Klavan On The Culture

The Smiley Syndrome: How the Left Distorts Reality

Talk show host Tavis... oh, wait...

Very few wrongdoers do wrong because they are determined to be villains. Rather, they either have a distorted sense of reality to begin with, or they resolutely distort reality in order to justify the satisfaction of some rage or desire. The man who beats his wife convinces himself she deserves it, the child molester talks about his “relationship” with his victim, the bigot imagines some magical superiority pulsing through his DNA. I believe they know the truth in their deeper conscience, but these sorts of rationalizations can mute that voice almost to silence.

A while back, I blogged about the fascist message of the movie V for Vendetta. I pointed out that by positing Christianity and the British Parliament as symbols of oppression, and by holding up Islam and terrorism as instruments of beauty and freedom, the film created a world that was morally opposite to our own and thus justified what, in real life, would be murder in the cause of dictatorship. Several commenters complained, in effect, that I was denying the film the right to its fictional universe; in the context of the movie, they said, blowing up Parliament was an act of liberation and not fascist in the least.

All well and good, but art does not exist outside the world we know but in relation to it. Tell a story in which Hitler is a lovable good guy and you’re either doing satire or you’re nuts. V for Vendetta — like many films, TV shows, college liberal arts courses, the network news and articles in the New York Times — is an expression of the statist left’s distorted sense of reality and an attempt to impose that distortion, and the authoritarianism it fosters, on the rest of us.

Which brings me to left wing PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley. I don’t single Smiley out because I think he’s a bad guy or a stupid guy. In fact, from a distance, he seems a decent fellow with above average intelligence. But that’s exactly why his weirdly distorted worldview strikes me as both particularly dangerous and also typical of many on the left.

Here are two examples.


My friends at the Media Research Center made a good deal of fun of this 2010 exchange between Smiley and Ayaan Hirsi Ali — and with good reason. Ali — an heroic atheist crusader against such widespread and barbaric Muslim practices as honor killing, genital mutilation and religious war — remarks that Muslim terrorists are acting on the conviction that they will be rewarded for murdering innocents in the hereafter.  Smiley immediately responds:  “But Christians do that [murder people] every single day.  In this country….  People walk into post offices.  They walk into schools.  That’s what Columbine was.  I mean, I could do this all day long.”

This video is posted on YouTube as “a classic TV truth moment,” in which Smiley takes down the “Muslim hater” Ali with a barrage of facts. But what facts? There are, as I write this, Muslims currently committing acts of violence in the name of their faith in every corner of the globe and against people of virtually every belief system mankind has ever devised including their own.  Whether this violence is inherent to Islamic philosophy or a cancerous aberration, it is a unique phenomenon in the modern world and there is no equivalent in any other group of religious believers.  Sane American Christians, conversely, do not walk into post offices or schools to kill people on a daily basis — or ever — for religious reasons.  The two young murderers of Columbine were not even pretending to act on behalf of Christ but were engaged in a psychopathic folie a deux which included a fascination with Satan, whom Christians tend to regard unfavorably.  Indeed, the only thing close to an act of specifically Christian violence in America — outside the realm of psychopathology — is the killing of abortion workers in putative defense of the unborn.  This has happened exactly once in the last decade and eight people have been killed overall since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.  The murders were, of course, condemned almost universally by American Christian groups — which is as opposed to Muslim violence which has a disturbingly broad base of Islamic support.

Those are facts. They describe things that have happened and are happening in this our lives. Smiley is describing a world that makes sense of his philosophy but which is simply not the one we are in.

The second exchange occurred between Smiley and radio talker Larry Elder. (I report this from memory having heard the audio on Elder’s show.) Elder put forward the fact that black Americans advanced economically under the policies of Ronald Reagan more than whites did. Again, a simple truth. All the employment and economic numbers prove it. Smiley’s response: No, they didn’t. He told Elder that, when he got back to his office, he would send him the real numbers. Elder says he has called Smiley repeatedly for those numbers over the last several months but gotten no response.

There are legitimate arguments to be had in this country among reasonable people on the left and right. The proper role of government, the intent of the constitution, the evolution of cultural mores — all of these are appropriate topics of discussion and dispute. But those conversations are very difficult to have when people like Smiley — and George Stephanopoulos and Brian Williams and any number of prominent filmmakers and college professors I could name — are determined, like the clowns at the end of the movie Blow-Up, to make the public participate in their fantasies.

Islam is currently a greater danger to life and liberty than any other religion. Reagan’s policies helped African-Americans succeed whereas Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” and other government impositions have harmed their economic well-being. These aren’t opinions. They’re facts. And the left’s good intentions and fine plans don’t change a single one of them.

The left has gone to great lengths to blacklist, demonize and otherwise silence conservatives in Hollywood, the news media and the academy. Of course — they know that even a word of truth would burst the bubble of their delusions. But if they are really people of good will, they ought to reconsider and commit those industries to intellectual diversity.

Because here’s one more fact: You can’t improve the world unless you’re willing to live in it.

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