In the wake of the nuclear brou-ha-ha that has greeted Bret Stephens’ perfectly milquetoast demurs about the state of our knowledge of climate change, I find myself wondering two things.
First, at what point does the left’s indignation just lose all power? Leftists have gotten a lot of mileage out of it over the years, but charges of racism and denialism have become so common that the words have lost their magic. I doubt, e.g., that Stephens will be fired by the NYT–it’s at least as possible that his editor will congratulate him on getting such a lively reaction to his first column–unless the NYT editors have drunk their own Koolaid (ok, what was I thinking? –it may be his only chance of keeping his job is if he’s arrested with an underage gay prostitute.)
The problem here is that it’s all become so familiar that hardly anyone sensible takes the indignation seriously anymore. When everyone has heard charges of racism (or been accused of being racist) over patently silly things for long enough, the words just begin to lose their power.
Hence the effectiveness of “trolling” as a tactic for the right–and especially the altright, which has made an artform out of triggering leftists via memes. I follow these things with as morbid and time-wasting a curiosity as anyone, but I couldn’t tell you what the alleged significance of an ubiquitous green frog named Pepe is, or, more recently, the “ok” symbol. If I used these, what would I be signaling and to whom? I have no idea.
In one sense, all of this is an enormous relief. The incantational power of the left to demonize has been revealed as a silly trick, and the response of an increasing number of people is to just shrug. It’s all degenerated into live action role-playing somehow, and there is a sizable, if largely silent, group of people who get that.
In another sense, it’s a shame because it has led to a trivialization of the genuinely appalling. Both Jonah Goldberg and Ben Shapiro have commented that the last year has seen an exponential rise in anti-Semitic emails and comments, including, e.g., pictures of babies–both are fathers of young children–in ovens.
Characteristically, the left has reacted by doubling down, thinking it can still bully, demonize, shame, and excommunicate the heretics. The evidence is it’s not working. But they seem to regard the appropriate response as ramping up the level of tantrum. What is the endgame here, I find myself wondering? Does it all stop when they have to get jobs and a new and by some accounts more conservative / skeptical group of young people arises?
But–and this was the second big point– I find myself also wondering about the issues that have become “undiscussable” for the contemporary left–and what unites them. It is particularly striking, e.g., that Stephens’ detractors go straight for the charge of “hate speech.” Climate skepticism–of the most tepid variety–is “hate speech”?! Really? Who or what is being hated, exactly?
What is really meant, I suspect, is not hate speech, but heresy speech, speech that in one way or another threatens one of the Left’s gods. But how did this pantheon take shape? And where is its underlying unity?
At a glance, the undiscussables now include:
- climate change
- transgender rights
- unrestricted immigration
- secularism/ dogmatic atheism
- abortion rights
- Islam (despite its attitudes towards LGBTQ issues)
- income inequality
- the authority of “science” (as determined by actors)
- the inadmissibility of objective truth (except as determined by actors playing scientists)
But what gives them their common character?
One could make a case that all are, in some sense, reactionary, driven by hatred of various tenets of traditional western civilization–history’s losers, as it were, taking vengeance on the victors.
But it seems more likely that they are somehow part of a loosely coherent project of progressivism whose inner logic is sensed instinctively by its adherents.
I have a great deal to say about various aspects of this larger project–but I confess this inner logic largely eludes me….If that means that the owl of Minerva has not yet flown, I can only shudder. What does dusk look like?