Like other governments, republics don’t fray and weaken by accident. One of the greatest hazards in politics is to act without understanding the passions and motives by which decadent political classes are driven.
We may suppose that members of the political classes seek government action in order to deal with crises. But they may crises in order to have reasons for government action.
We may suppose that they make individuals and families dependent as an inadvertent effect of trying to help them. But they may seek methods of so-called help in order to make them dependent.
We may suppose that they fashion laws and regulations to serve the public good. But they may overhaul their concept of the common good just to have a reason for more laws and regulations.
We may suppose that they try to manage the problems assigned to them. But they may seek to make the problems worse in order to prove their own importance.
We may suppose that they intervene in economic institutions in order to correct market failures. But they may court market failures as an excuse to intervene.
We may suppose that they allow outrages to acquire the force of precedent because they misunderstand the requirements of justice. But they may be unwilling to do justice because they cherish continuity more.
We may suppose that they hope to do great deeds to do in order to bask in the sun of public notice. But if notice is all their desire, then provided they go unpunished, they may value infamy almost as much as fame.
We may suppose that they try to uphold public order. But at last, at long last, there may come a time when it better serves their interests to aid and abet those who undermine it. And then the end is near.
Such motives, though not universal, are far more common than one may think. I don’t say that all who are driven by them understand their real aims, though some do. Nor do I say that all who cooperate with those who do understand their aims understand their own complicity. As in every age, the greater number are so called useful idiots, who take for granted the framework within which they are working.
One should desire to be useful – but to whom or what? It would be cruel to write about idiocy if there weren’t a cure for it. There is a cure, a hard one. “Does not wisdom call, does not understanding raise her voice?” It would be a good thing to listen.
As a society, we are more and more obsessed by sex. Yet surprisingly, we are having less and less of it. The sociologists call the latter phenomenon the “sex recession.” One writer asks whether it is turning into a Great Sex Depression, like the great economic depression of the 1930s.
What accounts for this odd fusion of obsession with indifference? I suspect that it results mostly from the ongoing project of separating sex from the making of new life and the mutual devotion of the husband and wife in making it. For it isn’t just that people have sex outside marriage. Even within what passes for marriage, they often seek to avoid having children.
What a bore. If sex is but willful sterility, why not just use porn? It’s a lot less trouble. You don’t even need other people.
Over time, though, that sort of thing loses its ability to excite. You must seek more and more extreme stimuli, for less and less result. Surprise, surprise! That’s just how obsession works.
"They couldn't say it if it wasn't true." That’s how one of my elderly relatives used to chide me, bless her heart, when I mocked the tabloid newspapers. Years ago, in a spirit of fun, I attached to my university office door a page from the Weekly World News showing a story about Bill Clinton getting advice from space aliens visiting from the planet with the most advanced economy in the galaxy. I reluctantly took it down after several of my students thought I was serious.
Well, at least they asked.
Now come up to the present. We live in the day of politicized medicine, science, teaching, news reporting, “fact checking,” administration of justice, and internet censorship. One of the pundits said recently that we shouldn’t complain about things being politicized, because politics just means governing ourselves. Yes, of course. But what I mean by the term is governing ourselves crookedly – manipulating people and telling lies for political advantage.
The amazing thing isn’t that the people running these scams lie. It’s that they lie even when they know they can be caught at it. On the one hand, people have become cynical: They know there is a lot of lying. On the other, they tend to believe the lies of their own favorite thugs: "They couldn't say it if it wasn't true."
What accounts for this unstable compound of cynicism and gullibility? The answer is that most modern lying involves the claim that the other guy is lying. “I’m not doing that bad thing. He is. Don’t look at me. Look at him.” You can be gullible about this kind of lie, even while being cynical about the person the liar is lying about.
So add this to the Book of Best Practices for Living in a Decadent Age: When public figure P says that public figure Q is up to something, by all means consider the evidence. It could well be true. But first consider the evidence that the one who is really up to that something is P himself.
For this midweek post perhaps I will be forgiven for making just a little point about language. Sometimes, political writers use the term “meritocracy” for a system in which the citizens place those whom they consider the most qualified in public office. But often, the term is used for a political system in which those who consider themselves entitled, or who possess some sort of credential, shoulder the citizens aside and do what they think best. These two meanings are not the same; they are almost opposite. Yet we allow ourselves to slip back and forth between them.
It would be helpful if we could bring ourselves to be a little more fastidious when we speak. “Meritocracy” has become such a weasel word that we would do better to give it up.
When the Critical Race Theory workshop leader at your place of employment tells you that we must all “try to be less white,” ask him to list the cultural characteristics of whiteness. If he dodges the bullet by saying that whiteness is “exclusion of everything black,” as such people sometimes do, then ask him to list the cultural characteristics of blackness. While you’re at it, you might ask him whether there are such things as brownness, redness, or Asianness.
Count on it: He will try to avoid answering, for if he did, he would expose his supposedly antiracist ideology as insulting to persons of color. Every color.
So far as I know, the last time anyone holding this noisome ideology dared to give an answer to the question was in 2020, when the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture produced a chart on the “Aspects & Assumptions of Whiteness.” The release of the chart was a first-class fiasco. As a depiction of American majority culture -- in both its positive and negative aspects -- it might not have been quite so bad. People of any race might be participants in the mainline culture. As a depiction of so called whiteness, it provoked such a backlash that the museum had to withdraw it.
And no wonder. Among the characteristics the chart used to define whiteness were setting work before play, delaying gratification, practicing courtesy, thinking rationally, and taking time seriously. Taking this definition together with the demand to try to be less white, it would follow that everyone should try to be lazy, infantile, rude, irrational, and chronically late -- and that black and brown people are like that already, except to the degree that they have succeeded in internalizing whiteness. The Ku Klux Klan must have jumped for joy at the museum’s implication that Progressive “antiracists” are racists like themselves.
But they are.
The Justice Department is threatening those states which are trying to make sure that only eligible citizens vote. Now that fraud has been declared nonexistent, and legal protection against one-sided massive fraud is being abolished as "voter suppression," it doesn't take a prophet to see where things are going.
Though it may take a few more election cycles to develop, there will be an arms race in the weaponry of balloting. Instead of one-sided massive fraud, we will have an avalanche of two-sided massive fraud. There will be revolutions in the technology of flimflam. The genuine votes of living people will be unimportant. Elections will be decided by who can get more dead people to the polls.
It is sometimes remarked that elections are not only a way to choose rulers, but also a way to shape the character of the citizens. True. Bear in mind that duplicity is like that too.
The Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 has no more settled the dispute about so called gay marriage than its decision in 1973 settled the dispute about abortion. Both operas continue, and ought to.
At the moment I am addressing only libertarians. For some reason, many people of this persuasion think that their principles obligate them to support so called gay marriage, just as most of them think their principles obligate them to support abortion. Actually, their principles seem to obligate them to oppose both of these things. The question, libertarians, is whether you take these principles seriously.
In the case of abortion, the reason for opposition can be stated in one sentence: Abortion violates the right on which all other rights depend, the right not to have your innocent life snuffed out. In the case of so called same sex marriage, all of two short sentences are requisite: Before the law was changed, people were already able to have homosexual relationships. Changing the law didn’t enable them to do something they couldn’t do before, but made others do something they didn’t choose to do.
For no change in law was necessary to permit persons to have long-term same-sex liaisons. Nor was a change needed to permit them to say that they personally considered these liaisons marriages. But law is a public definition, and public definitions are intrinsically coercive. The only thing that has changed is that now people who do not consider these liaisons marriages are compelled, for some purposes, to treat them as though they are.