Sunday, December 27, 2015

First impressions of Dinesh D'Souza's "I served hard time" memoir

As you may have noticed from my tweet storm earlier today, I've begun reading Dinesh D'Souza's Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me About Obama, Hillary, And the Democratic Party. It will probably be some time before I get around to a more thorough review, but a few first impressions.

First and foremost: I am absolutely certain that most of the anecdotes I've read so far are entirely fabricated. D'Souza buttresses his polemic with an endless parade of experiences and conversations from his detention, and all of them ring false. They are always far too convenient for his narrative, and they all speak with his voice - or at least, with his impression of what a criminal sounds like. This, for the moment, is just my bullshit detector sounding, but I'm as confident about this as I have ever been about anything: any journalist who wants to visit the halfway house where D'Souza stayed and conduct some interviews is going to find a story.

You will not be surprised to learn that, from his trial, conviction, and eight month detention in a halfway house, D'Souza appears to have learned absolutely nothing. His entire experience is filtered through a completely impenetrable ideological bubble that warps everything in powerful fields of denial, confirmation bias, and doublethink. A typical moment occurs early on, when D'Souza submits a request to the Bureau of Prisons to be excused for a media appearance:
What happened next played out in my imagination. I could see some petty Obama official at the BOP scratching his head. I could see him calling a meeting. I could see a group of bureaucrats around a desk, wondering if there were First Amendment implications to silencing a guy like me. I could feel their fear as they considered whether they would be called on to answer for this... 
My suspicions were vindicated when the decision came down. Williams informed me that the BOP had decided it no longer needed to approve my media appearances. I felt pleased. I had had a mini-skirmish with the BOP, and the score was Dinish 1, BOP nil.
Obviously, this entire melodrama exists only in D'Souza's head, and his persecution complex would have been just as "vindicated" if they'd rejected his request. There was never any chance that anything about his harrowing detention experiences was ever going to teach him anything, and it was always completely obvious that he was going to leave the halfway house with all kinds of gritty, exotic anecdotes proving that actually the capital gains tax is Bad.

Perhaps the most striking point of cognitive dissonance in the entire narrative is his persistent refusal to identify with his fellow criminals. Briefly D'Souza adds the token admission that "was not an outsider looking in; I too was one of the natives" - but immediately, he claims a "special vantage point among the convicts" and explains, "I considered myself an anthropologist in a strange land." 

Horrifically, his perspective is closer to that of a zoologist. "I had read somewhere - I think in Charles Murray's The Bell Curve - that criminals have very low IQs," he writes. "Prison...resembles the state of nature. The inmates cannot stop cursing. When they feel like it, they belch and fart. Spitting is very common, especially into trash cans." There is nothing here of the anthropologist's effort to understand the humanity of his subjects: D'Souza wants to sensationalize and titillate, even when he doesn't know it.
One night, while I was trying to read, I heard a half-hour conversation about the breasts of the waitress who works at Del Taco down the street. She was, in the words of one voyeur, "a hot tamale." Apparently several of our guys were there, and each one took turns describing her endowments, their angle of vision, what they woudl do if given the opportunity, and so on.
Again, the utter lack of self-reflection is breathtaking. D'Souza describes his fellow criminals as voyeurs - what does he think he is, listening in on a sordid conversation about a woman's body? And what do D'Souza's readers think they are? More than anything, as I read through Stealing America, Theodor Adorno's discussion of fascist propaganda comes to mind:
In other words, propaganda functions as a kind of wish-fulfillment. This is one of its most important patterns. People are "let in," they are supposedly getting the inside dope, taken into confidence...Lust for snooping is both encouraged and satisfied. Scandal stories, mostly fictious, particularly of sexual excesses and atrocities are constantly told; the indignation at filth and cruelty is but a very thin, purposely transparent rationalization of the pleasure these stories convey to the listener.
That is what I'm getting from D'Souza's detention memoir so far: perversely, an exercise in wish-fulfillment. His audience wants to know that the real world - the state of nature, stripped of all its liberal elitist civility and government interventions - confirms everything they already believe about the righteousness of the Republican agenda. D'Souza is giving them everything they want; and to sex things up, he's even giving them some working class tits.