TRAVELING THRU WESTERN CANADA STOP GOT FOOT OF SNOW HERE STOP SNOWBOUND WITH FOUR KIDS UNDER AGE OF TEN STOP I MEAN ITS ONLY SEPT FFS STOP I GIVE UP STOP TURNING INTO WENDIGO STOP
[Originally published Dec. 1, 2010.]
So, I’ve been reading Conversations with Nietzsche: A Life in the Words of His Contemporaries, which is, as you can guess, a bunch of recollections from his friends and acquaintances. It’s easily been one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, just because it’s such an interesting change of pace from all the usual books about his philosophy itself. Even the collections of his letters haven’t been quite as revealing of what he was really like as an everyday person as this book has been. This was one of my favorite stories of the whole book, told by a student named Sebastian Hausmann, who encountered Nietzsche on a walk in the countryside of Switzerland during the mid-1880s, a few years before his final collapse. He saw a letter lying on the ground and hurried to ask the man ahead of him on the path if it was his. It was, and the man expressed his profuse thanks for its return and invited the youngster to accompany him on the rest of his walk:
Now all of a sudden I knew why the man’s face had so struck me; it had a certain unmistakable similarity with the pictures of the famous philosopher which I vaguely remembered. I was not one of that philosopher’s admirers and had never read his works to the end, because I ran into too many difficulties I could not easily solve with my simple common sense. Somewhat suspiciously I asked the gentleman: “Are you perhaps a relative of the famous philosopher Nietzsche?” He looked at me sharply for a moment then answered: “No, I’m not related to him.” Involuntarily I remarked: “Well, thank God!” I immediately regretted this remark, I had merely been thinking somewhat too loudly. Again he flashed a look at me from the side and asked: “So you don’t like the philosopher?” To which I answered candidly: “No.” He then asked further: “What has the man done to you?” I looked pensively for a few moments, then I said: “Well, of course the man has done me no harm. But it annoys me that he always writes as if the whole world consisted of professors of philosophy. Why can’t a philosophy professor also write so that an average person with no special philosophical schooling can understand too?”
After a few paces the man suddenly stopped and turned toward me with a good-humored, gentle smile: “Let us not play hide-and-seek. You were quite right to think of the philosopher Nietzsche at sight of me. I am really not related to your Nietzsche, for I am the man himself, whom you chose to call a famous philosopher.”
It’s funny, because aside from the sort of dense, serious subject matter he chose to write about, Nietzsche isn’t really difficult to understand as a prose stylist; he himself scorned the types of intellectuals who purposely muddied up their writing to intimidate people into assuming profundity where none existed. But he told Hausmann something interesting about why some things can’t be expressed colloquially:
“When one writes a book and thus steps into the public light, that is always a significant act deserving of a certain solemnity, so that one has to put aside everyday language. You have a good example in Catholicism, toward which, as you perhaps know, I am not exactly friendly, but this does not prevent me from recognizing the great worldly wisdom with which Rome has been conducting its business over the ages. Why does Rome still have the Mass read in Latin? To give the solemn act, veiled in mystery, a special solemnity even externally. But that must not be at the expense of clarity or intelligibility. If thoughts were thereby hidden, if the real meaning became hard to understand, that would of course be false, that would no longer be solemn, that would be foolish. So give me a particular example that caused you difficulty. Perhaps you have one in mind?”
Bus-ted! Hausmann really hasn’t read much of him at all, and has to scramble to come up with some material to talk about. But they have an illuminating discussion anyway:
In an equally amiable manner he discussed the various other points which came to my mind little by little, and I noticed with great delight how simple, how very clear and easily understandable all his oral remarks were. Yet his conversation had something erratic about it; I constantly had the feeling that his thoughts spouted forth in an astonishing excess, literally crowding one another out.
…During the whole conversation I did not know what I should admire more, the tremendous scope of his positive knowledge, the high flight of his lines of thought, or the brilliant, almost poetically beautiful language. That he bothered with me, a green, insignificant young man, who of course had absolutely nothing to offer him, and spoke with me in such an amiable, friendly manner, gave me the impression that at the bottom of his soul he must have been an unusually kind and loving person, and I was filled with deep gratitude toward him.
I knew from other readings that he was personally nothing like his fire-breathing literary persona, but even I was surprised to see how unanimous this theme was of people remarking on his unfailingly polite, soft-spoken mannerisms, considerate patience with people far less intellectual than him, and general kindheartedness. Walking with one female friend in the country, they were surprised by a herd of cows, which triggered a phobic reaction in her, related to a childhood experience of being chased by a bull. He comically made as if to fend them off with his umbrella until she was too busy laughing at the absurd spectacle to be afraid anymore. In another story, he heard of a mentally ill woman who refused to leave her hotel room to go get treatment despite all her friends’ efforts. He asked to be allowed to talk with her, and shortly afterward emerged with her following calmly along behind him, where he escorted her to the waiting carriage; no one ever found out how he coaxed her out of her shell.
Another favorite passage is from a friend named Reinhardt von Seydlitz:
For he lacked one thing which will always accompany the great man in the customary sense: he had no dark, ignoble sides to his nature, not even sensory crudity. For great men are seldom, in the noblest sense, decent men. A part of “being great”—of becoming and staying great—is a stupid belief in oneself. That is also why great men in their “decent” moments often seem so small. Our Nietzsche was far from all this. I have never known a more genteel person than he—not one! He could be inconsiderate only toward ideas; not toward the persons who had the ideas. And these bearers of ideas—some with crude mentalities—soon discovered this: they knew there was nothing to fear from him. They were silent about him, for he was silent about them even from an innate inner purity.
Inconsiderate toward ideas, not toward the people who hold them. A worthy ideal to strive for, if you ask me.
Nobody’s Right When Everybody’s Wrong
This tickled my absurdity funny bone. So, to recap:
• Man becomes a viral Internet sensation by holding up a sign at a football game asking for Venmo donations to help him buy Busch Light beer
• Man unexpectedly raises a million dollars, decides to donate the money to a children’s hospital
• Busch Light and Venmo, attracted by the scent of P.R., vow to match his donation
• Newspaper profile uncovers man’s former racist tweets
• Busch Light parent company slams on the brakes, throws it into reverse, disassociates itself from man while still promising to match the pledge of his tainted racist money
• Newspaper criticized by readers for offensively publishing man’s original racist tweets in the profile
• Newspaper reporter’s own racist tweet history uncovered, newspaper commences investigation
I hope you understand when I say that at this point, I’m sort of hoping for the children’s hospital to be found problematic as well. Not because I’m a black-hearted scoundrel (not entirely at least), but just because it would be the perfect harmonic resolution of this farcical chord progression. It’s all about the artistic symmetry of the thing, you see.
Shut Up, Memory
What should be concerning to us is not that people are being cancelled per se, but the sheer power of digitally-enforced orthodoxy. The Twitter mob is really just an appendage of this machine—it is humans doing what humans do when they are presented with a social transgression. Cancellation is merely a necessary consequence of digital memory. As long as we continue to analyze the “why” rather than the “how,” no discussion of cancel culture will be fruitful. The question is not how punitive to be, but how to not be absolutely punitive in the era of perfect memory. It is how to mutually disarm, how to do by law or social norm what the limits of technology used to do. If we cannot, we all become beholden to a beast of our own invention. Justice is no longer a human affair. It becomes the task of a million cameras, a million tweet-scraping scripts; the ever-watching eye and perfect mind of the cancellation machine.
In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche called active forgetting “a doorkeeper, a preserver of psychic order, repose, and etiquette,” without which “there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present.” Those who lack this ability to actively forget may, he said, be accurately compared to dyspeptics: “he cannot ‘have done’ with anything.” Injustices, insults and slights, if not properly digested and eliminated, cause upset stomachs, irritable personalities, and overall vengefulness. Healthy people, practiced in the art of active forgetting, feel free to act, to create, to live deeply without feeling crushed by an overabundance of historical sense, or paralyzed by a sense of the futility of action given the endless flux of existence. Sickly people with reactive over-awareness spend too much time locked in their own heads, breathing in the dust and mold of decaying memories, losing perspective while rooting around in the footnotes and minutiae of historical trivia. (Tim Short provides a nice summary of this recurring theme in Nietzsche’s writing.)
There’s no doubt the resentful and vengeful are still with us today, thriving in the new technological environment which vastly extends the jurisdiction of their bitter quest for “justice.” But Lehman, I think, brings up an equally important but overlooked point: the complicity, through laziness, of the rest of us. As is often the case, we’d rather outsource the unwelcome burden of agency to technology. Machines will do our thinking, and our remembering, for us. We have no choice but to follow their prompts. If the Eye of Google says you’re guilty and wrecks your social credit score, well, what do you expect us to do about it? The techlaw is the techlaw. Those unfortunate enough to be born in the age of digital memory, faced with audio/video evidence of that time in fifth grade when they used a “problematic” taunt toward a classmate, or that time in high school when they flirted with socially unjust ideas, will have to summon the strength to declare such gotcha-moments off limits, to consign them to the landfill in the name of active forgetting. Those “laws or social norms” will have to be created by people who refuse to be intimidated by resentful inquisitors, who refuse to be sacrificed to a narrative of historical injustice which can never be appeased.
Action Seems to Call You But You’re Feeling Quite the Slave
But mainly Hood appeals to individuals to reflect on their choices. ‘If you are unhappy,’ he concludes, ‘then it is your fault and you need to do something about it.’ Fair enough, but how? Individuals, he writes, should ‘exorcise’ their acquisitive ownership and, instead, spend more time with each other. I am all for that, but, sadly, the experiments by slow-living followers and other minimalists and down-shifters show that good intentions on their own are not enough. Change is possible, but we need the help of states, cities and companies which have shaped the intense consumer environment we live in.
When the intellectual topsoil is this thin, it makes sense that there would be this much manure spread around on top. There’s probably no point in digging too deeply into it, but I’m still struck by the sheer amount of question-begging here. Why would you even ask for a one-size-fits-all answer to the perennial problem of human unhappiness? Who decides the difference between an optimal amount of possessions and too many? Which well-intended experiments have failed? What were they supposed to accomplish? What sort of change is supposedly possible with the help of governments and corporations, and why should we believe they won’t simply make things worse? How much net unhappiness in the world is caused by meddlesome busybodies who use their crusading as an excuse to avoid the introspection which might reveal what tedious, unpleasant people they are? (Okay, I smuggled that last one in there.)
Ah, but people are unhappy despite their affluence. Possessions don’t bring lasting contentment. (And hints of imminent environmental doom rumble menacingly in the background like timpani.) Well, isn’t dissatisfaction the norm rather than the rule? Haven’t we always been alchemical geniuses at turning contentment into boredom into mischief into despair? Didn’t we formerly call this the human condition? Perhaps once, when we let gentlemen philosophers do our thinking for us, but we have fMRI scans and Voxplainers in our social-scientific modern age. The problem now, you see, is that our consumer choices aren’t really freely chosen — they’re the product of “social conventions and infrastructures” (and our dopamine squirts), and as we’ve all heard ad nauseum, social constructions can (and should) be deconstructed. And once again, we’re back to that nagging question: who are the people with the objective view from nowhere who will create our new and improved reality for us? And what kind of social or neurochemical engineering would it take to get them to leave the rest of us alone?
[Originally published Feb. 23, 2014.]
But passion alone, divorced from the thrilling intellectual work of real analysis, is empty, even dangerous. When we simply “feel” a poem, carried away by the sound of words, rather than actually reading it, we’re rather likely to get it wrong. We see Mr. Keating, in fact, making just this kind of mistake during one of his stirring orations to the boys of Welton. In a hackneyed speech about resisting conformity that he seems to have delivered many times before, Keating invokes that oft-invoked but rarely understood chestnut, “The Road Not Taken”: “Robert Frost said, ‘Two roads diverged in a wood and I / I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.’”
Wha—? Has Keating actually read the poem from which he so blithely samples? For Robert Frost said no such thing: a character in his poem says it. And we’re meant to learn, over the course of that poem, that he’s wrong—that he’s both congratulating and kidding himself. He chooses his road ostensibly because “it was grassy and wanted wear”; but this description is contradicted in the very next lines—“Though as for that, the passing there / Had worn them really about the same,” and—more incredibly still—“both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” He wants to claim to have taken the exceptional road, if not the spiritual high road; but he knows on some level that it’s a hollow boast.
Keating hasn’t actually read “The Road Not Taken” in any meaningful sense; rather, he’s adopted it, adapted it, made it his own—made it say what he wants it to say. His use of those closing lines, wrenched from their context, isn’t just wrong—it’s completely wrong, and Keating uses them to point a moral entirely different from that of Frost’s poem. (In a like manner, how often has Frost’s “The Mending Wall” been quoted out of context in debates about immigration reform? “Good fences make good neighbors,” indeed.)
So this dude really hates the movie Dead Poets Society. Some of his complaints seem rather uncharitable, but stewing over a movie for a quarter-century can curdle a fellow’s spirit, I suppose. At any rate, I can see one of his points. If I read a poem that grabs me, even if only a certain section of it, I consider it, well, almost a courtesy to find out what the author intended to convey. I’ve long thought that it was a shady dodge when, say, lyricists are deliberately ambiguous about a song’s meaning, saying that it’s more important what the listener makes of it. Goddammit, I already know what I think; that’s not interesting to me at all. I want to know what you were thinking when that came out, I want to be possibly surprised with a different perspective. You were the master craftsman who created that phrase, so I feel like I owe it to you to take a moment and try to inhabit your worldview. This has been a constant theme in my criticism of the SNR phenomenon — look to occasionally challenge what you think; don’t just reinforce it. Whether you’re reading a book or studying an exotic belief, don’t just look for the parts that echo what you already think.
But this pedantic table-pounding over how wrong, completely wrong it is to take a phrase out of context and thereby change the implications of it, well, isn’t that just another form of linguistic prescriptivism? Is that essentially any different than grammar and vocabulary snobs pursing their lips and clenching their buttocks every time popular usage plucks a word away from its roots and pins it upon a lapel? Not to get all postmodernist up in here, but isn’t language and meaning a bit more unstable and free-flowing than that? Granted, it can be annoying to hear a bastardization of meaning due to lack of effort and attention (as a Nietzsche fan, I know this all too well), but on the bright side, doesn’t that just open up an opportunity for a scholar to present an in-depth, soon-to-be-viral article about how “Everything You Think You Know About Whitman And Frost Is Wrong”? And isn’t that spark of passion for the way words can move you the necessary precursor to caring enough to study poems and literature more in-depth?
Besides, the movie, as I remember it, was more broadly about the idealism and romanticism of youth on the brink of conflict with “the way things really are” (possibly about the romanticism of “golden age” myths, too, e.g. “kids today don’t know or care about poetry the way we did in my day…”). Poetry was more proximate than ultimate subject. Keating was attempting to get these high school kids to passionately care about something before the responsibilities of adulthood smothered the opportunity, and poetry happened to be the vehicle he used in this setting. Knox, for instance, is inspired to pursue the girl he thinks is out of his league. Neil is inspired to defy his father and indulge his passion for theater. Todd, the meek wallflower, is inspired to simply assert himself for once. None of that required scholarly precision about a poem’s meaning. In fact, we can just go ahead and connect that final dot and note that Dettmar is actually doing exactly what he’s complaining about — reading his own perspective into the movie, making it say what he wants it to say. The story was about, as Rilke said, how
We see the brightness of a new page
where everything yet can happen.
Unmoved by us, the fates take its measure
and look at one another, saying nothing.
Oh, wait, Rilke was specifically talking about the beginning of the 20th century, with an ominous hint that suggests an uncanny prescience about what tremendous upheavals were to come. Ye gads, what have I done? What sin have I committed against original context? What if, by giving a misleading impression of Rilke’s subject matter, I have set some poor reader up for eventual disillusionment? I can hear Dettmar’s buttocks furiously clenching from here.
Can we re-learn the habits of polite disagreement, and address each other as rational beings, capable of forming real communities in which differences are respected and decencies honoured? I want to answer yes to those questions. But as someone who has suffered more than most from the prevailing madness I have my doubts.
My own solution — which is to ignore social media and to address, in my writings, only the interest in the true and the false, rather than in the permitted and the offensive — confines me within a circle that is considerably narrower than the Twittersphere. But here and there in this circle, there are people who do not merely see the point of truthful discourse, but who are also eager to engage with it. And I cling to the view that that is enough, as it was for the Irish monks who kept the lamp of learning alight during the Dark Ages. They may have thought they were losing, but they won in the end.
In my youth, I was much impressed with a book by Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture. In a spirit of pessimistic despair, he likewise called for “new monastic individuals” to preserve culture through the dark ages of idiocracy. (In hindsight, I suppose this sounds a bit like Ayn Rand for people who prefer reading books to undertaking feats of heroic entrepreneurship.) Unfortunately, Berman’s spirit wasn’t steely enough to contain the acidic bile of his despair, which began spilling out in his subsequent writing to a near-comical degree, and now he’s just a buffoon, too cartoonishly bitter to even laugh at anymore. I still like the image, but Berman’s cautionary example shows us that a monk’s hood by itself won’t be enough to save us. We still have to love the world in all its grotesque folly.
Claire Berlinski reminds me that I belong to a small circle of my own, namely, those of us who voluntarily read for pleasure. “33% of high school graduates never read another book the rest of their lives and 42% of college grads never read another book after college. 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years and 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.” That’s grim, no doubt. I imagine that the circle of people who not only read for pleasure but make some sort of regular effort to write down their own thoughts for the sheer enjoyment of doing so is even smaller still. But I, too, cling to the view that it is enough. I don’t mean that blogs and personal essays will ever become popular again, or that most of us are doing anything of cultural significance in our little electronic gardens. But we can still pay tribute to all things good, true, and beautiful in our own humble ways. A few years ago, I responded to a friend who mentioned being anxious and depressed at the fate of Western civilization after paying too much attention to the news:
“Come on, now, buddy. It’s not as bad as all that. To paraphrase Epicurus, where the death of Western civilization is, we are not, and where we are, the death of Western civilization is not. So why worry? As long as there are even a few hundred of us to play the role of Irish monks or ancient Arabic scholars in keeping the old traditions and values alive, they will have their moment again. If the great things about the West could survive barbarians, plagues and wars galore, they can surely survive an auto-immune flare-up of ressentiment-filled intellectuals. If nothing else, once the baby boomers start to die off (no offense; present company excluded, of course), the malignant ’60s influence should start to fade. What are the odds, I mean, seriously, what are the odds that you and I, two schmucks who just happen to know each other, would be the only two people in this great land of ours who have stopped, done a double-take, and rethought some basic convictions in the last decade or so? You’ve got to keep in mind that media are like funhouse mirrors; they distort everything they reflect. We already know how slanted most journalist/literary types are, but their polar opposites are just as heavily invested in the culture wars as they are. If you consume too much of a media diet, you come away thinking that the whole world consists of ideological fanatics bringing on the apocalypse, and you forget that history almost never turns out according to predictions, because there are countless variables out there that never rise to the level of being newsworthy events, except in hindsight. Like, perhaps, a quiet revolution taking place in the minds of people like ourselves.
As long as there is a place for saner voices to be heard, there’s no reason to despair. And there are still plenty such places.”
There were a number of representational talents who, with a gentle brush, depicted the happiness, the cosiness, the prosaicness, the bucolic health, the ease and contentment to be found in the nursery, the scholar’s study and the farmhouse. With such picture-books of reality in their hands, these self-satisfied people then sought to come to terms once and for all with the classics they found unsettling and with the demand for further seeking which proceeded from them…
— Nietzsche, “David Strauss, the Confessor and the Writer,” Untimely Meditations
As Daniel Breazeale explains in the editor’s introduction, this essay, written in 1873, was an attack on the philistine arrogance of the German bourgeoisie, those who took the military victory over France in 1871 as proof of the superiority of their culture and received ideas. David Strauss just happened to be whom Nietzsche chose as the symbolic representation of that class, probably as a concession to Wagner. Untimely Meditations was Nietzsche’s second book, written while he was still somewhat in the intellectual shadow of Wagner and Schopenhauer, before his break with their influence and his turn toward more interesting, aphoristic thoughts. Some parts of it don’t translate well — there are references to contemporary names and disputes which mean nothing to us now, and some of the arguments seem completely abstract from our vantage point a century and a half later. Nietzsche’s aristocratic disdain for the small world of shopkeepers, farmers and other laborers is almost shocking to a modern American. As he would later write in Thus Spake Zarathustra, describing the “last men,” an enfeebled human race devoted to nothing but entertainment, painless comfort, and security, “‘We have invented happiness,’ say the Last Men, and they blink.” I myself am undoubtedly bourgeois, both by circumstance and temperament. America itself is a bourgeois nation, a point Eric Hoffer pridefully made many times — proof of what the common man could do when freed from the yoke of the aristocracy. It’s difficult not to read passages like these and think indignantly, Hey, wait a minute, I resemble that remark!
But then he also jabs at “the cultural philistine who also loves arabesque flourishes but above all conceives himself alone to be real and treats his reality as the standard of reason in the world,” which strikes me as a succinct way to describe two prominent aspects of our culture today — spiritual-not-religiousness and the multiculti mania for “diversity.” As with Nietzsche’s philistines and their response to the classics, the spiritual-not-religious types curate a Whitman’s sampler of what they like about the world’s varied religious traditions while ignoring or disposing of the rest; whatever “arabesque flourishes” their spirituality happens to display is still only a cosmetic decoration for the “moralistic therapeutic Deism” underneath. The multiculturalists, of course, love superficial differences between people as long as there’s a shared bedrock of ideological uniformity. (In the cultural status game of rock-paper-scissors, privileged white progressives will still always assert themselves over conservative Catholic Latinos, homophobic black Baptists, or patriarchal Asians, who will suddenly find that they are no longer covered under intersectionality insurance once they dare deviate from their benefactors.) A modern-day polemicist looking for an avatar to symbolize this strange phenomenon of religion and politics as a form of self-aggrandizing therapy probably couldn’t do better than Oprah.
“Upon these self-satisfied newspaper readers and consumers of culture Nietzsche bestowed the fitting name Bildungsphilister or ‘cultivated philistines’,” Breazeale tells us. Nietzsche bemoans “the slime of this newspaper language,” the platitudes and feeble ideas that pass for current events, the sort that “informed” citizens pride themselves on being conversant with (“engaged with their newspapers and commonplace chatter about politics”). He scorns the type of writer who tries to provoke thought in uninformative ways — “but to the poor writer’s brain new and modern are the same thing, and it now torments itself to draw metaphors from the railway, the telegraph, the steam-engine, the stock exchange, and feels proud of the fact that these similes must be new because they are modern.” I can only imagine the perverse delight he would derive from reading most articles on neuroscience today.
The Lady of the House was telling me about a podcast she heard with an author named Kim Scott, a CEO coach in Silicon Valley, promoting her new book, in which “constructive criticism” has been replaced by the shiny, new, up-to-date term “radical candor.” Apparently, her marketable idea involves placing “radical candor” on an Eisenhower matrix along with “ruinous empathy,” “manipulative sincerity,” and “obnoxious aggression.” You see, there are ways to balance honesty with empathy without becoming either overly empathetic (safe-space coddling, etc.) or abrasive (brutally honest). You can tell people hard truths without crushing their spirit. “But…we used to just call that common sense!” I said. “Aristotle and the golden mean! Who doesn’t know this? Why is this a new idea just because someone uses new terminology?”
It reminded me that so much of what we hear from social science is little more than old truths run through a jargonizer — “writing that wears a white coat,” as one friend of mine put it. And yet, that kind of stilted jargon is the default among the cultural clerisy. Speak their dialect or be unheard. “A study has shown…” Maybe I can take heart after all — I might be as ordinary as can be, but I think I know who the modern-day equivalent of Nietzsche’s cultivated philistines are. “We have invented knowledge,” say the Voxplainers and the TedTalkers, and they blink.
We have a cool, grey, drizzly day here, slipped in between the scorching temperatures of mid-week and the warm temperatures from the weekend into next week. This makes for a nice accompaniment:
More Than a Feeling
For me, it was the realization that trans ideology affirms, rather than deconstructs, gender stereotypes, that made me step back and take notice. To quote Daria from MTV’s ’90s-era eponymous classic, “I really don’t care what people do to themselves.” But when the actual definition of the word “woman” came under fire, when it turned out that wearing a dress and makeup in public was all it took to be a woman—meaning, of course, that dresses and makeup are the purview of womanhood as opposed to mere feminine accessory—I could not stay silent. Women in the United States have been fighting to abandon, rather than entrench, stereotypes of femininity, yet trans ideology reinforces it.
…Burns offers a classic “guilt by association” argument. Gender critical feminists aligning with conservative groups in this one area is not a reason to denounce them across the board. But because the left has successfully linked conservatism with racism, it is easy for progressives to lump them altogether as one deplorable block. It’s also inaccurate. Vox is correct that conservatives and radical feminists make strange bedfellows. But the left refuses to secure a woman’s identity from that of men, and is willing to say that female is a feeling, identifiable by costume and demeanor. This is what feminists have literally been fighting against the entire time.
Aristotle would harrumph in satisfaction and say, “I told you so.” A virtue taken too far becomes a vice. Few of us would have any immediate objections to the ideal of tolerance in the abstract, though as always, the particulars are what matter. But when tolerance is enthroned as the queen of the virtues, when your progressive bona fides depend on repeated public demonstrations of your tolerance for increasingly fringe ideas and lifestyles, it won’t be long before you’re blundering into absurdities. Having staked their entire identity on being the caring, accepting, understanding alternative to those mean, judgmental conservatives, progressives are in too deep to start hesitating just because their new pet cause entails a straightforward rejection of the concept of a shared, objective reality, independent of individual whims.
At a superficial glance, it’s true that conservatives and feminists seem like strange bedfellows. But it’s no stranger than fusionism, the conservative/libertarian alliance that lasted throughout the Cold War and only now shows signs of fracturing. Politics (and life itself, for that matter) has always been about harnessing tensions productively, not seeking to eliminate them altogether. The latter is another example of the monomaniacal tendency to take things to extremes. To the crusading true believer, every compromise for the sake of maintaining a precarious balance looks like “selling out” or hypocrisy. But when circumstances change, maybe your mind and footing should as well.