Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Protesters march against President Trump’s proposed border wall in El Paso, Texas, January 26, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)
From race, to environmentalism, to wealth, the gulf between ideological rhetoric and reality has rarely been wider.

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete.

The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and gender exceptions for politically incorrect felonies, an appeasement that ensures an absence of deterrence and thus even more transgressions.

Paradox No. 1: Merchants of Hate. We are told that white, racist young men are preying on people of color, obsessed with skin color (and gender), and emancipated by Donald Trump’s Klan-like MAGA army. In truth, the purveyors of such theories are themselves merchants of hate, who stereotype and demonize on the basis of skin color. And they do so, largely for anticipated career advantages, on the principle that supposed victims of white bigots can translate such ill treatment into publicity and, with it, attention and career enhancement. How did this epidemic of hate happen in 2019 America?

Answer: a) There are not enough racists left to fuel the current insatiable appetite of the anti-racism industry. So both victimizers and victims have to be invented — as we see with the Duke lacrosse lynching, the Virginia fraternity hoax, the Covington-kids invention, and the recent Jussie Smollett fraud. b) There are few punishments for fraud, but lots of rewards for being victimized, and so deterrence is lost and the merchants of hate assume they are free to invent what they please. c) Anything useful to destroy the presidency of Donald Trump is seen as a moral act, whether equating the Covington MAGA-hatted teenagers as veritable Klansmen or fitting out Smollett’s hired thugs with lynch rope and red hats.

Paradox No. 2: Green Filth. Ecology and environmentalism are supposedly efforts to prevent the natural world around from being spoiled by man and his modern-day lifestyle. Nowhere is green power stronger than in urban California. And yet nowhere are major cities (such as San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco) dirtier, more dangerous, and more festering as a result of human indifference — or public policy.

Medieval plagues such as typhus and tuberculosis ravage street people in California cities, so much so that Los Angeles City Hall had to be deloused to ensure that it did suffer the flea-borne epidemics akin to those of Constantinople in the sixth century a.d. Feces, trash, urine, discarded needles, and rotting food scraps stain downtown streets; primeval carriers of disease such as rats and scavenging birds feast and defecate among the flotsam and jetsam.

Why the progressive tolerance for such environmental desecration in the age of the Green New Deal? Why would it be felonious to defecate on a Yosemite trail or leave a used hypo at a river bank in Yellowstone, while it’s condoned on Market Street in San Francisco where the potential for human injury is far greater?

Answer: a) Perhaps the primeval stink and disease are seen as organic and are therefore not a dreaded cause of global warming. b) Wealthy, urban people can navigate around the homeless with private security and chauffeured transportations, and by doing business away from hoi polloi. c) The ecological assault is the work of purported victims, not rich white males — a fact known to the homeless who know very well that they are exempt from the law that applies to the middle classes. d) Cleaning up the cities, ensuring modern hygiene, and dealing with the homeless would require lawmakers to make conservative and traditional choices and judgments about human nature — taboo in our relativist society.

Paradox No. 3: Hip Hate. Two of the great sins of the modern West are misogyny and racism. There is zero tolerance for both outrages. Even a sexist or racist word can destroy careers. Yet the most sexist and racist genres in the contemporary West are rap and hip-hop music. Rappers with a long history of racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynist lyrics (and occasional behavior) perform at the politically correct Super Bowl. Kendrick Lamar was for a while President Obama’s favorite singer and a guest at the White House, despite having made anti-police references and despite the abject racist imagery on a recent album cover. Yet rappers are rarely ostracized for objectifying women as “bitches and hos,” or police as pigs, or for railing against “the Jews.” How can a genre that is often pathological become so mainstream that it’s exempt from the rules of correct thought and language?

Answer: a) Contemporary dogma postulates that perceived victims cannot be victimizers, so any untoward language from rappers is a cry of the heart from the oppressed. b) Rap is a huge multibillion-dollar business whose icons can, with endorsements and advertising, ensure huge sales, often in markets in which particular consumers consider any criticism of rap as proof of racism. c) There is a wink-and-nod exemption such that mostly black rappers assume the public understands their conventions. Despite being worth hundreds of millions of dollars and living in gated estates, rap’s elite still need to sound “authentic.” Racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny, like obscenity, ensure street cred. But such bias is winked off as a career necessity — a sort of genre convention like iambic pentameter or an opera performed in Italian.

Paradox No. 4. Bad Billions Are Good. Not since the late 19th century have we seen the emergence of such huge monopolies, trusts, and conglomerates, or the staggering fortunes made from them. By any standard progressive definition, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and an array of social-media and Internet companies ruthlessly warp their industries to gain monopolies; they gobble up threatening start-ups; they distort Internet searches; they censor conservatives; they dump product to ensure their market share; they stifle all dissent and are vindictive in going after dissidents and critics. And the result is that the largest unfettered fortunes in the history of capitalism are found in Silicon Valley and its spin-off industries elsewhere. Why has there not been any serious talk of monitoring multi-trillion-dollar industries based on monopolies and trusts that are controlling large chunks of Americans’ daily lives?

Answer: a) These are not 19th-century fortunes in oil, railroads, shipping, steel, or food production, whose buccaneer capitalists were for the most part supposedly odious conservative traditionalists. What Wall Street, communications, high-tech, and Internet zillionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Google team have in common is that they are left-wing and put their fortunes to good progressive use. b) Conservatives still believe in unfettered free markets and therefore think it’s noble or at least permissible to allow their existential enemies on social media and the Internet to attack them with all the resources that cornering the market can bring. c) The masters of the new universe are hip. They are cool and don’t wear the usual suit and tie of the corporate elite. How can someone in flip-flops and torn jeans at the knees really know about thousands of their employees sleeping in their cars, or tech teams scheming to massage searches to produce politically correct results? Although Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Kamala Harris blast Big Tech money, we should not assume that they will turn away tech’s largesse or that they’re not beneficiaries of the biases of social media and the Internet.

Paradox No. 5: Blinkered Enlightenment. Progressive universities have consistently raised their tuition and room and board above the rate of inflation. They do not fully apprise grant and loan recipients of what precisely their compound-interest indebtedness will be once they graduate, much less what the average job market and compensation might be for particular majors. Teaching loads have been reduced for tenured faculty, while an increasingly large percentage of course units is offered by exploited part-time instructors who lack the job protections and the benefit compensation of regular faculty. Part-timers are the new braceros of the university, brought in for cheap labor without much of a care where they go or how they live after class. Free-speech quads on campus are about the most unfree areas in America, where the wrong ideology can earn ostracism and threats of bodily harm. Liberalism gave us Martin Luther King Jr.’s reminders of a racially blind society. Liberal universities superseded that idealism with the cynical reality that the color of one’s skin, not the content of one’s character, largely determines everything from admissions to graduation rates. Higher education still insists on standardized admissions tests (at least for some groups) and resists furiously similar exit exams to ensure that $300,000 worth of investments in education can be quantified by improved reading, reasoning, and computation. So why is the loudest progressive institution so regressive?

Answer: a) All left-wing projects by nature are hierarchical, in the sense that “people power” serves as proper cover for the material and egocentric ambitions of an elite, as exemplified by the Soviet dacha, the Cuba compound, the Venezuelan offshore account — and the compensation of “diversity czars” and those who get a lot of money for rarely teaching or researching but monitoring and auditing those who do. b) Higher education realizes that it will not be held accountable. It faces very little legal exposure for not educating its students, but a great deal of audit if it proves lax in terms of race, class, and gender activism. In other words, a university that turns out brilliant graduates is not as impressive as one that turns out woke grandees. c) College degrees are like sneaker or purse brands. They have increasingly little to do with authenticating knowledge and lots to do with opening careerist doors, improving class cachet, and maximizing power and influence. How is that possible? Largely because of admissions, not achievement. One is hired with a Harvard B.A. not because that four-year Cambridge stint proves he will excel as a writer, speaker, or thinker, but rather because it certifies that he once had excellent enough high-school grades and test scores (with noted exceptions) to get in. Ivy League admissions, not credentialing, is what employers look for — a fact known to cynical colleges and universities.

Paradox No. 6: Moral Amoral Immigration. By any definition, illegal immigration is amoral. Open borders penalize legal immigrants — who wait years under audit for green cards — in favor of those who cut in line and rush the border. Illegal immigration renders federal law a joke. Sanctuary cities are a neo-Confederate idea of state and local nullification of federal law. Unlawful entry punishes the law-abiding citizen, in driving down wages, and in de facto exempting of crimes such as felonious identity theft that would ruin the career of a U.S. citizen. To the U.S. citizen returning from abroad who presents a passport at customs, and who is hounded about whether he has food on his person, or too much cash, or undeclared purchases, illegal immigration delivers a message: You are an utter fool, and if you had just broken the law, you could have entered the U.S. with no audit at all. It is racist, in that it privileges Spanish speakers south of the border and treats them in a fashion not accorded to Eastern European, Australian, Japanese, or South Korean would-be immigrants. And illegal immigration is an affront to the poorer and lower middle classes, whose schools, neighborhoods, and safety are often compromised by the influx of millions who have not been audited in terms of health, criminality, and skills — all while illegal immigration and open borders are pushed by the upper middle classes and elite who by their power and money are exempt from such concerns. How did something so abjectly amoral come to be passed off as moral?

Answer: a) Vested interests are multifarious across the political spectrum. Latino activists want more political power and careers as the self-appointed spokesmen for a permanent (but revolving) underclass of Spanish speakers. Leftists want more states to flip blue as well as more voters who will be dependent on generous redistributionist bromides. Employers want cheap labor. Elites like inexpensive domestic help. Mexico wants a steady relief valve of social tension in lieu of domestic reform, a psychological getting even with the Yanquis, and a constant revenue stream of $30 billion in remittances, often subsidized by generous U.S. entitlements and welfare. b) So-called Third World poor are romanticized as noble — and useful. Were millions of middle-class conservative Poles, right-wing Chileans, or Taiwanese Reaganites swarming the border, we would build walls 30 feet high. c) Radical progressives often enjoy flux if not chaos, in the sense of disruptions to staid and reactionary U.S. customs and traditions. When 60 million U.S. residents are not native-born, good things accrue from disregarding the perceived norms of the English language, Christianity, American history, and the Constitution.

The common thread to the paradoxes that we encounter daily is the inconsistency of progressivism itself — or rather its ad hoc adoption of any means necessary to be justified by an anointed end, which is the quest for power and control.  Progressivism is not an empirical or coherent creed, but contrary both to human nature and the record of history — in its arrogance that an elite, if only provided with enough money, power, and good intentions, can create heaven on earth rather than hell.

Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.

LEARN MORE
NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

Most Popular

White House

Politico Doubles Down on Fake Turnberry Scandal

It's tough to be an investigative reporter. Everybody who feeds you a tip has an axe to grind. Or, alternatively, you find yourself going, "I wonder if . . . ?" You put in your research, you talk to lots of people, you accumulate a huge pile of information, but you still haven't proved your hypothesis. A wise ... Read More
White House

Rachel Maddow’s Turnberry Tale

To a certain kind of Rachel Maddow viewer, there are few more titillating preludes to a news segment than the one she delivered Monday: “If you have not seen it yet, you are going to want to sit down.” Maddow’s story began, as many of her stories do, with President Trump, this time focused on his hotel ... Read More
Culture

Four Cheers for Incandescent Light Bulbs

It brought me much -- indeed, too much -- joy to hear of the Trump administration's rollback of restrictions on incandescent light bulbs, even if the ban will remain in place. The LED bulbs are terrible. They give off a pitiable, dim, and altogether underwhelming "glow," one that never matched the raw (if ... Read More