We have been hearing for some years now how domestic political pressure has hamstrung needful actions against “far-right extremist groups,” which, we are also told, represent a larger and more serious terrorism threat than do the various jihadist groups with which we have become too familiar over the past — can you believe it has been that long? — 18 years.
Inevitably, this invites the question: “What’s a right-wing extremist group?” From lawyer Jill Filipovic, a fellow at the New America Foundation, we have an answer: the Knights of Columbus. That the Knights of Columbus is a right-wing extremist group is not an idea from the fringe: Filipovic’s New America colleagues include Anne-Marie Slaughter and David Brooks, which is not to say that she speaks for them, but she isn’t some person wandering the street with a sandwich board, either. In the Senate, Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono have proceeded in accord with Filipovic’s view, suggesting that a federal judiciary nominee should be disqualified from the bench because of his membership in the Catholic philanthropic group.
If the Knights of Columbus is an “extreme right-wing” group, and the neo-Nazi organization Vanguard America is also an “extreme right-wing” group, then the words “extreme right-wing” do not mean anything.
But we already knew that.
These are remarkable times. Remarkably stupid, but remarkable nonetheless. The evolution of the English language into whatever its Idiocracy future is going to be is happening right here before our eyes and ears.
Consider the case of Dana Schutz, a well-regarded painter who called down the furies by painting a picture of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s family, with the support of civil-rights activists, insisted on an open coffin at the funeral, and photographs of the young man’s mangled body were widely distributed. It was a powerful gesture. Schutz’s painting, “Open Casket,” is based on those images, and was shown, for a moment, at the Whitney Biennial. But it was removed after protests.
The complaint of the protesters? Dana Schutz is white.
“White free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go,” the artist Hannah Black wrote. “Contemporary art is a fundamentally white supremacist institution despite all our nice friends.” Black complained: “The subject matter is not Schutz’s.” Whose is it? Hers? Hannah Black is a British woman who lives in Berlin. She is black. Does she speak for Mississippi? For Emmett Till? Who deputized her?
If we are to take seriously the notion that freedom of speech is illegitimate when applied to white people, how exactly should we proceed? Should we take a poll of African Americans every time somebody wants to paint a picture? What if there’s a tie? Which white people are to be thus remanded? All of them? Even the Irish?
No one takes seriously the notion that the Knights of Columbus are an extremist group or that the sentiments offered by Hannah Black are something other than nonsense on stilts.
But what stilts!
The public discourse of our time is marked by language that is: 1. emotionally charged; 2. imbued with an air of moral urgency; 3. illiterate. Consult Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer, the witless Statler and Waldorf of our time, on any number of subjects. They manage a neat trick: Their mouths produce sounds that are recognizable as English words without producing combinations of them that are recognizable as meaningful English sentences. It is as though a kind of mass aphasia has settled on the land. Some cases are worse than others, bigly.
We know what is really going on in these attempts at communication. These are the unspeakable sentences: “I want something, and it annoys me that other people do not want me to have what I want, and so I will try to put them into the same category of things as Adolf Hitler and white-power prison gangs.” This is logorrhea substituting for one of those cartoon temper tantrums where a prone child pounds his fists and feet on the ground.
In 2019, our political discourse is about as intellectually sophisticated as our pornography. A little less so, if you include some of those arty European films.
Mohandas K. Gandhi once said that he would not allow anyone to walk through his mind with dirty feet. Awfully muddy out there, and the forecast calls for more rain.