I wasn’t going to read The Triple Package, but the critical reception to it has been too over the top to ignore. Perhaps that was inevitable. In America, any discussion which touches race, even inadvertently, is destined to offend someone. Trayvon Martin. The L.A. Riots. Voter identification. These are the kind of topics we’re so emotionally invested in that they’re difficult to evaluate clearly; the way a father would never proclaim that someone is more beautiful than his daughter.
That’s unfortunate, because to comprehend The Triple Package, a book about culture, one must dispassionately grasp a few anti-racist assumptions, all of which Any Chua and Jed Rubenfeld spell out. Culture isn’t inborn, it’s learned. Anyone from any race can adopt different perspectives from outsiders. Culture is dynamic-it can change within a group and within the same generation. Culture isn’t monolithic; no group generalization should be assumed to be true of all people within a group. Culture matters, but it’s not the only factor which determines an individual’s ability to succeed. If America didn’t suffer from deep racial scars, I doubt that any of these claims would be controversial.
Building off of the above assumptions, The Triple Package thesis is roughly thus: There are three learned traits that successful groups of people share in America. Some cultures, for various reasons (including discrimination), are influenced by these features more than others. This places individuals within those cultures in a position to be more successful, as measured in conventional material and prestige-oriented terms. All people from all cultures can learn from this.
This first of these traits is a superiority complex, an unfortunately tone-deaf title. A more polite, but also unwieldy description would be a person’s belief that they belong to an exceptional group. They believe they’re the chosen ones, for lack of a better term, so they can accomplish anything they want. This is more like confidence and less like self-esteem, as the latter emphasizes a lazy satisfaction with one’s self and (usually lack of) accomplishments.
The connection between confidence and success seems tenuous, but Chua and Rubenfeld skim the surface of scientific studies which suggest (they use the term “affirm”) that superiority complexes promote achievement, while the lack of them inhibits it. Just to cite one study, women chess players lost more online games when they were reminded that men dominate chess, but only if they believed it was a man they were playing against.
The second trait is insecurity. They don’t mean personal insecurity, which would contradict the author’s argument about superiority, but status insecurity. Formerly wealthy Cuban exiles that were looked down upon as immigrant waiters in America were propelled by this kind of insecurity. Status insecurity may also beget fear, compelling people to become influential and wealthy in order to protect themselves from a hostile majority. Think Israel.
The third and final part of The Triple Package, impulse control, promotes focus. Successful groups of people don’t “live in the now;” they defer gratification to achieve their goals.
Judging from their grandstanding critics, I feared that The Triple Package would be an apology for racism. In the New York Post, Maureen Callahan writes that the book is a series of racist arguments meant to scare people. It turns out that to support her thesis, Callahan egregiously misreads Chua and Rubenfeld when they point out that the American demise in upward mobility largely excludes immigrants and their offspring. Callahan interprets this as an appeal to ethnic fear (and somehow related to arguments against immigration reform). In reality, the fact that immigrants are more upwardly mobile than indigenous Americans suggests that the former have inherited a more economically advantageous set of values and customs than the latter. While that likely bothers nativists, Chua and Rubenfeld celebrate immigrant mobility as an example for less successful groups to emulate.
Other critics, such Practi Gupta for Salon, claim that The Triple Package argues that some races are superior to others. The evidence suggests that these critics are confused. At several junctions, Chua and her husband’s discussion of African-American culture could pass for an Ebony editorial. They argue that African-Americans suffer from unique, lasting historical injustices which prevent them from benefiting from The Triple Package. They also point out that causes of African American poverty can be traced to, among other external influences, slavery, violence, the deliberate breaking up of families, systemic discrimination, the inability to get a loan, and high incarceration rates. With each qualifier, it becomes clearer that the idea of racial superiority, which could be used to dismiss all of these factors, is rejected by The Triple Package model.
Chua and her husband even argue that the concept of equality isn’t fair to African-Americans. The blunt logic is that American culture has never allowed African-Americans to benefit from a sense of cultural superiority, so African-Americans should be allowed more leeway to be ethnocentric. In most other contexts, this claim would be rejected by conservatives and defended by progressives. In fact, The Triple Package embraces the entire progressive narrative about race except for the reductive denial of culture.
While Chua and Rubenfeld rigorously cite sources for their claims, this isn’t dense scholarship, like Thomas Sowell’s Migrations and Cultures. Despite their reliance on scientific evidence, none of the studies they cite are critically examined by the authors. In his own review of The Triple Package, Kevin Williamson characterizes it as an airport book-suggesting that it’s interesting, but not deeply challenging. I agree. The Triple Package would best be used to start a debate, not to win one.
Still, this book is intelligent and serious. One thing the authors do better than I had expected for a mass market publication is anticipate broad counter-arguments. For example, Chua and Rubenfeld concede that no internal drive will help a group achieve in a society which “wholly denies them economic opportunity.” Before it’s even raised, this answers the objection that the authors are dismissing institutional factors. The authors also acknowledge the difficulty in defining terms such as success and culture. They even dedicate an entire chapter to discussing the potential negative byproducts of the ideals they advocate, including the slippery slope between superiority complexes and intolerance.
This is ostensibly a sociological book, but I took it as more of a self-help guide. After reading it, I asked myself: How can I integrate The Triple Package into my own life? Should I be more disciplined? Just as importantly, and this is something the authors don’t address—how do I let status anxiety influence me without succumbing to the temptation to bully others? After all, picking on the most unpopular people is the surest way to ensure you’re not one of them.
But I digress. The point is that there are lessons in The Triple Package that transcend primitive racial determinism. These lessons can be applied to individuals, families, and even ideological groups, such as conservatives, who could use more impulse control. An inability on the reader’s part to see the practical value in these lessons, even if they’re sometimes redundant, doesn’t suggest that the teacher is closed-minded; it suggests that the student doesn’t want to learn.
To be a conservative public figure is to be mocked by Americans. George W. Bush will forever be an inarticulate shrub. Glenn Beck, a fear-mongering conspiracy theorist. Even Ronald Reagan will be remembered as a doddering old fool. Obviously this speaks to the success of left-wing narratives, but a phenomenon this deep as long-lasting demands introspection on the part of conservatives, too. What causes this? To the extent we have any power to defend our collective reputation, what can we do?
Let’s begin at an unlikely touchstone, American feminism. Feminists are among the most ridiculed left-wing subcultures. Even today, a stock movie trope is the grim, hirsute Womyn’s Studies major. The lazy explanation for this is that America is too sexist to tolerate gender equality. But I suspect there’s a more transcendental explanation for this.
The radical gynocentric progressive Andrea Dworkin never said that all sex is rape. So perhaps the blogger, “Radical Wind” is an outlier. Yet her blog post, PIV is always rape, OK?, comes from a feminist standpoint. For the uninitiated, PIV is shorthand for “penis in vagina.”
To sum up Ms. Wind’s argument, all PIV sex is rape because “Intercourse is the very means through which men oppress us.” Even to liberals, this sounds bizarre. But the majority of the comments under her editorial express solidarity along the lines of, “Everything you said was worded brilliantly.” This strange PIV idea has found a niche in feminist culture.
Then there’s Amy Glass, who proclaims “I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry.” It’s a surprisingly defensible, if still malicious piece attacking not women, but a woman’s choice to start a family. A statement like this is barely risible in feminist circles. But against the backdrop of American culture writ large, it’s offensive.
Perhaps the most unconventional new feminist idea is the “Wikipedia Edit-a-thon.” According to the Wikipedia activists, only 10% or so of the website’s editors are women, so mass action like this is necessary to create a more balanced perspective. It’s hardly controversial to claim that more women will bring a more distinctly female culture to Wikipedia. But a peek underneath the surface of this grievance exposes the bizarre subtext of the Edit-a-Thon. According to feminist Wikipedia editor Sarah Stierch, part of the site’s representation problem is that it’s “aesthetically very masculine in its design.” Arguments like that are impossible to relate that unless one is fluent in feminist philosophy.
I don’t cite these to pick on feminists, although the temptation is there as they continue to monopolize the pro-woman dialogue from the far left. Instead, I’d like to make a more practical analogy.
Feminists speak in terms of cultural problems and solutions, sometimes at the expense of reductive positivism. Feminist dialogue is founded on a collection of assumptions about the about the nature of power, sexuality, and language. Feminists self-consciously stand outside the American mainstream, even while vainly proclaiming to be representative of it. All of these things are also true about conservatives.
Just as feminism’s idiosyncrasies make them susceptible to mockery, conservative symbolism makes us look weird to our own countrymen.
Remember Avatar, the pretty, 3-D, Fern Gully with guns? Conservatives all across the internet lambasted the movie’s politicized narrative about an environmentally pristine, indigenous community defending themselves against aggressive, technologically superior imperialists. John Nolte at Big Hollywood called it a big, dull, America-hating, PC revenge fantasy. I more or less agree with this critique. But I also understand that most moviegoers don’t care about a film’s politics as long as it’s entertaining.
More recently, Coke released a milquetoast commercial where a collage of people sings America the Beautiful in their presumably native tongues. It’s not particularly controversial, or even remarkable. I imagine it’s what a very expensive third-grade musical would look like. But conservatives, conscious of the advertisement’s implication that American identity is secondary to ethnicity, jumped a little too high at this dog whistle. Allen West went as far as to call the commercial “disturbing.” There have even been calls to boycott the soft drink.
All this anxiety‘s probably misplaced. Coca-Cola has reached the stage of corporate life where controversy only puts them at risk. Hence, their Super Bowl commercials feature anthropomorphic polar bears and inane jingles about teaching the world to sing. They almost certainly didn’t anticipate how anyone could be bothered about an ad which features strangers commemorating the United States in several different languages. If anything, the idea of several cultures uniting under our national umbrella is almost jingoistic.
If I don’t sympathize with the right’s freak-out over this ad, even as I know exactly where we’re coming from, what are politically moderate Americans thinking?
This is similar to the feminist response to a 2009 Bridgestone Super Bowl commercial. In it, Mrs. Potato Head is nagging Mr. Potato head as he’s speeding down a curvy road. As this is happening, Mr. Potato Head swerves around a turn, spots a flock of sheep directly ahead, and stomps on the brakes to avoid plowing through them. The force of it all causes Ms. Potato Head’s lips to pop off and tumble down a hill. It’s a cute commercial most adults can relate to. But soon after it first aired, the feminist section of the blogosphere lit up with accusations of sexism, pronounced with hyperbole such as “I love it when my boyfriend pops my mouth off.” No one else was bothered by it, because no one else shares feminism’s assumptions.
Why does this matter? The fact that conservatives are offended by slights which are imperceptible to most Americans should sober us to the reality that we don’t represent the status quo. We can’t spout out glib impressions about the world without providing clear, reasonable context for them.
One of Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power is to think as you like, but behave like others. I have too much dignity to advocate something that stark, but there’s a lesson packed in that statement. As Greene says, “people who flaunt their infatuation with a different culture are expressing…contempt for their own.” When people sense this, they’re offended by it. So when we assume that Americans will relate to our hyperventilating about Coke commercials, we’re implicitly dismissing contemporary American culture by failing to recognize it for what it is. Just like feminists, we’re imposing our own esoteric interpretations of cultural artifacts on everyone else, and then getting angry when people don’t see things the same way.
If conservatives want affect their own culture, we must attempt to relate to Americans with language and imagery they’ll recognize as their own. We should instinctively know this—a conservative platitude is that it’s impossible to peacefully impose culture upon people. The alternative is to stupidly ignore the gradual, organic nature of change, or even worse, militantly impose our principles upon others. Either would mean betraying our intellectual heritage—to cease being conservative in the first place.
Migrations and Cultures
A World View
By Thomas Sowell
516 pages. BasicBooks. 1996.
As I’ve been reflecting on the presently dormant Arizona immigration pother, I figured that a responsible, dispassionate survey such as Thomas Sowell’s Migrations and Cultures would help keep the actual nature of migration in healthy perspective. I should’ve anticipated that a book by Dr. Sowell, who holds a PhD. in economics from the University of Chicago, and has authored at least ten books dealing primarily with the allocation of limited resources, would emphasize its socio-economic impacts, leading me down a much more focused path than most prevailing commentaries about immigration would. Everything that follows is either from the book, or a direct reflection based on it.
Migration is never merely about the relocation of human beings, but involves the reproduction of their cultures as well. When people move en masse from one society to another (for whatever reason, and whether temporarily or permanently) they bring with them particular sets of skills, values, and traditions. The behaviors and consequences which arise from these diverse mixtures are neither evenly nor randomly distributed, but concentrated in different places in different eras. Emigrants leaving different regions of the same nation in the same era may bring with them wholly different sets of attitudes and knowledge. The same can be said of peoples from the same region but different eras. If a large number of Texans were to emigrate to another region today, they would be bring with them a different brand of cultural capital than San Franciscans, and contemporary San Franciscans would carry different sets of wisdom, values, and behaviors than San Franciscans of the early 20th century.
The distribution of cultural capital includes, but is hardly limited to, important economic factors such as specialized knowledge. The economic success of different groups of human beings is not merely a product of chance, but neither can it be forced to display a perfect equality among humans which could never exist unless all cultures could be made exactly the same in all respects (not merely regarded as “equal,” which would do nothing to change the real-world consequences created by different lifestyles). This is why Germans have dominated the beer markets from America, to China, to Australia, and Argentina. Germans have a strong beer-brewing tradition, and the accumulated knowledge that begets has followed them across national boundaries as well as time.
How important is cultural capital? No group has been as widely discriminated against all over the world as the Jews. Yet although they’re less than 1% of the world’s population, at the time Sowell wrote Migrations and Cultures, they had won 16 percent of all the Nobel Prizes. The only logical explanations for this could be: (1) A Zionist conspiracy controls the Nobel Committees (just to throw off the scent, they gave Yasser Arafat a share of the Peace Prize in 1994) (2) Jewish people are naturally more intelligent than others (also not credible—not to mention racist) and (3) something in Jewish culture promotes behaviors and attitudes which increase one’s chances of earning a Nobel Prize. This is a not a statement of racial superiority or inferiority, or even cultural supremacy. It’s an acknowledgement that human behaviors are shaped in part by one’s accumulated cultural heritage (which can be shared between cultures, and can change over time) and those behaviors will produce different results.
In Migrations and Cultures, Thomas Sowell describes the prevailing economic characteristics of six distinct migrant groups (Germans, Japanese, Italians, the overseas Chinese, Jews of the Diaspora, and the overseas Indians) their effects on their surrounding cultures, and how the societies they’ve migrated to have affected them. The author gives special attention to “middleman minorities,” minority groups which “facilitate the movement of goods from the producer to the consumer, without necessarily producing anything themselves.” This emphasis is justifiable, as all throughout his tome, Sowell details how even modest prosperity among middleman minorities can provoke rabid resentment among their respective majority counterparts.
Sowell details how middleman minorities are often viewed as parasites, an ignorant stereotype that has been embraced in divergent locales and by all classes. Middleman minorities “perform economic functions which have been misunderstood throughout history, regardless of who has performed these functions.” Among these functions are tasks ranging from retailing, to speculation, to money-lending. For example, usury has been condemned by all three of the world’s major religions, including Judaism. Perhaps that’s why the subtle economic affairs taken on by landlords and bankers are treated as witchcraft by the confused conglomeration of cacophonous cattle every time a home is foreclosed.
As one might predict, hatred of middleman minorities isn’t always logical. For example, the brutal former Ugandan President, Idi Amin, blamed Asians for overpricing native Ugandans in one breath, and unfairly undercutting Ugandan competition in another.
Neither is this hatred rooted in some generic “fear of the other” as an amateur sociologist may infer. In America, economic resentment of the Chinese middlemen preceded anti-Chinese racism, not vice-versa, while Austronesian Malaysians could hardly have been accused of harboring notions of “yellow peril” in their vicious hatred of the Chinese.
Considering the prevalence of wealth resentment (or perhaps because of it), envy is a surprisingly underrated motive today. While hatred of middleman minorities is not the product of simple envy, it is a more complex mixture of envy and wounded pride. Our author points out that modest prosperity among middleman minorities is often resented far more than the real opulence among groups such as entertainers and nobility. The spectacle of immigrants arriving to a nation and rising to prosperity while the natives remain poor threatens the native’s egos more than brazen disparities in income. It suggests that the immigrants have unfairly acquired their wealth, or worse, their values are superior to the standing community’s. Along with envy, these beliefs elicit a violent backlash more than mere jealousy ever could.
Despite of this apparent irrationality, it’s almost axiomatic that in times of trouble, successful minority groups are targeted by a majority who will rationalize their anger by claiming that minorities are abusing them in some way. Korean establishments were targeted in the 1992 Los Angeles riots because they were accused of exploiting the predominantly black communities they set up their businesses in. According to journalist Heather MacDonald, during those riots, “Six hundred Korean-American businesses in South Central Los Angeles and 200 in Koreatown were damaged or destroyed; Koreans sustained 45 percent of all riot damage.” To this day, violence against the Koreans during the Rodney King riots is justified by a small number of people in the same fundamental terms that violence against all middleman minorities has been excused: Their targets supposedly took advantage of the communities they ostensibly served, they didn’t “give back” as much as they were supposed to (however much of whatever that’s supposed to be) and they didn’t assimilate the values of the immediate surrounding majority.
But middleman minorities, whether in Germany, Los Angeles, or Malaysia, succeed in part by refusing to assimilate the counter-productive economic values of the indigenous population. This includes, but is not limited to, conspicuous consumption, an unwillingness to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term prosperity, and a general irresponsibility when it comes to paying off debt. I’ve written about the importance of assimilation when it comes to immigration to America, but if incoming residents to my country refuse to adopt our worst habits, I won’t be offended. It doesn’t hurt the United States if new residents refuse to assimilate American cuisine, popular culture, or our willingness to purchase flat-screen televisions but not health insurance.
The fact that successful immigrant groups don’t appear to fully assimilate the values of their new communities, and that assimilation by migrants doesn’t protect them in their new communities (according to Sowell, even though the Chinese in Indonesia are regarded to be the most assimilated in Southeast Asia, they are also the most repeatedly and violently attacked) has compelled me to elaborate my position on assimilation and immigration (in short: the unlikelihood that illegal immigrants will learn about and preserve America’s best unique traditions is the most destructive feature of illegal immigration). While immigrants should respect the heritage of the nations they move into, they shouldn’t do so mindlessly. In fact, my emphasis on assimilating the United State’s finest qualities always implied that. Also, if immigrants choose to assimilate, they shouldn’t expect that to dispel indigenous hatred. The point of assimilation isn’t to flatter the natives in vain.
If I haven’t made it painfully clear by now, the most important lesson to learn from Sowell’s book is the power of culture—how the customs migrants bring with them to their new lands are at least as important in shaping their fate as the foreign cultures they find themselves surrounded by. A profound example Sowell gives of this are the differences between the Japanese who migrated to America around the beginning of the twentieth century, and the Japanese who migrated to Brazil shortly afterward. As a whole, Japanese-Americans, despite their callous internment by the government, loyally supported the United States during World War II, while the much better treated Japanese-Brazilians (who were still interned, but for shorter periods and under better circumstances) rooted firmly against allied interests, to the point that many of them refused to believe Japan had been defeated in WWII after the nation’s unconditional surrender in 1945.
The reason for this is that most of the Japanese who came to America grew up during in the Meiji era of Japanese history, which was so pro-western that within Japan there was a suggestion that English be made the national language. Eventually, this produced feelings of inferiority among the Japanese, which in turn induced a hyperesthetic and shrill Taisho era, from which Japanese migrants to Brazil predominantly came. The attitudes and values of the Taisho era certainly contributed to the Japanese ruthlessness documented in books such as “The Rape of Nanking.”
Even within American territory, differences between incoming cultures could be observed as the Japanese in the American mainland fared better than those in Hawaii. Even though the mainland Japanese faced more discrimination, and were much less active politically, they “achieved higher incomes and occupational levels” than their counterparts. Although this is slightly mitigated by the fact Hawaii has fewer natural resources than the continental 48 states, the enduring consequences of social differences between the Japanese who immigrated to Hawaii (they were from a poorer regions and social classes than Japanese who immigrated to the mainland) were more consequential in determining the economic prospects of the Japanese than the treatment they received by the larger society. Note that this reverses the Marxist theory of historical materialism, which insists that a society’s “ideological superstructure” is determined by its economic base, i.e., ideology follows economics.
Among all of Sowell’s documentation of tragic history, one can discern a hopeful template for racial harmony in America in his assessment of Japanese integration. Despite the fact Japanese immigrants seldom participated in racial politics, they came to be accepted in the societies they resided in. To directly quote Dr. Sowell: “The remarkable reversal of public attitudes toward the Japanese over the years—especially in Australia, Peru, and the United States—suggests that behavior and performance are more effective ways to changing people’s minds than moral crusades or emotional denunciations.”
Yet I couldn’t find Sowell’s explanation for why the success of Japanese immigrants (post-internment) didn’t invite the hatred of the natives the way prosperity among middleman minorities always does. Perhaps Americans, enthused by their nation’s growing economy and international prominence, didn’t feel threatened by the presence of successful minorities, but that doesn’t take the much poorer Peruvians into account. Maybe the aftermath of World War II, particularly America’s dropping of two nuclear bombs on Japanese soil, produced special circumstances which affected how Westerners related to Japanese immigrants. Perhaps the Japanese weren’t truly a middleman minority. It could be that atavistic class consciousness took a welcome vacation. Something prevented the long-term resentment of the Japanese among post-WWII westerners, and it would have been be helpful for Sowell to more clearly identify what that was.
Understanding the importance of cultural capital shouldn’t be confused with rigid determinism. A long-standing tradition of business expertise would be of little use to immigrants in societies where foreigners aren’t permitted to engage in free enterprise, but to dismiss one’s cultural heritage is to unwisely dismiss how it helps determine one’s success. Keeping an eye on cultural capital helps one transcend what Sowell calls “the fashionable but false dichotomy between ‘blaming the victim’ and blaming ‘society,’” which “ignores factors for which no blame is in order.” This shouldn’t be a controversial point; for a group to pretend that their cultural values and inherited knowledge don’t have any effect on their prosperity is like trying to live forever by refusing to acknowledge death.
Knowing all of this doesn’t release Americans from the responsibility of promoting justice and compassion, but it defangs the serpents who use the lack of perfect equality—whether it’s expressed in proportional representation, income level, or arbitrary prestige—as a demagogic tool. The importance of this in preserving peace within a multiracial society can’t be understated.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that no one can fully understand the way different groups achieve different levels of economic prosperity without understanding the ideas presented in Migrations and Cultures. I would have like to see more direct comparisons of the different cultures, as well as a timely chapter on Mexican immigration, but the book was already 500 pages long, and from the author’s account, already one of three books conceived from what was supposed to be one (the others: Race and Culture, published in 1994, and Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, 1991. I imagine Affirmative Action Around the World, 2004, is related to these as well). Besides, it’s not as if I can complain about the scope of the book.
Hey, wasn’t this essay supposed to have something to do with Arizona SB 1070?
I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next to a Republican
A Survival Guide for Conservatives Marooned Among the Angry, Smug, and Terminally Self-Righteous
By Harry Stein
199 pages. Encounter Books. 2009.
Chicken Soup for the Conservative Soul
Conservatives aren’t very good at identity politics. Part of it is our fundamental distaste for chauvinistic appeals based on race, gender, class, or sexuality. While right-leaning Americans are generally well aware of their political standing relative to the rest of the country (in other words, conservatives know they’re conservative) the intimate question of what it means to be a member of a certain group, how it affects friendships, the workplace and the other mundane details of our day to day existence aren’t examined with the same intensity on the American right as it is in self-conscious victim groups. This is what makes I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next to a Republican, a collection of the novelist Harry Stein’s perceptive accounts of the condensation, ignorance, and intolerance right-wingers put up with, unique. It’s not the Limbaughian equivalent of W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk, but it doesn’t need to be at the moment.
For a book culled from one man’s standpoint, I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next to a Republican is surprisingly broad in scope. In short sections (some only two pages long) it deals with the headaches (“struggles” is too dramatic of a word here) conservatives experience in a wide array of circumstances. One catches a glimpse of the failure of Mrs. Stein to pull off a successful bipartisan “purple party,” the scapegoating of landlords in New York, or the challenges single conservatives face when dating in blue states (I didn’t think it was that hard, but then again, I dated online and listed my affiliation as conservative to preemptively weed out the women this would bother). One of Stein’s best chapters is “Shoot-out over the Holiday Table,” which discusses the need for perspective to keep families together in the presence of political differences. Stein advises his readers to keep in mind that no matter how contentious things may seem today, “the grimmest brother-against-brother stuff is best left to history.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean ideological differences don’t have real consequences. What right-of-center American can’t relate to Stein’s experience after giving a 2002 speech where he pointed out how ridiculous it was for his son’s English teacher to avoid teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an anti-racist classic, because it uses the N-word a lot. Predictably, a progressive activist stood up during Stein’s appearance and stated that he, as a black man, was personally offended by the his jokes about black people (bizarre, because Stein had told none) and rationalization of the use of the N-word, as if defending the authentic portrayal of racism in its time is equivalent to excusing the casual use of racial slurs today.
But that isn’t the end of the story. A reporter from a local newspaper contacted Stein, asking him about reports that he had made racially inflammatory statements. Mr. Stein explained in detail what happened, but the reporter, apparently oblivious (and ambiguously hostile) followed up by asking if he had inadvertently said something offensive anyway. When the article about the manufactured controversy was published, it mentioned the irresponsible accusations leveled against Stein, but it didn’t list an adequate defense to them, merely noting that the speaker didn’t understand why someone would take offense to his speech. Stein’s feeling of “outrage mixed with a profound sense of helplessness” is exactly what all outspoken conservatives feel when our words are deliberately misconstrued to pander to the lowest common denominator. I know I always leave room after dinner for progressives to put words into my mouth.
One would think that our private lives would serve as a shelter from this nonsense. Among emotionally balanced adults, the impact of political differences on friendships should be minimal. After all, differences in opinion are part of what makes people interesting. But I suspect all conservatives know it isn’t that simple.
No less so than an accent in our speech or the way we dress, our political alignment will evoke a visceral response from friends and strangers alike. Should I open the door for my feminist friend, or will she lecture me about being able to do it herself—if it happens in the office, does it count as sexual harassment? Will my environmental friend freak out when he sees the bovine carbon footprint packed into my freezer? Will the progressive minority be offended if I repeat a Chris Rock joke? Will the conservative guy tell me I’m going to hell for smoking weed? Unfair assumptions dog everyone in one way or another. Harry Stein recollects a conversation where he was accused by an old friend of becoming a right-winger out of greed.
At one point, our author bluntly poses a question that aims at the heart of such phenomena: “Is it even possible to be genuine friends with someone that believes you—or, if not precisely you, everyone who agrees with you—is a vicious, mean-spirited, greedy, bigoted S.O.B.?” The majority of my friends are progressive to one degree or another, so I hope the answer is yes, but I know exactly what he means. The assumptions made about conservatives, such as our presumed bigotry, are not only insulting, but stigmatizing—they scare apolitical acquaintances away, create a hostile environment for counterrevolutionary opinion, and are even used to justify crass mistreatment of rightists (such as boycotts of those who support conservative causes).
Keeping this in mind, it makes sense that I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next to a Republican includes a list of “safe houses” (businesses and other establishments with conservative-friendly atmospheres) in Madison, WI. Stein also sheds light on the way right-wingers cope with progressive aggression using abrasive humor, via the Madison talk radio host Vicki McKenna. McKenna: “The healthiest way to look at this town—I’m talking mental health—is as comedy.”
It’s tempting to say that conservatives and progressives are equally uncivil to one another, and I plead guilty to taunting progressives as much as any other Ann Coulter fan. Still it’s hard to picture a National Review intern squealing “yess, Obama has lukemia!” the same way one of Stein’s liberal friends has gloated , “Yess, Giuliani has prostate cancer…” The difference between the right and the left seems to involve charity. Harry Stein certainly isn’t the first to note that “Conservatives think liberals have bad ideas, while liberals think conservatives are evil.”
One can speculate as to why this is so. The disproportionate sense of urgency progressives bring to seemingly every political question just isn’t present on the right in any palpable sense. If someone believes that the benefits of universal health care are obvious, and clearly better in all important ways than the current system, then wouldn’t that make anyone who undermines it evil? If one truly believes that women are “under siege” in America, wouldn’t that make mere opposition to progressive feminism misogynistic? A certain anxiety is implicit in the left’s insistence on passing out extreme accusations like Halloween candy. It’s gotten to the point where comparisons to the KKK say more about the accuser than the accused.
Perhaps progressives are just clever enough to understand the cheap applause one gets from parroting left-wing sensibilities. It’s easier to impress people by making fun of Christian conservatives than it is to defend them. It’s easier to take a holier-than-thou stance in defense of idealistic spending programs than it is to parry endless assaults on your integrity by those who insist that advocates for lower taxes are pandering to corporations. Advocating non-threatening leftist policies will get one called “bold” by fellow travelers, but demonstrating true courage by say, making a case that the education budget may need to be sensibly cut, will get you called a fascist toady. Progressives applaud each other for their imagined bravery almost as much as they unfairly smear their perceived enemies. In short, they’re smart enough to understand politics as a status symbol.
Perhaps it’s less about status and more about peer pressure. This is congruent with a common theme in I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next to a Republican. In large segments of America, the leftist perspective is rarely challenged. Not on campus, not in psychiatry, and certainly not in social work. Not among artists, or most young people, or strangely, the “political class.” Not at work (where politics, especially conservatism, can be potently offensive), in coffee shops, or on the FM dial. One could make the case that the social incentives for conforming to the conventional left are simply greater than the ones for embracing the reportedly outrageous right. Through their cloyingly polite deference to seemingly every sensibility registered under the umbrella of social justice, PBS and NPR have a found a way to become less daring than Pat Boone.
Maybe, just maybe, progressives are sincerely afraid of conservatives. Perhaps the assumptions made about modern tea partiers in pop culture have become a simulacrum of reality, causing impressionable human beings to actually believe that right-wingers are generally crazy and/or evil. It is possible that after a lifetime of hearing it repeated over and over again by their peers and the media that leftists are truly convinced that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that the latter group opposes “privilege” in all its ugly forms, while the former excuses or even supports it.
But let’s keep in mind that this is all speculation. I don’t want to make the mistake of presuming that intelligent people with good intentions would never embrace progressive politics. Some people have embraced the left in good faith, and others will in the future. Better to cope with this reality than torture ourselves with dreams of ideological purity. A conservative cliché is that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and an America where conservatives are free to express themselves, organize, and peacefully protest bad ideas (and the institutions and laws which they may produce) is a nation that is good.
I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next to a Republican is a brisk, pleasurable read, but it’s also thoughtful. It’s a reminder that our personal, conservative experiences are legitimate and not isolated musings generated by our kooky imaginations. It’s a morale booster, a light, intellectual snack for when one is not in the mood to translate Russell Kirk’s encyclopedic prose into English. I repeat, it isn’t The Souls of Black Folk, but it doesn’t need to be.
What is conservatism’s problem with race? Why does everything done in the name of the conservative movement (and by proxy, the Republican Party) fail to appeal to a majority of self-conscious minorities?
1- America was born into slavery. It’s our original sin, and may be the nation’s undoing as its legacy seems to engender the permanent alienation of minorities from traditional American culture. To the racially conscious, every defense of American tradition, no matter how thoughtful or tolerant, smells like a defense of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. From a certain standpoint, it doesn’t matter than Americans died to abolish slavery. What matters is that the founders didn’t do it in the first place, which makes appeals to their collective wisdom sound like excuses for slavery.
2- Conservatives must reach out to minorities, especially the black community. No matter how vain it may seem (progressives rarely deny themselves the opportunity to portray their opponents as racists—see Rand Paul) the rift between the political right and the black community is cultural, which means it will almost certainly change slowly, if it’s to change for the better. Only through familiarity with a sober conservative understanding of tradition, unblemished by progressive malevolence, will minorities learn to be comfortable with conservative ideals. Only until blacks are completely comfortable with the paradoxical reverence of American heritage coupled with the acknowledgement and justified rejection of our worst traditions, will that change. Whether or not it’s fair, America’s political atmosphere is such that the burden of proof is on conservatives to demonstrate we’re not racist. At the very least, this means engaging with minority communities, accepting invitations to NAACP events, and empathizing with the African American experience (even if it doesn’t entail sympathizing with it). We should start today, but not expect results for generations.
3- While conservatives are right to reject the assumptions that drive political correctness, a healthy disregard for leftist mores is different than dumb, blunt name-calling. Every time Ann Coulter uses the term “Raghead” to denounce Islamic extremists, or someone like former Republican Senator George Allen says “Macaca,” it only fuels the false perception that right-wingers are pining for a pure, white America. Conservatives should be the last people willing to play with racial slurs, if only because of the first two reasons I listed above. When the assumption is that we’re racist, we can’t get away with the same things the left can. Case in point, then-Democratic Senator Joe Biden’s comment about Indian-Americans: “”In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian-Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” Rightly or wrongly, progressives are given the benefit of the doubt by Americans when they say stupid things that involve race. This is not the case with conservatives, and it won’t change if we simply disregard it.
4- We were dead wrong in the civil rights era, specifically, on voting rights.
When Americans were arguing about voting rights in the mid-twentieth century, classical conservatives, correctly trying to preserve moral nuance on the subject, simply weren’t libertarian enough. In the 1959 book Up From Liberalism, Willaim F. Buckley argued that the federal government shouldn’t guarantee African-Americans voting rights. His reasoning isn’t racist, in fact, it rejects the fundamental tenant of racism, inherent racial superiority—“There are no scientific grounds for assuming congenital Negro disabilities.” So why did he oppose it? Further reading is required.
For Buckley, the salient question about voting rights was whether or not the “claims of civilization” took precedence over those of universal suffrage. Intellectual conservatives have always been aware of democracy’s excesses, particularly mob rule. Thus, the denial of voting rights wasn’t seen as a big deal. “Being able to vote is no more to have realized freedom than being able to read is to have realized wisdom,” wrote Buckley. Yet this ignored the plain truth that African Americans, being American citizens, should be accorded the right to govern themselves through democratic elections. The proposed solution of voting qualification tests is flawed along the same lines. We shouldn’t deny legal citizens the right to vote based on whether or not they understand the foundations of American culture. It would be impractical and potentially abused—what would happen if the test is written by progressive activists who interpret everything as a matter of exploitation? Moreover, to be ruled by a government against your will is simply a less enthusiastic form of slavery.
More than anything else, being wrong about the right to vote has brought into question the conservative stance on every issue from affirmative action to reparations, and made it more difficult to present these cases as the African American community, along with much of the rest of our country, only sees that a generation of conservatives opposed black interests, not a nuanced, comprehensive picture of conservatives who have supported legal equality and have wholeheartedly condemned racial prejudice as readily as any other Americans, but have rejected more extreme claims such as proportional representation. This legacy follows us today, and gives a false air of authority to the claims that conservatism is a racist ideology, when in fact, such beliefs are irrevocably misinformed.
I’ll admit it; I used to be one of those conservatives who never thought immigration was a big deal. That’s partly because of my libertarian background. Libertarians, while more tolerant of social conservatism than progressives, nevertheless have no philosophical framework for understanding the classical conservative reverence for things such as cultural capital and transcendent morality. Thus, my social conservatism developed far more slowly than my lifelong disgust towards the left’s corny morality tales and over the top emotionalism, an aversion most libertarians share. Another reason for this is that the two most often cited reasons for opposing illegal immigration, high crime and a stressed economy, don’t resonate with me as much as they probably should.
Start with the argument that illegal immigration is bad for the economy. Illegal immigration is estimated to cost the state of New York (which is only thousands of miles from Mexico) between 4.5 and 5.1 billion dollars a year. This limits the amount of money educators have to spend on competitive teachers and computers, among other things. This is a serious charge, but it’s also a drop in the bucket compared to what this century’s first two American Presidents have spent in the name of progress.
Some conservatives go as far to equate the practice of exploiting illegal residents for cheap labor with slavery (It doesn’t help that both slave-owners and supporters of illegal immigration have argued that their preferred employment practices are integral to the economy). But aside from its illegality, the prospect of human beings being paid less than minimum wage doesn’t bother me if all parties agree to it in good faith.
Then there’s illegal immigration’s contribution to crime. Imported gangs such as MS-13 intimidate American citizens not only along the border, but in faraway lands such as Omaha and New Jersey. The ongoing inner-city drug problem progressive activists cynically (and enthusiastically) blame on racism is largely fueled by illegal aliens smuggling drugs into the country. A seemingly endless number of brutal crimes would almost certainly not have occurred if the United States enforced its immigration laws. Even taking into account the plain fact that most illegal immigrants are clearly not violent thugs, the growing population of illegal aliens who happen to be criminals has made some of America’s biggest cities much more dangerous than they already were.
While it would be irresponsible to ignore the economic and criminal consequences of illegal immigration, neither extends a shadow over America as long as the one cast by its cultural impact. My stance on immigration is shamelessly derivative of Samuel Huntington’s: The most important question about immigration isn’t whether or not foreigners are importing themselves to America, but whether or not they’re assimilating.
As much as I tend to stress otherwise, liberals and conservatives, by virtue of their American heritage, have more in common than their predictably hyperbolic “outrage” suggests. The vast majority of all Americans place ideals such as free speech, freedom from political coercion, and rule of law on a pedestal. In general, Americans wholeheartedly respect their libertarian constitution, which unites them despite their doctrinal pissing matches. While conservatives are generally more exuberant in their nationalism, liberals also readily proclaim that they love America and support the troops.
For the most part, this cultural heritage has held America together despite crises such as the Great Depression, the 60’s Revolution, and 9/11. It’s telling that both Democrats and Republicans quote George Orwell’s 1984, a narrative obsessed with the dangers of an overbearing state, as if it were the Bible. Undermining the Constitution is an offense on both sides of the aisle, even as it’s vulnerable to eccentric interpretation. As long as the American people care to uphold our deepest traditions, American politicians have no choice but to submit to our most valuable ideals. Even President Barack Obama has said “I am a strong believer in capitalism,” and expresses at least token consideration for gun rights.
Yet we forget that while our nation’s constitutional principles are self-evidently wonderful to us, the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Despite the fact that the United States has granted its citizens unmatched economic prosperity (past-tense at the moment), the freest political culture (ask Canadians about free speech), and status which was the envy of the globe throughout the majority of the 20th century, only twenty of the world’s nations are federal republics like America, and many, such as Venezuela, have little regard for liberty. Because America is a federal republic, where the duty of governance is split between the national government and local governments, our national government is capable of deferring to local traditions. Thus, cultures as diverse as San Francisco’s and Texas’s can both legitimately claim to be authentically American. In addition, because our constitution emphasizes negative rights, the stuff the government’s not allowed to do, these communities can co-exist without worrying that one will impose its sensibilities on the other through law (although this is becoming more difficult as the nation becomes more interconnected—As I am writing this, protestors in Los Angeles are marching against a law restricted to Arizona). It’s difficult to argue against a free society which allows for this much cultural diversity while still maintaining unity.
Quite a peachy scenario, don’t you think? Now imagine that literally millions of people with no intimate connection to American culture flooded some of our largest communities, effectively re-shaping large segments of the United States in a starkly different image. That’s what happens with Illegal immigration, which waters down American culture through the massive influx of a population ignorant of it. Not because American traditions cannot coexist with Latino, Hispanic, or any other peaceful heritage, but because American culture cannot sustain itself without deliberate assimilation of incoming residents.
Even though illegal immigrants presumably come to America of their own volition, conservatives are handicapped when it comes to relating to unassimilated immigrants because unassimilated immigrants have little incentive to change their distant relationship to the United States. Beyond what it takes to smuggle one’s self into the country and find work, anyone can live here without coming to appreciate this country at all. See: Sean Penn. There are entire communities along the border where even comprehension of English, the primary language used to communicate our values, isn’t required to fit in. This is why legal immigration is so important. It encourages assimilation while illegal immigration circumvents it.
Without assimilation, the civil liberties which allow the blue and red states to coexist would slowly dissolve, because the Constitution is only a piece of paper, and needs popular support in order to have any authority. Without assimilation, the rights we take for granted, such as freedom of expression, will come under attack by those who pledge loyalty to ideals contrary to American tradition. Pro-illegal immigration groups have long claimed that the immigration debate is fueling a rise in hate crimes. If so, then the pragmatic solution would be to censor colorful opponents of illegal immigration, right?
It’s not as if illegal aliens pour over our borders with the intention of undermining this country’s well-being, but national identity isn’t something one absorbs via osmosis. If that was the case, surveys demonstrating that our schoolchildren don’t know when the Civil War occurred wouldn’t pop up every few years. Cultures are fragile. For a culture to survive, the majority of the people within them must be truly educated about it. Insisting that immigrants enter our country legally isn’t to condemn them, but an attempt to protect the way of life immigrants are seeking when they come to America.
It isn’t unreasonable to ask immigrants to assimilate. Assimilation doesn’t mean “denying” one’s heritage anymore than me learning Spanish would be an affront to my patriotism. No one who immigrates to America is being asked to abandon his family’s values and switch to a diet exclusively based on cows and potatoes. All assimilation means is to recognize America’s cultural heritage and pledge to respect, and not undermine, America’s best traditions. This unspoken contract is what allows atheists to live besides Catholics, libertarians to break bread with feminists, and me to get along with most of my friends.
The path to citizenship, as much of a painful, bureaucratic process it is, at least demands that prospective citizens pass a simple test about American history and government to be granted their citizenship. It’s no accident that the citizenship process requires applicants to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, which includes supporting and defending the Constitution. For Christ’s sake, we hold our legal immigrants to higher standards than we hold ourselves!
America’s unique political traditions are not instinctual; if they were, conservatives wouldn’t have to work so hard to defend them. Tolerance for freedom, especially if it doesn’t obviously contribute to the public good, is not a natural phenomenon. Primitive societies are notoriously intolerant and bound to communitarian principles. When it comes to wealth, the human economic impulse tends towards envy and class warfare; the opposite of constructive capitalism. Truly freedom loving people are raised, not born. If that wasn’t the case, then opening our borders to unmitigated migration wouldn’t have such a profound effect on our political culture.
America isn’t special because it reflects humanity’s base desires, including ethnic chauvinism. America isn’t special because of our commitment to civil rights, which is absolutely commendable, but not unique in the western world. America is special because it preserves liberty from the government as well as the fickle mob it often represents. As the percentage of Americas who understand this shrinks, the likelihood that America will lose this unique feature increases. I suspect more supporters of illegal immigration know this than will admit it.
By The Last Sober Irishman
Now before you go and bite my head off, I first want to point out that until I was recently laid-off, I was an American factory worker in a union controlled plant in the mid-West. I am definitely in favor of businesses investing locally whenever feasible, and preferably with American companies. The problem I see with the newly proposed “Buy American” provisions on the new economic stimulus plan is that it doesn’t leave a whole lot of flexibility. Allow me to point this out in the simplest way possible.
Let’s say you are shopping for a new car. You are a loyal, hard working, taxpaying American citizen, and you want to spend your money to help support American workers. This is admirable of you. However, what constitutes “American Made”? Ford, Chrysler, and G.M. are all American companies, but a sizable number of their vehicles, particularly passenger cars, are made in Mexico and Canada, thanks to NAFTA. Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are all foreign manufacturers, but a significant number of their vehicles are actually produced at plants in the U.S., made by American workers. Which of these is more American? Even if you buy a vehicle from an American manufacturer and you know it was assembled in the U.S., what percentage of its parts were made in the U.S.? I spent a summer working for a dealership, and even they can’t tell you that. How does one make an informed decision then?
A second dilemma is the product itself. Using the same analogy as before, you do your research and find that the foreign manufacturer has a higher average quality than the American made vehicle. While you want to support your fellow countrymen (and women), do you sacrifice quality for the sake of a flag? Or perhaps cost comes into play, and the foreign vehicle, while similar in quality, is significantly less expensive than the domestic vehicle. Maybe you have $25,000 to spend and have to choose between a mid-size American sedan, with no options, or a full-size luxury sedan, loaded with all available features, made in Korea. That’s not an easy decision to make.
This is the inherent problem with forcing a limitation of “Buying American” into any stimulus package. While I’m all for creating American jobs, are the American corporations I’m buying from actually creating jobs here in the U.S., or are they shipping the work to plants overseas that have less expensive labor? Do we pay the same amount for half as much product because it costs more to produce (hypothetical example) steel in the U.S. than to import that steel from Russia? Do we buy an inferior product that is made in the U.S. instead of purchasing a better quality part that may have been made in Germany? By limiting us to “American Made” products, we tie the hands of our industrial and political leaders in trying to fix this problem. The Unions, unfortunately, are as much a part of the problem as the corporations are at this point. While understandably trying to protect their workers, they have failed to see the bigger picture. Unless we can compete at the same level as foreign manufacturers, American companies will continue to go belly-up because unions are unwilling to lower wages to match the competition’s. The question should not be “is it made in America?” The question should be, “why isn’t made in America able to compete?”
Did George W. Bush steal the 2000 Presidential Election through the Supreme Court, as Democrats have been claiming for almost a decade? I’m tired of this argument, but even today, it’s festering like a rotting tooth, occasionally flaring up and causing discomfort. Like abortion, every introductory student of politics has an opinion on the matter. But unlike the boring metaphysical debate over the unborn, this one can be resolved without waiting for God’s decision on the matter—right?
Back story: The 2000 election was contentious even before its controversial resolution. Al Gore, the former Senator from Tennessee who served as Democratic Vice President during Bill Clinton’s two terms, was derided as an uppity, boring elitist. The Republican nominee George W. Bush, the former Governor from Texas, was being portrayed as a stupid and privileged “fortunate son” of former President George H.W. Bush from the starting gate. But the animosity proceeding Election Day wasn’t nearly as acidic as the aftermath.
After months of campaigning, Election Day came and for a while, things went as expected, with Gore winning modern democratic strongholds such as New York, and Bush winning most of the south, while both candidates split the Midwest. Along the way Florida was called for Gore, and then switched to undecided. Americans waited well past their bedtime, waiting for the results. Finally, at 2:16 a.m. EST, Florida was first called for the Republican nominee. Of course that was only the beginning.
Shortly after the results came in, Al Gore called Bush to congratulate him. An hour later, Gore calls to say he changed his mind. As people were starting work on the west coast, the networks switched Florida back to undecided for the second time. Later that day, recounts are already started. Two days later, the Bush campaign files an injunction alleging that the recount violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Florida continues to go recount crazy (All the while the vote tally in states such as Iowa and New Mexico are questioned by the media). Even though the recount went past the November 14th, 5:00 deadline for certifying election results, the Florida Supreme Court decided on November 16th that the recount could continue. The court decides later in another decision to move the deadline to almost the end of December. A lot more happens, including Al Gore taking Miami Dade-County to Florida Supreme Court to continue the recount it had suspended, until the United States Supreme Court intervenes on November 24th to re-hear one of the cases decided by the Florida Supreme Court.
America was nowhere near the end of the tunnel. Legal wrangling continued as state courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court all deliberated contested elements of the long drama. In the end, two Supreme court decisions accelerated the end of the ugly beginning to the millennium. In Bush v. Gore, the court decided 7-2 that the use of “standardless manual recounts” violates the equal protection clause. They didn’t like that the recounts the Florida Supreme Court preferred included faulty ballots (hanging chads and such) which could only be counted by attempting to conclude the intent of the voter-in other words, guesswork. The standards for judging a legal ballot in the recounts were arbitrary and thus, unreliable. The court also decided 5-4, that there was not enough time to devise a recount system that would be fair to all of Florida’s voters (as well as the candidates).
The votes were taken November 11th, 2000. The election wasn’t resolved until December 13th. This ugly aftermath of it was unavoidable. Numerous independent studies have produced mixed results, concluding that both Gore and Bush would have won a recount. The point may be moot. The media incorrectly called Florida for Gore before the polls closed in the western most part of Florida, which is in the central time zone, likely depressing Bush’s numbers in the state by several thousand. On the other hand, a flawed system used to keep felons from illegally voting in the election may have skewed the minority vote, which has in recent history voted mostly Democrat.
Overall, it must be stressed that Bush would have won the election if the judiciary hadn’t interrupted either the recount requested by Gore or the recount requested by the Florida Supreme Court. This means that if the court had ruled in Gore’s favor, it would have only prolonged the inevitable. Yet other standards for recounting ballots showed Gore to be the winner. Voter error greatly exacerbated the problem.
The debate rages on for several reasons. First, America is still a very polarized nation; both Republicans and Democrats invest a lot of emotional stock in controversial issues. When someone’s ego is involved in a dispute, it’s very difficult for them to admit they’ve been wrong; especially if they’ve been wrong for more than nine years. The left is still coming around on the Rosenbergs. Second, on the surface, the Democrats should have won the election relatively easily. Bill Clinton may have been hated by Republicans, but at the time he was the most popular Democrat of his generation. Gore’s associations with him, in peacetime, no less, should alone have carried him into the White House. Three, George Bush isn’t just Republican; he’s a walking manifestation of everything Democrats hate. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, he’s not a polished speaker, he wears his faith on his sleeve, he’s cocky, he’s nationalistic, he’s successful, and he’s southern. George W. Bush is the Wal-Mart frat boy liberals never know how to relate to. Fourth, it was the closest Presidential election in U.S. History; of course it would end in controversy.
Fifth, the media’s treatment of Florida was very unusual. First all the stations, including Fox News, called for Gore, but then the Sunshine State was taken away and treated as “undecided,” and then decided for Bush, until again being labeled “Too close to call.” Now put yourself in Democrat’s shoes. Your guy won one of the largest collections of electoral votes in the union, but all of a sudden it was taken away from him, only to eventually become the deciding state given to his opponent! You’ve never seen anything like that before. It was so close there must have been a mistake, but as the ballots are being finely combed, the Supreme Court steps in and stops the recount, allowing Bush’s brother and another Republican to finalize the results, sealing the election. Taking all of these factors into account, only one conclusion is natural for the left-wing partisan: the hick who can’t pronounce words correctly stole the election through nepotism and the courts.
Sixth and most importantly, even after all the analyzing and recounting by independent groups, journalists, and bloggers, the most divisive question: Did more people vote for Bush or Gore? –cannot be answered in full. Without easily comprehended, conclusive evidence, this will be fodder for conspiracy theorists until the end of history. This is unfortunate because conspiracy theorists rate slightly below psychics when it comes to credibility.
In short, the recounts requested by Gore and the Florida Supreme Court would have given Bush the election, so the courts demonstrably did not “steal” the election for Bush. Anyone who claims otherwise is grasping at straws. The media called Florida too early, suppressing Bush’s vote, and the faulty felon-vetting system suppressed the certainly Gore-friendly minority vote. Without a time machine available to go back and prevent these errors, there is no way of knowing conclusively which candidate received more votes in Florida. In the end, a close election was needlessly prolonged, widening the rift between “red states” and “blue states” that will take at least a generation to heal.
I know it’s the popular thing to advocate, but I’ve hated the idea of college football playoffs since the first day I heard it. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I like the bowl game system; it’s the most interesting post-season format in sports, and it gives non-championship teams a chance to end the season on a high note. The bowl games also help preserve the flavor of a league whose 119-team talent pool is much more diluted than the professional National Football League’s.
I can understand the appeal of a playoff format. Obviously the BCS hasn’t always placed the two best teams in college football’s championship game (In one of my few bright spots writing for The Daily Iowan, I wrote that the BCS is like a government program—invented with good intentions, it fails time and time again, but never goes away). In 2001 the BCS sent a Nebraska Cornhuskers team which didn’t even win its conference championship (it was embarrassed by the University of Colorado in the Big 12 title game, 62-36) to the national championship only to be smacked around in by the Miami Hurricanes, 37-14. That’s what happens when computers get in the way of humanity’s common sense. One reason people don’t run the economy though a silicon processor is that it would be impossible to write a program which correctly weighed the countless tangible variables that dictate the proper allocation of goods and services, and then took capricious human nature into account, so what makes college football fans trust HAL 9000’s ability to decide whether or not USC’s a better team than Florida?
But this doesn’t mean a single-elimination playoff is necessary. A playoff system would take the meaning out of college football’s regular season, where just one loss can sink a team’s national title hopes (a sixteen team-playoff could make three or even four losses non-threatening if a team’s schedule is brutal enough). Without the safety net of a low-seeded playoff berth, just about every game is a must-win match for college football’s title contenders. Even a top-eight playoff scenario would suck the urgency from important games. In 2006, Michigan and Ohio State, the top two teams in the nation at the time, played a thrilling 42-39 game (food for thought: Would they have played as hard if the game wouldn’t have knocked either team out of playoff contention)? Alas, the Fuckeyes won, ending Michigan’s national title hopes. In an eight-team playoff system, the game would have only been a formality. Both teams had performed so well that there was virtually no chance losing the game would have knocked the loser out of the title hunt; in fact, Michigan entered the bowl week that season ranked #3 in the BCS as well as both major polls. If college football had a playoff system in place, one of the greatest games in the rivalry’s history would have been reduced to a warm-up for the post-season.
The same thing occurred when then #1 Alabama hosted #4 Florida in the 2008 Southeastern Conference title game. Florida won an intense matchup, 31-20, dropping the Crimson Tide to #4 in the final polls. In a playoff system, the only drama surrounding the game would have concerned whether or not Florida would lose so bad they would fall out of playoff contention.
I know the playoffs will give a comforting finality to the college football season, but the simple selection of the top eight teams will be as arbitrary as any pair of polls, especially when it comes to deciding the seventh and eighth-ranked teams. Should a 12-1 team from a weak conference be invited over a 9-3 SEC team? What about a team that played a tough schedule and lost three close games versus another 11-1 squad that defeated creampuffs all season, but was blown out the one time they played a ranked opponent? There are 119 teams in college football’s most prolific division, but only twelve or so games in the regular season, which means that schedule strength will vastly differ. A team with an 11-1 record may be worse than a team with a 6-5 one because all the former racked up victories against much weaker opponents. Don’t pretend there wouldn’t be any controversy with a playoff system. After the 2008 regular season, 12-0 Boise State, ranked #9 in the BCS behind a group which included only one other unbeaten team (Utah) would have been left out of a top-eight playoff selection.
Most of all, I don’t want the NCAA to be like the NFL. College football should be distinct from pro football, not just a watered-down developmental league with essentially the same playoff format. The bowl game system helps sustain the atmosphere of college football, because almost every game indeed matters when it comes to the national championship. Which sounds more exciting, the Orange Bowl, or round two of the playoffs at a neutral site? I would rather have a little controversy every so often over deciding the national champion than change the makeup of the entire game, which is what a mechanical playoff format would do to college football. Just think: How many people list regular-season NFL games when asked to name the greatest games ever?
The only real problem with the bowl system before the BCS was that no matter what the circumstances were, the Big Ten and Pac Ten conferences had agreed to send their champions to the Rose bowl, even if it created a mess like it did in 1994 by pitting the unbeaten #2 team in the country (Penn State) not against the other unbeaten team (#1 Nebraska) but against a 9-3 champion in a weak year for the Pac Ten (the Oregon Ducks). The Rose Bowl’s exclusive rights to the Big Ten and Pac Ten champions prevented some great de facto title games. Because of the contract, the dominant Washington Huskies and Miami Hurricanes split the national title in 1991, because they had to play lesser, non-unbeaten teams instead of each other in their respective bowls. The same goes for the 1997 Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska Cornhuskers.
A playoff system would only let unthinking fans pretend all of sport’s arbitrary factors can be accounted for. Even then, does anyone really believe the best team always wins in single-elimination tournaments? Were the NFL’s 1998 Atlanta Falcons a better representative for their NFC in the Super Bowl than the 1998 Minnesota Vikings? In college basketball, the 1985 Georgetown Hoyas would have beaten the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, which upset them in a single-game championship, nine out of ten games if given the chance. Can one even truly say the 2007 New York Giants were a better team than the then undefeated New England Patriots, even though they squeaked by the Patriots in the Super Bowl? In college football’s Division I-A right now, every game a team plays is part of the resume for the championship game. In all other sports, the most important part of the season always comes at the end. In NCAA football, every game can potentially end a team’s quest for glory.
As long as there is an intelligent, flexible system for deciding which two teams deserve to play in the championship (sometimes it’ll be close, and there will be arguments over who deserved to be invited—get over it) college football should avoid a playoff system at all costs.
Selected quotes from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Leftism Revisited
Americans (or Britishers) are basically conservative. Being evolutionary rather than revolutionary they like familiar things and ideas in bigger and better editions, but they are easily horrified or disgusted by the essentially new, the different or unexpected. (xvii)
Whoever praises a collective unit in which he participates (a nation, a race, a class, a party) also praises himself. (4)
In the last two hundred years the exploitation of envy—its mobilization among the masses—coupled with the denigration of individuals, but more frequently of classes, races, nations, or religious communities, has been the key to political success…all leftist “isms” harp on this theme; i.e., on the privilege of groups, which are the objects of envy and, at the same time, deemed inferior in an intellectual or moral respect…they ought to adjust, become identical with “the people,” renounce their privileges, conform. (6)
Since we do not know who among us is nearer to God, we should treat each other as equals. This, however, is merely procedural. (10)
A certain equality of treatment is necessary in a free society. Only by treating people equally can one discover who is superior to whom. (12)
Egalitarianism, as already intimated, cannot make much progress without the use of force: perfect equality is only possible in total slavery. (13)
Since equality is the dynamic element in democracy, and liberty lies at the base of true liberalism, the two political concepts are equally exclusive. (14)
In every nation, the lower half of the social pyramid (if the expression is permitted) is by far the biggest half, which means that the people of quality can always be outvoted. (17)
The repression of 49 percent of the people by 51 percent, or of 1 percent by 99 percent, is most regrettable, but it is not undemocratic. (18-19)
Tolerance is a real virtue because it entails self-control and an ascetic attitude. (19)
…This brings about such errors as calling the confiscation of a newspaper “undemocratic.” If the majority of the people approve of it, such an act is highly democratic, but assuredly not liberal. (21)
In Germany after World War I, the National Socialists, most unfortunately, were seated on the far right because to simple-minded people nationalists were rightists, if not conservatives… (24)
…Extremes never meet. Extreme cold and extreme heat, extreme distance and extreme nearness, extreme strength and extreme weakness, extreme speed and extreme slowness never meet. They do not become identical or even alike. (25)
The Catholic faith is not conservative. It is, rather, like a tree, rooted to the same spot but changing in shape, shedding old leaves and branches, adding new ones. (41)
…The foundations of the American republic are aristocratic and Whiggish with an antimonarchic slant. (50)
One ought not to forget that the term “democratic” appears neither in the Declaration of Independence nor in the Constitution. Nor does the word “republic”; the Constitution merely insists that the member states of the Union have a “republican” form of government. (51)
In a letter to John Taylor (John) Adams insisted that democracy would inevitably evolve into oligarchy and oligarchy into despotism, a notion he shared with Plato and Aristotle. (52)
“who is secure in all of his basic needs? Who has work, spiritual care, medical care, housing , food, occasional entertainment, free clothing, free burial, free everything?” The answer might be, “monks and nuns,” but the standard reply is “prisoners.” (88)
Marx nurtured a real hatred for the Jews, in whom he saw the very embodiment of bourgeois capitalism. (110)
The farmer was and remains the stumbling block to socialist experiments everywhere. Since he raises his own food and tends to live in his own house, he is less “controllable” than say, the urban dweller. (117)
Just as the “Reddest” areas of Germany changed from red to brown to back to red, so it occurred in Italy. The Romagna, very red today, was very fascist in the 1920s and 1930s. (143)
In practice Hitler certainly subscribed to Mussolini’s “Tutto nello stato, niente al fuori dello stato, nulla contro lo stato” (”Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state). (144)
“German socialism does not differ from Marxism in its critique of capitalism nor in its concept of class struggle.” (147)
The patriot, on the other hand, is not contentious. Just as an intelligent man would never try to argue that his parents were the “best in the world” so the patriot considers his attachment to his country a matter of loyalty. (199)
There is no better way to generate hatred than by forcing a person to sign a confession of guilt which he is sacredly convinced is untrue. (218)
In a democracy, the manifold efforts—the talks, intrigues and chats, the incessant rubbing of shoulders—necessary to attain a leading position consume so much time and energy that the factual knowledge absolutely essential for statesmanship (as opposed to the qualifications of a mere politician) is seldom acquired. (262)
The typical leftist is a dreamer without honor, and that is a troubling combination. (291)
Since democratism is strongly ideological, the West has a tendency to “democratize” every conceivable domain of life—education, families, drama, stores, circuses, banks, hospitals. (310)
The alternative to authority is coercion. (333)
National Socialism was most certainly not a conspiracy; it was a mass movement, operating in broad daylight and filled with people who sacrificed time, money, their very lives for a wicked and stupid cause. But democracy could not admit to any of this. (334)
People are rarely diabolic or bent enthusiastically on evil. As a rule, they are only weak; they cannot resist temptation and thus give way to their evil drives. (339)
Kill the corporations!
One of my favorite places to visit between writing essays in community college was www.tylerandjacks.com, inspired by the movie Fight Club. It was the first place I was able to see something cherished the way I cherished it. I was enthralled by the way the website brought the movie to life outside the theatre; it listed the eight rules to fight club, giving them an air of legitimacy by listing them in public, so they can be read and re-read and referenced in forgetful moments. It spoke in terms of individualism and freedom, which obviously appeals to my deepest instincts. I can’t overstate how much I loved the movie; I didn’t just print the screenplay to it; I corrected sections in my hard copy where the on-page dialogue didn’t match what was said on the big screen.
Perhaps it was just a matter of time that I would return to Tyler and Jack’s bloodstained basement out of sheer boredom. Surprisingly, the page is still going. The movie was released in 1999, and it’s 2009 as I’m writing this. Yet much like the run-down house Brad Pitt and Ed Norton lived in throughout most of the film, it’s been neglected. The last entry was posted in May 2005. The next to last entry was done in February 2002. Most of the images won’t load correctly. One internal link leads to a page which bluntly states, “Page not finished yet. Look somewhere else.” I believe it was that way a decade ago.
When I returned to it, I didn’t expect to be assailed with juvenile populism. The 2005 post rants about how urbanization has destroyed the habitats of animals and how the world is overcrowded, as if human beings were alien locusts preying on a peaceful planet. It drones on about greed. It even presumes to judge what size home two people should live in. I thought “come on, if Tyler Durden was anything, he wasn’t a whiny, progressive activist.” Fight Club’s anti-consumerism was proud and anarchistic, not derivative and political. Right?
Next I perused the 2002 post. Again, a webmaster I was once impressed by made me both giggle and shake my head in disappointment. He rants about people in business suits avoiding those whose clothing been “dirtied through an actual day of work.” He presumes that the upper class is inherently hostile to the lower class, while the lower class “hates the upper class for having it all.” Especially silly is a section where Tyler, the webmaster, moans about SUVs and the “oversized penises” that drive them. Seriously, dude.
But maybe that’s just what happens to Fight Club fans after the novelty of the movie wears off. They become insufferable political commentators. Look at me. So I mosey on down the page to his older entries, which span from October 2000 To February 2001, hoping to see something other than the fetal stages of some guy’s stale anti-capitalist philosophy.
Nope. Tyler is a luddite. After reading his earliest posts, it dawned on me that the bulk of his actual commentary used Fight Club as a vehicle for anti-consumerism. Looking at it though a more mature perspective than I once had, it quickly became apparent to me that evil smokestacks, evil cell phones, evil shopping, evil Styrofoam, evil Starbucks, and evil (insert common symbol of consumerism here) has haunted this writer for a long time. Perhaps it still does.
The Marxist sensibilities run deeper. Tyler imagines that people who drive luxury cars think they own the road. He talks about a war between the poor and the rich (envious at all?). He posts a “homework assignment” to all of his readers to write things such as “do you know how many hungry mouths this bill can feed” on large denominations. In a particularly dramatic moment, he argues that the internet is the anti-Christ.
His Thanksgiving 2000 post? “In a few days it will be the time of year when all the families get together to eat turkey, get fat, and watch football, in order to celebrate the white man trying to make good with the Indians after they raped their land. How convenient that we always forget that part?” Oh please. That’s the only part some of us know.
Amazingly, after telling the “rich” how they should behave, dictating the proper size home for couples, and shoving anti-consumerist propaganda down his reader’s throats, the webmaster proclaims that no one should tell him how to run his life.
After digesting what was in front of me, I had a scary thought. Had I been asleep all this time? When I found out that my favorite old website had been sullied with tedious political b.s., I rationalized that it was an anomaly. When I saw that the two most recent posts were quite silly, I told myself that Tyler’s energies had just steered off course after the movie hype had died. When I found out that most of what the guy wrote was immature anti-capitalism, I told myself that he had misread the film, which obviously was about bucking norms and radical individualism. Or perhaps not so obviously. I had to watch the movie again.
To greatly simplify the plot, the protagonist, “Jack,” can’t sleep—at all. His life is dreary and predictable. He spends his days going through the motions, hopping from city to city, fulfilling his job duties as recall coordination for a car company. He copes with his insomnia by attending support groups for people suffering from life-threatening conditions such as bowel cancer. One night he comes home to see that his apartment has exploded in a freak accident. This leads him to living in a run-down, possibly abandoned home with Tyler Durden, an eccentric soap salesman he met on one of his flights. They beat each other up to find meaning. Other men see this and join in. This starts a nationwide trend where all kinds of men gather in basements to beat each other up to find meaning. These groups are called “fight clubs.” Eventually Tyler uses these men to form an army. His plan is to liberate society from emasculating commercialism by blowing up credit card buildings. Eventually Jack finds out he actually is Tyler, a split personality which developed because “Jack” doesn’t have what it takes to lead men like “Tyler” does. Jack struggles with this until he blows out the back of his cheek. Then the credit card buildings are blown up and the credits roll. Oh, and Helena Bonham Carter plays a supporting role.
I know the plot sounds strange, but from the first time I saw it, Fight Club spoke to me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. It’s the Gen X version of Huckleberry Finn, a coming of age story that captures its place in time. Tyler Durden, the movie’s radical protagonist, alludes to my generation’s unfilled search for meaning. When he bemoaned that he saw “an entire generation pumping gas and waiting tables,” it resonated with me; I don’t want to die without accomplishing anything important, but before September 11th, 2001, there didn’t seem to be any way to do that. For young people who want to change the world, a life spent shuffling papers in a peaceful era seems like a life wasted.
Regarding Tyler the webmaster, a case can be made that the movie is leftist propaganda. One of the film’s dominant themes is anti-commercialism. It obsesses over the “IKEA nesting instinct,” which appears to be the unforgivable sin of purchasing clever furniture to fill one’s dwelling. The narrator, Jack, whines that corporations are going to name interstellar discoveries, such as “the Microsoft galaxy.” Then there’s the ridiculous portrayal of Jack’s employer: no matter how potentially dangerous a known defect in his company’s vehicles may be, his company won’t initiate a recall if it isn’t cost-effective. For those who haven’t seen the movie in a while, the formula goes something like this: Take the number of false accusations about the business class. This is A. Multiply A by the probable rate of exposure, how often this paranoid slander is exposed as such, which is B. Multiply that by the average loss of political capital caused by B, which is C. A times B times C equals X. If X costs a group less political capital than admitting they were just preying on ignorance and fear, they don’t concede anything. I admit my memory might be a little fuzzy on this one.
Then there’s Tyler Durden’s revolution: Fight Club became Project Mayhem, whose ultimate goal was to blow up credit card buildings and create chaos, resulting (somehow) in a more holistic way of life where the Sears Tower is abandoned and superhighways are transformed into agriculture. No less than terrorism, but it’s presumably justified because they’re not planning on killing any people. As one can see through these examples, Fight Club could be mistaken for a left-wing rant.
Yet the film’s awkwardly wielded anti-commercialism is merely a plot device. First and foremost, Fight Club is about my generation’s search for meaning. The men of my generation don’t relate to our surrounding culture, so we “move against people” in the Hornean sense. The best lines from the movie come one of Tyler’s speeches. “We’re the middle children of history…no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.” This yearning for meaning is the heart of the movie, not any of its revolutionary tendencies. It wouldn’t be difficult to rewrite Fight Club against the backdrop of dehumanizing statism instead of dehumanizing corporatism.
Besides, reading the movie as a straight political statement ignores a lot of senseless behavior on Tyler Durden’s part. He pees in his restaurant’s soup. He splices single frames of porn into family films at a movie theatre. He has his followers put up fake billboards informing people that they can fertilize their lawn with used motor oil. It’s hard to see how these specific acts contribute to any political cause. As Jack says about halfway through the film, “I’m a thirty year-old boy.” Tyler’s revolution is simply a colorful way for his generation to belatedly come of age.
I’ve heard Fight Club described as a fascistic film. The most compelling case for this would be the moments where Tyler Durden forces people to act against their will, but for their own good. There’s a scene where Tyler grabs Jack’s hand, gives him a chemical burn, and refuses to alleviate it until Jack accepts that he’s going to die. Later, and still before “Jack” realizes he and Tyler Durden are one in the same, Tyler blows up Jack’s apartment to liberate him from his possessions. Somehow I doubt a single person in America would appreciate it if I did either of these things for them.
Along with blowing things up to “liberate” people from commerce, Tyler Durden has a creepy ritual he calls “human sacrifice.” One example of this is shown as Tyler drags a computer store employee into a back alley, holds a gun to his head, and asks him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Stammering, the employee eventually tells Tyler he wanted to be a veterinarian, but there was “too much school.” Tyler responds by taking the man’s license (which has his home address on it), and telling him that if he isn’t on his way to becoming a vet in six weeks, he’ll be dead. This is a textbook example of fascism, forcing someone to act in their “best interests” under the threat of violence. A real life Tyler Durden would never allow you to go back to your life as usual—uninvolved, uninformed.
This is a much more serious critique that the anti-capitalist one. In the movie, Tyler tells his army that they’re not beautiful and unique snowflakes, that no one is special. “You are made out of the same decaying, organic matter as everything else.” I’m tempted to dismiss this as conventional military training; the same kind of verbal assault drill sergeants use to break down men before reshaping them into loyal soldiers. But this ignores the film’s unmistakable egalitarian streak.
What’s disturbing about this is that it’s a rejection of the value of diversity. I don’t mean this in the popular sense, that we’re all special and deserve to be recognized as such, the way Stuart Smalley would. Diversity is an often misused term because it implies two contradictory assumptions: all human beings are unique, yet essentially equal. This makes it suitable for moral doctrine (“…all men are created equal,”), but useless everywhere else.
Obviously not everyone was made equal, in the worldly sense. We all have different skills, genes, and tastes. We have different ideals and philosophies. We’re not even morally equal. I’m safe in assuming that even though I’ve done some things I’m ashamed of, I’m a better person than anyone who’s paid money to gang-rape a drugged-out teenager.
The true value of diversity is the realization that there’s nothing wrong with variety. Differences are what make people unique. They allow us to recognize talents in individuals. If everyone was equal, we would all deserve the same rewards in life. But we’re not, so it isn’t fair to say that a man whose skills and dedication and character and even luck made him a tycoon should have the same quality of life as someone who doesn’t have those things. Human beings aren’t ants; we weren’t made to live under guttural socialism where everything we do is for the common good.
Yet Tyler Durden’s goal is to level the economic system, an attempt to erase class distinctions. This goes against my good memories of the movie, but Fight Club is essentially anti-individualistic. The idea that one man can be more remarkable than another is completely ignored. Instead, it’s been replaced with a quasi-Marxist appeal to militaristic unity, where “Space Monkeys,” Tyler’s soldiers, aren’t allowed to have a name until they’re dead.
But let me stop here. Truly I’m reading too much into it, and I suspect if I take David Fincher’s film too seriously I’ll end up baiting myself. Fight Club isn’t a sinister movie; in fact, it’s still one of my favorites. Anyone who doesn’t understand the mood of young American men at the end of the Clinton era should watch it; in a very real sense, Fight Club is a cultural artifact, worthy of being preserved. At its worst, it’s more like the Federal Reserve’s response to the burst of the housing bubble. It’s a manifestation of the desire to do something about my generation’s lack of purpose (pre-9/11) divorced from the fear that that something could have negative consequences. Its fascistic undertone is incidental, and may be completely out of line with what the director envisioned. But then again, isn’t that always the case with left-wing revolutions?
When I’m looking for perspective, it often helps to take a step away from the political fray. Despite all the politically minded bellowing, there is no debate today about contemporary issues such as health care reform, Keynesian economics, or the tea party protestors. Instead, what we call debate today is actually a vehicle for belittling our opponents and posing as their moral and intellectual superiors. Partially because it seems to work on the masses, the search for knowledge has been usurped by the desire to validate our prejudices. Maybe it’s always been like this. Either way, I would like to look at things as they were a few years ago, to use a perspective refreshingly liberated from the present’s intoxicating sense of urgency.
With the exception of the occasional edit, the bulk of this essay was written in 2006. Here I argue that the politicization of America, spurred by 9-11’s unfortunate placement in America’s generational cycle, may be fueling a split in our country as severe as the ones it withstood during the Civil War and the liberal revolution of the 1960s. Enjoy.
1,000 points of Hate
I know it’s easier said than done, but Americans should stop ignoring the politicization of their nation. Whether or not it’s been invited into the U.S., it will play a major role in shaping the next era of domestic politics. In many ways, today’s United Sates resembles its 1960’s counterpart. That’s not a good thing. On the political right, this century’s first decade has seen a creepily European decline in the philosophy of limited governance, coupled with an undeniably challenging and American endeavor to replace foreign dictatorship with democracy. On the left, even the appearance of political moderation is ridiculed as irresponsible, and democrats who don’t follow the hard-left orthodoxy to the letter are purged from their own party. Take Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s Vice Presidential running mate in 2000. Throughout his career, Lieberman tried to inflate fundamentally dubious hate crime statistics by including homosexuals in them, voted against drilling for domestic oil in ANWR, and voted against a Partial Birth Abortion ban half-a-dozen times. The same Joe Lieberman, the man who won’t outlaw abortions where a hole is punctured into the baby’s skull, and then the brain tissue is vacuumed out through a tube until the skull collapses, was derided as George Bush’s “Love child” for supporting the War in Iraq. On all questions political, humanity has been taken out of the equation.
To put it mildly, the legacy of the 60’s has been overblown. Far from being a terrestrial heaven for minorities, women, and young idealists, it was an era where the violence of a few motivated political animals sucked an entire nation into their storm. Both JFK and MLK Jr. were assassinated during this era. Balkanization and identity politics took permanent root in American soil. Riots, both spontaneous and staged (Chicago’s “Days of Rage”) dominated the headlines. In 1970, three left-wing radicals: Terry Robbins, Diana Oughton, and Ted Gold, accidentally killed themselves while building a bomb they planned on setting off at an army dance in Fort Dix, earning themselves a permanent spot in my very own Darwin Awards hall of fame (the premise of the Darwin Awards being the some members of the human race improve our gene pool by weeding themselves out). These tragedies weren’t natural the way hurricanes, earthquakes, and Rahm Emmanuel are out of control—they were products of a politically charged environment.
The United Sates started traveling down the radical road as far back as 2004, where five employees of John Kerry’s Presidential campaign slashed the tires of Republican get out the vote vans (To his credit, Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Seth Boffeli responded “This is not something we engage in, or encourage”). That same year, windows were shot out of a George Bush campaign office near Knoxville, Tennessee area. While protesting against MTV’s partisan “get out the vote campaign” in 2004, former California College Republican State Chairman Michael Davidson was told “I hope your wife gets raped and can’t get an abortion” by an alleged MTV worker, as if the worst part about sexual assault is the responsibility of pregnancy. All the while I hear liberals constantly complaining that they’re “too nice” to conservatives. Some liberals seem to think they have a right, perhaps even an obligation, to treat conservatives this way. Thoughtless activism breeds hatred.
In the Pacific Northwest in November 2007, anti-war activists poured cement over train tracks in an attempt to block shipments presumably tied to the Iraq war. In addition to their stunt with the train tracks, the Port Olympia protestors jumped in front of traffic, disobeyed police orders to stop harassing people, and even used children to help block military equipment from leaving the port! Things got so bad that a local editorial sympathetic to the anti-war cause condemned the protestors for their “abhorrent behavior.”
Imagine if in Tiananmen Square in 1989, instead of a single protestor risking his life to stand in front of a tank, a few dozen protestors and their children huddled in the middle of the road. Imagine how much that would degrade humanity as a whole. Instead of remembering an act of bravery on par with that of a father running into his burning home to rescue his children, Tiananmen Square would be remembered as an obvious political stunt which put children in harm’s way. This is what happens when activism becomes an end to itself.
But wait, there’s more! Today, presidential elections in North America don’t end with a vote, but with the first runner-up’s litigious refusal to accept losing. Fringe leftists are still complaining that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election. When Lopez Obrador, candidate for Mexico’s Democratic Revolution Party, lost the 2006 Mexican presidential election by a margin of less than 0.6%, he cried “fraud,” and demanded a full recount. Apparently blind to the distinction between throwing a temper tantrum and demanding justice, one of Obrador’s followers proclaimed “We’ll march again and again, as many times as it takes, until Lopez Obrador sits in the President’s seat.” Far from advocating a peaceful withdrawal from a misguided conflict, Obrador assured his troops, “We can be here for years, if that’s what the circumstances merit.” In November 2006, Obrador (who, I repeat, did not win the election) held an unofficial swearing-in ceremony, proclaiming the launch of his “parallel government.”
Even popular culture, which mirrors society’s imagination (read: the sensibilities of a select few artists) has exhibited symptoms of rampant politicization. Its fans are loathe to admit it, but Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is an meretricious metaphor centered around the liberal perception of the Bush administration. In the movie, The Republic has waged war with a separatist movement. Palpatine, the big bad Chancellor of the Republic, uses this threat of this war to consolidate his power until there are no checks and balances to interrupt the building of his empire. A painfully pouty Princess Padme (one of the film’s several unsympathetic good guys) witnesses this and mopes “So this is how liberty dies: to thunderous applause.” In the movie’s final light-saber duel, a newly christened Darth Vader tells Obi-Wan Kenobi “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” This awkward dialogue directly mocks G.W. Bush’s infamous statement: “either you’re with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
The Nation, the left’s closest equivalent to National Review, noted that back in the days of Sigourney Weaver’s Alien films, Padme’s ceaseless moping would have looked laughably retrograde. Maybe it’s just Natalie Portman. Right around the time Episode III was released, another science-fiction flick of hers, V for Vendetta, was also dramatizing infantile left-wing conspiracy theories. In this film, a right-wing government that used war to come to power controls all aspects of the media. You can tell they’re right-wing because they’re nationalistic, old, white men who congregate in dark rooms and discuss how not to lose their power. Perhaps the most outlandish part of the movie is that Muslims and homosexuals are imprisoned by a rightist British government simply for being Muslim or homosexual. For Christ’s sake, there’s even flag in the movie which is a juxtaposition of Old Glory, the Union Jack, and a swastika—all under the slogan “coalition of the willing.”
Anyway, in “P for pretentious” (as one conservative review put it) Natalie Portman plays Evey, an unremarkable young woman living an unremarkable life working for a state-run TV station. One night, as she’s cornered outside by a couple of would-be rapists, she is saved by “V,” a terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask. Kudos to V for stopping a fictitious rape, but calling him a terrorist is not an overstatement. Just like Tim McVeigh, V bombs government buildings to draw attention to his cause. His aversion to sexual violence may be laudable, but it’s not a moral offset—it doesn’t give him any more right to terrorize than if he would have helped hold Evey down for the predators—but I digress.
To make a long story short, Evey develops a relationship with V, helping him battle left-wing bogeymen like pedophile Bishops and jingoistic radio hosts. Then, Evey’s mad-cap adventures with V are abruptly postponed as she’s captured, imprisoned, and tortured for an undisclosed amount of time. Evey’s captors keep telling her that she’ll be killed if she doesn’t give them information about V. I know it’s a boring plot (Few things are more mundane than a fiction writer’s apocalyptic tales about right-wing theocracies) but bear with me—this is the best part. After lots of grisly prison scenes, it turns out that Evey wasn’t imprisoned by a fascist government, but by “V” himself. Wikipedia’s sympathetic plot synopsis describes it like this:
“By forcing Evey to endure something similar to what he had endured at Larkhill detention center (V was held there and experimented on by the Government) V hoped that Evey would understand that “integrity,” “the very last inch of us,” is more important than our lives. Evey initially hates V for what he has done, but comes to realize that the experience allows life without fear and for her to return to a normal life in London.”
It doesn’t take a feminist to be bothered by the idea of locking a woman up in a cold cell until she comes around to some psycho’s point of view. Let’s hope that the screenwriters don’t move on to romantic comedies. After Evey is released, she helps V overthrow the government and blow up the British parliament, but not after he dies like a good terrorist martyr.
These aren’t obscure independent films, which only appeal to clove-smoking cinema majors. Neither are these documentaries, which don’t shock anyone when they turn out partisan. These are big budget, mass media events which reach into every corner of America. Movies like this only attract popular support in cultures which are dazzled by mindless politic commentary. Polemics and parody, Michael Moore and Saturday Night Live, reflect the tone of American political discourse. This would be fine if Americans could find a place to hide from it, but increasingly there is little refuge from amateur political commentary.
Some people applaud this trend, because a politicized atmosphere casts seemingly every aspect of life in a political light. In a hyper-sensitive culture, the otherwise trivial decision whether or not to shop at Wal-mart has less to do with good customer service than with the retail chain’s willingness to work with unions. This is often driven by presumption that political activism in itself is a high ideal. If everyone is “involved,” the logic stands, then Americans will find it more difficult to ignore the way their elected leaders shape the world. With more political consciousness, citizens will recognize wrongs more easily, and thus be more equipped to stop evildoing while it’s being committed. Right?
Wrong. Political activism for its own sake degrades people. If everyone eligible to vote in America actually voted, this nation’s elections would be shaped by the same mindless trends that compel the populace to buy Beanie Babies en masse one Christmas and scooters the next. The only change political activism guarantees is a scarcity of escape from the pettiness and resentment that political debate inevitably unearths. Political apathy isn’t a virtue, but activism alone creates a lot of emotional politics which aren’t tempered by thought. It produces employees who don’t mind alienating some of their co-workers and customers by exclaiming how much they hate organized religion. Thoughtless activism produces college students who concern themselves more with protest than with intellectual growth. Worst of all, it makes a country ripe for radicalism. Well-meaning advocates of universal activism forget that radicalism finds its easiest adherents in a politicized environment. Nazism, Communism, and Middle Eastern terrorism could never have harvested popular support if the Stalins of the world could not have cultivated a certain political “consciousness” within their followers.
Apathy can hurt a populace, but not because it prevents people from being “politically conscious.” In the best section out of his somewhat over-the-top 1973 book, The Liberal Middle Class: Maker of Radicals, the Child Psychologist Richard Cutler explains how apathy really feeds tyranny. It happens when supposedly responsible people fail to confront the unreasonable demands radicals tend to make. The example he gives involves a small group of students who wish to abolish all defense-related research at their school. They begin by taking their case to professors who don’t have the capacity and/or the will to explain the benefits of defense-related research. The student’s argument is then elevated to the dean, who likely won’t have the inclination or the time to educate another group of closed-minded activists. The argument is then taken to the college’s vice president. Each time a radical’s inherently silly demands are recognized by a higher authority, those demands are legitimized, which gives their radical tactics momentum. Just as teaching a four-year manners is much easier than teaching a fifteen year-old courtesy for the first time on their life, the longer the student’s arguments go unchallenged, the more difficult it becomes to deal with their intimidation and pressure tactics.
The V.P., looking to avoid that kind of attention, passes the buck to the university president. The President may attempt a half-hearted compromise with the radicals, but doesn’t make a serious attempt because frustrating the appetites of political radicals may compromise his status. The process then moves outside the college, where conservatives in the public sphere are the only people with enough backbone to confront the radicals in a meaningful way. Sooner or later activist journalists will give sympathetic coverage of the antagonistic radicals, sucking the public into an unnecessary debate. By the time it reaches this stage, bored, affluent Americans looking to make a difference in the world will have internalized these radical resentments, ingraining their petty absolutism into American culture.
Scenarios like these could be avoided if somewhere along their intellectual development someone took the time to educate the students on just how irrational the emotive approach to politics is.
I’m not claiming that activism is inherently bad. Discussing which candidates will and won’t raise property taxes can help one discern who to vote for and perhaps where to live. The American Revolution preserved the United State’s independence, which allowed it to grow into a proud and successful country. Nevertheless, not all revolutions advance humankind, and hundreds and millions of people have been cruelly abused in the name of making the world a better place (often without any help from religion).
Not that long ago, America was a pleasant place to live; politics were contained to its appropriate sphere. Social conservatives may not have enjoyed the rise in grunge music, gangsta rap, and violent movies such as “Pulp Fiction,” but overall, the 1990’s allowed Americans to pursue their dreams without being disturbed by unsolicited political commentary. Maybe I’m being romantic; after all, the 90’s were the decade of Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky, and the Gulf War. Certainly television shows such as Murphy Brown would occasionally bore Americans with some vapid message about single motherhood, but the cynicism of the time, rather than compromising the happiness of American citizens, handicapped anger’s ability to energize the populace. The 90’s saw the rise of libertarian feminism, ala Camille Paglia. Bill Clinton’s Democratic presidency asserted individual responsibility to Americans through welfare reform. The same president once said during a State of the union Address, “The era of big government is over.” If it could be measured, faith in revolution and quaint “We are the world” expressions of compassion would have registered at a 20th century low during its last decade.
Nothing remotely close to the liberal revolution of the 1960’s could have occurred during the 1990’s. While the sixties might be discussed until the end of history, the Republican rout of 1994 is only referenced by political junkies. When Bill Clinton obviously cheated on his wife while President, the politically reserved American middle class couldn’t get outraged by his immorality. Clinton’s charisma didn’t save him as much as his country’s cultural atmosphere. For a short while, Americans had come to terms with human imperfection. While traditionalists correctly derided Clinton’s lack of respect for his wife and his office, as well as his ignorance of responsibility when it came to owning up to his affair, people were primarily concerned with their own lives. They married their own spouses to worry about. Perhaps America had fallen asleep at the wheel, especially concerning a fermenting Middle East, but on the domestic front, everything was set in its place. Not even the controversial Florida recount in 2000 could derail the American dream of freedom and economic self-sufficiency.
Then terrorists struck America on September 11th, 2001. Clearly the murder of almost 3,000 American civilians ranks as the worst thing about 9-11. No one should come away with the impression that those deaths are anything but tragic and unnecessary. But the politicization of America falls second (a distant second, but second nevertheless). 9-11 relegated Americans to at least a generation choke full of the widespread political strife we see now. The economic fallout of 9-11 had slowly, but surely been recouped through sound enterprise. The cultural fallout has proven much more difficult to recover from. America’s economy recovered from 9-11 (that is, until the housing market collapsed) but this country still hasn’t recovered all the cultural capital it lost during the 60’s—such as an intelligent, tempered respect for tradition. The 1960’s were when the flag-waving left was annexed by the flag-burning left. Piling the domestic aftermath of 9/11 on top of that might turn out to be too much for even powerful America to handle.
So why is America so politically uncivil right now? How is 9-11 the catalyst? The short answer is that baby boomers are in charge. In their book Generations, William Strauss and Neil Howe map a generational cycle in America. To greatly simplify it, the cycle starts with an idealist generation, which produces a lot of rhetorically skilled, creative, but moralizing narcissists, who always gravitate towards the latest cause. Imagine a generational plurality of people like Natalie Maines and Rob Reiner. Now try doing it without contemplating suicide. The Baby Boomers (born in between 1943 and 1960) are obviously Idealist. An individualistic reactive generation follows, rebelling against the excesses of their parents. To no one’s surprise, Generation X (b. 1961-1981, “The Thirteenth Generation” as labeled by Strauss and Howe) meets those requirements.
Following a moody reactive generation, an upbeat civic generation comes of age. Watching their elders, they’re able to distinguish a middle ground between idealistic, cloudy activism and reactive, knee-jerk irony. The civic generation blesses America with community-minded, competent institution-builders. Civics organize the ideals previous generations fought over and build institutions around them. An adaptive generation completes the circuit. Adaptives inundate America with comfortable, but sheltered youths who grow up to be sensitive elders. They preserve institutions, without standing out too much as a collective whole. As of 2008, America’s last complete adaptive generation, the Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) has produced no United States Presidents (John McCain may have been his generation’s last chance). Adaptives go on to breed an idealist generation of children which rebel against their parent’s complacency, starting the cycle all over again.
DISCLAIMER: I’ll be the first to say that cyclical interpretations tend to oversimplify history. But they can serve a purpose, if their limitations are kept in mind. It should go without saying that there are exceptions to the broad generational designations set down by Strauss and Howe. But just in case not everyone understands, I should spell this out. When I say “Baby Boomers are idealistic,” I don’t mean all Baby Boomers; I mean that a dominant, observable trend towards idealism surfaced during this generation. Many born into an idealist generation will be anything but idealistic. Likewise, not all members of an adaptive generation will be timid. When discussing groups of people, especially one as varied as a generation of Americans, it must be assumed that generalizations will be used, and that must be accounted for when interpreting the discussion. If that’s too much to ask, please click off of this page and retry at least your first two years of college before visiting this link again.
Anyway, this generational cycle recurs uninterrupted in American history, unless the country fails to resolve its secular crises, the internal struggles to reshape public norms and institutions, with what Strauss and Howe consider “reasonable success.” Examples of secular crises include the American Revolution and World War II/The Great Depression. Remarkably, these crises appear periodically (around every 90 years) and in sync with the generational cycle. Historically, Americans have dealt with secular crises while an elderly generation of idealists provided guidance (Samuel Adams during the American Revolution, FDR during the depression and World War II). Middle-aged, reactive individualists took charge and mitigated that elder guidance with ingenious pragmatism (Dwight Eisenhower, George Washington). A civic generation full of young adults organized the struggle for their reactive leaders (JFK, Thomas Jefferson) while the adaptive generation was too young to get in the way.
To give one example in greater detail, America’s dreadful twin crises of the Great Depression and World War II hit when the idealist generation (this one labeled the “Missionary Generation” by Strauss and Howe) was elderly. Much like other self-important collections of people, “the Missionary mental approach remained a general constant: a fierce desire to make the world perfect according to standards that welled up from within” (my emphasis). Thankfully, a generation cited for “symbolic acts of violence” in their youth had aged into wine and not vinegar. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Marshall contributed most by reminding us that we can succeed against impossible odds, if only we have the courage to do so. “Nothing to fear but fear itself,” and all that jazz.
Being idealist, FDR’s generation promoted social purity, manifested then through acts such as prohibition. Being reactive, the seceding “Lost Generation” held purity in contempt. One could predict how unhappy they would feel coming back from WWI only to see governmental suppression of alcohol, pornography and politics (such as when the government led a roundup of suspected communists with the Palmer Raids). Offended by the overbearing arrogance of their parents, the Lost Generation “never stopped using what they called their ‘revolution of the word’ to…express their incorrigible aversion to grandiosity.” Thankfully, they had enough agency to disregard the Missionary Generation’s callous zeal when the time came. By the time World War II came around, the Lost Generation served as generals with “unpretentious composure,” invaluable in such a large-scale conflict.
Finally, the soldiers following in WW II were predominantly part of the civic-minded G.I. Generation. This generation is often called the “Greatest Generation” due to their general optimism and willingness to set aside personal and ideological grudges in times of trouble, such as Pearl Harbor. As one might expect generations classified as “civic” to be, the G.I.’s “had a strong collectivist reflex.” This didn’t stand in the way of them fighting for individualistic American ideals, in fact, it made them a perfect generation for upholding those traditions. Make all the soldiers of WW II idealistic or reactive, and infighting will keep them from accomplishing anything as a whole. The civic G.I.’s weren’t intimidated by ideological differences; they didn’t even consider them important.
America came out of WW II stronger than we had when it started, in spite of the death toll. This happened because of a fortunate generational cycle. Every generation’s characteristics served the country well. The idealists generated grand ideas; the reactives edited them for the real world, and the civics put them into action. Americans weren’t so fortunate the first time the cycle was interrupted, during the Civil War.
Looking at it through a cyclical perspective, the horrors of the North/South conflict started about ten to fifteen years too early for Americans to handle. During the build-up to the war, the role of the sage didn’t fall in the hands of an idealist generation, like it usually does during secular crises. Instead, it fell upon an adaptive, elderly generation which was already full of passive compromisers in youth, uncertain to a fault. Nobody paid any attention to these moral wallflowers. At that time, the idealist generation was still young enough (40 to 69) to dominate the nation with its hard-headed crusaders. The Idealists of the civil war era were often plantation owners who refused to give up slavery on any terms, and moralizing abolitionists. Rhetorical firebrands such as William Lloyd Garrison said things such as: “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard.” A recipe for disagreement this potent couldn’t be concocted along Israel’s borders. The Transcendental Generation, as these Idealists are called, “split not just into two competing factions, but into two self-contained, mutually exclusive societies,” the North and the South. The Civil War swiftly followed.
Members of the reactive Gilded Generation, which were aged between 19 and 39 then, were generally unprepared to fight a long war. At that point in their lives, it involved too much personal sacrifice on their part; they still felt collectively out of place in America. Also, the Civil War also put the reactive generation’s lives in the hands of idealist generals, a strident generation reactives didn’t have reason to trust and didn’t have the agency to overrule. If this is starting to sound like today’s United States, I’m making my point. It took approximately 620,000 deaths spread over ten years, plus the destruction of the south, to come to a contentious resolution on the issues of state’s rights and slavery.
Much like the civil war, 9-11 occurred at the wrong time for America. The response to 9-11 became a partisan issue because the debate was framed by an inherently partisan generation. Our most elderly Americans, the president-less Silent Generation, didn’t inspire anyone to listen to them. In 2001, Baby Boomers (aged 41-68) were still smoking pot, preaching everywhere, and picketing everything. With them in charge, it’s no coincidence that soon after 9-11, terms such as red state and blue state, usually reserved for television anchors on election night, became part of America’s popular lexicon.
While Al Qaeda took down the World Trade Center, Generation X (20-40) hadn’t come to terms with its alienation from its own country. Gen Xers distrust anything that comes out of George W. Bush’s mouth, and are generally incapable of relating to him. Even many young conservatives distance themselves from the President. Liberal leaders are held in equal disdain. So far, the only way to win the Gen-X vote is to be less contemptible then one’s opponent (see: 2008 Presidential election).
The oldest members of the Millennial Generation (Born 1982-2003) were spending college trying to deduce exactly why all the adults were panicking. Watching their grandparents, parents, and older siblings split ranks and defend issues split strictly along party lines, Millenials didn’t see any role models they want to emulate. To this day, their contributions to the corpus of political knowledge include little more than drinking chocolate coffee and watching The Daily Show.
If Strauss and Howe are correct, a terrorist attack on 9/11/2015 would likely produce a much more cohesive reaction from Americans. The baby boomers (who will be 56 to 83 years old in 2015) will presumably be too old and disempowered to hijack the event for ideological gains. A grown up Generation X (35-55) will have hopefully matured and turned its angst into savvy, helping wage a tenacious, but far more practical war on Middle Eastern terrorists. The Millenials will be mature enough to help their leaders organize the war.
But it’s not 2015, and Americans are frivolously spending a lot of time trying to steer this country in diametrically opposing directions. Wasting environmental resources, Harry Belafonte, Neil Young, and scores of other artists no one under 20 cares about have produced new protest albums, giving Muslims at least two more reasons to hate western culture. The baby boomers, hard-leftists and big-government rightists alike, are leading this country into its most difficult internal struggle since the civil war. This includes the civil rights era, where those who sought equal rights under the law for minorities held a clear moral high ground which Americans generally recognized, even if they didn’t always like it. There is no similar high ground today; the very idea of morality stirs controversy in today’s America.
Today, Generation X has unfortunately solved their problem of cultural isolation by relating to America through politics. Before 9-11, our Kurt Cobains were looking for purpose in a generally wealthy era of peace (especially compared with the rest of the world). The movie Fight Club sums up the mood of young American men before 9-11, as Tyler Durden, the movie’s anti-hero states: “We are the middle children of history, no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.” After the Twin Towers were collapsed by political radicals, a generation once mocked for its apathy was given a cause. Generation X leapt at the chance to place massive amounts of emotional stock in America’s often facile right/left debate, giving new life to the polarized terms “liberal” and “conservative.” More than any legislation signed under George W. Bush’s watch, that’s the domestic aftermath of 9-11.
A generation born to level the excesses of their elders has now become as collectively myopic as their parents. What used to be monotonous cynicism has morphed into absolute distrust of everything liberal (if one is conservative), or vice versa. Self-loathing has morphed into external malice. “I hate myself and want to die” has turned into “Sweet Jesus I hate Bill O’ Reilly.” I seriously doubt that Al Qaeda had the cross-cultural capacity to grasp America’s generation cycles, but they hit at the perfect time to shake this country internally. While there’s no guarantee of another cultural revolution, 9-11 tore this country at the seams: It’s neither the fault of a aggravatingly proud George Bush nor preternaturally frustrated liberals; with Idealists still in charge of this country’s most powerful institutions, America’s polarization is part of a cycle.
Regardless of its unconscious foundation, the stage is set for political radicalism, perhaps more fervent and intractable than the radicalism of the 1960’s, and potentially as destructive as the radicalism that fueled the civil war, to rise again in America. The entire nation is being politicized, and it’s making our quality of life more than a little miserable. Without empowering a police state, conservatives should ponder how to stop the institutionalization of resentment, along with the unhinged animosity that follows it, before it spreads like a wildfire, too large and fierce to douse before it destroys whole chunks of America.
Just logged in the site for the first time in two months. More than 12,000 comments were waiting for me. 11,999 were spam.
“Regardless of its unconscious foundation, the stage is set for political radicalism, perhaps more fervent and intractable than the radicalism of the 1960’s, and potentially as destructive as the radicalism that fueled the civil war, to rise again in America. The entire nation is being politicized, and it’s making our quality of life more than a little miserable. Without empowering a police state, conservatives should ponder how to stop the institutionalization of resentment, along with the unhinged animosity that follows it, before it spreads like a wildfire, too large and fierce to douse before it destroys whole chunks of America.”
I wrote that in 2006. My thesis was that the aftermath of 9/11, coupled with America’s generational cycles (as laid out by William Strauss and Neil Howe) could lead America down a darker path than the country has ever tread. Someday I’ll share it with you, but right now, there’s a much, much bigger trout to fry.
As you’ve heard by now, Dr. George Tiller, a 67- year old abortionist, was murdered in his church last Sunday during service. He worked at one of only three clinics in the United States that performs late-term abortions, terminations which occur after the 21st week of pregnancy.
Now that I’ve had a few days to calm down and put this in perspective, let me say in no unspoken terms that the worst part about this (by far) is that a free man was murdered. He was snuffed out in front of his wife in a house of God as many gathered to worship Him. To further dwell on just how inhumane this assassination is would be morbid, but please take a moment to appreciate its gravity.
Now that that’s been settled, let’s look at the broad implications of Tiller’s murder. It risks delegitimizing the entire pro-life movement, and by extension, American conservatism. This tragedy will not be presented as an anomaly on the right, but an indictment of all things conservative. This thing which should never have occurred will be cynically portrayed as the direct product of right-wing argumentation. In fact, that has already begun. Keith Olbermann, on his prime time cable news show, claimed that Fox News facilitated domestic terrorism in Tiller’s murder. His evidence: On the reliably left-wing Huffington Post, a pro-life writer blamed himself for helping create an atmosphere where this crime could occur. Oh, and Bill O’Reilly characterized abortion as “execution” (a matter of opinion) and Fox News commentators took a similarly strong stand against late-term abortion, as well as Dr. Tiller, on numerous occasions. Olbermann called Dr. Tiller’s murder “the inevitable result of this instigation,” which would be akin to calling the assassination of George W. Bush, if it had occurred, the inevitable result of Olbermann’s unyielding anti-Bush provocation. This is hateful, opportunistic partisanship at its worst, and I will not give it any more thought, lest some vulnerable reader confuse the MSNBC personality’s words with a responsible argument.
This episode of misguided political activism was staggeringly stupid on several levels. Even if you buy the amoral conviction that killing Dr. Tiller saved the lives of unborn children, two more doctors, inspired by Tiller’s martyrdom, will spring up in his place. One man was killed, but NO ONE WAS SAVED. I doubt any fewer abortions will occur because of this injustice. Also, if the public is gullible enough to believe that Dr. Tiller’s murder is the product of anti-abortion rhetoric, it could very well be the spark that lights the fire under anti-conservative censorship, such as the fairness doctrine or its modern equivalent. The bullet which took one man’s life may also threaten free political speech. Even the most callous anti-abortionist couldn’t find something to feel proud of here.
Operation Rescue denounced Tillers’ assassination as “vigilantism.” While the pro-life group is right to speak out against this cruel act, they chose some words poorly as they did so. Vigilantism happens when a citizen takes up arms against a criminal. Dr. Tiller had broken no laws, so the man who murdered him was not acting out a scene from Death Wish. From all angles, Dr. Tiller’s murder appears to be an act of political radicalism, any doctrine where political activism is considered more important than basic human rights. It’s also unnecessary, as the argument over abortion is far from settled. The doctor’s murder is a crime against humanity as well as America. Our Constitution demands tempered, thoughtful activism, not the violent urges of an impassioned Jacobin. I hope the murderer is caught, and I hope he is served the death penalty.
But I don’t want to end this in malice. Like Glenn Beck in December, I want to err on the side of sentimentality and reach for a few heartfelt platitudes, hoping they’ll make a positive impression. If you haven’t done so already, please say a prayer for Dr. Tiller’s family, as well as his soul. Please say a prayer for the shooter as well. Law, order, and (paradoxically) forgiveness are humanity’s responsibility. Judgment is God’s. So please pray for the murderer to recognize where he’s gone wrong before he’s justly put to sleep. Finally, pray for the future; pray that this kind of political activism, a violent radicalism which does not need speech to justify itself, ends here.
On my own part I will reinforce the fact that I, as well as the vast majority of the conservatives, do not condone violence as a political tool. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out anti-conservative bias, such as in the media and the classroom, but we should not develop a victim mentality. I promise you, the desperation that comes with internalizing victimhood will lead to more bloody Sundays. As conservatives, nay, as Americans, it is our responsibility to hold our heads high in the face of adversity, lest we equalize downward and adopt the desperate extremist mindset of Dr Tiller’s murderer. A man who does not have peace in his heart cannot afford to give peace to others.
The most important question isn’t whether or not homosexuals should marry, but what truly motivates gay marriage advocates.
I’m ambivalent about gay marriage. I strongly prefer civil unions, because properly applied, they grant equal rights to gay couples (visitation, etc.) without infringing on anyone’s freedom of conscience. That being said, I’m o.k. with the prospect of legalizing homosexual marriage, just as long as it isn’t used as a bludgeon to assault the nuclear family (or religion—no reverend should be forced to marry any couple in violation of his faith). This isn’t some self-hating conservative defense mechanism. I don’t have anything against social conservatives; in more ways than not, I am one. I merely think that as long as gay marriage is actually about equal rights, and not a proxy for the ongoing culture war between conservatives and progressives, I could live with it. Admittedly, I’m taking huge leap of faith on this one.
You see, the left has a long history of undermining the traditional family, particularly the institution of marriage. From a Machiavellian perspective, this makes sense. For most people, familial obligations are more important that ideological ones. A man committed to his family has less free time, energy, and motive to overthrow the very society that sustains his family. Also, the private love expressed through traditions such as marriage is a threat to revolution, because it isn’t directed to the community, but those who are special to us—our friends and family. Marriage’s private obligations undermine commitment to utopian schemes, which is intolerable to anyone who seriously wishes to remake society. Even al-Qaeda has complained about potential recruits being more committed to their villages than to radical Islam.
Sometimes the left assails marriage though the idealization of promiscuity, as seen in the deceptively antagonistic practice of “free love.” Pre-Nazi German socialists, such as the League of Progressive Women’s Associations, promoted free love under the guise of feminism. This necessarily entailed the abolition of legal marriage, which enforces monogamy through law. During the height of second-wave feminism, feminists regularly penned editorials about how marriage isn’t about love, but possession, making it a discriminatory institution. The Weather Underground called monogamy, and essential part of modern marriage, a “political error.” Long before Oneida, New York, became a quaint tourist community, Father John Humphrey Noyes led a cult of bible communists there. Coupling or reproducing without his permission was grounds for expulsion. Instead, under the concept of “complex marriage,” everyone was married to everyone else. It takes a village to share an STD.
Paradoxically, traditional marriage, often derided as overly controlling, has also been attacked from a puritanical standpoint. In an essay titled, “Women and Marriage,” Hitler wrote that marriage, as it was practiced in the bourgeois society he hated, is “generally a thing against nature” (to whom it may concern: conservatives don’t generally rail against the bourgeois). Ann Lee, a leader of the Shakers (think of a self-indulgently demonstrative version of the Quakers) broke up husbands and wives upon conversion to her bizarre sect (the Shakers also prohibited procreation). The solemn Harmonists, another failed outgrowth of the evangelical left, forbade their followers form engaging in sex, much less marriage. While few things are more different in method than free love and the tyrannical regulation of love, they share the same extremely communitarian impulse: no bond between individuals shall be stronger than their devotion to the collective. The only difference is that free love cheapens and dispels affection, while puritanism suffocates it.
Often the left assaults marriage (and the nuclear family) through children. Leftist education theory, which is openly hostile to homeschooling, is one example of this. The ballyhooed philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose emphasis on creativity at the expense of guided instruction still has a profound influence on educators, wanted children to be taken from their parents and raised in state-run boarding schools. In George Orwell’s 1984, children are turned against their parents as they’re bred by the state to become “junior spies,” monitoring their caretakers for any subversive behavior. This only foreshadows the real life attempts by UK educators to “mobilize” students in order to “turn their parents green,” directly encouraging children to make Mum and Dad’s lives a “misery” if they don’t separate the cardboard from the plastic upon recycling. This thematic disregard of parental authority is what conservatives are moping about when we occasionally complain that Hollywood pretends that children are wiser than adults.
I’m far from the first person to tie together the totalitarian impulse and hostility to traditional family. As touched on in Jamie Glazov’s United In Hate, history’s greatest dystopian novels recognize the threat the nuclear family poses to control freaks. Much like the puritanical opponents of marriage, the Oceanic government in 1984 only tolerates love directed towards the state. In contrast, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World depicts a society where recreational sex is encouraged by the government, but familial features such as childbearing and coupling are strictly controlled. In Huxley’s colorless nanny state, two-thirds of women are sterilized, while the rest are forced to use contraceptives. Through technology, procreation is achieved outside of sex, eliminating the need for families. The much lesser-known We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, similarly portrays a communal denial of love and marriage, as “everyone belongs to everyone else.”
Considering all of this, as well as the left’s general hostility to American tradition, can anyone really blame conservatives for not trusting supporters of homosexual marriage when they claim that their cause is just about civil rights? In the 1990’s, queer theorists declared that marriage was an oppressive force. Now the same collage of activists is sadistically lashing out at a beauty pageant contestant for mildly stating she doesn’t support gay marriage. What are we supposed to make of that? Is the concentrated push for gay marriage, something few people cared about fifteen years ago, a mature shift from moving against American institutions to moving towards them, or is it just a tactical adaptation? Is the left collectively thinking, “Denouncing marriage didn’t work, so why not render it meaningless through cultural relativism?” I’d like to believe that gay marriage advocates are well-meaning; liberals generally don’t know much about their own philosophical antecedents, and anyone who actually believes that opposition to gay marriage is an example of homophobia likely isn’t sophisticated enough to engage in stealth advocacy. Yet history, and the childish tone of today’s gay marriage advocates, suggests that they’re driven by something more than an innocent regard for civil rights.
Why we care what John McCain’s daughter says.
Yep. Out of all the news stories out there, the shallow one caught my interest. But really, the economy is going down the tubes, the world is going socialist, and America may not survive long enough to vote Barry Carter out of office in 2012. What else is there but to quibble over the details? What really matters is that John McCain’s daughter thinks Republicans are too right-wing. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Meghan McCain wrote a column a week and a half ago which implied that Ann Coulter uses hate, negativity, and scare tactics, and said that watching her is sometimes like watching a train wreck. Even worse, Republicans like Coulter make it difficult for the Party to reach out to young Americans. This made McCain an instant media darling. Laura Ingraham picked up on this and made a snide remark about McCain’s weight. Ms. McCain retorted by telling her to “kiss my fat a**,” on The View. She’s still a media darling. That’s the short story.
Before I get on with it, conservatives should stop talking about Meghan’s looks. I’ve seen this on message boards and it’s a stupid approach. First of all, she’s not unattractive. Line her up against eco-feminists or the women at Code Pink and see if making fun of her appearance makes sense. Second of all, it’s irrelevant. You think I read Robert Bork because he’s cute?
On the surface, what Meghan McCain says shouldn’t matter to conservatives. She’s really no different from any 24-year old upper-middle class kid—for all the different places she’s been, she’s not apparently worldly. She blogs about what every privileged, college-age woman is likely to write about: dating, music, and her overseas trips to places like Vietnam. She’s solicited opinions on what tattoo she should get to commemorate her time on her father’s campaign trail. She wearily portrays herself as a victim of “socially accepted prejudice,” because Laura Ingraham called her “plus-sized.” It’s a sign of immaturity that her instinct isn’t to deflect Ingraham’s intemperate jab by stating it doesn’t matter what some radio host thinks of her body type, but to instead take shelter in platitudes about prejudice and inner beauty. In short, we’re not dealing with a seasoned veteran like William Kristol here, so why does Ms. McCain get under our skin?
The reason McCain’s ideological dilettantism is troubling is that it reflects the Republican break from conservative values. Since the conservative movement became self-conscious somewhere around the mid-20th century, the Republican Party has been the only major party conservatives can consider a safe haven. Even that’s been tenuous, as a good number of Republicans have been willing to walk barefoot on lava to disassociate themselves from conservatism since the days of Barry Goldwater. A pessimist could argue that the Republican Party has never really been conservative, with the exception of Ronald Reagan’s ascendency, which began in 1976 and ended as soon as he handed the reins to George H.W. Bush in 1988. If both the Democrats and Republicans reject conservative values, America will risk becoming Europe, a self-hating western democracy without the courage or the cultural I.Q. to sustain itself (By cultural I.Q., I don’t mean the ability to impress socialites with Seinfeld trivia. I mean a deep familiarity with one’s cultural heritage).
I won’t say Ms. McCain isn’t serious, but it’s fair to presume her attachment to the Republican Party is more affective than intellectual. On one hand, she describes herself as “Republican spawn,” against everything the liberals she knows on Facebook believe in. On the other hand, she proclaims that she’s proud of not being “conservative enough,” according to the popular myth that being against things like gay marriage is “old-school.” In this sense, Michelle Malkin is right. Meghan McCain seems to have no ideological principles, just a working, incomprehensible version of moral relativism, which causes her to claim that Ann Coulter’s brashness makes her bad, but the equally abrasive Russell Brand is “freaking hilarious.” Who’s Russell Brand? He’s the British comedian whose Schick is to mock worldliness by making fun of American conservatives. That doesn’t narrow it down? Hmm…I thought you had to be original to be popular with young people. Anyway, a Republican laughing at Russell Brand is like a feminist laughing at Andrew Dice Clay as he’s going on about “broads.” It doesn’t make sense unless the audience doesn’t sympathize with whoever’s being made fun of. For Meghan McCain, this is a problem, because if she doesn’t relate to conservatives, she’s going to have a lot of trouble understanding what it’ll take to get them to reach out to young people.
McCain’s attack on Coulter is little more than self-assuredly clever, water-cooler conservatism. McCain claims that Coulter perpetuates negative stereotypes about Republican women, and proceeds to take the same bait liberals take by misunderstanding Coulter’s comment about perfecting Jews as anti-Semitic sensationalism. She berates Coulter for not having the GOP’s best interests at heart, when all conservatives are generally more loyal to principles than any power-hungry political party. This is the girl who risked embarrassing Republicans this month when she said on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show that she doesn’t know enough about economics to have a strong opinion about them, then turned around and said on Fox & Friends, “This second stimulus package that Nancy Pelosi’s talking about I think doesn’t make sense.” Her inexperience coupled with her high profile is a red meat generator for left-wing hecklers, who seem to enjoy Republican vulnerability more than sex. If McCain had a better grasp of her ideals, she could have at least given thoughtful reasons for feeling wary about the rumored bill.
I’m no stranger of being critical of Ann Coulter, so I’m not angry at McCain for doing the same. But my biggest beef with Ann is that she hit her literary peak with Treason, and hasn’t matched it since. My critique of Coulter is substantive, but I’m also a huge fan of hers. In many ways, I’m not much different from Metallica fans who feel disappointed that every new album James Hetfield and co. release doesn’t stand up to the classic “Master of Puppets.” Meghan McCain’s critique of Coulter is similarly personal. In the column that propelled her to fame, Meghan doesn’t cite anything about Coulter except her demeanor and a couple of her controversial statements. Meghan’s post gives us no reason to believe she has read any one of Coulter’s books, or is familiar with what the polemical figurehead writes in her weekly column. McCain only uses Coulter to illustrate what she doesn’t like about her brand new party (she registered as a Republican last father’s day).
This leads us to another problem. Every young conservative wants to be the edgy, new-fashioned right-winger who finally gets young people to register as Republicans. So they ignore decades of impressive conservative thought and instead attempt to redefine the entire movement along the lines of trendy, often liberal sensibilities. Most of the time this manifests itself in libertarian types who don’t relate to the religious right. Heck, I was guilty of the same thing once in my life. But here’s what the neophyte crusaders for a new conservative movement always miss. Firstly, there’s no such thing as a “progressive” conservative. The two ideals are polar opposites; even liberalism is more compatible with conservatism than progressivism. At best, progressives are ideologically agnostic (or nihilistic), which makes them susceptible to every bad left-wing idea they come in contact with (think FDR). At worst, progressivism is an aggressive, statist enterprise which has little use for the United States Constitution as it limits their ability to remake America in their egalitarian image. Woodrow Wilson is progressive, and he may have been the most anti-conservative president in American history. The fact Meghan McCain doesn’t comprehend the incompatibility between small-government traditionalism and big-government social engineering is telling.
Secondly, the majority of older gen-Xers, my generation, supported Ronald Reagan (60% of voters under 30 voted for Reagan in 1984). This scared the hell out of the media, who didn’t know what to make of it. Yet Ronald Reagan was a genial, white, old man; he was certainly not a conservative “punk,” “progressive,” “moderate,” or whatever other cloak insecure conservatives wrap themselves in order to appeal to shallow people. That’s fine. We don’t want the Daily Show brats on our side! We don’t want young anti-hippies in knit caps vandalizing Priuses. We don’t want the twenty-years old wearing Che Guevara t-shirts to start sporting Tim McVeigh’s visage. Conservatism should rise and fall along with the character of the American people. We don’t need to be “progressive,” we need to be smart, brave, and above all, able to defend and promote conservatism. We need to spend more time reading Mises, and less time jeering Ann Coulter.
Ronald Reagan took conservatism, something that’s always been unfairly derided as outdated and bigoted, and made it popular (if only for a short while) by articulately promoting it without apology. He didn’t need to become more “moderate” in order to reach out to people. He just needed to be himself, without rancor, and without anxious pleading. Meghan McCain seems smart, but from what she’s written online, she’s also obviously inexperienced, and unmistakably unfamiliar with conservatism. Meghan McCain can’t recite the underlying philosophy behind the American right any more than I can write an ad hoc historical essay about Yugoslavian chess champions. Yet she’s been a Republican for less than a year, and she’s already convinced she knows which direction her party should go to win future elections. She’s like a cocky rookie quarterback telling the coach, in front of his entire team, that his playbook sucks.
In light of all this, Meghan, I have a respectful plea. If you have the bravery to tell conservatives they’re too extreme, then please have the character to read a few books about the movement first. If you can discern why conservatives oppose stem-cell research, if you can recall on what grounds conservatives disagree with gay marriage, if you can understand Ann Coulter’s appeal beyond her controversial sound bites, and then turn around and tell me why you think they’re wrong, then maybe you’ll have the authority to tell me and everyone like me we’re too extremist for our own good.
Mackinnonese: What Conservatives Would Sound Like If They Wrote Like Feminists.
The spookiest thing I’ve ever read is Catherine MacKinnon’s opening to Only Words (1987), her articulate anti-pornography polemic. MacKinnon is both a Marxist and a feminist, so it makes sense that her rhetoric displays an eerie fixation on victimhood, an obsessive regression reminiscent of the psychological horror conveyed in a classic episode of the Twilight Zone.
The opening paragraphs to the short book form an intense, poetic narrative, a spotlight into the feminist id. They’re marked by overly dramatic language, occasional vulgarity (as MacKinnon is known to use) and disturbing sexual imagery (Which is why I’m not dragging ModCon down with this post). I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to post this, but since I don’t care about being timely anymore, here it is. The first pages of Only Words, if only they were written by a conservative. If this doesn’t creep liberals out, they’re not paying attention.
Imagine that since the start of the 20th century, your most formative traumas, your daily suffering and the intimidation you live with, are unspeakable—improper for serious discussion. You grow up with your peers complaining how insensitive your sincerity is, so an authority figure can punish you using a creative interpretation of tolerance. When you are older, dickless comedians will scour all of your recorded statements for opportunities to embarrass you. Despite the heartfelt vitriol on their end, they’ll insist that you not take them seriously.
You can’t really tell anyone. When you try to speak of these things, you’re told that they didn’t happen; you imagined it; your fathers did it to their fathers for years. Textbooks say this. No textbooks will recall what happened to you. Laws say this. No law imagines what is happening to you, the way it is happening. You live your whole life wondering why a silent echo follows both your most feverish screams and your most articulate pleas.
In this century-plus of silence, pictures of you are made while these things are being done. Every time the pressure of being hated breaks you, making your arguments inchoate, you hear the journalists scribbling and the populists giggling. You always know that your lowest, if still human moments are out there somewhere. Sold, or traded, or passed around a classroom, or archived in a newsroom. In them, your basest and most vulnerable moments are made immortal. Someone, anyone, could see you this way. What they felt as they watched you and used your worst moments to define you and your friends is being done again and lived again and felt again through pictures. Your violation becomes a deep well to draw their arousal from. Your unraveling becomes their pleasure. Watching you is how they get off; with their pictures they can watch you and get off any time.
Slowly, then suddenly, hope emerges; maybe they’ll treat you as a human being—maybe you will be believed. You find a guarded way of bringing it up; maybe, just maybe, the pictures of you are perhaps slander? You find that the pictures, far from recording the way you’ve been betrayed, are fuel, “proof” of your hatred and idiocy. Those who see you being violated only experience their own pleasure. They do not feel your pain as pain any more than those who recorded you being hurt felt it. The pictures, surrounded by a shining halo of false insight and false revolution—false because they’re not intellectual and certainly not unfamiliar—have become the authority on your role in the debate. They are called the record of your experience, a sign for ideology, your ideology itself. In a very real way, they have made your beliefs be what they are imagined to be by those who use you and their images of you interchangeably.
In this way, their images are not so different from the videos and transcripts which came before—but your use for the camera gives the images a special credibility, a deep verisimilitude, an even stronger claim to truth, to being incontrovertibly about you. They happened to you; there they are. You can’t hide it, hide from it, or modify it. Because you are needed for these images, the providers of them will prod and antagonize you just to get new documentation of their imagination of you.
Finally, somehow, you meet other conservatives. Their teachers, friends, and co-workers also saw the images, liked them, beat off to them, and tried to bait your friends into acting out those images live. “Bush is an idiot” the predators would screech over and over, less an expression of what they believe than a way to preserve distance between us and them. They burn your flags, dip your crosses in urine, and insult the contributions of your intellectuals—just waiting for you to lapse and prove that you are what the images say you are. It is only proper for them to look at your conservatism through a paranoid prism—our preachers say “a salt ministry,” and they hear “assault ministry.” The same defensiveness that was forced on you is forced on your friends; the same silent civility you found necessary just to interact with them has also been adopted by your friends. There is, you find, a whole industry producing and selling darkly romantic images of you and your friends. They call it a necessity, acting as if they’re oblivious to your unpopularity, which they’ve worked very hard to cultivate.
When any of your friends tries to tell what is happening, they are told it didn’t happen; they imagined it; they’re acting out of class interests. Your unwillingness to define people according to their race becomes racism. The recordings prove it. See, he’s not ashamed of being against reparations. Besides, they say, why focus on the images, which are only symptoms of your irrationality? Even if you are being wronged, what’s keeping you from defending yourself? It’s not as if you’ll be shouted down by self-righteous students, be ridiculed by passive-aggressive entertainers, or be forced to abandon your livelihood. The images themselves do nothing, they’re just free speech—you taking offense means nothing. Go make your own images, just as long as it doesn’t offend them.
Putting to one side what this progression from isolation to cultural repression does to your sense of reality, personal security, and place within a community, not to mention faith in humanity, consider what it does to one’s relation to expression: to language, speech, the world of thought and communication. You learn that language does not belong to you, that you cannot use it to say what you know; knowledge cannot be what you’ve learned. Information is not made out of your experiences; it can’t be if your conclusions are radically different from theirs. You learn that talking about what has happened to you does not count as dialogue, but as “hate-mongering.” You learn that your reality is postmodern—defined by entertainment media, totally exposed but invisible, screaming yet inaudible, never disproven but eternally “indefensible.” You learn that debate is not an opportunity for you to be heard, but a forum for them to belittle and talk down to you.
Your relationship to politics is like shouting at a movie. “Don’t follow the axe-murder outside!” you scream. The audience acts as though nothing has been said; they keep their eyes fixed towards the front while many feel disturbed and embarrassed for you. The action on screen continues as if nothing has occurred. As the echo of your voice dies in your ears, you feel ashamed about saying anything. Soon even you being to wonder if your experience is legitimate; it has no effect on the world surrounding you.
This is the right-wing version of life imitating art: your life is the left’s text. To survive, you learn shame and how to cover it with rhetorical concessions; you learn meekness, how to make inefficacy seductive, and the habit of only opening up in like-minded circles. You learn how to betray your ideals and substitute others when you cannot stand being put down anymore. You develop a self who is ingratiating (ignoring their ingratitude) obsequious (ignoring their thirst for power) imitative (ignoring their unwillingness to empathize) and reluctantly passive (ignoring their proud hectoring)—in short, you learn how to express conservatism.
Hi, Mom! I bet you’ve noticed I’m not updating my blog very often. Well, after a little more than a month of blogging, I’ve decided that it’s not for me. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up The Sword and the Olive Branch. I thought of the name first, and it’s too good to let go and risk letting some insecure douchebag turn it into another left-wing circle jerk. Besides, I’ll still have something to post every lunar eclipse (and I’ll still be cross-posting those occasional items on Modern Conservative until further notice).
I underestimated how much work it takes to be a good blogger. I expected to hit the ground running, my writing meshing seamlessly with my blogging. Instead, it takes me hours to post three short paragraphs and cross-post it on Modern Conservative. In fact, here’s a synopsis of every weekday of my first month of blogging.
1. Wake up at 5:15 a.m. (sometimes 5:30) to go to work at 6:00.
2. Work. Spend lunch catching up on the news. Hopefully find something worth writing about.
3. Leave work between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00ish. Eat a snack. Talk to my girlfriend.
4. If I found something worth writing about during lunch, I’ll research it. Half the time I’ll find out whatever I thought may have been interesting really wasn’t, and I will have to resort to step five.
5. If I didn’t find something interesting during lunch, or gave up on what I first had in mind, I’ll go over to Feministing to see if they have any unintentionally funny material. I’ve been waiting for an overwrought, poetic narrative, ala Andrea Dworkin, to pop up (I have a perfect response ready for it whenever it happens) but to their credit, the chicks at feministing are less melodramatic than their older, second-wave sisters. If I don’t find anything there, I’ll troll the internet (for longer than I’m willing to admit here) looking for something relevant to write about.
6. I will eventually either write a short piece about current events, or I’ll finish off something I’ve had simmering in the mental crock-pot for a few days. This takes hours, for I’m not an efficient writer.
7. I will look for typos and edit my post (No, this isn’t redundant to me).
8. I will look for typos and edit my post, again.
9. I will tell my girlfriend why I’m not asleep yet. Half-asleep, she will kindly help me look for typos and edit my post.
10. I will post on my website first.
11. I will look for typos one last time before I have to correct them on two websites.
12. Satisfied, I will post the same thing at Modern Conservative.
13. I will find a typo.
15. I will correct the typos.
16. Finally, I tentatively shut down the computer while several things are still spinning in my head (did I catch all the grammatical mistakes? Is it formatted correctly? Are all the links the same color?)
17. I will go to sleep somewhere between midnight and 3:00 a.m., only to wake up before 6:00 a.m. to start the entire process again.
If it isn’t evident, the effort I put into blogging isn’t worth the reward. This isn’t a bitter “I’m not getting any traffic, so give me pity” post. While I’m sure it would be slightly more difficult to cut my losses if I had more readers, the time I put into my little on-line diary isn’t worth the time it takes away from everything else. Besides, I’m conservative, so I take victimhood too seriously to cynically use it as a tool for eliciting sympathy from others.
I’m still going to occasionally contribute something online, and I’m still going to read blogs and keep a close eye on my favorite blogs, especially my air family. Although from now on, I’m going to show a complete disregard for blogging etiquette. Since I didn’t get it in the first place, this won’t take any effort. Oh, and if I haven’t answered your e-mail yet, it’s because I haven’t looked at my website’s inbox since February. Sooner or later I’ll find the sheet of paper with my e-mail password on it. Probably later, when I feel like deleting 84,000 messages asking me if I want to approve spam.
To be honest, I am upbeat. I think my short blogging career (I am using this in the glibbest sense) has caused me to move on to something more my style. Somewhere in between my junior year and my John Belushi (second senior) year of college, I realized that all I truly want is to get a master’s degree and some teaching credentials so I can become a professor at a small college. The more I reflect on my experience blogging, the more I think that if I’m willing to get four hours of sleep a night for no tangible benefit, I can work just as hard for a college degree that will pay off in the long run. So what not just apply again, and actually go to the school after I’m admitted?
The idea of teaching the little I know, combined with learning every day on the job, is something of a dream to me. Sure, I’ll have to deal with self-righteous twenty-year olds, but that’s what the shotgun is for (just kidding). I want to grow intellectually every day for the rest of my life; one of the best opportunities to do that would presumably be in an academic institution (at least one that isn’t beholden to political activism).
As for my own ideals, I can make more of difference leaving a strong, enduring impression on a few people rather than a passing impression on many. I want to do my small, individual part to change education, one the left’s pillars, from the inside (you have no idea how much the intellectually fraudulent “teaching for social justice” school of thought disgusts me). I want to become the conservative professor on campus, although I think I can be much more than a mere political being. But enough daydreaming; now it’s just a matter of doing it.
Bonus! Things I won’t miss about blogging.
1. 700 spam e-mails every two weeks.
2. WordPress doing weird things to my post when I type my draft online.
3. Microsoft word doing even weirder things to my post when I type it offline.
4. Me doing the weirdest things to my post as I’m trying to fix whatever Microsoft or WordPress did to it in the first place!
5. Staying up until 1:00 a.m., thinking of something thoughtful to say about on breaking news I don’t care a whole lot about. I’m interested in politics, but I’m not a political junkie. I’m much more interested in the doctrinal disputes between schools of thought than house bill 8T.48B. Besides, if you pay attention long enough, current events tend to be less compelling remakes of past events.
6. Posting something at 3:00 a.m., and finding a typo at noon.
See you this summer! Or fall! Or 2011!
Somehow, it’s talk radio’s fault.
I picked up Glenn Beck’s 2003 book, The Real America, at CPAC. It’s a lot like listening to him on the radio. It’s a mixture of political opinion, personal stories, earnest appeals to our better nature, and humor. I was enjoying it for the first eighty pages or so until I got to Chapter 4: Everything You Need to Know About Partisan Politics. It’s one joke stretched over five pages. “Blah blah blah blah Clarence Thomas, blah blah blah blah Anita Hill, blah blah blah…” (you get the picture). I chuckled and was ready to breeze through the section until I read, “…can you find the one time in this chapter that blah is spelled backward?”
That started a fruitless, half-hour quest looking for “halb.” I read every line of every sentence at least half a dozen times, scanning for the backwards “blah.” Sensing my frustration (my muttering “what the @#$%!” may have helped) my girlfriend asked me what I was doing. I told her, and then she proceeded to spend fifteen minutes of her life looking for “halb.” It’s strained our relationship. She insists “halb” isn’t really there, and I’m convinced that Glenn Beck wouldn’t do that to his readers. A more irreconcilable difference between any couple has yet to be discovered.
So instead of composing anything remotely interesting this afternoon for my blog, I’ve been scouring the internet looking for the key to finding the elusive word. I typed in “halb” and “The Real America” on google. Nothing. I went to Amazon, searched inside the book, and typed in “halb.” Nothing. I even looked at Stu’s Blog (“Stu” is Glenn Beck’s executive producer). Again, no luck.
My current theory is that it’s a trick question, and “blah” isn’t said right up front. Instead, it’s cleverly hidden, perhaps spelled out over the span of a few words. Ex: “Blah blah blah Alberta is cold.” But then again, if I was on the right track, I probably would have found it already. As soon as I get some free time at work, I’m going to scan these five pages into a .pdf file and see if it’ll let me search for the elusive bugger in Adobe.
Perhaps that’s why hieroglyphics are so hard to understand. Maybe the Egyptians were just playing a joke on future civilizations. I can imagine Egyptian slave #1 saying to his co-slave: “So I’m going put these eyes here, even though it makes no sense.” #2: “Why”? #1: “Because no one will be able to understand it. It’ll be hilarious!”
Update: I just spent another fifteen more minutes looking for the damn “blah.” I could’ve had this thing posted already. I would like to write at least one intelligent post on a relevant issue before I leave for Vegas on Thursday (It’s for my job. Fine, don’t believe me) but apparently Chapter 4 doesn’t want that to happen.
I hate Chapter 4.
Stop the presses! Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh!
In an age where politics have become just another commodity, I attended CPAC wondering exactly what the left’s mass produced narrative would be following the event. Since Ann Coulter didn’t say anything liberals haven’t already heard from her, my guess was they were going to obsess over Rush Limbaugh repeating that he would like Obama to fail, “If his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation.” (Full transcript of Rush’s speech here; Full video collection via Hot Air). The Hyperventilating Post didn’t fail. They titled one of their responses to CPAC: Rush Limbaugh at CPAC: Doubles Down On Wanting Obama To Fail. But that isn’t the dominant theme in the left’s analysis of CPAC.
Instead, liberals are strangely jubilant over the old news that Rush Limbaugh is taken seriously by conservatives. They’re excited by something that’s been going on for more than 20 years. They think Limbaugh simply isn’t credible, so conservatives must be desperate. They keep asking one of their trademark leading questions: “Is Rush Limbaugh the New Face of the G.O.P.?” Note to liberals: It’s the Conservative Political Action Conference, not a Republican fundraiser; that’s why it isn’t called “RPAC.” Nevertheless, the left is excitedly proclaiming that the G.O.P. has died because the most successful talk radio host of all time gave the best speech at a political gathering.
As usual, liberals don’t get CPAC because nothing in their education has given them the tools to understand conservative discourse. Thus, they’re calling Rush’s speech angry. While it was resolute and characteristically bombastic, it was also an upbeat message directed straight to the conservative base. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely glad I attended CPAC until I felt the energy of Rush’s speech live; I wanted mroe seminars where I would learn ideas, not just hear them. Yet I walked out of the conference on Saturday feeling uplifted. Rush gave conservatives hope, which is tough to do when our frightened nation is setting itself up for a Soviet-style economic implosion.
Liberals are right in that the conservative movement does need a leader, just as the left needed one for decades until Barack Obama’s logo feces started appearing all over the place. But that doesn’t mean the American right is dead. Conservatism will be fine as long as we’re resolute. After all, today’s trendy liberal ideas are essentially no different from the ones conservatives routed in the Reagan era. No matter how many times liberals wrap their ideology in hokey buzzwords, their message is one based on group resentment, fear of the unknown (such as market forces), and dependence on the state. The conservative message is one based on faith, individual responsibility, and the dignity of liberty. Which sounds better to you? Which sounds more robust and capable of taking on America’s present challenges?
Make no mistake; America will become a worse place to live the next four years. But because conservative ideas are rooted in timeless principles, not pandering to coalitions of self-proclaimed victims, the right will rise again. Sooner rather than later, there will be another morning in America.
Actually, I would have returned this afternoon, but my morning flight was cancelled due to the six inches of snow that blanketed Washington D.C. overnight.
My first impressions of the nation’s capital:
1. It’s a commercial shrine to President Obama. From Walgreens to the airport to street vendors, the capital is drowning in Obama merchandise. One restaurant had a full-size cardboard cutout of the President standing behind its front window. I wouldn’t be surprised if police printed tickets on Obama-themed paper.
2. No one smiles. It could be because they have to live in D.C., where people worship fallible men in lieu of God. It could be because they’re all into politics; political junkies are generally insufferable. The ones that don’t talk way too much have more defense mechanisms that the White House. And it could be because most of them are liberal. Liberals are threatened by too many things (ex: talk radio, deregulation, being associated with uncouth rednecks) to be anything but neurotic.
3. It’s prettier than I thought it would be, and far less dangerous. Perhaps because I spent all of my time in northwestern D.C., the city looked nice. The streets are wide, the buildings are up kept, and the touristy stuff, such as the Supreme Court, truly inspires a sense of majesty. I expected the city to be a real-life version of Grand Theft Auto, but the architecture and the uptight yet civil populace pleasantly surprised me.
More on CPAC in a bit…
I’m off to D.C. tomorrow for CPAC. I’m not bringing a laptop, so this means no more Afghan Whig for the rest of the week (I’m neither Afghani nor a whig, but that’s a different story). Expect something from All American Mike to fill the gaps. Let me know if he craps all over Rushbo or the religious right, so I can put the smack down on him when I get back.
How to deal with liberals. Part one: Learn to distinguish between open-minded liberals and lost causes.
Figuring out the difference between which liberals to befriend and which ones to manage will save a lot of valuable resources, notably time. You wouldn’t date anyone immune to your charms, so why would you talk politics with someone who’s demonstrated no inclination to respect your beliefs? To keep from speaking in vain, learn how to distinguish liberals who may be receptive to conservatism’s message from those who won’t budge. At first, we might assume that includes all of them, if only because our personalities are shaped by an extraordinary range of variables. That may be true, but refusing to recognize the difference between generally tolerant individualists and stubborn idealists will help make real dialogue with the left possible, as opposed to an interpersonal quagmire.
Weeding through the left’s ranks, we can immediately rule out reaching out to people who are afflicted with psychological disorders, not only to avoid cruel exploitation, but also to protect us from their unpredictability. I don’t know who Charlie Manson would vote for, but he would make a terrible political acquaintance. After he carves an elephant into his forehead, the G.O.P. would immediately lose a hundred years of progress.
Those without a conscience should also be vetted out. Develop the ability to spot liberals with a reasonable capacity for empathy. For example, when talking to potential liberal subjects, see if their eyes light up when someone artfully explains what “neo-conservatism” actually is. If they respond by yawning or turning away, they’ve probably made up their minds about “neo-cons,” which makes political conversations with them pretty much useless. But if you suspect curiosity on their part, you may be sensing an opportunity to delight them.
Through example (I’ll expand on this in the future) Ann Coulter teaches a lesson about peering into the hearts of liberals. Because so many Americans are polite, middle-class, and conventional (right down to their political activism, which is manufactured by movies such as An Inconvenient Truth) it can be difficult to tell whether or not the liberal you are talking to is an everyday Joe or a deep blue activist. We can test them by saying something ambiguous, something which can be read in several ways. Float a bland opinion towards your target. Say that Ronald Reagan was a wonderful President. Moderates will either politely disagree or not care. Left-wing activists, on the other hand, will spout off about Reagan’s alleged assault on school lunch menus, Iran-Contra, and even AIDS. We know we’re talking to an unmovable object if they include snide remarks about Alzheimer’s disease.
If the historian Robert Greene is correct when he says “a perfectly satisfied person cannot be seduced,” then the third group of liberals to forget about includes those whose comfortable lives make change seem threatening. Professors who make six figures a year, committed family men, and rich entertainers are stubborn precisely because they don’t want to risk challenging their comfortable status quo. One reason leftist radicals hate happy, traditional families is because someone whose ultimate obligation is to their family likely won’t leap at the opportunity to be obligated to an ideology instead. This cuts both ways. If your anti-conservative subject has established a day to day routine, consider another target. They have no incentive open themselves to us. Their families, friends, and occupations compete with politics to fill their emotional voids. The hard work it would take to reexamine their liberalism could veer them away from the sheltered American life they’re accustomed to. Better to focus on more vulnerable demographs, such as students, fumbling young adults, and political independents.
When surveying potential mates, remember that what a person says about their beliefs doesn’t necessarily indicate their willingness to accept change. When given a strict choice between the two, look your target’s capacity to consider your viewpoint, rather than their demeanor. The most polite liberals in the world can also be the most hardened. The civil PBS crowd is one of the last places a conservative should expect to receive a fair hearing. Conversely, loud, demonstrative liberals are not necessarily the most difficult to exchange ideas with. Ward Churchill has debated David Horowitz in good faith. Rosie O’Donnell has given a thoughtful interview to Bill O’Reilly. Bill Mahler is friendly with Ann Coulter (not that way, I think). In more general terms, someone who shouts through a microphone that they support amnesty for illegal aliens may not have any real justification for their beliefs. They may even agree with all the reasons people oppose amnesty (such as that it rewards people who hold America’s immigration laws in contempt)! To put it another way: “No on proposition 19” doesn’t always mean “No on proposition 19.”
One of my best friends, we’ll call him “Silent Bob,” leans noticeably to the left. How left? He enjoys books by Barbara Ehrenreich. At face value, that alone could make him a lost cause. Socialist literature doesn’t exactly engender an easy-going attitude.
The first time we ever hung out, we argued politics for hours. He would invariably posit the liberal side of issues such as the Iraq War, and I would defend conservatism on whatever front he attacked. He didn’t hold back, calling G.W. a “f**king idiot” and the like. At times, he sounded more like Keith Olbermann than a normal person. Usually these things end like a western marriage—with murder-suicide, but my initial discussion with Silent Bob defied our meaningless philosophical differences.
He passionately presented his beliefs, yet this didn’t keep him from digesting mine, even if he didn’t always like how they tasted. To this day still don’t agree on a whole lot; he probably still votes for everyone I vote against. None of that matters. What’s meaningful is that he doesn’t view conservatives as lesser people than anyone else. I’m not aiming low; this is a success story: subverting irrational devotion to the left will make us more friends than demanding any kind of allegiance to the right. On a face-to-face basis, liberal confrontation on the meaning of conservatism is always preferable to liberal indifference.
In summary, the first step to dealing with liberals involves identifying the open-minded ones. The best way to do this is to look past how outspoken they are, and instead concentrate on how much they’re willing to listen to conservative discourse. If someone refuses to empathize with you, despite a good faith attempt on your part to do the same, you have enough of a moral high ground to dismiss them.
How to deal with liberals (Introduction)
This begins with a nagging question. “What can conservatives do to relate to liberals”? This isn’t a frivolous intellectual exercise. To paraphrase Dennis Miller, America is turning left like a shopping cart with a bad wheel. We elected another Jimmy Carter to the White House, the millennial generation is starting to resemble a cornier version of the radical baby boomers, and the natives are clamoring for handouts in lieu of self-sufficiency. The more I think about it, the more I want to move to Western Canada once it becomes a sovereign nation.
Conservatives have traditionally been good at approaching this question from a macro perspective. The first canon of conservative thought is that all political problems are essentially religious and moral problems. Modern conservatives have added “cultural” to the mix, but the idea is the same: win the culture, and the people will follow. But the culture wars are just as much a bottom-up struggle as they are a top-down slobber-knocker. So we can’t escape the annoying truth: we must a find a way to relate to liberals. If we don’t, we’ll continue to cede an important front in the culture war, and the unique and wonderful ideals of American conservatism will still be threatened by extinction.
It’s a discouraging prospect. Even in boom times, conservative philosophy doesn’t lend itself to polite, comforting, dinner party banter. Ostensibly insensitive notions are what make us conservative. Ideals such as limited governance and assumption of risk will always seem callous to the young, whom Robert Bork correctly notes are prone to moral absolutism, and they turn off shallow individuals whom are more impressed by the symbols of goodness than the real thing. Being a right-winger means forever risking scorn by pointing out that throwing money at schools/social programs/housing won’t necessarily improve those things.
Being a heartless conservative can make relating to people difficult, which is depressing—loneliness is misery. Not “fitting in” to certain circles because of one’s political alignment is silly, but nevertheless stinging. Let’s assume that you’re having a tough time establishing rapport with some of your more artistic, progressive friends because you don’t like the current President of the United States. You could change that by wearing an Obama t-shirt and whining about “neocons,” but what if you value the same parts of your identity that keep you from being accepted by the groups you always come in contact with? What if you enjoy being the kid with the purple hair?
You could just saying “whatever,” and ignore everyone who disagrees with you, but then you would be submitting to mediocre defeatism. Besides, a capacity to relate to people somewhat different than us distinguishes successful human beings from forty-year old adolescents. Not a lot of CEO’s write memoirs titled “F**k It.” Besides, what if the liberals you don’t share anything in common with are related to you; what if they live with you? Will you simply cut Mom, Dad, your boss or your children out of your life every time you unearth incompatible fragments of their personalities? What if they’re co-workers you can’t run away from, people you need to build at least a professional level of trust in order to perform your job? Does it make more sense to quit your job than to find a way to deal with their quirks? Everyday life requires us to develop a flair for ignoring differences in opinion, even if those opinions are religious or political.
Imagine a world where conservatives had to preemptively rule out establishing humane connections with liberals: work would become unduly stressful, friendship a rarity, and dating single women would be impossible! Fortunately, bonding with our ideological counterparts doesn’t need to stress us out. Most liberals are well-adjusted people whose politics take a back seat to the rest of their lives. This doesn’t mean that ideology never inhibits friendship; our beliefs are intertwined with our personalities. Yet in diverse communities (as opposed to, say, multi-ethnic college faculties where everyone votes democrat) politics rarely erect hurdles too high to jump over. Liberals are as scared of us as we are of them!
Despite that, a significant cultural divide currently keeps conservatives from holding hands with liberals. Part of the problem is America’s current tendency towards idealism; in our periodic battle to re-shape culture, liberals are discouraged from accepting us for who we are (and vice versa, to a limited extent). That politically-minded Americans can so easily spend all of their time in isolated ideological communities (especially online) also contributes to the problem, and I haven’t seen much evidence of cross-pollination between red and blue America to offset this. Whatever the roots of our animosity are, conservatives need to make sober, calculated efforts to bridge the gap between “us” and “them.” If we truly want liberals to treat us as moral and intellectual equals, we can’t just sit on the couch and expect them to call us out of good will. We must open up and risk being rejected by our fellow, left-wing Americans.
In today’s acrimonious age, crawling into the hearts and minds of liberals is the only non-coercive thing which can give them incentive to understand red America. So how do we achieve the admittedly imprecise goal of persuading liberals to relate to us? The same way one wriggles into anyone’s heart: seduction. I’m not suggesting we sleep with liberals to make them like us better (fighting off Bill Clinton joke) but keep the strategies of seduction in mind when dealing with liberals. Audacity and aggression (ála Ann Coulter) on our part will earn one-night stands from them in the form of meaningless concessions (“Yeah, Bill Clinton was a liar/communism doesn’t work/George W. Bush isn’t stupid, but…”) yet as with any meaningful courtship, connecting with liberals on a deep level takes time, patience, and attention to detail. With a lot of help from books such as Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction, drawing liberals to the right involves, at minimum, focusing on those susceptible to conversion, disrupting their faith by activating their individualistic impulses, entering their spirit, isolating them, and finally, closing the deal. In the future, I hope to cover all of these bases.
I think life has granted me some authority to speak on this issue. I get along with my leftist friends so well some of them insist that I’m not really conservative. Others tell me I’m not like other conservatives; I’m the exception to the rule. Whenever I’m told these things, I’m reminded of the phrase “I don’t mind black people, but I hate… (you get the point).” It’s how they preserve their prejudice against Republicans while simultaneously justifying their friendship with me. I defy all of their feverish misconceptions about right-wingers. I don’t tell anyone they’re destined for hell; I don’t want to eliminate minorities as competition, and anxious young women feel shocked that I don’t endeavor to control them.
I’m not special. I don’t know any conservatives like the extremist authoritarians liberals make movies about. I know some who are condescending, too goofy to take seriously, and even a few crazy ones, but within rightist circles, I don’t know any Nazis or even minor-league racists. All the Christians I know are more or less sensible about their attempts to win people over. I’m sure somewhere resides a little Eichmann that happens to identify with something under conservatism’s “big tent,” but actual totalitarianism won’t include anyone in the right’s large constituency. Any one of us can touch liberal hearts and minds, given the correct approach is used.
So where should we start? By observing our prey.