If you haven't been watching Sarah Palin's Alaska, you're missing something! It's fascinating on a lot of levels. Turns out Sarah is quite likeable and appealing, up close and personal. It's amusing the way her kids talk back to her just a bit. Bristol makes fun of her prom hair, the youngest daughter disses her hunting prowess. I like her get up and go, and I mean it. I kinda do strongly suspecting gallavanting all over Alaska isn't standard procedure for this tireless family, but look--she's gutsy. Must give her credit.
Part of the show's fascination is that it makes you think (constantly)--This is a prelude to a presidential run? This woman (whatever her personal qualities) sees herself as suited to the job? It's mind-boggling. For which reason I do not apologize for the fact that we have Sarah Palin magnets on our refrigerator (brought to you by The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, no less).
We all enjoy dressing up Sarah and giving her suitable accessories. I keep saying: if she just stops the business about becoming president, we will take it down and say nothing but nice things about her...but this is our way of coping for the time being.
Now about all the killing on the show. It really is relentless. She blows away a "young cow" (her Dad's description) in one show, bashes halibut to death in another. There's shooting practice every other minute. Which raises a very interesting question. Surely (surely!) everything on this show is meant to enhance Sarah Palin's prospects as a presidential candidate. But what about all the killing? You'd think that would hurt her image, but apparently someone's making the calculation that it helps. Why?
Maureen Dowd was contemplating the same question this week, and writes (in a column called "Pass the Caribou Stew"):
The poor caribou in the Arctic Circle, a cousin to Santa’s reindeer, had to die so Palin could show off her toughness to voters and try to boost ratings on her show that have slipped since its premiere. (Next Sunday, she’s dragging up nine Gosselins to go shooting and camping.)Great stuff, but I'm not 100% satisfied. It's one thing to be tough--like Sarah was when she was climbing in Denali National Park on the first show. But killing is just a bit troubling, even to people who don't officially disapprove. How then, does it get to be a political plus that Sarah's doing so much killing up there in Alaska?
Sarah’s view of America is primitive. You’re either a pointy-headed graduate of Harvard Law School or you’re eviscerating animals for fun, which she presents as somehow more authentic.
In movies with animals, they often have a line in the credits assuring that no animals were harmed. In “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” they should have a line at the end assuring that “almost every living creature involved in this show was harmed.”
The caribou that waited too pliantly in the cross hairs is doomed to become stew for Palin and an allegory for politics. The elegant animal standing above the fray, dithering rather than charging at his foes or outmaneuvering them, is Obambi. Even with a rifle aimed at him, he’s trying to be the most reasonable mammal in the scene, mammalian bipartisan, and rise above what he sees as empty distinctions between the species so that we can all unite at a higher level of being.
I think I get it, thanks to reading Jonathan Haidt a lot in the last few weeks, and seeing a TED speech of his from 2008. You can watch from 4:30 to 10:30 and get the main idea--
Haidt's account of the "moral minds" of liberals and conservatives explains both why liberals are likely to find the killing spree morally unappealing, and conservatives are likely to find it morally attractive. A liberal like me will tend to react negatively because I live (for the most part) in a 2-dimensional moral space, defined by concepts of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity. Sarah's harming animals, not caring about them; and it doesn't seem fair to sneak up on an unsuspecting "young cow" and blow her away.
Conservatives live (more, anyway) in a 5-dimensional moral space, defined by those already mentioned, but also by authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty, and purity/pollution. I suspect killing animals is morally attractive to them because of the authority/respect dimension. Sarah's killing spree confirms her belief in the hierarchy that places humans over animals. This also explains the bizarre (to a liberal like me) coupling of guns and God, in the conservative mind-set. What, huh? No mystery after all. It's all about two hierarchies. Humans over animals (that's the guns part), and God over humans.
And the point is? Haidt is, as somebody used to say, a uniter, not a divider. He's not actually trying to make liberals and conservatives see each other as foreign, but just the opposite. On his view, we are all born stocked with all five "dimensions" of moral thought, but our environments emphasize some dimensions, and de-emphasize others. I see this in my own household, and the way it compares to other people's. My husband and I have a hard time caring about the authority/respect thing. When the kids are disrespectful, we don't like it, but we have a hard time working up a big authoritative fit about it. We know other parents who (believe it or not) even expect their kids to respond to parental commands by saying "yes, ma'am" and "yes sir."
So underneath it all (the idea is) we are all really the same. Plus, Haidt is asking liberals to stop seeing conservative attitudes as anti-moral--blowing away animals, refusing to respect Obama, and keeping out immigrants all do strike me that way. Rather, we are to see conservatives as seeing morality in more colors than we two-color liberals do. Sarah's killing spree fits into a certain sort of morality that I don't favor, and others do. And seeing it that way helps us see her less as an alien, and more as a fellow human being.
Good--it's better to understand one another, not demonize other people as utterly anti-moral. But surely we shouldn't stop there. Next, we should broach the question of truth. Is all that authority/respect and purity/pollution stuff really just rubbish? Should Sarah really be doing all that killing? Should she (or people like her) really have political power? Hell no. But it's a fine thing to understand her way of thinking better.