December 21, 2015


To take a vivid and familiar example, imagine if your children, nieces and nephews took to heart the operatic blatherings of Laurie Penny, who tells her readers to “Fuck social mobility… Fuck money. Fuck rising above your class… Fuck marriage, mortgage, monogamy, and every other small, ugly ambition.” These, she says, are things “we should have abandoned.”

Well, okay. But where exactly does that leave a young person, or a person not-so-young? Once you’ve declared “war” on bourgeois values, once you’ve abandoned the conventional foundations of material and emotional reward, where do you go? How will that radicalism serve you later in life, when you’re no longer a stroppy teenager or a twenty-something poseur? Is a mix of contrarianism, hypocrisy, resentment and a colossal sense of entitlement a sound footing for an adult life? After all, those “small, ugly ambitions” are what gave Laurie her own comfortable upbringing and advantages in life, such that she can now flit around the world tweeting about how oppressed she is.

As noted before, it’s one of the classic problems for self-imagined radicals. In denouncing bourgeois habits (usually while enjoying the benefits of such behaviour, at least residually), they have little of practical use to offer their followers. If you do away with marriage, monogamy, responsibility, deferred gratification, personal territory, etc., you’re basically left with a recipe for failure, dependency and unhappiness. Though of course the resentment that follows can be very useful to would-be prophets of the left. If encouraging needless misery, and then exploiting it, is your thing.

After the death of influential New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who did as thorough a job of dynamiting Hollywood’s classic era in favor of the nihilism of the 1970s as anyone, Canadian journalist Robert Fulford quoted a telling response from Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader, whom Kael had championed:

Kael assumed she was safe to defend the choices of mass audiences because the old standards of taste would always be there. They were, after all, built into the culture. But those standards were swiftly eroding. Schrader argued that she and her admirers won the battle but lost the war. Acceptable taste became mass-audience taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film’s worth, sometimes the only measure. Traditional, well-written movies without violence or special effects were pushed to the margins. “It was fun watching the applecart being upset,” Schrader said, “but now where do we go for apples?”

The quote sums up much of the “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”-style response of the left to the aftermath of their own nihilism and concurrent cultural vandalism. Where indeed?

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