Note: The Monday Taki post is up. Not entirely related to this post. The Covid stuff does tie into the new religion. Sunday Thoughts is up behind the green door. There is the SubscribeStar version and the Substack version.
Many commenters have noted that American political discourse is much coarser and nastier today than it was a generation ago. The change can be dated to the arrival of the Clintons on the national stage in the 1990’s. They brought with them a crudeness that has become the norm in national politics. The great interregnum that lasted from the 1980’s into the 1990’s was replaced with an ugly and vulgar brand of politics that eventually led to the nasty and censorious present.
The question that never gets asked is why has public discourse become so nasty and unforgiving over the last three decades? The time for intolerance was the Cold War when mistakes could mean nuclear war with Russia. Instead, it was a time of relative tolerance compared to the present. Technological and material advances have made the margin for error extremely broad, yet the people seeking to shape public discourse carry on like one misused pronoun will end the world.
There can be no denying that the nastiness and intolerance is coming from the people we call the Left. The so-called conservatives continue to carry on like they are at high tea with the queen. The censorship, cancel culture and the harassment of dissenters all comes from the tribes of the Left. They are the ones trying to ruin people for explicitly stating obvious truths that suddenly run contrary to official dogma. The mobs threatening social order are all left-wing.
The funny thing is, the Left should be riding high, given that they control all of the high ground of American society. If the new fad on the Left is for “birthing people” to wear flowerpots on their heads, every news anchor will either have the flowerpot on her head or state in advance that they are not a person of uterus so they are respecting the culture of the birthing people. The Left has never had more power in American society, yet they have never been angrier.
One reason for the nastiness is left-wing politics has always attracted people who are full of self-loathing and have a resentment toward normal society. This was true in the French Revolution and it is true today. The conformity and identity provided by the hive mentality of radical politics is the appeal. Radical politics is by definition anti-social, so it attracts anti-social people. The phrase “happy go-lucky communist” is not a staple of our language for a reason.
Of course, the cult-like atmosphere of radical politics limits the ways in which a member can get attention. To get noticed by senior members of the hive means being more extreme than the rest of the hive. Without a limiting principle, virtue signaling quickly becomes a race to the most extreme position. This is how we quickly went from finding a legal accommodation to cohabitating homosexuals to a world where the Left demands that child molesters in drag have unlimited access to grammar schools.
Then there is the fact that people into left-wing politics tend to live in isolation from normal people. They may interact with normals at work or in daily life, but their political activity is exclusively around fellow believers. These ideas arise in a world insulated from the daily realty of normal society. The people operating like spiritual masters inside these movements are never challenged or questioned. They are never exposed to scrutiny or forced to defend their positions.
Someone like Robin DiAngelo is never going to sit down for a tough interview by a knowledgeable critic of her ideas. All of the thought leaders and influencers on the Left are like stage psychics in that they only ever allow themselves to be tested under conditions that allow for success. This serves to promote their brand, to use a marketing term, but it also legitimizes their ideas to their followers. DiAngelo always sounds authoritative, which serves to give authority to her ideas.
The counter here is that people on the Right do the same thing but the big difference is the institutions are run by the Left. A normal person cannot go about their life without running into left-wing assertions. Watch a TV show and it is full of propaganda about the latest causes. Ads are mostly for cultural ideas, rather than products. The workplace is littered with warning signs about offending the believers. There is no escaping the cult of progressive beliefs.
People on the Left can avoid almost all counter-programming. Normal people are naturally polite and non-confrontational. As soon as they learn that Sarah from accounting is a woke believer, word goes forth to avoid talking current events with Sarah or her friends. On the other hand, if a normal person dead names Barbara, formerly known as Robert, Sarah and her coevals will be all over the poor guy, demanding he be hurled into the void for intolerance.
This tendency toward politeness has the perverse effect of providing social proof to the people in these subcultures. The guy getting thrown into the void must deserve his fate as no one defends him, thus his crime is validated. On the other hand, the lack of pushback from the people around them, plus the intense loyalty of the people inside the subculture, is daily confirmation. There is no social cost to holding extreme ideas so the incentives to holding them are unchecked.
Compounding this is a poverty of information inside these movements. Since the leaders are never exposed to scrutiny, their ideas are never tested. In an environment of conformity, showing any doubt about the ideas risks a loss of status inside the group, so no one dares question anything. In the rare occasion when the members confront someone who directly challenges their belief, it is as if the person is questioning the very nature of reality. There must be something wrong with them.
This leads to the sort of performative confrontation we saw in the Senate between Josh Hawley and Berkeley Law Professor Khiara Bridges. To normal people, the professor came of as obnoxious and unbalanced. To the people in the subculture, she heroically defended the one true faith against the violent attacks of a bigot. In other words, their brief confrontations with reality are quickly turned into confirmation. The normal feedback loop is warped by their general isolation.
All of this explains the increasing weirdness of the Left and the intensity of belief, but it does not explain the nastiness. Fifty years ago, progressives were just as committed to their agenda as they are today, but back then they were prepared to debate anyone in public on their issues. Today, the Left is trying hard to purge anyone from the public square who is not enthusiastic for their cause. Fifty years ago, the Left said you had to be open minded. Today, an open mind is violence.
The most likely reason for this is the focus of belief has shifted from the material world to the spiritual realm. In the 1980’s, lefty was all about economics. Progressivism was a material cause, not a cultural one. Today, the Left does not care about economics or the material wellbeing of people. In fact, they seem to think the material wellbeing of people is a danger to their cause. The evolving assault on food production in the name of Gaia is looking like the actions of a suicide cult.
There is the key to the nastiness. Radical politics has always had a religious vibe because ideology is a secular replacement for religion. Instead of God providing authority to the beliefs, it is the will of the people or the tides of history. Until this age, ideology was rooted in the material world. The door through which mankind would enter paradise was economic relations. Today, the door is cultural relations. Once all cultural barriers are removed, everyone is free to fulfill their potential.
The old ideology of the Left had a tangible vision. They thought that in the future, a man would be able to fish in the morning, hunt in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening and do critical theory at night. He would be free to live as he chose because his material wellbeing would be secure. The new religion offers an image of the present like a haunted house, in which the monsters are normal people. How can you be a happy warrior when you imagine yourself surrounded by spiritual enemies?
What we may be seeing is the end of ideology. Ideology is a new thing in human history, which means it has a beginning and therefore an end. This great replacement for religion as the set of shared societal beliefs may be in an end phase. The reason it is so nasty and violent is the same reason a trapped animal is nasty and violent. Suicide cults choose death over disbelief. This last ideology is looking to destroy this fallen world rather than give up their beliefs.
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