It’s mostly a right-wing problem, in any event. Plenty of equally spurious arguments are made by embarrassing elements on the American left, but these are usually at least cloaked in an appeal to some form of authority. If nothing else, as a pragmatic matter for those of us who are appalled by the bad-faith injection of destructive bullshit arguments into the civic sphere, the appeal to authority makes it possible to discredit bad arguments by discrediting the authority making them: not a particularly tall order when the authority in question is, say, Al Gore, or some other comparable mediocrity that washed up from the Clinton Administration. Discrediting the crackpot Trojan Horse arguments emanating from the shittier parts of the right wing is a lot harder. There’s nothing of any real value to attack. The arguments are empty tautologies operating at a reptilian intellectual level. Sandra Fluke is a slut? That has nothing to do with the merits or demerits of comprehensive insurance coverage for oral contraceptives. It’s impossible to outflank Rush Limbaugh intellectually when he says something that crazy and diversionary. Either one disbelieves it because it’s a batshit crazy nonargument, or one believes it because it’s emotionally satisfying.
Even pure tautologies stripped of their emotional aggression can be hard to counter due to their sheer volume. The American left can’t hold a candle to the right in the baseless, straight-faced repetition of vacuous nonsense, like the canard that the private sector is the “job creators” and the public sector isn’t. Of course the public sector creates jobs. In fact, direct hiring by the public sector is the single most efficient and effective way for policymakers to ensure that people are actually hired. The alternatives are to set up nutty Rube Goldberg policy apparatuses in which private companies are given public funds as part of a binding agreement to meet new hire targets or, for the truly foolish (or the corrupt), to take it on faith that private companies will use tax breaks to hire new employees and not to accelerate debt payments, slush-fund their executives, or hoard cash. Anyone who tries to counter these ridiculous arguments ends up in a war of attrition with wingnut bots.
When right-wing shitbirds do make appeals to authority, the appeals tend to be provably bogus. Unlike their leftist counterparts, they don’t appeal to some trained technocratic elite that is probably corrupt or blinded by zeal but at least has genuine professional qualifications relating to the subject under discussion, as in the climate change pissing match. Instead, they attribute pat aphorisms to people who are not known to have said anything of the sort. There’s this long-departed Scottish Enlightenment dandy by the name of Alexander Fraser Tytler and the title of Lord Woodhouselee (a real down-to-earth chap, I must say) who is widely said to have warned about the inevitable progression of democracy to dictatorship after the majority of voters “discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.” The earliest documented warning in these words, however, is from a letter to the editor of an Oklahoma newspaper in 1951, attributing the aphorism to Tytler more than a century after his death. The attribution went dormant, with a brief reattribution to de Tocqueville, until Ronald Reagan revived it in a campaign speech for Barry Goldwater. In a 1987 letter to the editor of the Seattle Times, this quotation was attributed to a history of classical Athens that there is no evidence of Tytler having ever published.
In American history, this brand of misattribution goes back at least to the Parson Weems story about George Washington and the cherry tree. Standards for history and nonfiction were laxer in the early nineteenth century than they are today, and Weems is a known plagiarist and fabulist. part of a daisy chain of folklore and third-rate social control literature leading through the McGuffey Readers. A lot of this sort of stuff is happy horseshit with no bearing on actual history, but don’t hate, it makes readers happy and smug, or at least tractable if it has its intended effect.
The result of this sort of propaganda is a citizenry of grown children. I don’t mean millennial layabouts who spend too much time at their parents’ places or “drinking coffee for a living” in Portland, which is usually a combination of physical laziness and capitulation to a thoroughly fucked job market. I mean something worse, an intellectual laziness, timidity, and servility that no amount of hard adult work can cure on its own without a change of heart. These people engage politically with an emotional immaturity that is inconsistent with self-government. The overclass shitbirds love this, of course, although most of them are too disciplined and self-preserving to admit as much; an elite that successfully pulls strings from behind the curtain doesn’t want the electorate to realize that there’s anyone behind the curtain.
This explains the enduring treacly dipshittery of Steve Hartman. Even when he files stories that are worth watching, like the one about the guy who quit the NFL to farm sweet potatoes for food banks, he’s a fucking buffoon, but most of his human interest profiles are journalistically worthless, if they aren’t also actively deleterious. There’s a disturbing social control keeping people like Steve Hartman on the air. In the American cultural context, standing up to someone like him for being a bumptious twatwaffle who takes airtime away from colleagues who aren’t ridiculous always threatens to provoke a gigantic fit from mewling milquetoasts who are upset that their mellow just got harshed. Even to say, look at that stupid bastard, being paid to run that garbage on a national news broadcast, would piss off the brightsider crowd. It would be one thing to run his happy horseshit in a rag like Guideposts, but the CBS Evening News is another matter entirely. This is a guy who would lower the tone at Reader’s Digest. CBS must be paying Scott Pelley good money to refrain from publicly telling Steve Hartman to fuck off and stop being such a smarmy prick.
There’s an even worse part of the crowdsourced censor mob that flips out when crappy platforms like “On the Road with Steve Hartman” fail to run their PR copy. This is a growing problem with in American military and law enforcement circles. We should be alarmed. A few months ago, I came across a modestly viral bit of outrage about how television news outlets had conspiratorially failed to publicize a Ventura County cops-take-poor-kids-shopping stunt because they were too busy reporting from Ferguson. The complaint was basically that the media had it in for the police by not telling positive stories that police departments and unions almost certainly contrived for public relations purposes and were instead running all this prejudicial Debbie Downer shit to make people think that cops were racist and brutal. What the fuck do these people think Ferguson was? It was objectively the paramilitary occupation of a city whose citizens were demanding an end to armed extortion at the hands of their rotten borough government. One kid from the neighborhood getting fatally shot by one cop isn’t enough to set off protests of that magnitude and endurance in the face of riot police rampages worthy of Tahrir Square. This was an area where multiple municipalities were throwing people into Dickensian dungeons over non-injury traffic and motor vehicle infractions. Michael Brown was just the last straw and the focal point for long-suppressed fear and anger over the lawlessness and brutality of a constellation of latter-day medieval city-states.
Of course the Ferguson protests took journalistic precedence over a feel-good story about cops taking indigent children out to the mall. Of course the additional furors over the police killings of Kajieme Powell, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, and Antonio Martin were higher priorities for journalists than shadowing scripted give-back-to-the-community events. By the way, it’s about race except when it isn’t about race: white privilege didn’t protect Kelly Thomas or any of the people who have been shot dead by police in Albuquerque. Violent racial prejudice is just one part of a much bigger problem in American law enforcement. Any decent and sensible cop wants all the help he can get from the press in getting to the bottom of this nightmare. Good cops need all the backup they can get in driving violent and stupid colleagues out of their agencies. I imagine the two cops who grabbed Ray Albers by the chest and the belt are glad that they did it on camera so that he couldn’t get anywhere by filing false reports against them after the fact.
I heard about this bogus Ventura shopping spree non-publicity outrage from an old school friend whose husband is a California Highway Patrolman. She always seemed pretty sensible and thoughtful, and as far as I can tell her husband is a class act and a good cop. If they’re getting caught up in this PBA hive mind bullshit, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. I understand that online police fora like Police One are vile enough to make a military occupation by the Mexican army and federales seem like a better-than-terrible idea, and an occupation by the Canadian Forces and the Mounties look like the second coming of Jesus.
There’s a similar emotional immaturity in the abortion debate. Calling it a “debate” is a bit charitable, and it would be ridiculous to call it a discourse, since it consistently manifests as a food fight between extremists over something that really can’t be controlled by positive law. It may not be a coincidence that it resembles MMA folding chair beatdowns in the banal and scripted appearance of its confrontational anger. Picking a side in the abortion debate and being an ass is a good way for an amoral person to make a living without the connections to get in on some more lucrative racket.
The abortion showdown is an unusual one in that the political self-descriptions favored by the two sides, pro-choice and pro-life, happen to be Orwellian, especially in the former case, and to also serve as an excellent, concise summation of the irreconcilably conflicting interests at issue. Abortion policy inevitably has to balance, or not balance, the interests of baby versus mother, living family members versus ones who may join the family in the future, and individual liberty versus family life and communal demographic welfare. The encouraging thing is that it is possible to strike a pretty good balance between these conflicting interests if the shrieking wackos can either be ignored or made to shut up for a bit. David Kuo’s claim that “nobody in the heartland gives a shit about this stuff” is backed up by public opinion data indicating that abortion is a major political issue for as little as one or two percent of the electorate, depending on the poll and the political mood at the time.
It’s deceptively easy to find people on the pro-choice left wing of this debate who say things that are antisocially callous, like that pregnancy is a form of malignant parasitism, that abortion is an absolute good, that late third-trimester abortion is no more disturbing than the morning-after pill, or that legal protections for abortion should be extended to infanticide. In truth, vanishingly few people sincerely believe anything of the sort. Most pro-choicers have significant qualms about abortion if they give it any thought, even if these qualms are faint and inchoate. The stridency comes overwhelmingly from kooks, blowhards, and trolls. The possibility that anyone outside a tiny, mentally disturbed minority would ever sincerely consider abortion a sacrament is just another cool story from Ann Coulter, who it’s worth noting is a childless spinster. Thinking about the mechanics and implications of abortion gives me a mild feeling of existential sickness. I can easily name and argue various case-by-case justifications for it, but I can’t defend it on its intrinsic merits.
The really petulant noise about abortion from the permissive left is overwhelmingly the outbursts of lunatics and trolls, marginal embarrassments that, when push comes to shove, none of their allies want in the pro-choice tent. Besides, the real action on abortion rights doesn’t take place in the formal pro-choice movement, but among moderates in government who routinely reach out to pro-lifers in an effort to maintain a workable political and policy consensus. Some of these abortion rights supporters wouldn’t be caught touching Planned Parenthood with a ten-foot pole, let alone NARAL.
The political dynamics are very different on the pro-life side. The formal pro-life activist movement isn’t a false front for the real venues where the serious arguments and policy are made, hidden in plain sight, the way its pro-choice adversary movement is. The extremist measures that the career activists demand are the same extremist measures that their hardline allies propose in the legislatures and from time to time get passed into state or federal statutory law. It isn’t a case of crazies fronting for sober dealmakers.
On top of that, there is practically no collective pressure to ostracize nutters and dipshits from the pro-life movement the way there is in the tacit pro-choice movement. These are people who have a strong argument that abortion is intrinsically disordered, disturbing, and wrongheaded, but it seems that they don’t tell flaming zealots like Randall Terry to stuff it, in the way that the Republican kingmakers piled onto Todd Akin and publicly berated him to drop out of the race after his “legitimate rape” gaffe. Nor do they have the principle or the common sense or whatever they’re missing to tell mewling, sentimental fools to stop discrediting the movement among moderates by making it look utterly childish.
What I have in mind here are the sort of emotionally deranged dipshits who preen about how they’re going to the March for Life as “a way of helping the babies tell the world, ‘We’re here! We’re here! We’re here!'” I actually saw that on Facebook within the last couple of months. It was a completely earnest line of argument that was taken equally in earnest by the pro-life claque that had overrun the quasi-official youth ministry comment thread where it was posted. It’s conceivable that this childish outburst put more mature parties to that thread in a bind, with no options but to publicly agree with it, assent to it, or air dirty laundry by calling a technical foul, but I don’t have reason to believe that anyone on the thread was worried about optics or the integrity of pro-life argumentation. These are people I know to be shrill in their own comments on abortion, even if they’re more mature. They seem to be sincerely unperturbed by the disordered weirdness of such a raw appeal to emotion, in large part because they also crudely appeal to emotion on abortion all the time.
My gut feeling is that this particular sort of emotional argumentation is a psychosexual clusterfuck. “We’re here! We’re here! We’re here!” isn’t just a claim to advocate on behalf of unborn babies; it’s a claim to literally act as their ventriloquist. It’s a variation on the psychosexual transference that drives aging single women in fruitcake nondenominational churches to have “coffee with Jesus.” The difference, of course, is that “coffee with Jesus” doesn’t affect public policy. We’re talking about people who cannot handle celibacy, maybe even periodic celibacy, without lashing out in public. These are horndogs who have been driven up a wall by sexual repression and need to get laid more often.
The appearance that a fair amount of this noise is coming from virgins is truly appalling. It should not be necessary to tell people who have never even gotten a handjob that they’re ignorant about sex and may be unable to comment on it intelligently. The problem isn’t that they’re callow; the problem is that they’re callow and either don’t realize it or don’t give a damn, and that they insist nonetheless on weighing in on things that they are unqualified to critique. It’s seedy to claim the revelatory ability to repeat grievances verbatim on behalf of constituencies that are by their very nature completely inarticulate, but in this case there appears to be the additional specter of sexual immaturity and projection.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I do not want to be governed by such people, and I’m relieved every time one of them doesn’t turn out to vote. It’s disturbing to think that there’s even a possibility of my country falling into the clutches of undersexed religious zealots or virginal nitwits who can’t or won’t admit that they’re missing out on an important component of social maturation and think that they’re communing with a nebulous collective of unborn babies.
This type of thinking goes far beyond normal religious faith or discernment or a search for meaning and purpose in a cold, troubled, and adrift world. It’s crazy beyond the imagination of psychotic homeless people I’ve encountered, personally met in at least three cases, and gotten to know at some length in at least two. I’ve chatted with people who are obviously out of their fucking minds but who know that they’re crazy, or at least that other people aren’t seeing what they’re seeing. Maybe one sees a possible time-space continuum problem between La Brea Avenue and Aviation Boulevard which might interfere with final approaches to LAX, but in that case one is, in my secondhand experience at least, also “pretty much traveling between universes right now.” Dude knew he was Froot Loops. It’s much worse to combine sexual repression, religious zealotry, self-righteousness, and stunted sociosexual maturation into an emotionally overwrought crusade on behalf of babies in the womb. That isn’t holy shit do we really know where that plane went; it’s the start of a civic death spiral, and probably a spiritual death spiral as well.
Now that I visit prostitutes when I can, I know that I’m still unable to viscerally understand the sociosexual dynamics of marriage or relationships verging on marriage, but at least I know what I was missing out on sexually beforehand, and that what I was missing out on was no joke. Watching people who are willfully ignorant and most likely sexually deranged impose themselves on American civics while prostitutes hold their peace is like watching a debate between Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton degenerate before my eyes into a 2016 presidential debate moderated by Maury Povich. It’s just fucking pathetic. It indicates that we’re on track to be governed by the worst sorts of mewling children and the demagogic creeps who cater to them, if we aren’t already there.
I support the full enfranchisement of common prostitutes. I can’t say I feel the same way about priests or, shall we say, lay virgins. The one silver lining, I guess, is that the less America’s sexually wacked-out dipshits and busybodies rock the vote, the less likely the rest of us will have to rock down to Electric Avenue, or down to old Mexico, which is, against the odds, an important source of political best practices for Mr. Gringo.
C. S. Lewis, pray for us.