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.