Friday, April 09, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Spreading the Infection

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

France is getting ‘woke’, or at least so says the New York Times. Young people on the other side of the Atlantic from an entirely different cultural background and with an entirely different history than their counterparts in the U.S. are mobilizing, protesting and even rioting over the treatment of blacks, over gender issues, over colonialism — you name it, they’re up in arms about it. What’s interesting is that, as French president Emmanuel Macron puts it, all this fuss and bother is “entirely imported”. It is the product of American universities and American media.

Tom: We’ve been seeing this sort of thing here in Canada for a while: #BlackLivesMatter signs on every third lawn, and even the occasional sympathetic protest over allegedly racist cops echoing the ones going on in Minnesota and Portland. People in Canada are getting all worked up about racism despite the fact that blacks make up a grand total of 3% of the Canadian population and have absolutely no history of being mistreated here. We have our own problems, sure, but they have nothing to do with George Floyd.

Tell me, IC, what is so appealing about co-opting other people’s problems?

Ordinary People with Unreasonable Ideas

Immanuel Can: Ah, this is a big question. It’s really the question, “How do ordinary people get such extraordinarily unreasonable ideas?”

We could add many such things, such as the belief that all cops — even those of color — are perversely committed to the recreational killing of blacks, or that all whites are racist, or that all males are implicated in a woman-oppressing thing called “patriarchy”, or that a biological man is secretly a woman, or that babies are not human beings, and so on. On the surface, these ideas are actually so idiotic that even to repeat them seems to be to mock them; and yet they are very generally believed, and with great passion. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about that.

I’ve long felt there’s something ineffective about pointing out to people that these bad ideas hail from even worse thinkers of the past, such as Marx or Nietzsche or even Foucault and Derrida. Many people who believe the ideas are actually completely oblivious to the originators. They’re so far “downstream and around a few bends” from those names that they cannot see the relevance at all. Rather, postmodern people believe they actually received their impressions from the manifest wisdom of the age, or even “came up with them” themselves, by thinking carefully. They think they’re all part of “reason”, or “common sense” or even “basic human decency”; so referring back to those who actually launched the bad ideas in the first place seems to them vaguely insulting and largely irrelevant to how their own opinions have been formed. They think the ideas are really their own.

In the same way, the people in Paris or Marseilles have come to imagine that BLM is a French idea grounded in French realities, and the people of Canada have come to imagine they’re nothing but an extension of the American situation.

Tom: Well, these ideas themselves are getting into people’s heads by way of a university education. You never hear them from the average mechanic, yard man or construction worker. You also rarely hear them from people of color who are not involved in protesting something.

Where It Started and Where It Ends

In short, the “infection” we’re seeing was deliberately introduced, and most effectively introduced into the higher-educated, white demographic.

IC: That’s where they may have started, or been disseminated initially. But it’s not where they ended up.

I don’t know if you know this, but the football players on fields in England and elsewhere in Europe now kneel and give the BLM power fist before beginning each game, while the commentators pour admiration on them for “taking this stand” that “all right-minded people” take. (Yes, I heard them say those very words.) And I sincerely doubt that boys who have dedicated their early lives to football, and are only 18 or 20, perhaps, have been to university — or even necessarily talked much to anybody who has. Yet they have the same dogma and chant the same propaganda and use the same symbols, but I’ll warrant they are entirely oblivious to what any of it means, except it’s supposed to signal one’s desire to “fight racism”. 

Likewise, in the case of many ordinary “guys in the street”: they probably have not the foggiest idea where the belief in “transitioning” or killing babies originated, or who passed it along. They just absorbed it atmospherically, “through the skin”, so to speak, from friends or media, without knowing much about it at all. They have been told it’s good, and they believe it fervently — to the point where they cannot imagine it could ever be otherwise, and anyone who dissents sounds lunatic to them.

Tom: Oh, I understand what you’re saying, but I think we need to distinguish between the true ideologues, the parasites, the useful idiots and the conformists. The ideologues we know — the Colin Kaepernicks and Greta Thunbergs. The parasites believe in nothing. They are just aboard any convenient ideological train to monetize victimhood. The leaders of #BLM are like that. Planned Parenthood is like that. A “useful idiot” is the guy you describe who absorbs the ideology atmospherically. He’s no good for rationalizing it or promoting it, but he’ll spout the jargon on cue like a robot. And I don’t believe the useful idiots do anything “fervently”. They believe in the movement unquestioningly, which is a little different. They could beat your head in if you get caught in a riot, but if something more interesting came up, they might not be at the riot in the first place.

Wearing the #BLM T-Shirt

But not everybody taking the knee fits in one of these first three groups. No small number of white men in professional sports initially resisted the notion of kneeling to #BLM. They counseled moderation and said things like “All lives matter.” Then, when they saw the level of pressure being brought to bear on those who did not march in lockstep with Cancel Culture — losing their jobs, public shaming and so on — they caved like a house of cards. That happened to [former New Orleans Saints QB] Drew Brees, for one. So those guys are reluctantly playing along with the charade, but I know from experience that when you get one in private and show the least bit of mettle, they turn around on a dime. They are pragmatists, not true believers.

What I’m trying to say is that there’s a whole spectrum of people who might be seen wearing the #BLM t‑shirt, and they all have different reasons for doing it. But this is also the reason there are preference cascades, like when the Soviet Union basically got off the Communism train overnight, or when Donald Trump was elected in 2016. It’s because not everybody who takes the knee likes taking the knee, or believes in what they are doing.

IC: Well, fair enough … as you say, not everybody has the same experience or motives for kneeling; and, of course, there are people who have seen through the nonsense from the start and refused it in the first place. So not every “man on the street” is a pawn of the propagandists. But two points are still worth making, I think: First, that among those who have fallen for the propaganda, a lot of them don’t see it as propaganda at all, and think that maybe it’s their own opinion, freely decided. And second, that since their belief is often not well-informed, sophisticated or connected to its history, it’s unsurprising that pointing out the poisonous roots of their ideologies does not necessarily free their minds; they don’t necessarily associate their own attachment to their beliefs with the ideologues from which those beliefs actually originated.

Tom: Correct.

Rhetoric vs. Dialectic

IC: So, for example, to tell somebody that BLM is the product of a venial, hypocritical and cruel man named Karl Marx, or that Marxist ideas are incoherent and unchristian, or that BLM is a very corrupt Neo-Marxist organization that is bent on fomenting revolution at all costs and collecting as much in disappearing donations as it can while doing nothing for black people and neighborhoods, that will not necessarily make people smarten up. If they think the ideas are their own, or just out there in the realm of common sense and decency, they’ll tend to persist in them anyway.

Tom: Exactly, because you’re providing a dialectical argument to someone who doesn’t speak dialectic as their native language. The sort of person who is swept up in a movement unthinkingly is susceptible to rhetoric, and only an even stronger rhetorical case is likely to change his or her mind. You need an “It’s for the children!” or “That’s racissss!” or “But you’re killing the polar bears!” to get their attention.

This is where President Macron’s accurate critique of these false ideas as having originated in America and having nothing to do with French life and culture is very much beside the point. He’s dealing with a movement that was generated through images, slogans, internet memes and most importantly, peer pressure. Its power is rhetorical, and you can’t put out that sort of fire by pointing out the obvious, even when the obvious is demonstrably correct. No George Floyds were killed in France. The French police are not hitting anyone. But it just doesn’t matter.

IC: Right. It’s not a rational thing. It’s assumptive, but the assumptions upon which it rests are “feelies”. It’s not about what is true, but about what is said, what has been thought, what is being believed around them, what is being circulated in the media, and what seems to be regarded as virtuous and decent.

Times of Difficulty

So, Tom, is there any useful response a sensible person can make to these sorts of people? Or are we doomed to continue to live in countries where people are being continually blown around by every wind of propaganda that comes thorough, and facts and logic no longer count in the battle against deception?

Tom: Well, I don’t think there’s a lot of good news for us in scripture on that front. “In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” The words “ungrateful”, “arrogant”, “abusive”, “reckless” and “unappeasable” jump out of that list as particularly applicable to our present political dynamic.

So then, what we are seeing around us is exactly what we have been led to expect. Social Justice activism takes the “form of godliness” while absolutely denying the authority of Christ and his unique ability to save. It claims to have the moral high ground, to be interested in justice, love and fairness. It claims to care for the poor and downtrodden. The problem is that it uses force rather than persuasion, and the true motivations of those pushing hardest for the cause are, at bare minimum, highly questionable.

But I suspect Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego felt the same way about the crowds around them down on their faces groveling to an idol. I’m not sure how much useful dialogue anyone can have with the worshipers of false gods. But the one thing we can do is stand up when they fall down.

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