All week, I’ve thought of putting my thoughts on Charlottesville and the aftermath together in a succinct, powerful essay.
But I can’t. Too much of significance has happened, my time and my cognitive resources have been diverted to other, more pressing tasks, and I haven’t yet gotten what happened straight in my head.
So I’ll share some of what I found to be the more impressive interpretations of what has happened.
The first is a comment on an Edward Luce piece that appeared in the Financial Times [I don’t know if the link works, and you may need a subscription to read it]:
The real story here, the huge story of historical importance, just waiting to be told by a competent journalist, isn’t Trump.
The real story is the mass hysteria about him and his supporters, on the part of the left and the establishment, that has been running at fever pitch ever since he announced his candidacy for the presidency, just over two years ago now.
This hysteria is what represents a danger to democracy and ancient freedoms in the Republic.
But many journalists – and it seems all the journalists at the FT – are inside the hysteria, and so they can’t see it.
They are blind to the alt-left’s constant provocation of ordinary Americans, over many years now, of which the demands for removal of statues is just the latest example. Thus they are blind to the realisation that the alt-right and the white nationalists are a response to these constant provocations. They didn’t just emerge in a vacuum.
One reason for the mass hysteria, I think, is disappointed expectations. The analogy I would use is that of the cultural revolution in China. Imagine that, four years into the cultural revolution, Chairman Mao was replaced, by popular vote, with Chiang Kai-Shek. Imagine how the Red Guards would have reacted to that.
Fully aware of the problems with reasoning by analogy, I nevertheless think something along these lines has happened in the US. What the US experienced in Obama’s last term was something akin to the stirrings of a cultural revolution. The alt-left began feeling its oats, testing its power, and pushing against the status quo, only to find that the status quo yielded to every challenge. So they just kept on pushing. The inability of the traditional right – the Republicans – to resist this constant pressure is I think what created the ‘alt-right’ – an alternative to the traditional right. The alt-left pushing created the reaction that we see in Trump, and in the popular movements to protect whatever it is that represents the status quo – free speech one day, statues the next. In Trump and the alt-right, the alt-left has finally found social groups that will stand up to it and resist its pushing. The alt-left, having realised that what it believes is a Crusade of Virtue – with which it thinks no reasonable person could possibly disagree – is being opposed, is beside itself. In their minds, the only people who could oppose such a crusade are society’s most deplorable, and most racist, against which any tactics are justified. Hence, the hysteria and the violence.
At Charlottesville, through the negligence of the authorities, these two groups came into contact, with tragic results.
Academic economist Craig Pirrong calls it the Weimarisation of America: political groups fighting it out on the streets, with the establishment either indifferent to the fighting, or favouring one side over another. If you aren’t alarmed and deeply concerned by this, I think you should be. The centre appears to have given up, and the fringes are starting to assert themselves. This is not good, to put it mildly.
This is the great story of the age, just waiting to be told. But the journalists can’t get their heads around it. They can’t get outside the bubble in which they live. So, for them, it’s all Trump, all the time.
The hypothesis of mass hysteria is a persuasive one for me. It well explains the complete over-reaction to and mis-reading of President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville. Mass hysteria is also the interpretation of events that the perceptive and insightful Scott ‘Dilbert’ Adams has developed, and it is consistent with his thesis which I will call ‘one movie playing, two movies being seen’. Here is a link to his latest blog post on mass hysteria. Please find also here one of his relevant periscope discussions outlining his views (most of them are worth watching). He also provides some perspective here.
As an example of mass hysteria affecting even objectively intelligent people, the well-known, well-connected and consequential – for better or worse – economist Larry Summers has lost his marbles over this issue:
“President Trump is endorsing white supremacists, he is ‘uncomfortably close’ to white supremacists… our President is supporting racists”
I don’t have much time for Larry Summers. He was skewered brilliantly by a man who isn’t even an actor in the entertaining film The Social Network, in a scene, drawn from a real life episode where Summers demonstrated that he has no understanding of the role that property rights play in a market economy. This sort of unwarranted over-reaction simply deepens my contempt.
Because it is over-reaction, and over-reaction is, it seems the essence of mass hysteria. A pure engagement of the limbic system, all deliberative reasoning thrown off. Where was the careful, calm analysis of what actually happened that day, on both sides? Does the existence of bona fide, swastika-carrying Nazis free us from the obligation to think carefully, and to weigh the actions of all involved. Seventy years ago our civilisation partnered with what one might call the world’s premier ‘alt-left’ country to defeat Nazism, overlooking its awful violence for the greater good. In that war, we were fighting for our survival. There seems to be no need to do that now, but that is the tack that the hysterists are taking – overlooking the violence of the alt-left, in order to see Nazis wear all of the opprobrium.
I can’t fathom it. But this is hysteria. It is not meant to be fathomed. It is meant to be avoided where possible, and brought under control where necessary. That so much of the US’ cognitive elite and political establishment has succumbed to it, is deeply troubling. It is even more troubling when you realise that the cause of it is a 70-odd year old businessman and his statements about, essentially, wanting to tighten immigration controls.
That’s it. That’s all he did. And look at the hysteria it has sparked.
We had a precedent in Australia 20 years ago with Pauline Hanson. The left went bananas. Their sensitivity on this topic is acute. And they simply can’t calm down.
Even more troubling is the political violence that it has spawned. Now add in that the authorities are either indifferent to that violence, or supportive of alt-left violence against the alt-right. This is getting very ugly, very quickly. Many have already been injured, and now one is dead. And we haven’t yet hit fever-pitch.
Inside the insanity of the US’ cultural revolution:
‘Let’s blow up Mount Rushmore‘
Some good posts:
James Jatras – Death of a Nation
Daisy Luther – How Can We Learn from the Past if We Erase History?
John Whitehead – Chaos in Charlottesville
Jim Quinn – Functional Illiterates Trying to Erase History
An interesting comment from one of Steve Sailer’s readers, Irish Paleo (Sailer’s commentary is also worth reading):
Another thought provoking article. Well done.
A recent topic of iSteve discourse has been the question of whether there are O’Brien or Mustapha Mond-type figures within the elite who know who they are or what they’re doing or whether they are as vapid inside as they are on the surface. The retconning of the past and the bizarre revisions we are seeing of history (e.g. Andrew Jackson – bad, Alexander Hamilton – good) leave me asking whether it is possible that, like the Inner Party in 1984 or the Alpha Double Plus caste in Brave New World, the elites really are string pullers who are beholding the mischief they’ve wrought and feeling satisfied that its all going to plan. My own instinctive answer is almost precisely halfway between an unqualified yes and an unqualified no. Consider the following:
1. There’s clearly been a paradigm shift in the “equality” and “social justice” agendas. In addition to generally becoming madder and more unhinged, which is more or less par for the course, a bizarre pattern seems to be emerging (which has been amply chronicled on this blog) whereby the more historically remote any real legal and institutional impediments to the advancement of women and non-whites becomes, the more embarrassing it has become to them and their sponsors that the principal indices of high status and achievement are still dominated by white males. This, almost by definition, requires hard-boiled equality ideologues to spin ever more bizarre and unbalanced yarns to explain why their utopia has yet to arrive.
2. One of these manifestations has been an increasing resentment of the fact that the history of civilisationally consequential achievement has been so predominantly white and male. In an atmosphere in which there was a broader expectation that the future would differ from the past, this resentment could never reach fever pitch but the last 20 years have been sufficiently disappointing that it represents quite a predictable traumatic response. Equally predictable is that a predominantly white and male establishment would seek to:
(a) point that resentment in sterile directions that will not harm it; and
(b) use it to advance its own agenda where possible.
3. As the SJWs go from asking questions which are respectably current or prospective such as why there aren’t more black CEOs or women coders, to why nothing has been written about the women who signed the Declaration of Independence or the Africans who invented penicillin, the establishment seems, at least on some level, to have concluded that indulging the appetite for “diversity” porn is safer to pursue in the theatres of history (i.e. stuff that happened in the past), celluloid (i.e. stuff that never happened at all) and the social science faculties (stuff that happens outside the real world) than in something like business, finance or systems science research:
(a) which is real and current;
(b) which matters a whole lot; and
(c) in which the consequences of “diversity”-induced screw ups are enormous and reverberative (#OscarsSoWhite may be irritating as hell but to the average Davos denizen #GoldmanSachsSoWhite would be infinitely worse).
4. The logic isn’t hard to understand. If we have to start engaging in pretences such as that Neil deGrasse Tyson is somehow the equal of Stephen Hawking or Sir Andrew Wiles or that Franklin Raines is as competent a financier as John Paulson or that Susan Rice is the academic equal of Samuel Huntington, the real-world consequences will be devastating and perhaps uncontrollable. On the other hand, there is, at the very least, a superficial attractiveness to instead:
(a) allowing the likes of Lin Manuel Miranda to pretend that Alexander Hamilton was black or that George Washington was a trannie or that John Quincy Adams was some kind of Gentile Yentl;
(b) pretending that George Washington Carver was as consequential a scientist as Albert Einstein;
(c) making movies that depict Charlize Theron as having the upper body strength of Arnie in his prime; and/or
(d) giving affirmative action hires like Henry Louis Gates and Cornell West pseudo-academic sinecures and pretending that their positions are somehow equivalent to those of, say, Lawrence Tribe or Bruce Fein.
So hence, the establishment has thrown its weight behind a bizarre plot to apply affirmative action to the past, to fantasy and to parts of reality that don’t matter very much (like African American Studies Departments). The questions is thus: will it work?
5. Guessing from their last project (making Obama the president), the answer is no. The whole idea behind Obama (and his designated female successor Kamala Harris) was that by getting a part-black exotic who was properly acculturated into white liberal norms and making him president, they could somehow induce blacks to stop feeling resentment at their embarrassing achievement deficit relative to whites and Asians (which, thanks to affirmative action and redistributive programmes, is far larger than the equivalent wealth and income gap). It didn’t work because:
(a) blacks and other economically unsuccessful groups seem to have a sort of “cargo cult” belief when it comes to wealth and achievement, that they are somehow prizes allocated to people of certain ethnicities based on their political power;
(b) as a result of (a) above, blacks believed that having one of their own in power would result in a gusher of money, jobs and prizes coming their way;
(c) (b) didn’t happen (in spite of Obama’s best efforts) because that’s not how the world works;
(d) the election of Obama left blacks emboldened but bitterly disappointed (which, historically, is a dangerous combination); and
(e) Obama, Holder and Lynch, with their petulant anti-white fixations fanned the flames instead of coming out with their scripted bromides about reconciliation.
6. This leads me to believe that this move to retcon the history of human achievement will backfire horribly. If you are Elon Musk or Haim Saban, it might seem that getting women and non-whites to argue over who gets credit for achievements of the past or the heroic roles in action movies is a good distraction from attempts to asset strip the most valuable pieces of the western economy out of resentment and jealousy. However, the historical record of Obama-tokenism indicates that the new tokenism will have the same effect. As the likes of Lin Manuel Miranda and the makers of Mad Max movies steal achievements and plaudits from the respective realms of history and reality and allow the “emerging” and “diverse” western world that has little prospect of ever achieving much of its own to wallow in its fantasy of success in proportion to its numbers, it seems likely that:
(a) the “diverse” masses will look at the increasing gap between the image that popular culture projects of them as repositories of “vibrancy” and “brilliance” and the squalid reality of ghetto blasters, foodstamps, 7-11 jobs and tubs of Ben & Jerry’s in lieu of boyfriends and conclude what they always do (namely that the white man is screwing them over);
(b) the heightened anger resulting from the foregoing will invest the mobs of unemployable rioters and professional agitators with more de facto political power; and
(c) they will demand more de jure political (and economic) power (and the prestige that goes with it) so that a lucky few of them can feel like the characters they read about in doctored history books (like black Hamilton) or see in trashy movies (like Wonder Woman or Mad Max).
7. A world run by the coalition of the “diverse” will, of course, be much less competently run than it is now and, much like Detroit and South Africa, infrastructure and social capital will disintegrate. Of course, non-whites are, as history shows, far more reliant on the competent operation of shared frameworks and large institutions like government bodies and multinationals, which means that whites will inevitably adapt better to the emerging chaos (with their independent businesses and gated communities) than non-whites and the race gap in wealth and income (and, in all probability, the sex gap as well) will rise rather than fall and the “diverse” will become even more resentful and (perhaps) even more inclined to blame white males. In such an environment, I don’t fancy the chances of even the wily manipulators that Musk, Saban et al truly are.
8. If Donald Trump successfully puts a stop to this cultural rot then, rather than the populist agitator that he is currently portrayed as being, history will remember him as a plutocratic hero – a far-sighted (and fairly underlyingly conventional) member of the elite who was the first to see the Genesis of his class’s coming downfall and had the vision and wisdom to be the first of its number to do something to prevent it.
And this comment from Sailer, on a later post:
There are always a lot of crazy people in this world. But when highly respectable and influential people allow themselves to go nuts, the nuts can follow along.
Indeed. Where are the adults?