We live in an age in which things are no longer what they are supposed to be. Words have come to denote the opposite of what they signify. Cultural institutions on which we rely to serve our personal and national interests have morphed into caricatures of their original intentions, working against their foundational purposes.
Linguistic and institutional inversion is the time-dishonored strategy of totalitarian systems and is generally associated with the theory and practice of the Left, which has infiltrated the culture and polity of the free world, particularly in the areas of language use, the media, education, the arts and gender relations. The democratic West is now at the mercy of its own reverse polarity.
One recalls the famous slogans of Orwell’s Ingsoc: War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. These contradictions are no longer as absurd as 1984 makes them out to be. What Orwell called Newspeak has entered the practice of the West at levels never before seen. A society in which language has been so denatured as to operate on the principle of inversion, beyond even the institutional euphemisms of political correctness, has no future. Samuel Butler saw this coming in his premonitory steampunk novel Erewhon, an anagram for Nowhere. We have got things backward.
Thus a blood-saturated religion is rinsed for public consumption as the “religion of peace.” An insurgent army of fascist brownshirts calls itself Antifa. “Inclusion” has come to mean the exclusion of those who do not conform to a prescribed ideology. “Diversity” is an antonymic synonym for monolithic groupthink. “Affirmative action” affirms racism in the guise of anti-racism. Sexual jokes, lewd comments and even innocent displays of affection or interest on the part of men are subsumed under the category of “sexual assault” and are said to constitute infallible signs of male depravity; similarly the term “rape culture,” prominent on campus, refers to a non-existent entity and has come to describe normal sexual and romantic behavior.
The mantra of “Social Justice” is the conceptual umbrella under which all such aberrations take shelter. It is nothing but a stand-in for flagrant injustice, exacting tribute from decent hardworking people and struggling entrepreneurs to benefit a largely parasitical class of those who claim to be oppressed or who affect to be offended. Indeed, what Michael Walsh calls the “decriminalization of crime in the name of ‘social justice,’ long a goal of the cultural-Marxist left, [leads to] social disruption, mistrust, resentment, lawlessness and, if left unchecked, anarchy and civil war.” What social justice has to do with a just society escapes us almost perfectly. In fact, the former is the diametric opposite of the latter. As philosopher Roger Scruton writes in The Meaning of Conservatism, “the greatest threat to just dealings between people is the attempt to remake society from above, in conformity with a conception of ‘social justice’.”
In her recent book The Smear, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, ostracized by the press elite for her unvarnished truth-telling, has analyzed the scandal of today’s “industry of smears and fake news,” which she calls “transactional journalism,” i.e., returning favors for privileged information, writing what you’re told to write. This has “opened the floodgate to clandestine collusion between reporters and special interests. As a result, it can be impossible to separate fact from fiction.” Moreover, the line between news reports and partisan editorializing has become blurred, so that opinions are routinely cast as fact. “The media had functioned as a powerful institution,” writes Daniel Greenfield, “because of its pretense of objectivity. When it tossed aside objectivity, all it had left was power”—that is, the power to obfuscate, deceive and drive the course of events toward its own political ends.
This violation of journalistic ethics is now pretty much universal. News is agitprop and editorials are political spin, almost always under the sign of left-wing advocacy masking as objective scrutiny and disclosure. Attkisson reminds us of Joseph Goebbels’ dictum in his Diaries, “those who control news policies [must] endeavor to make every item of news serve a certain purpose.” Just as today’s universities have taken a page from the Nazified German universities of the 1930s and the installation of the Nuremberg Laws, so contemporary journalism has learned from the dark master of deception and persuasion. A lie—the bigger the better—repeated with dinning regularity becomes, as Goebbels instructed us, the truth.
In a letter of 1822, collected in The Founders’ Constitution (Vol.1, Ch.18, Doc.35), James Madison wrote: “The American people owe it to themselves, and to the cause of free Government, to prove by their establishments for the advancement and diffusion of Knowledge, that their political Institutions… are as favorable to the intellectual and moral improvement of Man as they are conformable to his individual & social Rights.” This is a document which should be taught to students at every level of the educational establishment, especially in its current state of academic desuetude and ideological depravity.
In an important article for FrontPage Magazine, Bruce Bawer writes of “the staggering ignorance of millions of young Americans when it comes to certain fundamental and crucially important matters.” The curriculum in place is one that validates programmatic stupefaction: the serial failures of socialism are glossed over, capitalism is denounced as an unmitigated scourge, America is castigated as “uniquely evil,” Islam is uniformly extolled and terrorists are excused as merely misguided. In addition, standards have been debased all across the board in admission, hiring and graduation policies. Intellectual debate has been shut down as conservative speakers are routinely ostracized or disinvited. Students are coddled in “safe spaces” where they are spared unfamiliar or disturbing ideas. When the object of the educational institution is to dumb down and indoctrinate, then it has nothing in common what we once understood as education: the acquisition of knowledge and fostering the ability to think.
As Sohrab Ahmari laments in The New Philistines, a devastating critique of contemporary art, “the loss of technical mastery and the erosion of standards” have become epidemic in our “identitarian age.” Since social power dynamics and collective identity are all that postmodern art knows, “its practitioners can’t grapple with individuality, with things of the soul, with the inner life—the very things that draw most of us to art in the first place.” Writers and artists who trade in the business of “radical feminism, racial grievance, anti-capitalism and queer theory” are now the poster children for a politically correct and ultimately boring belletristic community. Art in the widest sense of the term—painting, sculpture, drama, poetry, fiction—has betrayed its fundamental mandate of producing meaning and beauty. It has become increasingly ugly, trivial, self-referential and devoid of both aesthetic value and authentic content, a vacuous parody of its ancestral vitality. A phrase from a 19th century Spectator review of a particularly bad play, “a weighty baldness,” comes to mind as now generally applicable.
Sexual relations have always been complexified by variation, but the fact remains that a culture cannot survive without orthodox matrimonial standards and procreative couples. As I’ve written before, the contemporary focus is now on “sexual politics, sexual performance, sex education, sex scandals, same-sex marriage, sexual coercion (the rape culture meme), and sex changes, cosmetic, chemical, and surgical.” This phobic obsession does not stop there. The male-female binary has been reconceived as a “social construct” that must be unlearned, a relic of the oppressive and unenlightened past. Consequently, linguistic and doctrinal abominations like the LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA sodality covering the proliferating abundance of gender orientations seem here to stay.
We have reached the point in the West where traditional sexual standards have been misgendered and fatally compromised. Sterile variations are celebrated and even legislated, burlesque has become commonplace (transgenderism, sologamy, etc.), abortion is rampant, and the reproductive ratio has grown unsustainable. Normal sexuality has been severed from its original function and reduced to its biological antithesis. Sex and marriage may be individual choices but they are also civilizational imperatives in the absence of which a viable future diminishes by the day.
In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Noam Chomsky, always the contrarian, argues that political conditioning, far from being antithetical to democracy, is “the essence of democracy…[the] Creation of necessary illusions.” Of course, some degree of thought control is inevitably part of media, commercial and political organizations, but the critical element is “some degree.” In the society which Chomsky envisioned, his book would never have seen the light of print. But the cloak of indoctrination now tends to shadow almost everything we see, hear and read, and it requires dedicated and time-consuming labor to ferret out the truth of current affairs. We live in a time of inversion in which, in almost every social category of serious endeavor, truth is denounced as a lie and the lie is elevated to the status of truth. Inversion is the order of the day.
It may well be too late to turn things around. Our cultural momentum has carried us, like Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus caught in the “winds of history,” past the point of no return. The reckoning that seems to await us may be deferred but it most likely cannot be avoided. The application of genuine conservative principles—limited government, respect for tradition, resistance to newfangled fads and fallacies (e.g., the worship of Gaia, global warming), rigorous education, the sanctity of procreative marriage, prudent immigration protocols and defended borders, social progress by slow, tested increments—can postpone the inexorable by perhaps a generation or two, but the rot has gone too deep to be scoured. The social, cultural and political vectors we have examined here appear definitive, violations of “the desire for continuity, the bond of allegiance, the pursuit of excellence [and] institutional autonomy,” properties which Scruton lists as native to the conservative sensibility.
If the purpose of culture is to ensure human survival, then we live in a culture that has perversely consummated its antipodal reflection, engaged in an act of culturecide. Perhaps the only solution to our dilemma is, paradoxically, nothing other than the looming collapse of a once vigorous and in many respects glorious civilization, from the ashes of which it may phoenix-like arise renewed, or from which some as yet undefined hybrid may gradually emerge. But as we continue to invert the beliefs, disciplines, meanings and practices that have sustained us, what is clear is that what once was can no longer be, and we are the worse for it.