George Orwell famously excoriated W.H. Auden for the line, “The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder,” in his poem “Spain.” Orwell took him to be a typical example of an intellectual for whom the murder of human beings was just another abstraction on the road to utopia, “the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled.” (Auden, for his part, insisted this was a misinterpretation, and that he was not excusing totalitarian crimes.) The stakes are a bit lower in our day, at least for now. Progressives, in their omnipresent desire to appear morally superior and more sophisticated than conservatives, are currently required to accept the absurdity of a man beating up a woman for sport and call it progress. The right hook of history is strong, and it lands flush on the jaw of injustice, or something like that. Many, if not most, would admit privately that this sort of thing is grotesque, but publicly, well, there are tribal considerations. As Orwell also said in an introduction to Animal Farm, “At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other but it is “not done” to say it, just as in mid‐Victorian times it was “not done” to mention trousers in the presence of a lady.” Likewise, it is “not done” to state the obvious here for fear that removing the trans block would cause the whole progressive Jenga tower to collapse.

In his excellent book The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope, Roger Scruton devotes a chapter to examining each of seven different fallacies he identifies with “unscrupulous optimism.” In a later chapter, “Our Tribal Past,” he offers a more realistic “state of nature” myth to replace the more well-known, but far less-plausible, versions by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, showing how all of these fallacious ways of thinking are most likely the unfortunate but understandable products of life in our ancestral environment, where most of human experience has occurred. Tribalism is the default state of our species. The fact that we have managed to create the cultural space for the “prophet” to appear and attempt to hold us to a higher standard than tribalism is a cause for joy, but this arrangement is fragile and always under threat. Prophets often become scapegoats, the ones who can be sacrificed without guilt for disturbing tribal unity.

Perhaps the spoiled, bored LARPers of both the right and left will get their wish, and we’ll return to political violence, where loyalty to the tribe replaces doubt and ennui. Until then, though, while we have little to fear in the way of threats to life and limb, perhaps we could stop accepting obvious lies as “necessary” gambits in a game of multi-dimensional chess.