Against the Tide, Part II


In a speech a few years ago, Bernard Lewis, the Middle East historian, reflected on his field — and on academia in general. He said we are seeing “a degree of thought control and limitations of freedom of expression without parallel in the Western world since the 18th century, and in some areas longer than that.”

Every now and then, young editors and writers at NR will say to me, “Oh, Jay — lighten up. It’s no big deal. Sure, the Left dominates, but we turned out all right. Plus, it’s fun to be embattled! It’s fun to swim against the tide.”

It’s fun for some, yes — and inconceivable, or at least unattractive, for others. Most people go with the flow. It has probably always been this way, in every time and place. It’s unnatural to come out from the world and be separate. People like to think of themselves as rebels, with or without a cause — but very few are.

I was talking about this issue with my friend and colleague Mona Charen not long ago. She said, “Accepting what you’re taught is almost a definition of culture.”

Just a couple of words about Hollywood, please. As you know, Mitt Romney has had a business career, in addition to a political career. For how long have businessmen been villains in our movies? In the mind of Hollywood, a “community organizer” is a much better thing to be.

Don’t you think this gets transmitted, to one and all? Don’t you think this is in our mother’s milk, so to speak?

Romney co-founded a business called Bain Capital. During the recent campaign, the Left used “Bain” as a scare word, a bogey word: “Bain!” (Romney’s opponents in the Republican primaries did some of this too.)

Don’t you think that works, by and large?

Later this month, a new Matt Damon movie will come out. According to reports, it will portray hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as evil. The movie is bankrolled by Gulf Arabs — what a surprise. Fracking would be a boon to American energy, and is, to the degree it’s allowed. Don’t you think Damon & Co. should be embarrassed by the backing of Gulf Arabs?

But who would do the embarrassing? Who would shame them? The keepers of the culture are on their side, right?

The really depressing thing is, far more people will watch a Matt Damon movie than will bother to learn anything about oil production, including fracking.

Earlier this year, I went to North Dakota, to report on the oil boom there. Before I left New York, a musician friend of mine asked me where I was going, and why. I told him. “What’s responsible for the boom?” he asked. I said, basically, that it was a semi-miraculous combination of two techniques: horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

My friend said, “But isn’t it bad for the environment?”

My friend is no left-winger, and, in fact, he’s not very political at all. He just exists in the culture. Who’s going to tell him anything positive about fracking — or about oil? The New York Times? NPR? Jon Stewart?

The briefest word about the news media — a further word. You may recall this year’s Al Smith Dinner. The tradition at these dinners is for the presidential nominees to crack wise. And here’s something that Romney said about the news media: “My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country, and their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it.”

Everyone laughed. No one said, “Gee, that’s weird. I don’t get it. What’s he talking about?” They knew. Everyone knows.

One more item, before I knock off for today — one more point, rather. I spend a lot of time in and around music. (I work as a music critic at night.) Every so often, musicians will “come out” to me. They will confess their conservatism to me. But they swear me to secrecy, lest they get in trouble — lest they lose their jobs, or otherwise be outcasts.

Why should this be? Why should politics matter in music? So what if an oboist believes in lower marginal tax rates, missile defense, or school choice? What does that have to do with oboe playing? What should her colleagues care?

They just do. If they knew, they would know she was a Bad Person. And she might have trouble keeping or getting work.

If you doubt me, you can talk to the people I’m talking about — or, actually, you can’t: because they would be afraid to open up to you.

I think this is a sick, sick situation — the power of this groupthink. I would like to think that even some on the left would agree — some people like that kindhearted professor, who agreed to advise the College Republicans, Democrat though he was.

See you tomorrow, dear ones, for the final installment of this series — in which I take up the (difficult) question, What to do?

To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.