Friday, October 15, 2021

The Great American Cultural Revolution

Of course, the Great American Cultural Revolution did not begin yesterday. In truth, I called it such a quarter century ago.

Recently, things have taken a turn for the worse. The ongoing cultural revolution has come out of the shadows and into the light. It has metastasized, extending from the academy to the media to the bureaucracy, even to the corporate boardroom.

Now, the highly esteemed Bari Weiss-- she who was driven out of the New York Times for wrongthink, but who has parlayed her resignation into a new lease on independent journalism via Substack-- has written an interesting essay for Commentary on the ongoing woke revolution.

Her diagnosis, made more relevant by the current court martial of Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, is that America is suffering from a courage deficit. Better yet, it and its major institutions have succumbed to rank cowardice. Calling out leadership failure, calling out leaders for failing to take responsibility for their own actions, is worthy of a court martial.

In truth, and by the by, a quarter century ago I denounced the leaders of our failed war in Vietnam for the same reason. As I put it then, “no one ever apologized for Vietnam.” I thought it mattered then. I think it matters now.

When your leaders can never admit to failure, but are concerned mainly with what they can get away with, and when they punish those who hold them to account, they are undermining the moral basis for leadership-- namely the willingness to take responsibility for failure. And that means, not to shift the blame to the troops. 

Because if the leaders did not fail, then by implication the troop failed their leaders. At that point, you demotivate the troops and declare that your moral compass is guided by what you can get away with, not by what will keep your troops battle ready.

Anyway, this leadership failure diminishes honor and dignity. More than that it manifests a failure of courage. It would have taken courage for the leaders of the Vietnam War to step forward and to take responsibility for their failures. That would have begun with the best and the brightest from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. And it would have taken courage for the leaders of Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal debacle to step up and to take responsibility. Surely, it was a sign of gross cowardice that these same leaders, rather than taking responsibility, threw an officer in the brig for the thought crime of wanting to hold them accountable, of calling out their dereliction of duty.

As we know, only too well, on D-Day, the commanding allied general, Dwight Eisenhower, had already written a message that he would have delivered had the operation failed. In it he took sole responsibility for failure and absolved his troops of any blame.

It would have been courageous. Ike would have done it. Today’s American leaders are not made of such stern stuff.

Anyway, Weiss declares that America undergoing a cultural revolution because its leaders are cowards. That does not merely involve government officials; it does not just involve academics and media executives; it also involves corporate poobahs who refuse to stand up against the current woke revolution.

For the record, and to add a point that Weiss does not consider, the cowardice made manifest these days across America is a sign of terminal decadence. After all, the American left rushed out to defend serial sexual harasser Bill Clinton, the better to keep him as the symbol of America. An America that could not hold Bill Clinton accountable for raping a woman is an America that has lost the name of courage.

But, it is all in for sexual pleasure. And it is all in for making a public spectacle of one’s sexual proclivities and even one’s sexual conquests. It means, as I also argued way back when, that we have lost our sense of shame, and that means, that we have lost our sense of honor. 

It may feel like a stretch to go from shamelessness to dishonor, but we are dealing effectively with two sides of the same coin. On the one hand a coward’s sole purpose is to preserve his own pleasurable sensations. A man or a woman of honor thinks first of the good of the group and thinks second about personal pleasure. Surely, a man of honor does not make a public spectacle of his sexual prowess-- as did Bill Clinton.

The result has been what Nietzsche called a transvaluation of values-- though the transvaluation in question would have been applauded by everyone’s favorite syphilitic philosopher.

The issues, Weiss explains, no longer involve ideas. They no longer involve the exchange of ideas in the marketplace of ideas. The current leaders of our cultural revolution are not smart enough to debate ideas. They only care about the identity of the individual who is offering the ideas. And they love or hate different ideas on the basis of the ethnic or racial identity of the person who is offering them. 

If it does not it should remind us of Nazi bookburning. The sole basis for burning certain books was the ethnic identity of the author. What was in the books was of no consequence.

Weiss explains:

And in so doing, persuasion—the purpose of argument—is replaced with public shaming. Moral complexity is replaced with moral certainty. Facts are replaced with feelings.

Ideas are replaced with identity. Forgiveness is replaced with punishment. Debate is replaced with de-platforming. Diversity is replaced with homogeneity of thought. Inclusion, with exclusion.

In this ideology, speech is violence. But violence, when carried out by the right people in pursuit of a just cause, is not violence at all. In this ideology, bullying is wrong, unless you are bullying the right people, in which case it’s very, very good. In this ideology, education is not about teaching people how to think, it’s about reeducating them in what to think. In this ideology, the need to feel safe trumps the need to speak truthfully.

In this ideology, the equality of opportunity is replaced with equality of outcome as a measure of fairness. If everyone doesn’t finish the race at the same time, the course must have been defective. Thus, the argument to get rid of the SAT. Or the admissions tests for public schools like Stuyvesant in New York or Lowell in San Francisco.

And, of course, the Great American Cultural Revolution is a religious revival movement, conducted by people who believe that they are so enlightened that they have escaped the superstitions and dogmas of organized religion. It is a colossal cultural irony, to the effect that anyone who does not believe the right beliefs is now considered a heretic. The inquisition is back; the witch hunts are back. 

Most important: In this revolution, skeptics of any part of this radical ideology are recast as heretics. Those who do not abide by every single aspect of its creed are tarnished as bigots, subjected to boycotts and their work to political litmus tests. The Enlightenment, as the critic Edward Rothstein has put it, has been replaced by the exorcism.

What we call “cancel culture” is really the justice system of this revolution. And the goal of the cancellations is not merely to punish the person being cancelled. The goal is to send a message to everyone else: Step out of line and you are next.

Weiss allows that the cause of the problems lies in America’s shredded social fabric. One might disagree slightly and say that the cause lies in the fact that patriotism has been severely undermined by certain presidents and certain social movements that hate the country-- but that is another way of saying the same thing. And it has been undermined by certain groups that want to remove all the counterrevolutionaries from the American military and who consider their fellow citizens to be domestic terrorists:

All of this has taken place against the backdrop of major changes in American life—the tearing apart of our social fabric; the loss of religion and the decline of civic organizations; the opioid crisis; the collapse of American industries; the rise of big tech; successive financial crises; a toxic public discourse; crushing student debt. An epidemic of loneliness. A crisis of meaning. A pandemic of distrust. It has taken place against the backdrop of the American dream’s decline into what feels like a punchline, the inequalities of our supposedly fair, liberal meritocracy clearly rigged in favor of some people and against others. And so on.

Weiss concludes that the most apt term for America’s current moral failing is cowardice:

But there is one word we should linger on, because every moment of radical victory turned on it. The word is cowardice.

The revolution has been met with almost no resistance by those who have the title CEO or leader or president or principal in front of their names. 

The refusal of the adults in the room to speak the truth, their refusal to say no to efforts to undermine the mission of their institutions, their fear of being called a bad name and that fear trumping their responsibility—that is how we got here.

Sad to say, as Lt. Col. Scheller is now seeing, the problem goes well beyond the fear of being called a bad name. The powers that be refuse to forgive heresy. They are not quite ready to burn people at the stake, but they are close enough.


BobJustBob said...

The adults in the room aren't cowards...they're in on it. The adults in the room that would have put an end to it were replaced over time(and by design)with true believers.

lynney62 said...

"Rome is falling" again.........

ErisGuy said...

Weiss says our leaders are cowards

So did Allan Bloom in ‘80s. So did others in ‘60s. I don’t recall did Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind say why college presidents and chancellors were cowards?

I have a theory. Lenin’s originally, I think: liberals are useful idiots. Or slo-mo commies betraying the revolution.