65 years ago, Joseph McCarthy died. His methods and ideology, however, did not. To McCarthy, the communist was a boogeyman, hiding in the closet, disappearing when light hit it. They were impossible to pin down and could only be found through the most destructive means. McCarthyism became the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism — an irony that was apparently completely lost on Senator Joe.
Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, the world watched in almost stunned awe as one of its great nations became riddled with fear, suspicion, and paranoia. A legacy was born that persists to this day on the evils of socialism, communism, and that supporting either of these is distinctly “unAmerican.”
There were many lessons for the world in watching the McCarthy brand of paranoia envelop the United States. It highlighted the destructive nature of division, the pain of unfounded speculation, and the desire within human beings to find someone — anyone — to blame.
Unfortunately, the only lesson many seem to have brought forward is that it’s easier to find a scapegoat and blame problems on them than to accept responsibility and try to change things for the better.
Joseph McCarthy strongly believed that the reason the American way of life was changing was communist influence. This belief was easier for him to comprehend than realizing that his own morality and ideology was outdated and no longer fit into the “modern” world of the 1950s. He couldn’t blame himself for his own unwillingness to change, however, so he blamed communists.
Fast forward 65 years… and nothing has changed but the names.
In the world of 2012, McCarthy’s disciples are called “Men’s Rights Advocates (MRAs)”, and Feminism is the new “Communist Menace” that must be faced down. And just as with ol’ Joe himself, it boils down to a shift in the social dynamic and those unwilling to adapt to a new reality.
To those stuck behind the times, the future is a scary place — a place where their abilities and authority might not be as strong as they are now. A place where competition has more than doubled, and where their advantages are being cut down by the day.
A place where failure is possible.
So, rather than accepting the future and working on self-improvement, the neo-McCarthian MRA will fight. They will cling tooth and nail to hold onto the past. The nice, reassuring past. A place where their rule was absolute and their power unquestioned.
Ironically, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the concept of equality was at the root of the fear of tomorrow. For Joseph McCarthy, the women’s liberation movement had just begun. This wasn’t (yet) the “in your face” second-wave feminism of the 1960s, but it was impossible not to see the groundwork for it laid in the 1940s/1950s. During World War II, many women worked for the first time, and at the end of the war, not all were satisfied with simply returning to their homes to tend children, wait on husbands, or fill their “traditional” gender roles. The second of the Kinsey Reports came out, as well as “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir, and with them came fear. Women were now allowed on juries and in the military… These concepts of equality seemed to mock “traditional” America, and anything that mocked tradition MUST be communism.
Today, with another six and a half decades of feminism behind us, we’re still finding the same old fears. The idea that if something deviates from tradition it becomes something to fight still holds strong because tradition establishes privilege. When things do not go right, it is easier to blame those not simply going with the flow than to think critically about the flow itself.
23 years ago today, these ideas boiled over in a troubled man — a man who deserves no name to live on in the public’s memory, but who showed us very clearly how dangerous McCarthian thinking can be. 14 women dead. 14 more people injured. All to “Fight Feminism.” How many more dead are required before humans stop focusing on holding onto yesterday and work for tomorrow instead?
McCarthy taught many things about fear, retribution, paranoia, delusion, and power.
For those with open eyes, he also taught about the future.
The McCarthyian communist threat never materialized. There was never any chance it would. Secret communists were not waiting in the nation’s closets to steal children or brainwash their neighbours. The traditional power structure was never going to be completely reversed, and no one was going to turn Joe, or any of his colleagues, into slaves in a coal mine.
Learn history’s lessons well and tomorrow can be better.
But today, remember. Remember 14 women who were killed not for anything they did, but for having the audacity to study in a field that TRADITION dictated should be men’s. Who had the courage to follow their hearts and the passion to do what they dreamed of doing.
Remembering them today, remembering why they died — and not just that they died — should also bring to mind the lessons of 65 years ago. Lessons humanity failed to learn then, and are still paying for now.
Lessons that must be learned.