Truth or Nazis? How to Avoid Reality

It’s not often that one tweet totally encapsulates the political atmosphere, but comedian Andrew Lawrence managed it when he wrote this:

Lawrence is that rarest of professional comedians–one who appears at ease with annoying the liberal ingroup, and who doesn’t conform to the self-censoring, left-wing drone mentality which has a stranglehold on arts in the UK.

To an observer it often looks like if you want to get ahead as a comedian in Britain, the main requirements are that (unlike Lawrence) you make piss weak, inoffensive comments in support of progressivism, act extremely smug, and maintain a hatred of poor people/Brexit/ideological transgression… you know, all those fascist things.

After the election of Donald Trump, I thought there might be a popular watershed. Suddenly people on both sides of the political spectrum were discussing identity politics and what a pile of shit it is, and it genuinely seemed that cultural sanity might be restored. Even left-liberal Hillary supporters were confronting the problem, as shown in the nail-hitting Jonathan Pie video that went viral back in November. (I have no idea how much of what fictional reporter Pie says reflects what creator Tom Walker really thinks, by the way.)

Regrettably, Pie’s awakening wasn’t universal, which brings us back to Lawrence’s tweet. What’s become clear is that many progressives are living in a fantasy world.

And maybe that’s understandable. They have a tough decision. On the one hand they could choose to deal with reality. This means accepting that their identity politics is out-of-control. That while it once served a purpose, it’s now counter-productive. It divides and discriminates, creates tension and misunderstanding, and ultimately leads to segregation and inter-group hostility. It does all the things that it was supposed to be fighting against.

Then they need to repeat this process of harsh critical analysis for intersectional feminism and political correctness. And face up to the thought control and lack of ideological balance on university campuses. Then factor in how disconnected and arrogant the liberal left has become. And perhaps admit there’s no reverse-Candyman scenario in which radical Islamic terror magically disappears if you simply don’t say the words ‘radical Islamic terror’.

This kind of cleansing and renewal would be difficult if you’d spent your whole life surrounded by people who constantly echo every single one of your beliefs. If your worldview has been reinforced by every teacher and professor you’ve ever met, and by all the Salon, Vox, and Guardian writers whose columns you unquestioningly ingested. When ‘safety’ is valued over debate, and even to voice a dissenting opinion is condemned as a ‘micro-aggression’–on a spectrum of hate with racism and homophobia–you may not want to voice disagreement.

In that situation, it wouldn’t be easy to tear down all your beliefs and start again. So what’s the alternative? How else do you rationalize the cultural and political changes taking place around you?

Well, you’re already immersed in a fiction anyway, so why not make up a few more stories?

And that’s what we’re seeing played out. On the progressive left, Trump isn’t simply a bad candidate, or a weird chauvinist. They’re too fired up for these prosaic analyses. In the left’s self-preserving construction, Trump is a Mussolini figure . On social media it’s the 1930s again. Over at the Guardian, a black tide of fascism is rising and we’re heading for apocalypse. Trump voters themselves, all 63 million of them, are actual neo-Nazis, and social justice fantasists are brave revolutionaries engaged in noble rebellion. They heroically battle tyranny, and then they tell people about it.

Take this option, and though the world outside transforms into a dangerous place, progressives’ own sense of internal security is restored. With their ideological safe spaces intact, it’s reality that disintegrates instead.

Have a look at this utterly freakish video from the Screen Actors Guild Awards last Sunday. It’s an acceptance speech by David Harbour, one of the stars of Stranger Things. As he becomes increasingly melodramatic and unhinged, he bears every resemblance to a deranged cult leader. He’s cognitively dissonant. He says he will “cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths”, and then yells wildly that he and his fellow believers will “punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the meek and the disenfranchised and the marginalized”.

As he bellows, the transfixed congregation–pampered, immensely rich, cocooned from normal life–becomes excited. Their stares are locked on him, and when the words “punch some people in the face” salvo violently around the room, they rise to their feet and howl ecstatically.

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