Why is the Political Situation so Bleak? Because the Elite Fears Being Unfashionable More Than Being Wrong
“In the attics of the students, in the garrets of Bohemia, and the deserted offices of doctors without patients and lawyers without clients there are [the revolutionaries] in bud.” — Hippolyte Taine, writing about France in the 1860s
“We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.” — Patrick Henry to the Virginia convention, March 23, 1775
How do you turn “the smartest people in the world” into the dumbest? Simple: you turn the sophisticated sources of information on which they depend — elite media, academia, and schools — into sources of misinformation.
And how do you persuade people who should know better to embrace bad ideas and silly concepts? Equally simple.
You make those ideas fashionable.
One of the girls in my son’s sixth-grade class told him he would look better if he wore blue jeans. After he explained to me that this is what the other kids in his class are wearing, I took him shopping and bought him a couple pairs. He wore jeans the next day at school, and a kid said: “Hey, look, Daniel is wearing blue jeans!” And they applauded.
But why, he asked me afterward, does it matter so much what someone wears? After all, that’s just a superficial outer appearance. I was proud of him for asking that question — which showed that he valued character over image — but explained that these things are important because they send social signals. Most people really don’t know how to evaluate someone in terms of their character and values. They lack the time or ability to do so. Thus, they look at symbols like clothes, haircuts, and the kind of car someone drives, or their credentials, like college degrees, in order to judge others.
Once I was in the elevator of a fashionable Manhattan high rise holding take-out coffee for myself and my wife. I was informally dressed and wearing a Baltimore Orioles cap. One woman in the elevator turned to another and said: “I didn’t know Starbucks delivers!”
Indeed, fashion may be the greatest enemy of survival for America today. Holding a certain set of ideas has been defined as making one seem sophisticated, successful, and admirable. Other ideas are deemed horrible, indicating that the person is a hick, rube, bumpkin, yahoo, racist. In short, the kind of person who hates others because they are different and clings to guns and religion.
One of the great successes of leftism (pretending to be liberalism) in North America and Europe today is that it has made itself so fashionable, so identified with sophistication, intellectual quality, and what used to be called the upper class. Not the old upper class of country clubs and yachts (though Senator John Kerry has a whopper of a boat), but the upper class of merit, the truly good who hate racism and are saving the Earth.
Funny how many of these people are quite wealthy themselves. The message: my money and success is justified by my holding proper attitudes. Al Gore may have a big house and a big carbon footprint, but that’s okay because he talks about how these things are evil.
The true class warfare going on is not that of the one percent reactionary, greedy rich versus the ninety-nine percent of everyone else, but rather a section of the elite that benefits from big government — in supposed alliance with those receiving government payments, plus various groups given special privileges — against everyone else. Per Taine’s words about nineteenth century France, the revolutionaries are no longer “doctors without patients and lawyers without clients,” but rather those who would be without patients, clients, or employment if not for the government’s patronage.
Part of the trick to conceal that reality has been to make one’s good intentions the test, rather than the results of one’s behavior or policies. The outcome may be disastrous to the economy, the poor, the medical care system, and those living in countries victimized by one’s wrong-headed foreign policy, but that’s not important if you meant well. Yet the abandonment of pragmatism — measuring things by what works rather than by ideological standards or intentions — is the start of the abandonment of successful democratic life.
Another element is the left’s transformation into the party of the snobs, the instrument for the elite’s contempt for the people.
At a diplomatic party in Washington, I was in line for the free food behind a well-coiffed, well-dressed woman. We got into a discussion of textbooks, and I asked if she knew which state was the largest purchaser of them.