That big post I've been promising has gotten to be so big, I've had to break it up and publish it in smaller bites. Here's one:
Totalitarianism is never content to rule by external means, namely, through the state and a machinery of violence; thanks to its peculiar ideology and the role assigned to it in this apparatus of coercion, totalitarianism has discovered a means of dominating and terrorizing human beings from within.Hannah Arendt
I was walking my kids to school the morning after the last Presidential election when I witnessed an embarrassing spectacle. As my sons and I approached the school I saw a neighbor of ours, a young mother of two elementary school students, jumping up and down on a map of the United States that was painted on the asphalt of the school yard. She was shouting something. As we got closer I could see that she was jumping repeatedly on Ohio and shouting “I hate you Ohio!” over and over. She looked at me, and said, “I can’t believe they did this! Can you believe it?”
Well, actually, there were two things I couldn’t believe. The first, thing I found unbelievable was the violence she displayed. Violence? Well, yes, it was minor violence but it was pretty shocking in a symbolic way, shocking in much the same way that burning the American flag is shocking.
The other thing I couldn’t believe was her presumption.
Call me old fashioned; or just chalk it up to my being in the conservative minority in this very liberal, high income suburb that I live in, but I have always thought it was good form not to make a public display of my political opinions. Stumping in support of a candidate before the election is different; a respectful request for support for people and ideas you believe in is an honorable part of our civic tradition. But this was a bald faced assumption that as a person she assumed to be “good” I would be equally dismayed by the result of the election. I can tell you that I generally avoid that kind of assumption about other people and nearly every time I have let myself slip into it I have been embarrassed by the result. But embarrassment is only experienced by those who are willing to grant others the dignity of having their own thoughts.
In my last post I quoted Milan Kundera on Kitsch. I need to go back to Kundera and that same speech, his Jerusalem Address, once again to most accurately define what I found so offensive in this presumption. Kundera uses the word agélaste. Rabelais, he tells us, coined the word to denote people who do not laugh because they have no sense of humor and “…are convinced that the truth is obvious, that all men necessarily think the same thing, and that they themselves are exactly what they think they are.” My neighbor’s behavior, that morning fit that definition to a tee.
The moderate and progressive left for all its claims of good intentions and intellectual righteousness has for some time been slipping into a form of totalitarian fundamentalism. The totalitarian progressive left is, I fear an, as yet, undiagnosed epidemic among the upper middle class and the academic and political elites of Western Civilization. As with most epidemics, it has been hard to define in its early stages. In recent years however, it has begun to manifest itself in ways that are impossible to ignore.
For instance, why is there a marked and growing support for Islamism among the left-leaning sectors of the western countries? On the face of it, it makes no sense that a movement within the Muslim world that declares publicly that it wants to either kill or convert everyone else on earth to Islamism, which believes in slavery, misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism, gay bashing(and murdering!), religious intolerance (exclusivism, really), the teaching of hatred and murder to kindergarteners and the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians with terror should be lionized by people who profess to hold “humanitarian” ( or, at least, humanistic) values above all others. Why, too, does that same left-wing so despise Israel, a country founded in Democracy, having a strong socialist component, and which far out shines any of its neighbors in human rights and minority freedoms? The answer to this conundrum is one of the diagnostic markers that prove the existence of a totalitarian system of belief. When there are such obvious internal contradictions that are held by a self-identified group of people who police each other for the correctness of their thought without regard to the actual logical content of that thought it is totalitarianism. I discussed this in my post about Islamofascim. Here is part of a quote from a New Yorker Magazine article by Louis Menand that I used to illustrate the point. “The mysterious part of totalitarianism’s appeal—and here we return to the Problem of the Loyal Henchmen—is that its official ideology can be, and usually is, absurd on its face, and known to be absurd by the leaders who preach it. This is because the mob is made up of cynics; for them, everything is a lie anyway. And the masses’ hostility is free-floating. It has no concrete object: the masses are hostile to life as it is. The more extreme and outrageous the totalitarian ideology, therefore, and the more devoid of practical political sense, the more ineluctable its appeal.”
This is where the agélaste’s lack of a sense of humor turns lethal, for the hard core of any fascist system is the agélaste. Eliminating humor is essential to the totalitarian system. In His novel The Joke, Kundera has a Communist sympathizer saying, “No great movement designed to change the world can bear to be laughed at or belittled. Mockery is a rust that corrodes all it touches.” A sense of humor would allow people to see the irony in the internal contradictions and turn laughingly away from it. The modern Progressive, leftist and liberal movements lack any real humor. What passes for humor in those precincts is actually more accurately classified as ridicule and mockery. While driving the other day I saw an excellent example, bumper stickers that read, “So Many Right-Wing Christians So Few Lions”. This is not humor. It is, rather, a kind of puerile, jejune attempt to wrap a hate message in a clever phrase and hurl it through the windshield of any car that had the misfortune to be driving behind. This is the very sort of message that the owner of that car would, no doubt, condemn utterly if it were aimed at any of the liberally approved minorities. How would he respond to- “So Many Black People, So Few Lynch Mobs”? I can’t see how one is any worse than the other. Political correctness, tone deaf “humor” and the conceit of “true belief”, are turning the mainstream left into a confederacy of Agélastes.
This by no means applies to all left-leaning citizens; there are many clear-thinking individuals on both sides of the center who can see these contradictions clearly enough to be troubled by them. For those with the good will and intellectual freedom to debate and consider the evidence on both sides, there is hope. If they can also avoid the paralysis that results from moral relativism they will be part of the solution of the problem. The problem arises from those who become devoted to anti-establishment worldviews to the extent that their individual intellect and discriminatory power becomes subservient to the intellectual framework of that “ism”. They come to believe that Jews and the corporate business world and government are somehow controlling their lives. They feel that in retaliation they have to support an extreme brand of progressive liberalism that is a true totalitarian ideology. In the grip of this reactive totalitarianism they no longer care about their own contradictions, as Menand pointed out above. This agreement to believe in and support the absurd is the binding energy that allows so many “liberals and progressives” to ignore the obvious contradictions between the values they profess and their sympathy for Islamism (and antipathy for Israel). As Voltaire wrote, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”.
Totalitarian systems loath each other but they hate the individual human being, his sense of humor and his free thought much more. That is why the Totalitarian left and Caliphate Islam find common cause with each other. In each of them, it is the system not the people in it or the ideals they hold that are important; the individual is an object of suspicion and disdain. As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men but toward a system in which men are superfluous,” The devotion to a strict fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran and the seemingly opposed devotion to the total and complete adherence to the intellectualized principals of the western left differ in their content but not in their disregard for reality and the complex nature of humanity.
This is why so many elite campuses are so inhospitable to Jewish and Christian speakers of any but the leftist point of view while they positively swoon in reverence over speakers from Islam who represent terror as an instrument of social control, the subjugation of women and death or conversion for all unbelievers. Even left wing speakers who do not toe the Agélaste Left party line are drowned out and not allowed to speak in today’s academia. Speakers of both the left and right who dare defy the intellectual Taliban of academia and support Israel or speak in support of American values are routinely harassed, drowned out and intimidated socially, academically and even physically. This is a universal characteristic of totalitarians of any stripe, they are more comfortable with other totalitarians, no matter how diametrically opposed their ideas, than they are with those who can see and point out the absurdity of their slavery to empty ideas and pathetic rationalizations.
It is no accident that Academe is a stronghold of the Agélaste Left. In the hothouse of tenure, and with loyal cadres of duped and inexperienced students who eagerly shout down any opposition, the modern University is the last and most secure refuge for bright but craven and bone-lazy “geniuses” who spin vivid verbal riffs on their wishful dreams of what the world is like even as they are entirely insulated from the harsh realities that the business people and workers they so smarmily patronize have to face every day. Socialism and Communism have failed everywhere they have been tried except in the hermetically sealed aviaries of academia. Year after year the tenured Macaws of the professorate gather their favorite toadies up into their own self-congratulating ranks and push the rest out into the “real world” for which they have conspired to keep them ill-equipped. Thinking independently in some regions of academia calls down a fate worse than death- expulsion into the market place where only production of goods and services for which others will pay money earns a living. This is how the elite corps of the Agélaste Left terrorizes its true believers to believe even past the point of self-destruction.
It is shocking but not surprising that the hierarchies of some of the mainline protestant churches have become hotbeds of the Agélaste Left. One need look no further than the Israel Divestment movements within both the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches. To see that the hierarchies of these two once-great churches have been hijacked by leaders that are in step with the collectivist progressive hostility to the war on terror here and in the Middle East is to witness the greatest and saddest irony of all. It is shocking and ominous that decades of inter-faith bridge-building has been so swiftly undermined by this totalitarian wave of blind Agélaste Leftism among mainline religious leaders. The Agélaste Left leaders of these churches do not speak for the masses of Presbyterians and Episcopalians in the pews. There are strong indications that there is little grass root support for the attempt to handcuff Israel in her life and death fight with a foe that has sworn to destroy her and has openly promised to kill as many Jews and Christians as possible. Those leaders are merely trying to put words into the mouths of their flocks. What is worse, they do it in the name of God. Only to them, God apparently is a leftist who would rather see misguided even-handedness weaken the hand of an egalitarian, religiously tolerant, democratic and egalitarian country like Israel against the blood-thirsty onslaught of another totalitarian movement most of whose own people, when they are given the opportunity to choose, would rather live in America or Israel.
On the other hand, none of those on the left who reflexively bash America and Israel for “crimes against humanity” are crowding onto airplanes to go live under The Caliphate and Sharia rule either. I think it’s safe to say none of them would last a month in a country ruled by Sharia Law. Indeed, they would be lucky to only have their hands cut off rather than be buried up to their waists in the dirt and be stoned to death or have their heads sawn off with a bread knife in front of a video camera.
Neither do they give us a convincing picture of anything (within reason) that America or Israel could do to please them. Israel, they seem to feel, should lay down her arms and try to make a unilaterally disarmed peace with the Arab world- that Arab world that has sworn Israel’s destruction and is holding the Palestinian refugees hostage against her existence. That would please the Agélaste Left doubly. Israel would then be unable to stop the terrorists or interrupt their infrastructure; and then, shortly thereafter, there would be another genocide- the death of all the Jews in Israel- that they could condemn America for not stopping. If its one thing the Agélaste Left enjoys more than mourning dead Jews, it’s blaming America and finding fault with the very institutions that shelter them and their self-destructive antics from annihilation by the despots, terrorists and repressive maniacs they so lionize.
You know that they are the Agélaste Left because anyone with even a rudimentary sense of humor would see the irony of that!