The G-File

Politics & Policy

Against One-Thingism

Politics isn’t life — or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

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 Readers (and all the ships at sea),

It’s a cold and rainy morning here in Charleston, S.C. I’m in my tenebrous hotel room awaiting dawn, or at least the gloaming of false dawn and the promise of coffee it will bring.

I don’t mean to sound gloomy. I’m actually quite chipper. But that’s because I’m spending the weekend with the Fair Jessica eating Charleston’s finest fare — so what is there to complain about? Last night, I had fried chicken skins and pimiento cheese, while drinking a martini at Husk. How bad could life be?

In that sense, I feel a bit like that stock character in Godzilla and various disaster movies who’s oblivious to the calamities around him. I’m not quite like Walter Matthau in Earthquake — so drunk he doesn’t notice the world falling down around him — but hey, the day is young.

I’m Not Your Strawman, Buttercup

I bring this up for a couple reasons. First, because every day, as I inchworm-spelunk through my Twitter mentions like Andy Dufresne leaving Shawshank prison, I hear from people — and algorithms pretending to be people — about how miserable, sad, regretful, and “butthurt” I am for this, that, or the other thing going on in Washington.

For years, this kind of thing came at me overwhelmingly from the Left. These days it comes at me mostly from “the Right” or, to be more specific, from the MAGA/Bannon swamps. And it’s just weird to me. Sure, I have my good days and bad, like everyone else. You know, like when you wake up in the camping section of a Walmart in a strange town, covered in blood not your own (“You didn’t specify whether that’s a good day or a bad one.” — The Couch).

My point is that politics isn’t life — or, at least, it shouldn’t be. I used to think when I got this kind of grief from the Left that it was evidence that the progressives take politics way too seriously. If you’re heartbroken whenever your “team” loses, then your “enemies” must feel the same way when they lose.

In other words, it’s a kind of projection — the assumption that someone else’s emotional state mirrors your own. This dynamic doesn’t quite fit the textbook definition of projection because, at least as I understand it, Freud thought projection was a kind of denial. A bigot accuses others of being the real bigots to conceal his own bigotry, or something like that.

The difference with so many of the people I hear from is that they aren’t denying anything. Because they think politics is everything, they assume I must think so, too. I don’t. The whole point of being a conservative and — I would argue — an American is to see politics as only a fraction of one’s life.

Just Say No to One-Thingism

Which brings me to the second reason. In this week’s Remnant podcast, I had a wide-ranging conversation with one of my favorite people, Steve Hayward. At the very end, we started giving advice to youngn’s just starting their careers. We even raised the idea of doing a whole show on life advice for young politicos, or young conservatives, or carbon-based life forms (we didn’t really nail it down). But the subject has been on my mind a bit since we recorded the podcast.

So, as I prepare to enjoy a vacation weekend away from politics, here’s some advice: Don’t invest that much of your soul in politics. In fact, don’t invest your whole soul in anything.

Now, if you want to be an Olympic wrestler or the world’s best competitive eater, this isn’t necessarily great advice. But if you want to be a happy and relatively successful person over the course of your whole life, you need to diversify your portfolio. A few years ago, I wrote about this at length in a G-File titled “Love Isn’t All You Need” (back when it only came out in email, so no link, alas). In it, I railed against “one-thingism” — the idea, promulgated by Curly in City Slickers, that you should find that one thing in life and dedicate yourself to it.

This is horrible, terrible, no-good advice. Just because it comes from Curly doesn’t mean it’s not the philosophy of zealots, stalkers, radicals, terrorists, and extremists of all stripes.

Put aside the complicated question of religion for a moment. No thing in your life should be your everything: no cause, no business, no movement, no institution. Likewise, you shouldn’t make any person your only reason to get out of bed in the morning. You won’t be doing your child or spouse any favors if you do that. Indeed, your smothering will likely lead to a maladjusted kid or a spouse who loses respect for you or perhaps seeks a restraining order. Unwavering love is great. Unwavering attention or obsession: terrible.

The simple fact is that in this fallen and flawed world, putting all of your chips on a single thing or person is an invitation for massive disappointment or, simply, a wasted life. First of all, when you give all of your soul to something, it can become a kind of enslavement. You forfeit your own agency, and your loyalty is no longer seen as something that the object of your love needs to earn. For Luca Brasi, the Corleone family is his One Thing, and that makes him a golem.

If you think X is already deserving of your whole soul, it becomes difficult to imagine being outside X. And, as a result, you lose the critical distance necessary to offer constructive criticism. This is why too much devotion is destructive in politics and society generally. Instead of being a force for improvement, you’re taken for granted as a loyal foot soldier, booster, or cheerleader. For the one-thingist — the Communist, Fascist, Jihadist, or, less dramatically, the college-football booster, the crazy fanboy, or some other tribalist thinker — if the object of your devotion can do no wrong, then you will never be an advocate for improvement, you’ll be a reliable apologist for the worst actions of your cause.

It is a hallmark of a modern and free society that you can divide up your loyalties and passions. It’s only when you’re in a life-or-death struggle that one-thingism makes any sense. In a zombie apocalypse, keeping your children or spouse alive is an acceptable One Thing. In a totalitarian regime, revolution could be an acceptable One Thing. But in a free and prosperous society, the route to real meaning and happiness is Many Things.

In a free and prosperous society, the route to real meaning and happiness is Many Things.

Even in religion, I think one-thingism is best avoided. I know Abraham was asked to put God before his own child, but that didn’t mean Abraham didn’t love Isaac. One of Christianity’s greatest contributions to Western civilization was to create the space for multiple loyalties. Jesus says we must render unto Caesar — but only what is Caesar’s. St. Augustine divides the world into the City of Man and the City of God — a division that wasn’t geographic but spiritual and psychological. Protestantism accelerated this trend in countless ways (wait for my book).

As a matter of a life well-lived, I think it’s admirable and good to be informed by your faith in all of your endeavors. But some endeavors needn’t be seen through the prism of religious one-thingism. The man of God and the atheist alike can love college football or be comrades on a bowling team.

More Eggs, Different Baskets

It’s a bit of a cliché to say that nobody ever said on their deathbed, “I wish I spent more time at the office” or, “I spent too much time with my kids.” And that’s good advice. If you’re organizing your life around how you want to be remembered when you die, you should think more about your eulogy than your résumé. I’ve been to memorial services where speakers share stories about a great career, but share little to nothing about being a great father, mother, wife, husband, or friend. I find it heartbreaking.

But the key to a rich and healthy life is not putting all your eggs in a single basket. Find the two, three, or five baskets that give you meaning and hold them tight. But give new baskets a try from time to time.

As a gross generalization, I think women understand this better than men. In part because even successful professional women tend to be the primary parent for their kids, women understand intimately the tradeoffs between competing devotions. In my experience, women have more hobbies than men, too. And they’re better at engaging in civil society, from school fundraisers to neighborhood associations to informal groups of friends. Men, particularly successful ones, are more likely to throw themselves into their work to the exclusion of other important things. Then, six months after retirement, they discover that playing golf all the time is boring, and they get miserable or sick or drunk or bat-guano crazy about politics.

You Asked for This

Speaking of bat-guano crazy politics, let me change gears. Last year, Kevin Williamson wrote a post in the Corner titled “Remember, You Asked for This.” It was about the decision to nominate Donald Trump.

Well, I want to offer something similar. Right now, it looks like Roy Moore will be elected the next senator from Alabama. Because Donald Trump endorsed him, the Republican National Committee is once again helping to fund Moore’s campaign, and Steve Bannon is praising him as a man of great integrity while denigrating Mitt Romney, a mensch who flushes more integrity down the toilet every morning than Bannon has displayed since becoming a blood-and-soil Jeremiah.

You can forget the sexual allegations against Moore — though you can be sure no one else will, because the Democrats and the media will be reminding voters about it constantly. Forget the fact that Moore is a grifter and huckster who claims America is evil and had 9/11 coming but that we were great when slavery was legal. Put aside all the arguments about how “we” need his vote or that Republicans shouldn’t unilaterally disarm.

The simple fact is this guy, if elected, will be a disaster for Trump, conservatives, and the GOP alike — even if he votes in partisan lockstep with the Trump agenda. The mere act of him voting for good legislation will make it harder for some senators to vote for it. Moore will say stupid, offensive, and bigoted things — and every Republican, starting with Trump himself, will be asked to respond.

The simple fact is this guy, if elected, will be a disaster for Trump, conservatives, and the GOP alike

Moore voters in Alabama, of course, will deserve much of the blame, but so will a large coalition of national Republicans — starting with Donald Trump — as well as cable-news and talk-radio boosters and rationalizers, and of course Bannon himself, who let this world-historic cock-up happen based on a potted theory that Mitch McConnell is an enemy or that you can build a “nationalist” movement around a credibly accused child molester and theocratic bigot and constitutional illiterate.

In short, you asked for this. You know who you are, and if you don’t, you should prepare to be reminded in the months to come.

Various & Sundry

And now for some prideful begging.

I say prideful because “shameless” doesn’t cover it. I’m outright proud to ask for your help. As I wrote above, I don’t think you should give everything of yourself to anything. But you should do what you can, where you can, and when you can for the institutions in your life that matter. You’ll almost always get more out than you put in. That’s certainly true for me. One of the things that I’ve given a huge chunk of myself to for almost 20 years has been National Review, and I’m the better man for it.

Over that time, some things have changed in NR World. My job titles have changed (I’m a senior editor now), but I’m also a fellow of the National Review Institute, which has become the umbrella organization of the whole National Review enterprise or, better yet, the National Review mission.

Bill Buckley himself always said that the mission comes before the magazine — but that the magazine was the best, but not the only, way to carry it out. That’s why he founded National Review Institute to support the mission. NRI sponsors conferences, speeches, and educational programs around the country, hosted by National Review writers, editors, and contributors. (If you must know, most of my salary now comes from the Institute. Lowry mostly pays me in chickens.) Without NRI, I couldn’t have finished my book. NRI fellow Kevin Williamson runs a journalism program. NRI drops David French behind enemy lines on one campus after another to fight for free speech.

We are trying to raise $250,000 for NRI. That’s a big lift. The good news is your contribution to NRI is tax deductible. The great news is that it literally makes everything we do either easier, better, or just plain possible. I know there are differences of opinion about the current political situation among longtime friends. But if your concern is the long game — for the country or the conservative cause — supporting what we do is imperative.

Again, because most people have lots of things going on in their lives — work, family, friends, faith, hobbies, etc. — not everyone can give as much of themselves to the conservative cause as we do here. But the only reason we can do as much as we do is because of you and people like you. We live every day knowing that we are indebted not just to Bill Buckley but to the numerous people who give what they can to keep the mission alive. Please donate, here.

Canine Update: The dogs have been on edge all week. The problem is that whenever they see one of the humans take out luggage, they know something bad is going to happen (though when we surprise them and invite them on a road trip, it’s pretty awesome). This week, there was a lot of that. I went to NYC, came home, packed again, and went to Charleston. Yesterday morning, The Fair Jessica packed, too. Anyway, it makes them very mopey and needy. Still, when I came home yesterday, I got some good wiggle-greetings (watch to the end to see how Pippa presses her agenda pretty quickly). Anyway, they’re in good hands with Kirsten, our loyal dogwalker, and having much fun, which alleviates a lot of the guilt. But it’s always hard to leave them when they think you’re leaving forever.

ICYMI . . . 

Last week’s G-File

Time’s troll of the year

Debts and deficits should not be partisan issues. But they are.

The RNC’s conscience-free backing of Roy Moore

The latest Remnant podcast

What happens if Roy Moore wins?

President Trump was right to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

And now, the weird stuff

Debby’s Thursday links

Patient corgis

When movies shot real bullets at actors

And arrows!

Possum breaks into liquor store, gets drunk

Dogs feel our anger

What if we destroyed the moon?

Seventeen-foot Burmese python found in Florida Everglades

Stunts with Thomas the Tank Engine

The logic of area codes

If spiders worked together, they could eat all humans in a year

Was Lenin a mushroom?

Do animals cry?

Are fumes from an Irish Viagra plant . . . affecting local males (animals too)?

Dog causes chaos at Cats performance

The Chinese navy vs. jellyfish

The yeti is . . . 

Ancient cave art has oldest depiction of leashed dogs

Flickr’s top photos of the year

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The Second(-Class) Amendment

Editor’s Note: The following is the fourth in a series of articles in which Mr. Yoo and Mr. Phillips will lay out a course of constitutional restoration, pointing out areas where the Supreme Court has driven the Constitution off its rails and the ways the current Court can put it back on track. The first entry ... Read More
World

The Brexit Crisis

After what seem like years of a phony war, British and European Union negotiators finally agreed on the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU earlier this week, and Theresa May announced it in the House of Commons. The deal covers more than 500 pages of legal and bureaucratic prose, and few but the ... Read More
U.S.

Friends of Elmer

Do you know what scares an American outdoorsman more than a grizzly bear? Twitter. In the late summer and early autumn, the hunting world had its eyes on the courts: The Trump administration had issued new guidance that would permit the hunting of brown bears (popularly known as grizzly bears), including in ... Read More