Ed Driscoll

‘What Do America’s College Students Want? They Want to Be Oppressed’


The psychological woes of the “The Wannabe Oppressed” are analyzed by Stanley Kurtz at NRO:

In his important new book, The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings, French intellectual gadfly Pascal Bruckner does the most thorough job yet of explaining the climate movement as a secular religion, an odd combination of deformed Christianity and reconstructed Marxism. (You can find Bruckner’s excellent article based on the book here.) Bruckner describes a historical process wherein “the long list of emblematic victims — Jews, blacks, slaves, proletarians, colonized peoples — was replaced, little by little, with the Planet.” The planet, says Bruckner, “has become the new proletariat that must be saved from exploitation.”

But why? Bruckner finds it odd that a “mood of catastrophe” should prevail in the West, the most well-off part of the world. The reason, I think, is that the only way to turn the prosperous into victims is to threaten the very existence of a world they otherwise command.

And why should the privileged wish to become victims? To alleviate guilt and to appropriate the victim’s superior prestige. In the neo-Marxist dispensation now regnant on our college campuses, after all, the advantaged are ignorant and guilty while the oppressed are innocent and wise. The initial solution to this problem was for the privileged to identify with “struggling groups” by wearing, say, a Palestinian keffiyeh. Yet better than merely empathizing with the oppressed is to be oppressed. This is the climate movement’s signal innovation.

But of course. In his new book, The United States of Paranoia, Jesse Walker of Reason magazine observed how easy it is for the proverbial blogger in his basement to feel like he’s in the command center with Ike and Churchill and Monty, leading the struggle against oppression:

Even if you set aside purely partisan fears, the 1990s, a time of relative peace and prosperity, were also a golden age of both frankly fictional and allegedly true tales of conspiracy. There are many reasons for this, including the not unsubstantial fact that even at its most peaceful, the United States is riven by conflicts. But there is also the possibility that peace breeds nightmares just as surely as strife does. The anthropologist David Graeber has argued that “it’s the most peaceful societies which are also the most haunted, in their imaginative constructions of the cosmos, by constant specters of perennial war.” The Piaroa Indians of Venezuela, he wrote, “are famous for their peaceableness,” but “they inhabit a cosmos of endless invisible war, in which wizards are engaged in fending off the attacks of insane, predatory gods and all deaths are caused by spiritual murder and have to be avenged by the magical massacre of whole (distant, unknown) communities.”  Many middle-class bloggers leading comfortable lives spend their spare time in a similar subterranean universe.

See also: the guys from the Big Bang Theory, who believe that the Nobel Prize for scientific research is theirs for the asking, in between rounds of “Dungeons and Dragons” and Star Wars lightsaber duels.

Everybody, particularly when they’re young, wants to feel larger and greater than they are.  The whole self-esteem movement in school is based on that assumption. Once they’re in college, is it any wonder that a kid playing guitar in a bar band thinks if he could just get that big break, he’d be the next Jimmy Page? The student filmmaker with a handheld 16mm camera is convinced that he’s the next Stanley Kubrick. A budding author is sure he’s the next Saul Bellow, etc. TV series such as Taxi and Fame were filled with people who were convinced that the big break was just around the corner and superstardom was theirs for the asking. Scorsese and DeNiro’s The King of Comedy was essientially the darker funhouse mirror version of the same obsession. And because so much of the left’s mythology is built on “the moral equivalence of war” and action for its own sake, and storming the barricades for chaaaaaange, maaaaan, of course global warming obsessives feel like they’re refighting either civil rights or World War II – the two analogies that Big Oil spokesman Al Gore swaps out in every speech he makes.

That in reality, the earth isn’t coming to an end just makes them feel more emboldened, like a Kennedy assassination theorist or 9/11 truther who’s convinced that only he knows how big the conspiracy truly is. “You petty bourgeois people just can’t see it, can you? If you don’t turn off the lights in your kitchen, the world is doomed!”, to paraphrase NBC’s goofy message to its viewers in the middle of a nighttime professional football game.

To remind you how far this sort of thinking goes back*, in the midst of speeches from leading intellectuals telling college students that one way or another, Planet Earth was Dooooomed before the arrival of the 21st century, Tom Wolfe caught a college student asking his professor, “when does it all hit you?”, in his classic mid-1970s essay “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide To America”:

I was so dazed, I was no longer wondering what the assembled students thought of all this. But just at that moment one of them raised his hand. He was a tall boy with a lot of curly hair and a Fu Manchu mustache.“Yes?” said the ecologist.

“There’s one thing I can’t understand,” said the boy.

“What’s that?” said the ecologist.

“Well,” said the boy. “I’m a senior, and for four years we’ve been told by people like yourself and the other gentlemen that everything’s in terrible shape, and it’s all going to hell, and I’m willing to take your word for it, because you’re all experts in your fields. But around here, at this school, for the past four years, the biggest problem, as far as I can see, has been finding a parking place near the campus.”

Dead silence. The panelists looked at this poor turkey to try to size him up. Was he trying to be funny? Or was this the native bray of the heartland? The ecologist struck a note of forbearance as he said: “I’m sure that’s true, and that illustrates one of the biggest difficulties we have in making realistic assessments. A university like this, after all, is a middle-class institution, and middle-class life is calculated precisely to create a screen—”

“I understand all that,” said the boy. “What I want to know is—how old are you, usually, when it all hits you?”

And suddenly the situation became clear. The kid was no wiseacre! He was genuinely perplexed! … For four years he had been squinting at the horizon … looking for the grim horrors which he knew—on faith—to be all around him … and had been utterly unable to find them … and now he was afraid they might descend on him all at once when he least expected it. He might be walking down the street in Omaha one day, minding his own business, when—whop! whop! whop! whop!—War! Fascism! Repression! Corruption!—they’d squash him like bowling balls rolling off a roof!

Who was that lost lad? What was his name? Without knowing it, he was playing the xylophone in a boneyard. He was the unique new creature of the 1970’s. He was Candide in reverse. Candide and Miss Cunégonde, one will recall, are taught by an all-knowing savant, Dr. Pangloss. He keeps assuring them that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” and they believe him implicitly—even though their lives are one catastrophe after another. Now something much weirder was happening. The Jocks & Buds & Freaks of the heartland have their all-knowing savants of O’Hare, who keep warning them that this is “the worst of all possible worlds,” and they know it must be true—and yet life keeps getting easier, sunnier, happier … Frisbee!

How can such things be?

Of course, it’s even worse for people who take their belief in the coming planetary horror with them beyond graduation – it could lead them to publicly announce, via the air conditioned giant server farm that powers Twitter, to decide not to have kids to save Gaia. Or if they do decide to have kids – how do they tell them that the world is coming to an end in five years/ten years/20 years, or whatever the current final countdown du jour is set to? (There are so many to choose from, and so many more that have come and gone, Planet Earth no worse for wear.) As I mentioned before, it’s a bit like Sarah Connor telling her son, just back from shopping for Guns & Roses T-shirts at the Galleria, that Skynet, Terminator robots and nuclear armageddon are all just around the corner.

At the point, someone on the left will likely say that the Tea Party is an attempt to create a similar fervor on the right. But the Tea Party has a very different mission: they’re not trying to ban everyone’s lightbulbs, jack the price of gasoline up to sky-high European levels, and make everyone drive a Prius or ride “intercontinental high-speed rail” as the president calls one of his many boondoggle FDR-era retread big government projects. They want the government to leave everyone alone.  (And their detachment from the self-imposed oppression of the global warming doomsayers is a reminder that a little distance is always a good thing.)

In 2011 Rush Limbaugh and Steve Hayward of Power Line each compared global warming doomsday alarmists to Harold Camping, the Oakland California evangelist who believed that the earth was coming to an end on May 21st, 2011. As Hayward wrote:

People often ask me why environmentalists tend always to incline to apocalyptic conclusions about the state of the planet. “Because it makes them happy,” is my standard response. This is not tongue-in-cheek. There is something about certain kinds of personality types that derives a frisson of delight from contemplating the end of the world. And if you point out that the end of the world is not at hand, it makes environmentalists very unhappy, in part because it deprives them of the opportunity to play savior to the world.

As Kurtz wrote this week, college students want to feel similarly oppressed. If so, keep cuckoo and carry on. If you want to believe that the earth is doomed, put on a sandwich board and have at it — as long as it doesn’t interfere with my life or anyone else’s.

* Curiously, the left’s perma-malaise and related apocalyptic climate and overpopulation obsessions began right after the Great Society demonstrated that it wasn’t going to immanentize the eschaton. If Obamacare fails to even get off the pad, what will that do to the already delicate psyches of leftwing true believers?

Related: At PJM, Kathy Shaidle adds:

If it hadn’t been for “crazy right wingers” challenging the received liberal wisdom about the “evils” of DDT all these years, there’s no way the WHO and groups like Malaria No More would be as open as they are to using it, and who knows how many lives have been saved.

So hang in there, my fellow “global warming” “denialists” — one day we might very well get the last laugh.

Well, at least on that particular topic. The left will always need something to feel oppressed about — and an Emmanuel Goldstein to oppress — no matter how powerful their influence.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)