Thinking About Things:

By, John DeQ. Briggs

The Ecstasy of the Mob, Moral Clarity, the Press, Virtue Signaling, the Fascism of the Intelligentsia, the 1619 Project comes to main street, a Letter from Istanbul, and the Hinge of History.

A. The Ecstasy of the Mob

The murder of George Floyd by a handful of Minneapolis police officers and the reactions and counter reactions to this event around the country and around the world have provided more to think about than can be thought about in days, weeks or months. Nonetheless, one can observe some objective realities and reach some tentative conclusions.

Matthew Drake on Twitter: "Charlottesville vs. Minneapolis One of ...

I cannot escape the persistent notion that these events, occurring in the context of a medical and economic catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, represent an historical hinge. That hinge is turning and leading us in the United States and elsewhere down a different path than otherwise would have been followed. At the moment, it is unclear where that path might lead. However, at least in the short term, it is hard to imagine the new path leading to a better place than the old path. And there are troubling signs the new path could lead to an even more dangerous place. Nonetheless, as I have said in many previous columns, hope springs eternal.

The George Floyd protests began with a clear and objectively legitimate focus – the militarization of the police and the seemingly routine mistreatment or murder of black men at the hands of white policemen and, to some degree, the legal system itself. But within days, perhaps even hours, the protests expanded exponentially, geographically, numerically, racially, and otherwise. To some extent due to social media, this was and is nothing at all like the Watts riots of 1965, the Detroit riots of 1967, the 1968 riots in the wake of the murder of Martin Luther King, the Orangeburg Massacre and other events of that tumultuous year, or the 1992 Los Angeles riots after the acquittal by aa Los Angeles jury of the officers videotaped beating Rodney King. For the first time in my lifetime (i.e., since 1943) large segments of major cities were given over to the ecstasy of the mobs. Six blocks in central Seattle seceded from the United States and remain apart. The Paris Commune (the event that turned Karl Marx into a major international figure) writ small came to Seattle and the authorities continue to encourage the revolutionaries in their secession. How this will end in unclear, but well is not high on the list of probabilities.

At the same time, and all around the country and the world, statues of major historical figures have been torn down or defaced. Abraham Lincoln has been treated no better in this respect than Robert E Lee or Jefferson Davis. Many statues of Christopher Columbus have been torn down. Mobs have defaced statutes of abolitionists like Mathias Baldwin and Union war heroes like admiral David Farragut and General George Thomas. The tomb of the unknown soldier of the American Revolution in Philadelphia was vandalized last weekend with the words “committed genocide.” A mob of college students toppled statues of American pioneers on the University of Oregon campus. The images are jarring and unsettling. The perpetrators appear to be young men and women mostly not of color.

The gleeful mob pulling down these monuments, defacing statues, and demanding that US military bases be renamed do not operate within any limiting principle. They do not distinguish between those who fought for freedom against the British Empire and those who fought for Union against the slate states of the south. To them, the union itself was a crime against humanity long before the south seceded.

As the political editor of The Federalist wrote this week: “This is the 1619 Project come to life. If the American Revolution was fought to protect and preserve slavery, then the entire history of American colonization and westward expansion is a litany of crimes that nobody should celebrate. The founding fathers are no less guilty than the leaders of the confederacy — not just because they own slaves but because they founded the United States as a nation conceived not in liberty but in white supremacy.” New York, under the slippery hands of Mayor Bill DeBlasio and District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. , has decided not to prosecute the rioters who vandalized  St. John’s Cathedral and other notable places in Manhattan, but instead to return the City to the policing policies of David Dinkins, which could hardly have been more destructive.

“The decision not to prosecute seems to stem from a new policy toward protest-related transgressions.

“The prosecution of protestors charged with these low-level offenses undermines critical bonds between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” Mr. Vance said in a statement. “Days after the killing of George Floyd, our nation and our city are at a crossroads in our continuing endeavor to confront racism and systemic injustice wherever it exists. Our office has a moral imperative to enact public policies which assure all New Yorkers that in our justice system and our society, black lives matter and police violence is a crime.”

See this article from the WSJ of a few days ago. Vandalism against houses, cathedrals, small businesses, cars – anything at all in fact, does not count anymore. Todays’ virtue signaling gives a strong nod to anarchy over any semblance of order in our society. And so, New York has pledged to go back to the future of the 1970’s, when property values cratered and the city enjoyed the highest murder and crime rate in the nation, mostly in neighborhoods of color.

B. The Press, Virtue Signaling and Moral Clarity

A recent movie review by Mark Judge had much to say about the ecstasy of the mob and the movies he reviews on the subject are worth reading about here. But his closing paragraph is much broader and has a special poignance today.

“While both Panique and Richard Jewell are commentaries on particular cultures and particular times, they share a message that is archetypal and timeless: Without due process, without law, without the presumption of innocence, people submerged in an environment of hysteria quickly devolve into wolves. Members of the press are usually the worst offenders, taking sides and fueling the carnival atmosphere rather than searching for the truth—which usually comes out long after it is too late.”

Hand with red pencil tied with rope, depicting the idea of freedom of the press or freedom of expression on dark background in low key. international human rights day concept.

Ah, the press. The Fifth Estate. The object of such special Constitutional protection under the First Amendment. In a few short years most of the press – indeed the media more broadly — in the United States has lost all standing to any claim of independence or objectivity. Several articles recently have probed the capitulation of major elements of the media to the fascist intelligentsia. Two such articles are worthy of special mention: The American Press is Destroying Itself, by Matt Taibbi, and Is There Still Room for Debate, by Andrew Sullivan. These are chilling articles.

Taibbi’s piece focuses on the ouster of editors of Bon Appetit, Refinery29, Variety, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and even the New York Times amid accusations of  political incorrectness, insensitivity to certain identity groups, toxic workplace culture, and the like. The editor of Variety, Claudia Eller, was placed on leave after calling a South Asian freelance writer “bitter” in a Twitter exchange about minority hiring at her company. The self-abasing apology (“I have tried to diversify our newsroom over the past seven years, but I HAVE NOT DONE ENOUGH”) was insufficient. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editor was forced out after approving a headline, written in the context of considerable property damage caused by rioters and looters in Philadelphia, “Buildings Matter, Too.” Once one accepts the entirety of the dogma behind Black Lives Matter (and failing to accept all of that dogma is grounds for shunning and shaming), it is capital offense to suggest that anything else might also “matter.”

In the most publicly significant incident, the Times editorial page editor was ousted for green-lighting an editorial by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton entitled, “Send in the troops.” As Cotton points out in the piece, he was advancing a view arguably held by a majority of the country. A Morning Consult poll showed 58% of Americans either strongly or somewhat supported the idea of “calling in the U.S. military to supplement city police forces.” That survey included 40% of self-described “liberals” and 37% of African Americans. To declare a point of view held by that many people not only not worthy of discussion, but so toxic that publication of it without even necessarily agreeing requires dismissal of the editor, is a dramatic reversal for a newspaper that long cast itself as the national paper of record.

In the case of Cotton, Times “staffers” protested on the grounds that “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.” In other words, according to the apparatchiks on the staff of the Times, the ousted editor’s decision was not merely ill-considered, but literally life-threatening. The Times first attempted to rectify the situation by apologizing, adding a long Editor’s note to Cotton’s piece that read, as so many apologias do , like a note written by a hostage.

Then, editors begged forgiveness for not being more involved, for not thinking to urge Cotton to sound less like Cotton (“Editors should have offered suggestions”), and for allowing rhetoric that was “needlessly harsh and falls short of the thoughtful approach that advances useful debate.” That last line is sadly funny in the context of an episode in which reporters were seeking to pre-empt a debate rather than have one at all Obviously no one got the joke, since a primary characteristic of the current political climate is a total absence of a sense of humor in any direction.

The Sullivan article is especially trenchant, focusing as it does about the dilemma of living in a country where adherence to a particular ideology becomes mandatory. If the United States has not yet arrived at that point, it is within sight. Sullivan, a journalist of enormous talent demonstrated over many decades, considers the difference between the Communist orthodoxies of Eastern Europe during the Cold War and the uniquely American ways of enforcing uniformity of thought. He goes back to the Puritans with their skill at shaming and stigmatizing” e.g., The Scarlett Letter; Prohibition, the Hollywood Blacklist and more.

He then proceeds to discuss “the new orthodoxy,” referred to by some writers as the “successor ideology” to liberalism, This “new orthodoxy” is rooted in what journalist Wesley Lowery calls “moral clarity.” He told Times media columnist Ben Smith last week

“… that journalism needs to be rebuilt around that moral clarity, which means ending its attempt to see all sides of a story, when there is only one, and dropping even an attempt at objectivity (however unattainable that ideal might be). And what is the foundational belief of such moral clarity? That America is systemically racist, and a white-supremacist project from the start, that, as Lowery put it in The Atlantic, “the justice system — in fact, the entire American experiment — was from its inception designed to perpetuate racial inequality.”

Sullivan makes the point that this is an argument that deserves to be aired openly in a liberal society, especially one with such racial terror and darkness in its past and inequality in the present. But it is an argument that equally deserves to be engaged, challenged, questioned, and interrogated. But the new orthodoxy does not wish to have this debate. The fascism of today’s intelligentsia, bred in the countries’ most esteemed universities over decades, will not allow this debate. This is because there is nothing to debate. The intelligentsia teach us, and with very considerable confidence and condescension, that America has never been about freedom or liberty but has always been and still is about oppression. The ideals about individual liberty, religious freedom, limited government, and the equality of all human beings was always a falsehood to cover for, justify, and entrench the enslavement of human beings under the fiction of race.

There is no room for discussion that these values competed with the poison of slavery and eventually overcame it in an epic civil war whose nearly one million casualties were overwhelmingly white. Indeed, more white men died in captivity during the civil war than were killed during the entirety of the Vietnam War.

The “new orthodoxy’s” view of the world may have simplistic “moral clarity,” but it is bereft of any hint of “moral complexity.” To quote Sullivan:

The crudeness and certainty of this analysis is quite something. It’s an obvious rebuke to Barack Obama’s story of America as an imperfect but inspiring work-in-progress, gradually including everyone in opportunity, and binding races together, rather than polarizing them … Question any significant part of this, and your moral integrity as a human being is called into question. There is little or no liberal space in this revolutionary movement for genuine, respectful disagreement, regardless of one’s identity, or even open-minded exploration. In fact, there is an increasingly ferocious campaign to quell dissent, to chill debate, to purge those who ask questions, and to ruin people for their refusal to swallow this reductionist ideology whole.

C. Letter from Istanbul

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul during sunset

Readers may remember that I have from time to time brought my niece from Turkey into these columns. As I have mentioned, she has lived in Istanbul for some decades now, raised a family there, and was, until the government shut down her newspaper, an esteemed journalist. She is opinionated and we do not always agree. Yet living halfway around the world, raising a family educated outside of the United States, all while still having some connection to the United States, she provides the different and informed prospective of an expat with a more global perspective than we are accustomed to getting here. I sent her the Matt Taibbi article (first link at the beginning) with a bit of commentary. Her slightly edited response was this:

I have been waiting, almost inexplicably, to respond to this for a few days, not even knowing where to begin, so deeply do I agree with it. I could “almost” (but maybe not quite) even trace my move to this area of the world to a reaction to the stifling groupthink embodied by that strange wing of American liberalism. It was terrible when I was a student at Santa Cruz, but it seems to be even worse and more virulent now. 

The endless “wokery”. The nonstop virtue-signaling. Virtue-signaling being that totally useless form of activism that amounts to non-action actions, like publishing lists of books that you’re planning on “educating” yourself with on social media, I guess in the hope that others will see that you’ve done this, and then do the same. Round and round it goes, achieving nothing, or almost nothing at best. 

The stifling of the press is the worst. This article hit close to home, as I’ve loved The Intercept (though mostly for Glenn Greenwald) and Lee Fang’s stuff for a while, and I had NO idea he had come under such ridiculous attack. The NYT hypocrisy is why I’ve refused to read it for at least 5 years now; they drive me crazy with their two-faced neo-liberal corporate Democrat upper West Side fakery. Such extreme wokery, all the while championing useless and destructive wars in the Middle East, trying to play both sides with their straight-up Zionism combined with faked human-interest stories about faraway lands and peoples. Give me a break. 

Needless to say, all of this has come to a head during the Corona times, since the mask has finally fallen on so much. This includes the relentless driving of the fear narrative over Corona, combined with the ruthless backing of the total shut-down which has led to the loss of jobs and livelihoods so great that it will change the face of the US and the world for years to come. The intolerance to hear other sides of THAT story–like why a complete shut-down might not be such a great idea after all–walks hand in hand with the intolerance to even the mere mention of different political or ideological viewpoints. All in all, a distressing landscape.

Personally, it’s why I’m grateful for the ocean of information available from other sources now, though in general I tend these days to read non-American online sources anyway, from Turkish writers (on Twitter; they’re insane and wonderful!) to the Japanese owned FT, and The Guardian and others. And in doing so, I reduce my chances of being trapped in that hideous world of virtue-signaling wokery that I imagine would drive a person crazy by the end of the day. 

xo

There are many problems in this country. It is hard to see whether there are many, or any, real solutions. Our leaders despise each other, and their hatred of each other justifies their departure from previous political norms. Society too is also deeply divided. Civil political discourse has almost ceased. The failure to signal your virtue in approved ways (whether superficial or just disingenuous) leads to various forms of shaming. And social media performs the role of the old East German Stasi at no cost to the government. Post war Eastern Europe, present day China and increasingly Turkey and Russia achieved Orwellian goals through government measures. In this country we have the media doing the job, and quite well too. The ironies, as they might say in England, beggar belief.

JDQB

June 20, 2020

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