Thursday, March 15, 2012
The Consensus Wants You
While terms like "The Marketplace of Ideas" are still tossed about occasionally like confetti out of a tenth story window, they mean about as much as the soiled mass of tape that everyone has stepped on by the time the parade is over. The age of ideas, when issues might actually be debated, instead of answered immediately with talking points derived from an inflexible ideology whose only two poles are outrage and guilt, ended some time ago.
Today we live in the age of consensus. The cultural elites no longer debate opposing points of view, they dismiss them as racist or ignorant, ridiculing not only the argument, but the arguer and the very premise that there can even be an argument. The "marketplace of ideas" is replaced with "I'm offended that we're even having this discussion" or "Only ignorant people believe that." These alternating poses of victimhood and superiority make it illegal or pointless to even discuss the subject and leave every issue settled by consensus. Scientific debates end before they have begun. Political debates exist only to allow candidates to affirm the consensus or castigate them for standing outside the consensus. Personal exchanges of views either reflect the consensus or become perilous and illegal.
The left veers between outrage and ridicule, between cries of "I'm oppressed" and "You're an idiot". Both are wholly subjective emotion-driven perceptions that cannot be rationally debated because they do not exist in the sphere of reason. They are the root of the "I Feel" creed which follows no intellectual or moral rules, striking poses of empathy and superiority for effect.
Everyone on the left is at once superior and oppressed, they are all part of the 99 percent being ground under the boot of the 1 percent, or members of minority groups oppressed by the white heteronormative patriarchy or creative people repressed by faceless corporations, and if they aren't any of those, then by virtue of their empathy they slip under the wire until like Bill Clinton, they are acknowledged as the first black president of the United States.
The teenager lives the illusion of being deep in a world of shallow people, identifying with outside groups because they reflect his fantasies of alienation. Rather than empathy, this is actually a failure of empathy that time usually remedies. Time has never remedied that failure of empathy for the left, which buries itself in fantasies of victimhood, wealthy white men and women trek to the ghetto or to Africa to nourish themselves on true suffering like emotional vampires who need someone else's pain to affirm their own pain.
Outrage is eternal. There is something to always be outraged about and they are always on the hunt for it. If you aren't outraged, then you aren't paying attention. And if you are outraged, then you can silence any opposition by appealing to the plight of the suffering people somewhere. When you pay enough attention, then you can collect so many things to be outraged by, that you can shut down any discussion with an outrage card from your playing deck.
The emissions of outrage silence ideas with self-righteous outbursts of emotion. Their morality is singular, not universal. Their force derives from shock value that tests for an emotional response with photos of dead children in Africa or the plight of migrant workers. You are not permitted to respond with context or to bring in the plight of children or workers anywhere else. Consistency is an aspect of reason and when you attempt to reason with outrage, then you have already failed their empathy test.
Only those who pass the empathy test are permitted to serve as the unofficial spokesmen for all the world's griefs and miseries. The more faux empathy they process into outrage, the higher their rank becomes and the less they need to abide by any social norms. The truly outraged may hurl abuse, threaten and even kill. The more violent their behavior becomes, the more it is taken as the depth of their goodness for empathizing with the suffering of the designated others.
The outraged gain moral power from their outrage that outweighs their actual status and wealth, and power for the left is measured in the ability to fragment ideas, social norms and any and all standards. Perpetual outrage is perpetual disruption for perpetual power. Outrage shouts down opposition and if it cannot shout it down, it physically attacks it. And the outraged, no matter how privileged, are not held responsible for their actions and disruptions by virtue of their selflessness. Their empathy makes them into transcendent beings who are not acting for the self, moral creatures who are sacrificing themselves for the sake of the world.
Ridicule is a chief tool of the cultural elites because it allows them to maintain an intellectual pose, while employing anti-intellectual tools. It bypasses ideas to attack entire groups on stereotypical grounds, representing dissent as a symptom of mental weakness, personal corruption or dishonesty. Directly ridiculing ideas risks bringing them into the discussion, but ridiculing the people who hold them avoids even a farcical version of a debate.
Humor is aggression. Ridicule is aimed at establishing two groups. The in-group and the out-group. The in-group is smart, savvy and going places. The out-group is ignorant, unsophisticated and a dead end. Delayed maturity gifts us with an adolescent political culture leaving us with leaders who are playing by High School rules, winning style over substance wars for the hearts and minds of the unquestioning.
The first pseudo-intellectual pose of ridicule is skepticism. This isn't a genuine skepticism in which the hearer disbelieves what he is hearing and can defend that skepticism, it is a pose for when the hearer does not know what is being said and does not care what is being said. His only purpose is to cast doubt on the credibility of the speaker. Soledad O'Brien's skepticism on a subject that she had no familiarity with and whose definition had to be read out to over her earpiece by a producer browsing Wikipedia on his iPhone is a classic example of the breed. It is not concerned with the ideas and cannot ask a single question which challenges those ideas. It is a teenager's pose of skepticism that mimes being all-knowing without actually knowing a thing.
The second pseudo-intellectual pose of ridicule is contempt toward the speaker for challenging the consensus. A consensus that every right-thinking person knows to be true. The consensus is sacred because it is linked to outrage. Those who challenge the consensus risk destroying the planet, bringing back segregation, setting back worker's rights, killing homosexuals, ending science, polluting the oceans, killing children and doing a thousand terrible things.
To challenge the consensus is to expose yourself as an immoral person who either wishes to cause harm to millions or is too ignorant to understand that the consequences of challenging the consensus will doom the human race. Either one only merits contempt. It does not matter whether or not he is factually right. All that matters is that the consensus represents the forward march of mankind out of poverty, ignorance and hate. Even if a factual challenge to it is correct, it does not matter because the consensus represents the absolute good of all mankind. The absolute good of all mankind may be wrong in some minor respects, but its moral position gives it a rightness immune to reason.
The third pseudo-intellectual pose of ridicule is mockery. Having passed through skepticism at the speaker for expressing an opposing point of view, and contempt for his disregard for the absolute good of all mankind, it is time to ridicule him and his ideas off the stage. Skepticism and contempt armor the progressive with a pseudo-intellectual pose of superiority that says the mockery derives not from ignorance, but from knowledge.
Ridicule reassures the in-group of its superiority without challenging its views and homilies. It affirms its identity by excluding those who are different, paradoxically in an identity built on empathizing with those who are different. It postures intellectual superiority while running away from a debate. It is the xenophobic reaction of the apostles of tolerance who need the illusion of superiority for their always fragile self-esteem.
Ridicule is the chief weapon of those who fear being ridiculed. Contempt is the chief weapon of the contemptible. Skepticism is the best pose of those who cannot distinguish between truth and lies.
By completely refusing to discuss a topic because of their outrage at the topic or the ridiculous notion that the topic is even worth discussing-- no ideas are allowed into the public sphere without being sneered and mocked off the stage with varying degrees of vituperation, from the high galleries in the black ink press of mainstream journalism, down to the pundits, the editorials, the blogs, the movies and television shows, the standup comedians and the internet comedians. From the galleries to the gutter, the consensus sets up a gale of false laughter until the dissenting voices go away.
The consensus triumphs. Dissent is silenced to manufacture a consensus and when it cannot be silenced, it is denounced and ridiculed until it serves as an example of the folly of opposing the consensus. The dissenters become examples of the type of bad people who will not go along with it. They become a warning not to deviate, not to engage in heresies, not to ask questions or step out of the permitted boundaries of ideas within the consensus.
Within the camp of the saints, all believe in the religion of peace, in global warming, in the mandate, in diversity and positive rights. Outside the damned question everything, goosestepping around while waving graphs and charts, burning thermometers and mosques by the dozen. Within the consensus, the faithful progress on to utopia. Outside the consensus are the bigots, the breeders, the reactionaries and the religious, who represent a threat to the civil order of the consensus.
The consensus has killed ideas within, and it strives to impose itself on those outside the circle. Poems and plays are written about the glories of the consensus. The consensus makers are the heroes of movies and novels, battling the evil forces of the corrupt and the unenlightened. They are the lawmakers who impose the consensus on all, the educators who teach the consensus in schools, the consultants who integrate the consensus into every business and enterprise.
The more people, willingly or unwillingly, adopt elements of the consensus, the stronger it becomes. It is a missionizing creed, expanding by the word, the sword or by the government, which wields and uses both.
The personal is political and the political is personal, obligating each of us to participate in the consensus and affirm it with our actions. The law demands that we recycle, that we pay for abortions and fund Muslim empowerment programs. It leaves fewer loopholes for dissent and a diminishing distance between our physical selves and the obligation to take part in the consensus.
Dissent is not allowed within the consensus. If the consensus cannot reach directly into your head, it will do its best to force you to violate your principles to the extent that it can, knowing that people rationalize the compromises that they are forced to make and that such rationalizations lead them away from their principles. If it cannot alter your thoughts, then it will do its best to prevent you from expressing them.
The consensus wants you. All of you. If it cannot have you, it will have your children or your grand-children. It is through talking and done debating. It has climbed up to the steeple, past the gargoyles and shouts down at the world. It is not interested in ideas, only in submission to its will. It will sneer at you, laugh at you and do its best to compel you to obey its doctrines. Because it knows that if it cannot, then the consensus will dry up and blow away on the wind.