Shock and awe in Charlottesville
The shock of Charlottesville and the battle between alt-right and alt-left.
The political violence in Charlottesville and the subsequent hullabaloo was as predictable as it was futile. One person, Heather Heyer, was horrifically killed and many more were critically injured by a racist nutjob, marking a new nadir in the political and cultural wars that are as combustible and kinetic as any time since since the 1960s.
This relentless politicization of American culture has eroded goodwill and inflamed the worst impulses in society. Authoritarian outfits like Antifa and the ‘alt-right’ may represent simple-minded expressions of hatred and fear, but both groups are animated entirely by politics: the notion that others can impose their will, willy-nilly, on others with impunity. The only lasting solution to political violence is to make politics matter less.
We’ve allowed politics to infect every aspect of American life, from religion and family life to sex and sexuality, from bathrooms to ball fields to the workplace. But what has it gotten us besides identity politics on steroids? The “personal is political” is hardly the rallying cry of a free and confident nation. Even as we enjoy historically unparalleled material prosperity, we are dispirited by the 2016 election hangover and looking for scapegoats to explain the American malaise. Everyone feels ambushed in some way or another, either by guerrilla insurgents à la Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa or old school institutions and knucklehead nihilists attached to the KKK.
It’s easy to decry Antifa and its ultra-violent leftwing message (“The Only Good Fascist is a Dead Fascist!”). It’s easy to decry the alt-right, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and fascists. It’s more important to understand them as exemplars of a new political age. Progressives demanded permanent revolution; conservatives responded by becoming permanent reactionaries. And the media bias (overwhelmingly anti-right) makes things worse: one “side” becomes convinced of its moral superiority, while the other becomes convinced the fix is in. It is a berserk and bloodthirsty feedback loop that brings authoritarian ideals into the open.
We speculate that a Hillary/Obama voter is just a step or two removed from a billy club wielding, balaclava-wearing Antifa thug, while a Trump surrogate is but a few degrees separated from a white nationalist numbskull. This may seem farcical, but the political society promoted by all mainstream politicos and media outlets encourages it. Everyone must take a side, and live within the excesses. The fringes are now colliding, entangling all of us in the crossfire.
What we saw last weekend was a demonstration of the horseshoe effect, where both groups begin to sound and act like the other — both illiberal, both demanding omnipotent and draconian solutions to problems — mostly caused by statists and ‘snowflakes’ — that have been matastisizing and mutating over the Obama years. A cathartic release is now underway.
To be sure, Antifa and the alt-right represent only a tiny fraction of the population and have little economic, social, or political power. But they serve as perfect fodder for a media narrative that benefits from a sky-is-falling motif to ratchet up viewership and amplify our collective angst. The narrative is fed by our vanity and desire to imagine easy solutions to complex problems (e.g. more “education,” hate speech laws, entitlement programs, the removal of statues, etc.). And we play along, assuming the worst of others and propagating smug affirmations and memes of our own superiority on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
In 2018 we will suffer through a round of mid-term congressional elections which will only intensify the political and cultural volatility. Both political parties will use events like Charlottesville, Dallas and Berkeley to serve their ugly partisan aims and exacerbate ‘identity politics’, which will trigger, we suspect, a visceral gush of violence. The need for each side to vanquish the other, to punish and repudiate the other’s existence, demonstrates why politics is termed ‘war by other means.’ It won’t be pretty.
The worst thing, we think, about the Trump presidency thus far is that it has failed to open the door for all economic and political participants and risks igniting a much more ruthless and virulent form of populism driven by the nihilistic left. VIVISXN finds their tyranny a far more alarming — and seriously dangerous — prospect. Felling a Confederate statue is just the beginning.
With few exceptions, American conservatives — even those fringe neo-Nazi fuckers and the so-called alt-right — respect the Constitution. The modern American left, by contrast, thirsts to get rid of one of the most fundamental protections that the Constitution enshrines: free speech. If you want to see where that freedom is currently under attack in the United States, just look at some institutions where you might expect free expression to be revered (re: UVA).
Almost every month this year has seen at least one assault on free speech on an American college campus. In February the University of California, Berkeley, canceled a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, the British “alt-right” journalist and provocateur, after a violent demonstration. In March students at Middlebury College in Vermont shouted down the sociologist Charles Murray and assaulted his faculty host. In April, it was the turn of conservative writer Heather MacDonald at Claremont McKenna and pro-Trump journalist Ann Coulter at Berkeley. The list goes on.
Nor is it only right-wing speakers who have been targeted. Bret Weinstein, a biology professor at Evergreen State College in Washington state, always thought of himself as “deeply progressive.” In May, however, it was his turn to fall victim to the unfree speech vigilantes. Weinstein refused to acquiesce when “white students, staff, and faculty” were “invited to leave campus” for a day. In response, a group of about 50 students confronted him outside his classroom, shrilly accusing him of “supporting white supremacy” and refusing to listen to his counter-arguments.
No one could accuse the great Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins of being right-wing. Yet last month it was his turn to be silenced. A public radio station in — yep, you guessed it — Berkeley canceled a discussion of his latest book because (in the words of a spokesman) “he has said things that I know have hurt people,” a misleading allusion to the atheist Dawkins’s forthright criticism of Islam. The station’s general manager declared: “We believe that it is our free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful or hurtful language against a community that is already under attack.”
These are weasel words similar to those published in The New York Times back in April by Ulrich Baer, a professor of comparative literature at New York University who also glories in the title of “vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity.” “The idea of freedom of speech,” wrote Baer, “does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.”
“Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute,” Baer went on. “[I]t requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters.”
Sorry, dude. Freedom of expression is an immutable absolute and, as a free speech absolutist, VIVISXN is here to: (a) to defend to the death your right to publish such drivel and (b) to explain to as many people as possible why it is so dangerous.
Freedom is rarely killed off by people chanting “Down with Freedom!” It is killed off by people claiming that the greater good/the general will/the community/the proletariat/the collective/the tribe/ “examination of the parameters” (or some such political bromide) of individual liberty. If the criterion for censorship is that nobody’s feelings can be hurt, we are finished as a free society.
Where such arguments lead is just a long-haul flight away. The real tyrants, when they come, will be for diversity (except of opinion) and against hate speech (except their own).
Images: AP + Wikimedia Commons + Getty
VIVISXN MEDIA – Culture + Politics