“The Narcissistic Creed”
How soon before Kevin Williamson finds himself Derbyshired? Not for anything he writes here, mind you. But for the fundamental intellectualism that is intrinsic to his pieces, which one day are going to piss off certain editors at certain erstwhile conservative publications?
But that’s just me speculatin’ about a hypothesis.
The “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, directed at the fanatical Islamist slavers in Nigeria, has inspired selfies from U.S. senators and the wife of the president of these United States, while State Department spokesman Jen Psaki, the Pippi Longstocking of the diplomatic world, took to Twitter to photograph herself with a “United for Ukraine” placard. To confront the heinous crimes of Boko Haram, a U.S. senator has many options — for example, introducing an authorization to use military force against said terrorist franchise. The U.S. State Department has many tools at its disposal for confronting the expansionist tendencies of Vladimir Putin.
The selfie is not among those tools.
Imagine, if you can, the abjectly juvenile state of mind necessary to contemplate the hundreds of Nigerian girls taken into slavery by a fanatical Muslim anti-education militia — whose characteristic activity beyond slave-taking is setting fire to children — and, in the face of all that horror, concluding: “You know what this situation really calls for? A cutesy picture of . . . me!” Bad enough when your cousin Caitlin at Bryn Mawr does that — but senators? State Department officials? These are men and (disproportionately, I think) women of power and influence, who have the ability to engage with the world and change it. But they are enchanted by the unique witchcraft of the age of social media, the totemic power of the digital expression of the self. It is not accidental that the only good selfie in the history of world leaders came well before the invention of Twitter from a man with an ego sufficiently robust not to require the constant reinforcement that is the psychic lifeblood of Millennials (and Washingtonians well old enough to know better), without which they find themselves paralyzed.
Our politics, particularly among young people and those who interact with the world mainly through social media, is no longer about the world but about the self. It is mostly an exercise in what economists call “signaling,” a way to communicate to friends, and to the world, that one is a certain superior kind of person. As the socialist blogger Fredrik deBoer put it:
Online liberalism, as I’ve said many times, is not actually a series of political beliefs and alliances but instead a set of social cues that are adopted to demonstrate one’s class background — economic class, certainly, but more cultural class, the various linguistic and consumptive signals that assure those around you that you’re the right kind of person and which appear to be the only thing that America’s 20-something progressives really care about anymore. The dominance of personal branding and cultural signaling over political theory means that liberal attitudes change very rapidly and then congeal into a consensus that is supposedly so obviously correct that it does not need defending.
This, as Mr. deBoer writes, leads not only to philosophically inconsistent views, changing in roughly the same manner as fashion, but also to the headlong abandonment of principle as such. Considering the cases of athlete-shoplifter Jameis Winston, alleged child molester Woody Allen, deposed Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and billionaire creep Donald Sterling, he writes: “In the past year, liberalism as an elite social phenomenon has abandoned first rights of the accused and second the right to free expression. The Jameis Winston and Woody Allen sexual-assault cases saw the rise of resistance to any discussion whatsoever of due process and rights of the accused . . . [And those] mentioning those rights at all were immediately and angrily denounced, and accused of insufficient resistance to (if not outright support for) rape and rape culture.”
But the point of discussions about subjects such as the case of Mr. Sterling, or of such political hippogriffs as “rape culture,” is not to say something about the subject; it is to say something about the speaker. It is the political-discourse version of conspicuous consumption. That matters relatively little in the case of such trivial figures as hashtag-activists Michelle Obama or Kim Kardashian, who occupy roughly comparable places in the cultural firmament. But when preening replaces thinking as a cultural habit, our ability to engage in responsible self-government is diminished.
What’s interesting to me in all this is the phrase “conspicuous consumption,” because this is the precise way I for years have been describing this phenomenon of social signaling, particularly as it creates political markers to assure others in the hive that you have pure thoughts — and therefore, necesssary goodness — on your side. And all it takes is compliance to the dubious liberal narrative prepared for you by ideological professorial mouthpieces themselves once drenched (as was Obama himself) in the miasma of leftist assertion and assumption. Creating a culture of useful idiots blinded to their own useful idiocy and indeed protected from self-discovery by their having been taught that all ideas are inherently subjective, that everyone has a right to his or her opinion (which they conflate into intellectual relativism), and that their empowerment allows them to accuse those who question their assumptions as somehow committing an act of intellectual violence — a kind of rhetorical hate crime.
All of this is, of course, by design, and is part and parcel of the long-march through the institutions. The genius — and simultaneous perfidy — of that agenda has been to convince the sheep-like followers of progressive cant that they are society’s true intellectuals, and that those who disagree with them only do so because they are impure, unworthy, unenlightened, and disconnected from the very impressive-sounding jargon that passes for “thought” in academia.
It would truly sad, were it no so socially devastating.
And yet, it is inevitable: when you live by the creed that perception is reality, and that your ability to control that perception literally translates into control over reality, you’re bound at some point to find that all the mapping onto reality you’ve done in some advanced state of rampant narcissism is going to swing back and bite you in your self-satisfied ass.
For my money, that moment can’t come soon enough. And though I fear what shape that may take, at least it will create a kind of purge of ideas that experience and fact, apart from mere will to power and manufacturing consent, show are not only terribly wrong, but by their continued adherence uniformly destructive. Even to the majority of the foot soldiers who have put on their Useful Idiot armor, which I like to imagine as a storm trooper suit.
But back to Williamson, who ends on another high note:
If your reading on public affairs has not progressed much past Internet memes, you have a responsibility to your country: Don’t vote. In fact, you probably should not even speak about those things. There is no shame in that; all of us are mostly ignorant about most things, as my poor father is reminded every time he tries to talk to me about sports. But please, if you actually care about the world and the human beings who inhabit it, stop — just stop — subordinating girls taken into slavery in Nigeria to the satisfaction of your ego. Go read a book. This is not about you.
– Which would be perfect advice, if it weren’t simultaneously a misogynistic and perhaps even racist bit of rightwing demagoguery.
So, you know: BURN THE WITCH!