That human beings can be hateful and destructive enough to do something like assassinate Benazir Bhutto and fifteen of her supporters is no surprise to me.
Islamists Like You
Lack of imagination, an obvious side effect of the undersupply of intelligence, is perhaps humanity’s biggest problem. And one of the most damaging effects of lack of imagination is the inability to believe that other people are like you and that you may be every bit as bad as they are and share many of the same evil impulses (those impulses themselves mostly derived from morally-neutral but animalistic instincts for survival and self-defense).
Liberals and leftists in the U.S., for instance, no doubt imagine themselves to be compassionate, warm-hearted people incapable of the kind of violence committed by rabid Islamists. And leftists rarely do commit such violence here, but — since I’m more dialectical than methodologically-individualist in my thinking about such things — I’d say it’s obvious that the calm here arises only because our peaceful, largely commerce-driven cultural norms train us from a young age to expect that conversation will be more rewarding than physical violence. If you grew up in a war zone, that expectation might not exist and certainly wouldn’t seem “natural.”
We are most certainly not spared violence here because individual leftists themselves (to continue with them as the example) are any more loving and gentle than the Islamists — who themselves think they are doing the right thing, of course, as does anyone willing to make personal sacrifices for a political cause. People always think they’re making the world a better place, even when doing so very conveniently allows them to vent their nastiest and most hateful impulses.
And when the mob, tribe, or cabal you’re with hates what you hate, there’s little apparent need to step back and ask yourself whether you’re all a bunch of jerks — though the rare, sufficiently imaginative individual will do just that.
Orwell’s Lesson of the Day
Orwell, perhaps the twentieth century’s most successful teacher of beneficial political lessons (beware Big Brother, doublethink, crusades against thoughtcrime, people who deny 2 + 2 = 4, etc.), tried to show his fellow leftists how ugly their proclivity for collective hate is by depicting citizens in Nineteen Eighty-four who gather each day for the “Two-Minute Hate” session in which an exaggerated, villainous version of an apostate, Trotsky-like figure named Goldstein is shown to them on large video screens — and they dutifully boo, hiss, and wail in rage, letting out the anger they are forbidden to show in all other social interactions (not so unlike some Islamic countries where criticism of Israel is about the only fully free form of political speech).
The capacity for hate is universal and easily channeled for political ends — across the political spectrum, though I suspect leftists tend (despite plenty of exceptions and counter-examples) to lack some of the dampers (behavior-shaping norms, not magically-better hearts) that conservatives and libertarians tend to possess for keeping their own capacity for mindless rage at bay. Libertarians are ever-mindful that no one is obliged to associate with or listen to anyone else, after all, and (most) conservatives see the maintenance of old-fashioned rules of etiquette and civility as one of their chief duties, even (for many) their primary goal, whether or not they always go about it the right way (thus their preference for, say, Winnie the Pooh over Freddy Krueger, much as people with darker sensibilities snicker).
No such restraints seem to exist for the for the leftist qua leftist (though, as human beings, most still observe the usual etiquette rules prevailing in society, of course). For many leftists, there are no etiquette or civility rules higher than current political imperatives — only preferred groups to protect (if you’re “lucky” enough to be a disabled gay black woman, leftists will probably not be rude to you) and exploitative villains to be destroyed by any means necessary (or at least by any means not resulting in expulsion from college, serious jail time, or revoking of invitations to future Manhattan cocktail parties).
SadlyNo vs. Jonah Goldberg
I can’t much complain about the inanity and venom unleashed against me on the leftist site SadlyNo this week, even with some of the hundreds of vicious comments spilling over onto this blog, since I seem to be but a footnote to their long-smoldering hatred of Jonah Goldberg (of which I was unaware, not having heard of SadlyNo before and, with luck, never hearing of it again). Goldberg, by contrast — having just written a book that dares remind the world of the deep historic interconnectedness of the left and fascism — is in for a pretty hefty dose of irrational hatin’ when his book hits shelves on January 8, if this week’s feeding frenzy is any indicator.
Indeed, we can calculate that if a minor figure like me (averaging about 20,000 Google hits in recent months if you use the quotation marks, having written about 2 pages on the left-fascism connection) inspired such a hateful frenzy among the “comedy”-making leftists — over 300 mostly-hateful comments when I checked that one site the final time — then Jonah Goldberg (about 500,000 Google hits using the quotation marks as of this writing, having written about 400 pages on the left-fascism connection) is due for a firestorm of at least the following dimensions, using basic hate-algebra:
Hatin’ [where Hatin' = at least 300 nasty comments] x (500,000/20,000 Google hits) x (400/2 pages on fascism) = 5,000 times as much Hatin’ as I received…
…which portends at least 1,500,000 nasty leftist comments, and that’s before factoring in all the multiplier effects of added media coverage. So I’d say Goldberg’s book is going to have an impact, which will of course make the nasty folk even angrier and less rational, largely to Goldberg’s benefit.
(At this point, since even the “comedy”-making leftists don’t seem too discerning about humor, one of them is probably planning to dash off a letter claiming that on top of all his other crimes, Seavey believes there is a “science of hate” that can be calculated mathematically. A lot of them seem to be that stupid.)
The insulting leftist commenters seem to be that breed of in-over-their-heads, nervously-”brave”-in-a-group bullies who can’t win on substance and so wait anxiously for their opponent to, say, drop a pencil or something, so that they can crow, “Holy shit! This guy disagrees with us and HE CAN’T EVEN HOLD A PENCIL! The hell with a book on fascism, Toddiola-boy, get yourself a fuckin’ book on gravity, dood!! UNBELIEVABLE! And they wonder why we vote for Kucinich!!”
SadlyNo vs. Todd Seavey — and the Inadvertent Admission of Liberal Fascism
I’m sure it all seems like productive, funny activity on the commenters’ end, but — to use that imagination thing I mentioned earlier — how would the results of the week’s comment-fest have been substantially different if, say, I had posted an entry asking leftists to weigh in with evidence that they’re a bunch of spiteful assholes who find it inherently amusing to gang up on people, and they had responded with frank confessionals affirming that hypothesis?
Keeping in mind that what I did to get them started was write a book review, note that they’ve so far, among other things, (a) bandied about outdated financial information about me, (b) called me clinically insane, (c) used various obscenities, and (d) suggested that I’m gay or some sort of ill-defined sexual deviant (which seems to be a favorite and almost inevitable tactic of online leftist commenters, which you’d think would raise questions about their qualifications to be the great defenders of diversity and tolerance and all that). As sociologists have observed time and again, a mob, not the most imaginative of beasts, tends to do exactly the same things wherever it manifests and regardless of its cause — such as go for the genitals. Clever move, mob. Keep up the innovative work.
One commenter, barking loudly up the wrong tree, even sounded very, very proud to know what form to file to urge the IRS to come after me for (imagined) filing irregularities (and a very short, boring, and pointless day’s work that would be for everyone involved, simple as my finances are). About that I have to make an observation: again and again, the commenters and bloggers themselves (who, again, are largely unable to imagine their foe’s sense of humor being superior to their own) accused me of overlooking some “irony” in my comments that they’d seized upon as all-important, yet none of them (as of my final glance at the comments) could be bothered to point out one very large irony to the other commenters, perhaps by saying something like this:
Hey, fellow leftists, this whole feeding frenzy began because Seavey wrote a very brief review saying kind things about a book by someone else that suggests parallels between leftism and fascism, which we considered ridiculous and heretical — yet now we sit idly by while one of own threatens, with obvious and pugnacious pride, to unleash an actual government agency upon this upstart, with all its powers of fining and arresting.
I suggested the left might think like a mob of fascists. Gosh, whatever could I have been thinking?
A Broader Problem with the Culture
Are you proud of yourselves, left, when you wait a bit, cool off (if you ever do), and look at the comment threads ye hath wrought? (I see one commenter has just added a note on my own blog’s prior entry declaring me a eunuch — more progressivism in action! Get those genitals, mob, git ’em, git ’em, git ’em!) If you are proud of this sort of thing, can you nonetheless begin to understand why most of America thinks you’re volatile and nuts and does not share your social-democratic dream of having our whole lives shaped by political committees made up of people like yourselves (instead of the more informal, voluntary networks of friends, family, and commerce that shape life without recourse to political combat — but more on those foundational issues Saturday or so, if I get the chance)?
But by all means, keep hatin’, left. It doesn’t really bother me, and it just makes it all the more apparent to the undecided that what motivates you is no nobler — though channeled less destructively — than what motivates those Bhutto-hating Islamists or, say, the Klan. It’s all hatred — and each of the aforementioned groups imagines its own hate to be the holy and justified kind. Our culture rightly values compromise and negotiation (even in a world where some issues have clear-cut answers), but more and more it seems that self-perpetuating hate is all the left has to offer, and that will always prove self-marginalizing in the end. Even the Nazis didn’t last, and neither will the Islamists in the long run, strong though hate burns in the short term — and right and self-affirming though it feels to the hater at the time (I’m sure a Viking who’d just finished raping and pillaging would be as startled as any of us to be told later “You’re a bad person because of what you did” — he was channeling his rage in a socially-approved fashion, after all).
I suppose this atmosphere is in part the downside of the past several years of (often brilliant) snarkiness in the general culture — comedies like Family Guy and sites like Gawker (SadlyNo’s apparent inspiration), both of which I like, don’t get me wrong. But the price we pay for that brand of humor is creating a generation who think that snideness is enough, proof in itself that you must be smarter and morally superior to your target. You’re wrong about that, of course, and you might want to think carefully about how powerless you’d be to gently and rationally persuade your fellow mob members in the (unlikely?) event it were ever you with whom they disagreed, perhaps even you who had an important but unpopular point to get across (unlikely as that may also be). There isn’t much hope for dialogue once the mob starts whacking the day’s chosen piÃ±ata-of-injustice.
In closing, good luck to Jonah Goldberg with his book — he’ll need it, obviously. He’s up against a formidable wall of stupidity, a wall insulated by arrogance and self-righteousness, nestled in mutually-reinforcing catechisms of venomous anger — all spat out with the desperate, joyless, my-turn-next laughs of petty sadists. Enjoy the snakepit you’ve made for yourselves, leftists. It will have to be your substitute for civilization.
(An afterthought: judging by the level of discourse this week, some of the leftists will probably also respond to this post by saying “Oh my God, he thinks a Bhutto figure! What a crybaby!” but I trust those smart enough to understand that that’s not at all what I’m saying will benefit from this post in ways that some can’t.)