When Egos Inflate: They think they can say anything

PZM’s post on Limbaugh’s death and other recent news reminded me of a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, but couldn’t think of how to say it.  Now’s the attempt:

Limbaugh was a vile racist and fascist apologist who spewed conspiracy theories.  But was he doing that sort of trash talk in the 1990s as his popularity was on the rise?  Nowhere near as much.  He didn’t fully come out as human garbage until the early 2000s when he started working for ESPN.

No, this isn’t a “Hitler was good at first” defence of Limbaugh.  My point is that those who eventually become garbage usually didn’t start out that way.  When Chris Wallace was at NBC and Lou Dobbs was on CNN, was there any inkling that either would become fascist fanatics and apologists?  No.  At one time, they and others who went to Fox Nuisance were actually viewed as credible journalists.

It’s not limited to media or politicians. When pewdiepie (or putrid pile, as I call him) first became famous, there wasn’t even a hint of his neonazi beliefs.  Laci Green used to be intelligent until she “went red pill”, and used her former celebrity to lure her one time audience toward ignorant ideology.  We could say the same about certain ex-FtB bloggers who started swallowing pseudoscience and left the blog.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were the first decade of high profile atheism.  How would we now view Richard Dawkins had he died in 2010 before Elevatorgate and “Dear Muslima”?  If Hitchens died in 1999 before cheerleading Bush and the US invasions?  Sam Harris and Pat Condell had died before they exposed themselves as racists?  Very likely, their reputations would be very different.

So what happens that makes such individuals do this, what causes them to lose the plot?  In most cases, it seems to fall into one of two categories:

1) They reached a certain level of “untouchability” before feeling safe enough to do it. They became phenomenons and appealing to adversitizers, no matter what they said or did.

2) They said or did something that the public liked or agreed with, and assumed they could say or do anything and the public would still agree.  They made the egotistical mistake of assuming it was themselves that people liked, not an insight that they had.

This doesn’t mean it happens to everyone.  Just look at John Pavlovitz.  For years his ideas and insights have attracted a lot of public attention, and yet he managed not to become full of himself.  His latest pieces on Carano, Cheetolini and others are thoughtful and worth reading.

Always check your hat size at the door.  If mine grows, please slap me.


  1. says

    I recall limbaugh being a reactionary arch conservative shitbird and obvious influence for the nazi voice nick nolte used in mother night, back in the 90s. i don’t recall if he was on of the “hillary personally murdered a guy” crowd but i’d guess he was.

  2. kestrel says

    This is an interesting hypothesis. Maybe you’re right – fame and fortune make people think they can get away with anything. That seems pretty likely actually but I may disagree a little bit.

    I had always thought that those ideas – the misogyny, the bigotry etc. were always there in that person, but they never felt safe expressing it. They knew it was not going to go down well so they kept quiet. Then at some point they *did* feel safe, and all the buried crap came bursting out – but it was always there, they did not change. Or maybe I just don’t understand, and you’re *not* saying that they actually changed their point of view – but it seems to me you are saying that the individual actually changed their point of view. If that is actually the case, and I do understand right, then I would argue that no, Hitler was always a bigot. He did not change. He just finally came out and SAID it out loud where people could hear him. People are complex, so you might say, well, Hitler liked dogs and did not kick puppies. That does not mean he could not also be a mass murderer. Hitler is an extreme example, but I think that say, Dawkins, was *always* misogynistic and condescending. He didn’t change, he simply became well enough known that he felt fine saying it out loud.

  3. mikey says

    Limbaugh was a nasty racist bastard when I first heard him in the 90s. I think he got worse, but he was always awful. Definitely second the ‘was always a bigot etc, just felt safer saying the bad stuff out loud.’

  4. lochaber says

    I remember when I was a teen in the late 80s/early 90s, and my parents latching on to Limbaugh. I was pretty sheltered, in a very conservative environment, pre-internet. I didn’t have much exposure or education at the time about race issues or gender issues, and was likely pretty dismissive of them at that time. But I still distinctly remember being viscerally put off by his radio program that I had to endure when in the automobile with my parents, and even at that age, recognizing him as basically a logical-fallacy-golem.
    And “feminazi” -if he didn’t coin that term, he certainly popularized it, and even dumb-teen-passively-sexist-me realized it was a bunch of straw-person nonsense.

    And, I think I agree with Kestrel, sometimes people are just horrible, and they manage to keep that horribleness out of sight for a while, until they feel it’s okay to let it out of the basement to roam the neighborhood. I guess people can change one way or another, but I think this phenomenon is mostly people “letting the mask slip” as the kids say.

    Maybe related, but I tend to agree with the idea that so much of our society is racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic (as well as assorted other bigotries), that it’s nearly impossible to grow up in society without subconsciously absorbing some of it. I feel like a lot of the anti-bigotry stuff is trying to train people to acknowledge and push back against all of those bigotries that have been passively absorbed. -to question snap judgements and bigoted claims, to try and think from viewpoints different from their own, etc. Maybe sometimes some of these people just stop trying to fight against the societal bigotries, and just go with the hateful flow? If nothing else, a lot of bigotries are just extremely intellectually lazy… Also, I feel in some ways some forms of bigotry are more “acceptable” now than they were in the 80s – back then at least, I feel like almost everyone recognized nazis as the universal bad guy…