returned fear to its militarized minefield and wall. So let’s ask what’s the nature of the fear that so uncritically believes in itself, finds fear so politically, historically, and spiritually compelling, that the impulse to smash is a reflexive response to something that’s secretly appealing and even tempting beyond the capacity to resist. Smashing may also be an impulse at the boundary of wanting to say yes to the life one really wants to live, the freedom and fullness of being what one yearns to become. Smashing may be as much about attraction as it is about repulsion.

Okay. Maybe a kind of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual relaxation is what makes targets so tempting—?  Well, let’s just state what every artilleryman already knows: you want the most tempting targets if you’re going to blow something up. You want to blow up something significant. (Target something insignificant? Why would anyone do that—except perhaps as a diversion or a decoy.) Targets are tempting. Targets are attractive. Targets are significant. Targets have deep emotional appeal.

The world Rush Limbaugh wanted to blow up was a more relaxed world, one less driven by deep divisions and denials in gender and interracial affections. Let’s say sexier in a relaxed way, unlike the barbie and ken world of the Right. Rush Limbaugh wanted—really, really wanted—something profoundly intimate in his life, something that moral barriers prevented him from finding and probably even acknowledging. (Rush was Catholic. Perhaps he confessed his desires to a priest in a wooden booth. He may in his piety have tickled around the edges of his desire. The inner Rush was pretty volatile. But who knows what he did or didn’t confess—except perhaps some anonymous priest.)

Well, moral barriers and personal fears are old acquaintances. Moral barriers don’t dissolve desire. If anything, they exacerbate desire by a chronic absence of fulfillment or satisfaction. Desire obstructed by moral barriers can also produce all manner of deformed behaviors, including anger, fear, resentment, and rage. The barrier is an energy field, an actual boundary built by rationalized and even sacred fear. Like the fear of going to Hell. And the fear of going to Hell is, most immediately, fear of the God who could send you there.

George Lakoff rightly says “strict father” in regard to the psychodynamic cultural impact of this god image on human consciousness, and he’s right as well in perceiving how this god image has been an enormous shaping force in governance, civil institutions, religion, and commercial politics. But the strict father is related to a deep and pervasive fear that bubbles up at the base of target lust. I say lust deliberately because the draw, the lure, the almost overpowering appeal of the sensuous target has its belly pushed up against the sacred barbed wire that declares sensuousness prohibited, not allowed, and never to be permitted. (Of course when the psycho-political floodgates open between Red and Blue, between everyday reds and everyday blues, is when the humble and ethical exploration of integrating sensuousness will get happily underway. But we’re not there. Yet.)

The larger system (Toynbee’s Class and War all prepped for action by Mumford’s traumatic institutions) has been and is a massive militarized and commercialized barrier. The End Times deployment of extinction reflects and absurdly magnifies actual human fear, fear pushed to the brink of self-induced annihilation. It’s a grand paradox.

Well, we’ve met the Grand Paradox and the Grand Paradox is us. The Class and War traumatic institutions of our fear are killing us. And a lot more than us. Our security addictions are killing a lot of everything in sight. Our externalized fear structures have become suicidal and ecocidal. Well, fear and greed. Theft and violence. Class and War. Traumatic institutions. The technological vehicles for fear and greed are self-driving autonomous End Times demolition derby cars on a planet to be designated Toxic Junkyard swarming with mutant feral roaches.

So Rush failed to explore his fear. Or maybe he just couldn’t face his fear. Facing fear is the same as facing the moral barrier and daring to grab hold the current that juices the moral dog collar. It’s saying no to god fear. But Rush’s need was strong even as his radio popularity fed his evasion. His fear was cast as fiery arrows at attractive and significant targets, targets that (below all the righteous huff ‘n puff) represent cultural and spiritual relaxation, a relaxation Rush personally craved and publicly punished. He screamed invective at those closer to the relaxation he so morally needed and physically craved.


If that’s—maybe—Rush’s personal story, how did that personality dynamic generate or fuel radio adulation in millions of daily listeners, mostly white, primarily male and lower middle class, who resonated with that angry moral exhortation? Wouldn’t one wonder what the underlying commonality might be, other than millions of men, simultaneously, having nothing better to do for an hour or two each day than soak in a heavy dose of political sarcasm?

What is the commonality?

If the two dozing dogs are gender reconciliation and racial intimacy—and they are the big dogs, with the gender issue in some important ways even deeper than the race issue—it’s relatively easy to at least begin to describe the getting-to-know-you reconciliation process of  how cross-racial intimacy will steadily increase as we resolve the accrued dynamics that have brought us to our global End Times predicament. There will be a great deal of ethnic and cultural blending in the generations to come, a wonderful evolutionary mixing and matching that will magnificently serve to deepen our spirituality as a big load of brittle anger is drained out of covert racial politics.

And then there’s gender bending. Well, gender bending as a metaphor is a bit stiff. Gender relaxation is closer to an accurate anticipation. But because the gender—or sexual—issue runs deeper than the racial issue (although the two are obviously entangled), there are elements in gender protocols even more volatile than with race.

When Class and War have been reduced to human evolutionary scale by long sessions with the Spiritual Evolutionary Shrink, men and women will meet far more fully as equals—I mean this in a mass sense, not as the occasional realizations of specific women and men who have met well throughout human history—and to do that we have to talk far more openly and honestly about lots of things, but especially about intimacy and sex.

The first ring of dialogue for me, as a man, seems to begin with male friends. Not necessarily the first dialogue, but the first ring of dialogue. We men don’t talk candidly or confessedly to one another. Or we haven’t. Not much. Our multi-generational failure to be in open and frank relation at that level—our perennial substitute is semi-raw humorous innuendo—lives at the mined wall of our collective evolutionary desire, our deep, animal, male desire, held multi-generational prisoner by a force we feel as fear. This is a fear rationalized as respect for godly law and order. Or, at least, for the interpersonal pain, trouble, and disruption we’re likely to experience because of godly law and order. The significant others in our lives will strongly and not quietly disapprove, just as we will resist and object to any stepping out on their part. Attraction and desire bumping up against the tense boundary of possessive (and exceedingly moral) disapproval.

The lesson in an End Times world bubbling with apokalypsis energies is that the fear of the consequences of a more expressive intimacy in turn becomes the resentful, desperate impulse to blow up the beloved. Either the beloved to whom we’re attached—she or he is now felt to be an obstruction—or the tempting and attractive persons who constitute the enticing wickedness our moral training has conditioned us to resist and deplore. On the Blue Left we might characterize the consequences as family disruption and divorce. On the Red Right it’s a mined wall of righteous condemnation. And it’s the mined wall of righteous condemnation that Rush Limbaugh was so exceptionally good at exploiting in behalf of a neo-aristocratic economic ideology with a concentrated political intent to beat back gender and racial breakthroughs in mass democratic behavior, economic sharing, ecological reverence, and erotic intimacy.

There’s no question that we’re at an evolutionary tipping point. The survival of democracy—the survival of evolutionary ecology—now requires the radical deepening of democracy. The radical deepening of democracy unconditionally requires a breakthrough in gender and racial relationships. It requires an immense reduction in male violence and in institutionalized inequality. There are those who say we just need to be or become more moral. Well, okay. Let’s say yes to that. But what kind of morality are we talking about? The sensational morality of the Christian Right? Rush Limbaugh’s hyper-morality of searing condemnation?

Why did Rush Limbaugh have so many million male admirers? So many Rush addicts? Because there was and is a craving for intimacy—which is also a sexual yearning—perpetually unsatisfied and frustrated among those listeners. Rush Limbaugh’s own craving for intimacy—and his refusal or inability to acknowledge that craving—resonated with millions of perpetually frustrated white boys who aren’t so much proud as they are baffled in a culturally common way. That bafflement could then be churned into misdirected political outrage. To become more fully democratic we have to be—be willing to be—more loving and vulnerable in our everyday lives. Vulnerability is the risk of loving. Acceptance of vulnerability is the portal into deepened democratic behavior.

As the civilized institutions of Class and War shrink, as our baseline moral fear undergoes mass mediation into the joyful vulnerabilities of intimate relaxation, so too will the rigidity of private property and monogamous marriage relax into a demographically meaningful proliferation of coops, communes, and whatever other bulwarks of rigid Class-and-War traumatic institutions give way to libertarian ecological democratic socialism.

The only way out of our End Times predicament is through mass breakthrough in gender and racial relationships, with a corresponding awakening of ecological reverence. If someone has a more compelling analysis and cogent prescription, I’m more than eager to hear it.

Paul Gilk lives in the woods of northern Wisconsin. His home is a reconstructed nineteenth-century log cabin, without electricity or running water. He is the author of several books including Green Politics is Eutopian, Nature’s Unruly Mob: Farming and the Crisis in Rural Culture, and Picking Fights with the Gods: A Spiritual Psychoanalysis of Civilization’s Superego.