EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear You Guys (I apologize for this break in protocol. Normally I would begin with the traditional salutation of “Dear Reader.” But now that “you guys” is under assault, I felt this was, quite literally, the least I could do),
If I’ve made one point over the last 20 years, it’s that you can never put too much cheese on anything involving meat. Coming in a close second is that the reason I’m a conservative is that I believe conservatism and libertarianism are only partial philosophies of life. Obviously, this is even more the case for libertarianism than it is for conservatism, but both schools of thought set relatively clear boundaries for what politics should touch. Not so for what we call liberalism.
The progressive vision sees all of mankind as clay to be molded, sheep to be herded, a third-grade diorama to be diorama’d. There are no safe harbors from politics because the personal is political.
The problem with saying “the personal is political” is twofold: You politicize what is personal (“Everyone must celebrate my lifestyle!”) and you personalize the political (“Your opposition to the minimum wage hurts my feelings!”).
This is how you un-think yourself out of a civilization; When politics becomes a fashion choice and fashion becomes political. If you wear your politics on your sleeve, it usually means you don’t keep them in your brain where they belong.
The progressive vision sees all of mankind as clay to be molded, sheep to be herded, a third-grade diorama to be diorama’d.
This is at least partly why so much of what passes for politics these days is really lifestyle branding. I loved David Brooks’s BoBos In Paradise, but its biggest flaw was in underestimating how much of the so-called bohemian-bourgeois lifestyle came pre-loaded with very political features. In 1997 Brooks wrote in The Weekly Standard that “one of the striking things about Burlington [Vermont] is that it is relatively apolitical.” I really don’t think that was true. More likely: Burlington was — and is — so uniformly liberal that even an astute observer might confuse stultifying political conformity for apoliticalness (not a word, I know, but like they said in Fast and Furious 3, you get my drift).
It’s telling that when Phil Griffin predicted MSNBC would overtake Fox News by 2014 (Stop laughing!). He said he wanted to do it by turning MSNBC into a “lifestyle” network. “It’s a mistake for us to limit ourselves to news,” he told The New Republic. Instead, he wanted to build up something he dubbed, “the MSNBC lifestyle.” This is the sort of thinking you fall into when you can’t see where politics ends and “lifestyle” — i.e., life — begins.
I’m not a big fan of generational stereotyping, but it’s fair to say that a large number of Millennials constitute the first big cohort of kids to be fully raised within this lifestyle-ized politics.
What’s been the effect? Well, funny enough, I have a theory about that.
There’s a lot of evidence that being too sanitary, i.e. too clean, causes allergies. If you’re not exposed to dog hair, dirt, bugs, nuts, CHUDs early in life, your immune system doesn’t know how to recognize these allergens later on and deal with them in a healthy way. It turns out if you give babies peanut butter, they are much, much less likely to get peanut allergies when they get older. Unfortunately for my kid’s generation, this news came too late. And while she doesn’t have peanut allergies herself, enough kids do at her school that all you have to do is whisper “peanut butter” and the place becomes like that scene in Monsters Inc. when the creature has a human sock stuck to his back (“23-19! We’ve got a 23-19!”).
As I’ve been arguing for quite a while, I think America is going through a kind of autoimmune crisis. We’re increasingly allergic to our own civilization and as a result we’re attacking once-healthy organs of the body politic.
Frankly, I have trouble seeing all this “trigger warning” shinola (no, wait, the other stuff I always confuse for shinola) in any other context.
“America is the land of opportunity,” “There is only one race, the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” are among a long list of alleged microaggressions faculty leaders of the University of California system have been instructed not to say.
These so-called microaggressions — considered examples of subconscious racism — were presented at faculty leader training sessions held throughout the 2014-15 school year at nine of the 10 UC campuses. The sessions, an initiative of UC President Janet Napolitano, aim to teach how to avoid offending students and peers, as well as how to hire a more diverse faculty.
Now, if you suffer heart palpitations, feel light-headed, or in some other way manifest symptoms of panic because you hear that “America is the land of opportunity” or “there is only one race, the human race” you have an allergy to America and its ideals.
The danger is that if we cater to these allergies, they become worse. “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure,” Orwell observed, “and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” We fail our kids by giving them these allergies and then fail them all the more completely by catering to them.
Miss Piggy America
Anyway, as I was saying, progressivism sees no safe harbor from politics because it doesn’t see politics as distinct from lifestyle. There is no limiting principle for what passes for liberalism, because liberalism has simply become defined as whatever liberals believe in today. Hence the once-gold standard of liberal thought — “there is no race but the human race” — is now offensive and should be avoided lest it set off some kid’s allergies (a point of view I could better understand if there were a lot of skinheads in the classroom).
One upshot of this that drives me batty is the injection of politics into areas that should remain politics-free. To pick examples near my heart, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica were corrupted by politics. A few years ago, the Children’s Television Workshop started mucking around with Cookie Monster. Suddenly Cookie Monster was talking about how “cookies are only a sometimes food.” This is true — for humans. But for it to be true of Cookie Monster is to erase his identity. As I wrote at the time:
Since my copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is in storage, let me explain by paraphrasing Hannibal Lecter’s famous dialogue with Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Imagine Lecter isn’t a superhuman cannibalistic serial killer and that, instead of being a doe-eyed feminist naif in the FBI, Ms. Starling is a doe-eyed feminist naif at the Children’s Television Workshop.
Lecter: “First principles, Clarice. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask: What is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this creature you seek?
Starling: He entertains children . . .
Lecter: “No! That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What need does he serve by entertaining children?
Starling: Social acceptance? Personal frustration?
Lecter: No: He craves. That’s his nature. And what does he crave? Make an effort to answer.
Lecter: No! He is not a “food monster!” He is a cookie monster!
But not according to the well-meaning social engineers of PBS. After three decades, they’ve announced he’s not a Cookie Monster at all. In the interests of teaching kids not to be gluttons, CTW has transformed Cookie Monster into just another monster who happens to like cookies. His trademark song, “C is for Cookie” has been changed to “A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food.” And this is a complete and total reversal of Cookie Monster’s ontology, his telos, his raison d’être, his essential Cookie-Monster-ness.
If the Cookie Monster is no longer a cookie monster, what is he? Why didn’t they just name him “Phil: The Monster Who Sometimes Likes to Eat a Cookie”?
(I should note that it is my understanding they didn’t ultimately change Cookie Monster’s song.)
A bit further from my heart is the more recent case of Miss Piggy. Someone thought it would be clever to give her a feminist-icon award. The stupidity of this is not infuriating in of itself. People are free to make fools of themselves and such antics will not hinder the arrival of the Sweet Meteor of Death so much as make it that much more welcome.
But what is infuriating is the way MSNBC handled its interview with Miss Piggy. Anchor Irin Carmon, sitting next to Gloria Steinem, asked a man’s hand wrapped in cloth that resembles a pig whether “she” was pro-choice. Miss Piggy responded, “I am pro — I am pro-everything.”
Now, I have some sympathy for the felt pig (Not to be confused with the poignant children’s book about bestiality, Sympathy for the Felt Pig.). Once asked the question, it would have been difficult to answer in a way that wouldn’t throw her into the abortion debate (though hardly impossible). But only someone who lives in the lifestyle bubble of MSNBC liberalism would ask a character for children whether she was pro-choice or not. Still, I would respect Carmon so much more if she had the courage of her gauzy convictions and followed up with, “Are you for any restrictions on abortion, or do you believe it is your right to have your piglets vacuumed from your belly right up until the day before they’re born?”
But no. Being pro-choice is such a sunny and uplifting thing it’s of a piece with being “pro-everything.”
I would be just as disgusted if a Fox News anchor asked Miss Piggy, “Are you pro-life?” For that matter, I’d be enraged if over at CNN Jake Tapper asked Spongebob Squarepants what he thought of Caitlyn Jenner or if Chuck Todd grilled Fozzy Bear about Dennis Hastert. Tonight on Special Report: Bret Baier sits down with Barney the Dinosaur and asks him whether Barack Obama is losing the War on Terror.
People decry a polarized, politicized country and then they go and politicize things that don’t need to be politicized. Football is great, until some yatch starts telling you that such violent ground-acquisition games are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war. Few things make me want to downgrade an actress more than hearing them explain that their moving portrayal of a limbless ballerina demonstrates why we need to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Act.
When everything is considered political, the totality of life is politicized. And that’s just a clunky way of describing totalitarianism.
The whole point of a free society is to reduce the number of things that are political, particularly at the national level. When everything is considered political, the totality of life is politicized. And that’s just a clunky way of describing totalitarianism.
Various & Sundry
Thursday on the Acela coming back from New York, I started out thinking I would write a column on why I think the fall of Baghdad is coming. But, I got distracted by a different argument and that became the column. Still, I don’t think we will do anything serious about ISIS until Baghdad is in flames. Lots of friends on the right talk about how if we just recreated the techniques of the surge, arming the Sunni tribes etc., we could win without putting too many boots in the ground. I don’t think that option is still available to us. The Sunnis have every reason not to trust us, never mind the Shia leadership in Baghdad. And anything that could overcome their doubts is not an option for this administration. Indeed, it’s not that Obama hasn’t been given strategies to defeat ISIS, it’s that he doesn’t want a strategy to defeat ISIS because he doesn’t want to pay the associated costs. I certainly understand the reluctance, I even share it. The problem is that ISIS is counting on it. I don’t enjoy saying it, but I think a bloodbath is coming. When we see helicopters fleeing Baghdad, crammed full of Americans, we’ll get serious, but probably not before that.
Zoë Update: It’s been quite a week for the Mid Atlantic’s Dog (I figure it’s too soon for Zoë to go for Jasper’s title of America’s Dog). My wife and daughter took Zoë and both cats (the good cat and my wife’s cat) to the vet. Zoë in good shape. She now weighs 60 pounds (quite a difference from when she almost wasted away from parvo) and has tested negative for all the bad things. Except, she did test positive for the anti-bodies for Lyme disease (which doesn’t necessarily mean she has Lyme disease). The vet wants to do a follow-up test to make sure she’s okay. But they want us to collect a urine sample. This seems as easy as getting sample of Vladimir Putin’s back hair.
In other news, on Monday she caught a chipmunk. When I saw her come out from the woods with it, I assumed she’d already killed it. But no. She was merely looking for an open field to play with it, free of any possible chipmunk escape routes. It was a terrible scene when she dropped the critter on the ground and it kept leaping up to attack Zoë’s face, not least because Zoë clearly thought the chipmunk’s fight for its life was so hilarious. Fortunately — with the help of Buckley Carlson’s (brother of Tucker) dogs as distraction, I managed to save the critter’s life. Future historians may one day condemn me for it if it one day becomes the Hitler of chipmunks.
I was in New York Thursday to appear on Outnumbered, which is visually like putting a rotten egg in the middle of four Fabergé eggs.
I’m going back to NYC this weekend to be on The Greg Gutfeld Show starring Greg Gutfeld. Sunday night at 10:00.
The Fair Jessica had a great op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday.
Once again your humble servant was ahead of the curve.
I spend a shocking percentage of my life talking to dogs I don’t know when they stick their heads out of car windows. So I appreciated this.