Be right back; I’m just gonna go sell these on the dark web and use the money to pay off my mortgage.
Be right back; I’m just gonna go sell these on the dark web and use the money to pay off my mortgage.
This was not theater, because a play is a safe and riskless activity, but it was roleplaying, which can be decidedly more dangerous for the participants—five people have died in these events. The “coup” ended, appropriately, when the main plotter was banned temporarily from social media. It was not a coup in the real world, but it was experienced as one by those taking part. More interestingly, those shocked by the events in the Senate were no less captured by the fantasy and might still believe that a real coup was attempted and defeated. In Washington, you can apparently now have the full “coup” experience in just a few hours. The action takes place in a kind of virtual reality, where terrible accidents can and do happen, but more tragic consequences to the political regime and the viewers at home are somehow prevented.
Does this mean that the Capitol extravaganza was trivial or unimportant? Not at all. In some strange way it was more significant than a real coup. A coup would at least make sense, while the almost complete replacement of serious politics by subterranean fantasy and roleplaying induces a sense of vertigo. Our traditional way of relating to the world has increasingly collapsed. Nothing seems real, and doubts persist about what to think or say in the face of this new situation.
Well, we’ve been LARPing revolutionary anarchism and fascism for a while now; why wouldn’t we try LARPing a coup as well? I can’t wait for the new “civil war” as performed by tinfoil hatters and spoiled rich kids. Simulacra, simulation, society of the spectacle — maybe the worst consequence of all of this is that postmodern theorists like Debord and Baudrillard look prescient now.
As I look at the United States right now, two things—above all—strike me as stunning.
First, the Republican Party decided that this year, they simply wouldn’t publish a Party platform. The GOP has no written platform at all this year.
…One of the United States’ two great, major political parties has replaced its great quadrennial exercise in democratic decision making with a statement of the Führerprinzip.
…Not only does this represent a rejection of democratic procedures, norms, and principles, it represents a rejection of something else: the written word.
…Is critical theory truly responsible for this? How does critical theory or “cultural Marxism,” whatever that is, figure in all this? Now, I am not sure that it does at all. I see the influence of old-school fascism in the ideas surrounding him.
But here’s one thing I have absolutely no conflict about. Rioting and lawlessness is evil. And any civil authority that permits, condones or dismisses violence, looting and mayhem in the streets disqualifies itself from any legitimacy. This comes first. If one party supports everything I believe in but doesn’t believe in maintaining law and order all the time and everywhere, I’ll back a party that does. In that sense, I’m a one-issue voter, because without order, there is no room for any other issue. Disorder always and everywhere begets more disorder; the minute the authorities appear to permit such violence, it is destined to grow. And if liberals do not defend order, fascists will.
The journos spent a week trying to lecture everyone on q anon, now they’re spreading an insane conspiracy theory that @MichaelDuncan is the Emperor of the Post Office currently on a mission to destroy every mailbox in america
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) August 15, 2020
What exactly is the theory here? That Trump is stealing the election by the Post Office… streamlining mail operations in…Oregon? https://t.co/m3Ry1GVqeb
— Peter J. Hasson (@peterjhasson) August 15, 2020
There is no USPS shutdown. There has been no change in USPS operations and there is nothing preventing the USPS from supporting elections via mail-in ballots. This is a crazy conspiracy that has gone mainstream among the left and media. pic.twitter.com/1cNJJLPT02
— (((AG))) (@AGHamilton29) August 15, 2020
Pretty sure it’s right on their website that COVID-19 is what slowed operations. This virus magically comes and goes as these people see fit for politics and protest. https://t.co/v5KtVMyd8T
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) August 16, 2020
People protesting in crowds out of fears they might have to vote in person.
The irony just made my head implode. https://t.co/ZPK8WfvES1
— The Dank Knight 🦇 (@capeandcowell) August 15, 2020
Nostalgia for a romanticized past is a cliché, especially as we age. Art, statecraft and social mores are commonly assumed to be at a nadir in the current day, compared to whichever era suits your fancy. I don’t agree with this perspective, but I’m not here to argue that point today. I would just like to point out that for us connoisseurs of the human condition, who demand that warts and blemishes be included in the portrait of humanity, this is the golden age for conspiracy theories and lunacy en masse. What does the past have to compare with our modern genius? Sure, you may have been able to convince your village that your neighbor put a hex on you and caused your crops to fail, but we have social media. Tulipmania today wouldn’t even crack the weekly top ten of insane things that ostensibly-educated people believe. We have the equivalent of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Mozart, Goethe and Beethoven walking among us today, all foaming at the mouth and guano-insane, and we don’t even appreciate it.
— BasedPoland (@BasedPoland) August 9, 2020
#Antifa are attacking an Amazon store again in Seattle. They’ve using sledgehammers and have been rioting for hours and smashing businesses in and around Capitol Hill. Video by @BGOnTheScene #SeattleRiots pic.twitter.com/iB4sIVyoBd
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) August 10, 2020
“We’re gonna burn your building down”
“We know where you live”
As #antifa have taken to Portland residential areas to riot, they’ve also assaulted & intimidated residents there. Tonight, they threatened those who looked out the window. #PortlandRiots pic.twitter.com/1qiIOLk99j
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) August 9, 2020
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) August 10, 2020
I don’t think people who aren’t in Chicago realize how nuts this is. The area that that got “flash-mob” looted yesterday is the absolute heart of the commercial/tourist downtown. They targeted the high-end stores intentionally. This is lawlessness on a wild-West level scale.
— Jeff B., now with 50% more annoyingness (@EsotericCD) August 10, 2020
Again, people not familiar with the geography of the city don’t understand what’s happening right now: the entire central section of Chicago (The Loop, more or less) is currently shut down to traffic. They *raised the bridges*. It’s some serious ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK-level shit.
— Jeff B., now with 50% more annoyingness (@EsotericCD) August 10, 2020
“Human life is conducted on a thin crust of normality, in which mutual respect maintains a genial equilibrium between people. Beneath this thin crust is the dark sea of instincts, quiescent for the most part but sometimes erupting in a show of violence. Above it is the light-filled air of thought and imagination, into which our sympathies expand and which we people with our visions of human value. Culture is the collective practice which renews those visions and extends our sympathies into all the corners of the heart. It is the ongoing record of the life of feeling which offers to every new generation the examples, images and words that will teach it what to feel. But when the eruptions come it can do nothing to tame the violence. Nor can religion do anything, nor can ordinary morality. For violence breeds violence, and anger breeds anger. Good people, whether educated or uneducated, whether aesthetes or philistines, will try to bring order and decency in the midst of chaos but bad people will always resist them, and in the worst moments of human conflict it is the bad people who prevail. Some of these bad people will be cultivated; some will be religious; all of them will be bent on a path of destruction, consulting their faith or their education only as a source of excuses, and never as an order to stop. No institution, no doctrine, no art that human beings have devised has ever been able to prevent the atrocities that occur once the crust of normal life has broken.”
— Roger Scruton, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged
This is what happens when the only US history you’ve ever learned was a single PowerPoint slide repeated ad infinitum.
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) June 24, 2020
To be more precise, this is what happens when mobs form, regardless of the supposed reason for their formation. “The joy of violent movement pulls you under,” as James Hetfield sang. Mobs, by their nature, are thoughtless, destructive beasts. Arguing about whether this is all in response to police brutality or systemic racism or three months of lockdown is like arguing about which flea on the elephant’s back is responsible for steering it. In one sense, a careful study of history could possibly inoculate people against the mob virus, by reminding us how little we know, by illustrating how little actually changes throughout history, and by instilling in us humility and gratitude for the past achievements of those wiser, better, and more courageous than we’ll ever be. On the other hand, one doesn’t have to look far to find many conventionally-intelligent people who have managed to study history without learning anything important, except for how to cherry-pick grievances to fuel their insatiable resentment. Anyone who looks into the face of the mob hoping to see a reflection of reason and idealism will only find the abyss of impulsive nihilism gazing back at them.
The imbeciles on Twitter are unserious people, but unserious people can produce serious problems. There is a word for the situation in which there is no room for disagreement. The word is not “justice.” It is “totalitarianism.” That is what cancel culture is, and we have seen it in highly developed form in such places as East Germany under Honecker and China under Mao and the Cultural Revolution.
A couple days later, Williamson linked to an interview with the high priestess of the state religion of anti-racism, Robin DiAngelo, in which she informed us:
Racism is the foundation of the society we are in. And to simply carry on with absolutely no active interruption of that system is to be complicit with it. And in that way, we can say that nice, white people who really aren’t doing anything other than being nice people are racist. We are complicit with that system. There is no neutral place.
Ah, yes, “Everything within the cause, nothing outside the cause, nothing against the cause,” as Mussolini might have said, had he been willing to interrogate his own whiteness. I’ll bet you that DiAngelo has one of those motivational office posters hanging up in her workspace emblazoned with O’Brien’s promise from 1984: “We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” However, things aren’t as harsh as they seem. They’re at least willing to pay for our therapy and retraining:
Look at it this way: this might be the only way we’re allowed to go to summer camp anytime soon. If any of you get assigned to my cabin, let’s start a clandestine reading group.
I had managed to make it this far in life without ever hearing of this carpet-chewing lunatic, which I take to be a healthy sign for both me and society in general. I think it’s noteworthy, however, that he has 331,000 followers. It gives slight pause to consider that the population of a fair-sized city could encounter a Streicher-like screed like this and say, “Now, there’s a fellow making good sense. I’d like to be kept abreast of all his further thoughts, please.” Signal? Noise? Who can tell anymore? Is this feverish sentiment a meaningless outlier, or an ominous harbinger?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no such thing as a happy political junkie. I have never once encountered a person intimately familiar with everything from palace intrigue to policy minutiae who could be described as well-rounded, genial, or content. Political obsession invariably deforms its victims. They can’t change their minds and they won’t change the subject. A healthy person would be indulging in a hobby, or enjoying time spent with loved ones, not fantasizing about throwing political opponents in re-education camps, or preaching the good word of anti-racism to people who are inching the door closed in your face. The fanatic is convinced that his monomaniacal political awareness is the gravitational force keeping the world from falling apart. In reality, it’s more like a magnifying glass being used to burn a hole through the delicate bonds of “sympathy” as described by thinkers like Adam Smith, the fellow-feeling which makes life tolerable despite its countless imperfections.
Like Bartleby, I look at most of the activities that society offers me and offer a polite demurral. I would be happy to leave it at that, but apparently my attitude is increasingly unacceptable. I’m tired of being pursued by zealots who want to paw me with their dirty institutions and constrain me to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. I will vote for whoever promises to build a wall between me and fanatics like DiAngelo and Palmer, a wall topped with razor wire and machine-gun turrets. We used to be able to depend on the much-more aesthetically-pleasing bulwark of manners, mores, civil society, or whatever else you want to call it, but the religious vacuum in society has been filled by politics-as-religion, so here we are.
Broken record here:
Our information ecosystem is REALLY messed up right now. When sharp, reasonable, even-handed people are unable to figure out what’s true because of a justified suspicion of *all* outlets, the result will be collective epistemic collapse.
“I trust nothing”
— Alan Levinovitz (@AlanLevinovitz) June 11, 2020
At its core, the argument being leveled against public-health experts is that the reason for the protests shouldn’t matter. The coronavirus doesn’t care whether it’s attending an anti-lockdown protest or an anti-racism one. But these two kinds of protests are not equivalent from a public-health perspective. Some critics might argue that the anti-lockdown protests promoted economic activity, which can help stave off the health implications of poverty. (On this count, public-health experts were ahead of the curve: Many—including one of us—were advocating for a massive infusion of assistance to individual Americans as early as March.) But these protests were organized by pro-gun groups that believe the National Rifle Association is too compromising on gun safety. Egged on by the president to “save your great 2nd Amendment,” anti-lockdown protesters stormed government buildings with assault rifles and signs reading covid-19 is a lie. The anti-lockdown demonstrations were explicitly at odds with public health, and experts had a duty to oppose them. The current protests, in contrast, are a grassroots uprising against systemic racism, a pervasive and long-standing public-health crisis that leads to more than 80,000 excess deaths among black Americans every year.
One epidemiologist from Harvard, and one from Yale. Again, I stress, these are not “anti-science” fundamentalists telling us we can pray the virus away; it’s doctrinaire progressives indulging in sheer sophistry for the sake of political tribalism. “It’s okay when we do it, because our cause is righteous.”
Even if, just for the sake of argument, we grant the dubious assertion that “systemic racism” is a “public-health crisis” responsible for 80,000 deaths a year, it would still be ridiculous to compare a chronic crisis to an acute one, which is what the pandemic is. If I slice open my femoral artery with a saw, the chronic arthritic pain in my lower back becomes a lesser problem for the time being. Granted, I’m not trained in the new math of progressivism, but it appears inarguable that if one health crisis causes over 100,000 deaths in three months, and another supposedly causes 80,000 deaths per year, the former crisis is still more dangerous and a greater priority, however passionate you are about the latter. No matter how creative you get in playing with words and numbers to define “systemic racism,” I don’t think even these propagandist hacks are going to claim that “systemic racism” is in danger of deluging emergency rooms and intensive care units, which is the entire reason we were told that our individual assessment of risk was immaterial. You may be willing to risk your own life, but you will almost surely spread the virus to other, more vulnerable people who did not choose to take that risk, and furthermore, in doing so, you will contribute to overloading the limited resources of the hospitals. These dangers are unique to the acute crisis. Or so we were told until it became politically convenient to ignore it.
In truth, it’s probably the case that people were simply sick of being cooped up and would have seized on any pretext to leave their houses and assemble together again. Everyone loves to have a good excuse to do things they know they’re not supposed to do. If millions of people decide to engage in mass civil disobedience, there’s little any government can do to stop them. But telling the truth is always an option, and too many public health experts have chosen to be cowards and engage in flimsy rationalizations instead.
“Even so, people must remain open to the possibility that if a second wave of infections occurs, public-health officials may need to suggest stricter lockdown measures once again.” Yeah, good luck with that. And good luck with expecting anyone to listen to what “the science says” on vaccines and climate change ever again, now that you’ve openly sacrificed your professional integrity to political correctness. I swear, these idiots are too stupid to even realize what long-term damage they’ve done.
And while I shall keep silent about some points, I do not want to remain silent about my morality which says to me: Live in seclusion so that you can live for yourself. Live in ignorance about what seems most important to your age. Between yourself and today lay the skin of at least three centuries. And the clamor of today, the noise of wars and revolutions should be a mere murmur for you. You will also wish to help – but only those whose distress you understand entirely because they share with you one suffering and one hope – your friends – and only in the manner in which you help yourself. I want to make them bolder, more persevering, simpler, gayer. I want to teach them what is understood by so few today, least of all by these preachers of pity: to share not suffering but joy.
— Nietzsche, The Gay Science
We would prefer that people be treated with grace rather than opportunistic cruelty and with charity rather than pettiness. We would prefer that employers not appoint themselves the moral guardians of every employee and the censor of every employee’s every utterance in his private life. And here is something close to the fundamental issue: We believe in private life, that people are entitled to their own associations and opinions (even bad ones!), and entitled to make their own mistakes, too — and that, barring some direct connection to work life or extraordinary circumstance, that none of this is the concern of the little platoons of finks lurking down in human resources.
We worry about the consequences of cancel culture. But we are much more intensely ashamed of it and what it says about the current state of the American heart.
The Mighty Boosh? Seriously? Good thing I already have the DVD collection. This is partially why I still prefer to own physical copies of media rather than trust the cloud to always have it.
Let me state some basic principles. I assume, in keeping with my Taoist influences, that anyone who seeks political power is probably a budding sociopath who ought not be trusted with it, and that if they manage to do something good while in power, it’s probably by accident. I think that politics is a necessary evil, emphasis on the evil, one of the most unsatisfying and soul-destroying activities in human existence, and that only defective people pay more than the bare minimum of attention to it. I think that the desire to leave and be left alone is the mark of a healthy mind, and I think that the entire spectrum of authoritarians, from neighborhood busybodies to cultural commissars, should be energetically abused with the most hair-curling, obscene invective possible. I try, to the best of my abilities, to do what the man said with my limited influence and share not suffering but joy: the books I appreciate, the music I love, and the most interesting thoughts I can muster up. It’s saddening and worrisome that so many people can think of nothing better to do with their time and energy than act like vengeful petty tyrants, haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, is having an unapproved good time without their supervision. The Venn diagram between people who want to abolish/defund/etc. the police and people who pleasure themselves to the thought of having police-like powers to arrest and punish others for thoughtcrimes is a circle.
I’m reminded of an interview with Michael Ignatieff about Isaiah Berlin, one of my intellectual heroes:
IL: Yes, they are. But back to Berlin. You say that he was highly sceptical about the Aristotelian idea that people are “political animals”. Is it possible nowadays not to be a political animal? How possible is it to stay out of it all?
MI: One of the freedoms that Isaiah valued, which is not very popular, was the freedom not to be a political animal. The luxury of a truly free society is that political involvement is a choice, not an obligation.
IL: That may be true regarding active political involvement, but there is also the argument that you may not be interested in politics…
MI: …but that politics may take an interest in you. Oh, sure, sure. And he understood that. He understood that the freedom to be disengaged was possible only in societies like the British one in which he lived in for most of his life. Whereas there are other societies where politics taps you on the shoulder or knocks on your door and can carry you away. In that case, involvement becomes compulsory, in the sense that it’s a matter of your survival and your dignity. He understood that. But a good society, I think, is a society where politics leaves you alone and where you choose to get involved or not. I think he was right to say that there are a lot of things that shouldn’t be politicized. Healthy societies are societies that don’t politicize everything. You choose the best judge, not the politically well-placed judge; you choose the best director of the orchestra, not the one with the best political friends; you choose the best editor for a magazine, not the one who has political connections. If everything is politicized, then everything becomes a zero sum game between those who are in and those who are out. Smart societies just don’t do that because it means you don’t get the best people.
I think it’s safe to say we are not a good or healthy society, and in the current climate, it’s only getting worse. The woke Maoists who are busy seizing everything from the opinion pages of the NYT to the downtown streets of Seattle have made clear that neutrality is not a valid option in their vision of class war. Sure, they’re just drunk with revolutionary fervor right now, but even in slightly-calmer times, the ratchet only seems to turn one way, in the direction of increased politicization. Social media has always brought out the worst “revillaging” aspects of people’s personalities, and organizing boycotts/cancellations has been a favorite sport of authoritarians for as long as I’ve been reading online. But if there’s any sign that the general public has lost its appetite for this madness, let alone become nauseated by it, I haven’t seen it yet.
Irony of ironies: I wish there were an actual “resistance” I could join in opposition to the hashtag version.
From Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer:
Crowds of rebels assembled to protest, and for five days from August 17 to August 22, 1548, mobs roamed the streets setting fire to tax collectors’ houses. Some attacked the homes of anyone who looked rich, until the disorder threatened to turn into a general peasant uprising. A few tax collectors were killed. Their bodies were dragged through the streets and covered in heaps of salt to underline the point. In one of the worst incidents, Tristan de Moneins, the town’s lieutenant-general and governor—thus the king’s official representative—was lynched. He had shut himself up in the city’s massive royal citadel, the Château Trompette, but a crowd gathered outside and howled for him to come out. Perhaps thinking to earn their respect by facing up to them, he ventured forth, but it was a mistake. They beat him to death.
Then fifteen, Montaigne was out in the streets, for the Collège had suspended classes during the violence. He witnessed the killing of Moneins, a scene he never forgot. It raised in his mind, perhaps for the first time, a question that would haunt the entire Essays in varying guises: whether it was better to win an enemy’s respect by an open display of defiance, or to throw yourself on his mercy and hope to win him over by submission or an appeal to his better self.
In this case Montaigne thought Moneins had failed because he was not sure what he was trying to do. Having decided to brave the crowd, he then lost his confidence and behaved with deference, sending mixed messages. He also underestimated the distorted psychology of a mob. Once worked up into a frenzy, it can only be either soothed or suppressed; it cannot be expected to show ordinary human sympathy. Moneins seemed not to know this. He expected the same fellow-feeling as he would from an individual.
On a related note, the Tocqueville effect. Anyway, I’ve been reminded of this each time I see another public figure in what looks like a hostage video, emotionally confessing their own complicity in systemic injustice, promising to do better now that they’ve seen the light. Oh, you poor fools. Do you think rolling over and showing your belly is going to save you? You think your progressive merit badges have ever meant anything to the kind of people you’re trying to placate? And hey, you people over there who think you can just quietly go about your life minding your own business! You people who think you’ll be left alone to keep talking about classic literature or posting pictures of food on social media! Don’t think we haven’t seen you wallowing in your quietist privilege like the reactionary pigs you are. CBS News would like to inform you that unforgiving eyes are upon you. Receipts will be collected; scores will be settled. But I’m sure if you keep feeding steaks to that tiger, he’ll magically become a vegetarian.