Outrage is the currency of the times. Nearly everyone in New York City and a healthy proportion of Americans are by now aware of the latest outrage to command Gotham headlines: the tragic death of a mentally ill ‘black’ man on an NYC subway after being choked out by a ‘white’ ex-marine. Some said the victim died while pinioned in the arms of his attacker. Others said he died later, on arrival at the hospital. After questioning the police let the marine go, and he vanished into the night. He was later arrested for homicide.
I italicize the words above because they are not factually derived descriptions so much as ideologically derived. Another common recap of the event puts it differently: A deranged criminal, arrested forty times and released each time by Democratic government, threatened violence to innocent subway passengers. A heroic ex-marine approached him, put him in a headlock and, in UFC parlance, put him to sleep. The individual later died in hospital. Cause of death as yet unknown.
A Jesuit priest once said that nobody argues about reality; rather we argue about our interpretation of reality. The former interpretation is the version of events embraced by most liberals, the latter by most conservatives and many independents. The liberals have come under intense criticism for their—some would say—extremist approach to policing, or rather not policing.
In liberal capitals, prosecutors no longer prosecute misdemeanors, and hoodlums of all kinds are released back into the public despite their offenses. Police are decried for systemic racism. Immigration is embraced without question. Whites are reviled. Men are despised. Trans people are celebrated without rest and anyone who objects is deemed transphobic. Gender pronouns are enforced. Anyone expressing traditional values or ways of communicating are labeled with a battery of accusations, including being patriarchal, privileged, racist, sexist, and of committing horrid microaggressions. Social media has been aflame with predictable hot takes from both sides of the proverbial aisle.
Apogee of liberal decadence?
It makes one wonder if we are witnessing the apogee of liberal decadence. A bonfire of ideals. Something of the kind that emerged in Weimar Germany before it fecklessly succumbed to the National Socialists. It seems the liberal ideology of multiculturalism and identity politics has run its course. As I understand it, it was first encouraged in the Sixties as a left counterbalance to the Communist left and, crucially, a form of progressivism that didn’t threaten capitalist profiteering the way Soviet socialism did. From there it progressed through the mild discomfort of political correctness to the full-blown hysteria of misgendering crimes.
We are now witnessing a liberalism that is by many accounts excusing crime at the expense of its victims. A liberalism that is practicing an extreme form of social engineering, attempting to hire for diversity sometimes at the expense of merit, forwarding reparations legislation as the middle class drowns in debt, and driving immigration even as homelessness among citizens swells. In short, racism and sexism mean that minorities and women are blameless and ought to be privileged at the expense of whites and males.
I am reminded of passages in Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift. After being extorted by a small-time crook with mafia connections, the narrator, Charlie Citrine, an effete and wealthy writer and intellectual, is subjected to regular visits from the criminal, who sees an opportunity to expand his horizon of scams. Citrine comments:
Rinaldo was ticking me off for my decadence. Damaged instincts. I wouldn’t defend myself. His ideas probably went back to Sorel (acts of exalted violence by dedicated ideologists to shock the bourgeoisie and regenerate its dying nerve)…Maybe this was in part a phenomenon of modern capitalist society with its commitment to personal freedom for all, ready to sympathize with and even to subsidize the mortal enemies of the leading class, as Schumpeter says, actively sympathetic with real or faked suffering, ready to accept peculiar character-distortions and burdens. It was true that people felt it gave them moral distinction to be patient with criminals and psychopaths. To understand! We love to understand, to have compassion! And there I was.
Later he notes that “Goethe was afraid the modern world might turn into a hospital. Every citizen unwell.”
Seems Bellow—a Nobel Prize winner and one of America’s great pulse readers—had identified decadent virtue signaling liberalism in its infancy. In the name of progress, of multiculturalism and diversity as progress, liberals find themselves surrendering their class privileges and even the conventions of societal security and law and order since these must by definition not be civilization guardrails but instruments of oppression for which we, via our ancestors (sins of the father, in the old language), are wholly responsible.
What is lamentable in this capitulation is that the minorities—at least in the public realm—to whom bourgeois liberals are ceding every cultural corner seem to have few better ideas than to reverse and reenact the oppression itself, driving toward a mythical notion of equality of outcome that confuses inequality with unfairness. Many have critiqued the ideology, even a small minority of liberals, on a variety of grounds including evolution. Is this justice or thinly veiled vengeance?
The entertainment industry is perhaps Exhibit A in this phenomenon. Hence the relentless insertion of minority actors into the old vestments of oppression worn by white people in the near and distant past. Blazoned across the marquee of my Netflix app is, “Queen Charlotte,” a beautiful black woman adorned in royal vestments. At once the show denies the historical accuracy of the British/Irish queen and repurposes the oppressed as the oppressor, as though it were some sort of social progress. It is progress in the cinematic universe, as people of color are now playing characters previously withheld for white actors in the interest of historical accuracy. But now fidelity to history has been discarded to advance minority representation in film and television. Soon we will march to make the executioners’ union more diverse. More females manning the gallows. Be careful not to misgender your local hangperson.
In his prescient comments, Bellow notes Sorel and paraphrases Goethe. Then he cuts to the chase, hoping to explain the feebleness of liberal society, “Dostoevski’s Grand Inquisitor who said: mankind is frail, needs bread, cannot bear freedom but requires miracle, mystery, and authority.”
Too true. One can trace the need for the miraculous to the liberals’ desperate embrace of draconian public health mandates and a swift demonization of anyone that resisted. As the hysteria of the pandemic has worn away, the public health response is increasingly seen to have been a series of disastrous dictates from compromised public health institutions beholden to amoral industry. A society of the unwell, gratefully heeding the guidance of benighted institutions. Goethe and Dostoevsky together confirm the worst elements of mankind, realized in the 21st century.
The pandemic revealed the open sore of liberal credulity, as it clutched the hems of the CDC and NHS and the other infallible acronyms of our salvation. But liberals had been trending in this direction for some time. The unforgivable original sin committed by unlettered philistines in flyover states and incalcitrant financiers in coastal megacities was the denial of Hillary Clinton of her rightful coronation—which was to be the capstone achievement of liberal Boomers of the old identity politics left.
Elevating a black man and a woman to the highest rank in consecutive terms would have been the ultimate confirmation of their identity politics. In the wake of this catastrophic defeat for liberals (a catastrophe in their worldview), the bourgeoisie dropped their long-held antipathy for federal intelligence agencies and embraced the CIA, NSA, and DIA, taking their word as gospel in the prosecution of Donald Trump. How easily they forgot Cointelpro, the slaughter of the Panthers, not to mention their murky proximity to the deaths of both Kennedys and King. So the miraculous authority of the daddy state has once more taken hold of a significant portion of the population.
It is a perhaps positive sign that on Rotten Tomatoes, Queen Charlotte scored an all-time low audience score of 1 percent (spilled popcorn icon) and just 11 percent with critics. Though it must be noted in fairness that the series has tripled its ratings among viewers since then, now subsisting at three percent approvals. Likewise, the disastrous Bud Light campaign using a deeply controversial minor trans celebrity has thus far engendered some $15.7 billion in losses. Thanks in part to its line of Pride month clothing for toddlers, Target has watched $9B vanish from its coffers in like fashion.
But the mainstream media wages its holy war. Vogue furiously said of Queen Cleopatra criticism, “Let’s call it what it is: racism.” The Guardian said, “…the idea that you need a white actor is utterly insidious.” The New York Times couched the negative critiques as revealing, “Fear of a Black Cleopatra,” and offered its usual casuistic evasions by declaring nobody meaningfully identified as white in Cleopatra’s time. (Note, of course, how identifying as a race supersedes being a member of an actual race. Of course, liberals have long argued there is no such thing as race, much as transgender activists often argue there is no such thing as biology, aside from a patriarchal construct ginned up by mad misogynists.)
Writer A.J. Kay nicely summarized the movement as, “The rigid moral paradigm in which anything short of ‘affirmation’ is bigoted and hateful.” It is an ideology of total affirmation of ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and women, behavior notwithstanding. Its flip side is the total condemnation of whites and males, behavior notwithstanding. If white, one’s only recourse is to don the sackcloth and ashes, fall to one’s knees, and beg forgiveness from one’s victims. Their response is immaterial. One must atone.
This stridency is born of extreme ideological bias. We are no longer a united states. We now live in a society of seething ire beset by social division, with a doddering senior citizen in charge, a carnival barker awaiting a second act, a legacy of Camelot calling for a great renewal. Everyone angry. Everyone lost. Some blinded by despair, some by rage. The collapsing scenery is perhaps more Shakespearean than Bellovian, Recall the opening scenes of King Lear, “In cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond crack’d ‘twist son and father… We have seen the best of our time.” As an infamous communist once wrote: history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.
Julien Charles is a critic, corporate drone, and New Yorker hoping to call attention to the authoritarian drift of states across the Western world, and the narratives promoted to gain consensus for such measures. He has been published in, Off-Guardian and The Hampton Institute, among other publications.