I find some of the vaccine takes and Putin takes to go too far, as some of you might know (and as some of you might find annoying).
What all of this has in common, of course, is that people have been lied to too often, too many times, about too many things, and are now in a mode of Rejectivism, where they dismiss out of hand the claims made by a Regime where lying has become a routine method of control over the population.
And simple, automatic Rejectivism is not an irrational response to a Regime that lies, or is completely 100% wrong, this often. If they lied only once in a while, or were wrong once in a while, I’d say automatic Rejectivism was an overreaction and a bad strategy, as it would usually result in the Rejectivist winding up on the wrong side of the truth.
But when the Regime is almost always lying or almost always wrong, just taking the opposite side without even thinking about it will put you on the right side of the truth 75%, 80% of the time.
Not bad for a simple, reflexive strategy.
Now, simple reflexive Rejectivism is still not the ideal strategy. The ideal strategy remains what it always is — taking each claim on its own merits and evaluating it, without bias according to whoever said it.
But as far as rules of thumbs go — at this point, assuming that the Regime is lying or incompetently stupid is as good a rule of thumb as any.
The Regime and its defenders — the neocon/neoliberal alliance — have lied to the public constantly for at least six years. Before that, they were catastrophically wrong about almost every major policy question for at least 20 years.
And now they bemoan the lack of trust by the public, and natter about an “information crisis,” with “disinformation” (information not approved of by the Regime) competing with Regime-approved information.
Did they really think that years and years of lying, and years of incompetence and catastrophic failures, would have no consequences?
Do they really think that years of lying and incompetence and catastrophic failures should have no consequences?
This is a democracy — are we not entitled to periodically offer our verdict on how The Ruling Class is ruling, and whether they should be allowed to continue, or be replaced?
Or is this not a democracy any more? Is the idea of a democracy “too dangerous” when that democracy begins contemplating sweeping The Ruling Class aside because of its constant lies and constant failures?
It may sound breathless and hyperbolic at first blush, especially to the comfortably ensconced leftists who’ve been trying to purge the western world of conservatism for the past ten or fifteen years.
And it probably sounds overblown to the inexplicably high-profile public “conservatives” who’ve turned their back on actual conservatism in favor of whatever it is they think they’re promoting by trashing conservatism and endorsing Democrats.
But, as usual for Ace, it strikes me as pretty spot on. (And, unusually for Ace, pretty restrained—which is a little disappointing because he’s the only political writer besides Mark Steyn who routinely makes me laugh out loud.)
Before we get any deeper into the ideas at play here, I want to stress something he himself was careful to stress: “Simple reflexive Rejectivism is still not the ideal strategy. The ideal strategy remains what it always is—taking each claim on its own merits and evaluating it, without bias according to whoever said it.”
It’s a point that needs to be emphasized half to death because it addresses the whole cultural problem we’re stuck with, and is almost certainly one of the root causes of the growing rejectivism.
As Exhibit A, here’s current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor all the way back in 2001, roughly eight years before she would be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice (my emphasis):
Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.
That’s racist garbage talk. It should have been enough to derail her nomination to the Supreme Court. Even the author of the NPR article I grabbed that citation from had the sense to observe that “Whoever first said ‘a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases’ it’s a good line. It intuitively feels right. Wisdom is wisdom, whoever it comes from.”
Ah, the golden days of 2009, when even NPR acknowledged truths you can only now hear told by populist conservatives (when you’re allowed to hear them) .
The Sotomayor quote shows us two things: one, this problem has been around for a while. As early as 2001, this accomplished woman felt comfortable spewing racialist nonsense to students at the Berkeley School of Law. Two, it’s a real problem and it’s intractably embedded in western culture (although moreso in America than elsewhere for the time being): a noxious idea like this was already by 2009 mainstream enough that it passed muster even in a heated confirmation battle.
Ace and the NPR journalist cut to the same achingly simple point: ideas are just ideas, regardless of who’s promoting them.
Let’s flog this dead horse all the way into the ground. Say you’re struggling with a math problem and everyone you love will die a gruesome death if you don’t solve it correctly. (It could happen.) You’re allowed to get help from just one of two people who’ve risen from the grave to offer their assistance: Adolf Hitler or Mother Theresa. But your guardian angel is on hand and tells you that Hitler has become a mathematical prodigy down in hell, while Mother Theresa failed out of math in second grade on the earthly plane, can’t count beyond eight, and has been spending all her time in the afterlife wandering around Heaven muttering obscenities.
Anyone who says they’d rather take the wrong answer from the right person than the right answer from the wrong person is either lying or dangeroulsy stupid.
That’s a large part of Ace’s point and its the entirety of NPR guy’s “wisdom is wisdom” point.
But it’s not Ace’s entire point.
He says, “assuming that the Regime is lying or incompetently stupid is as good a rule of thumb as any.”
He says that’s because it’s a “Regime where lying has become a routine method of control over the population.”
You don’t need a mask—until you do. The vaccine will give you immunity to covid, better even than natural immunity will. It’s 99% effective! 95%! 90%! 85%… 75%… 50%… The vaccine will help you survive covid. The vaccine requires boosters to work. Covid restrictions are absolutely vital unless you’re out in the streets protesting, but only if it’s a protest approved by the left. Inflation is transitory. Inflation is minor. Inflation is good for you. There is no crisis at the border. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany is vitally important so we must overturn Trump’s sanctions. Russia can’t be trusted so the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has to be blocked so we have to reimpose Trump’s sanctions. Vladimir Putin is terrified of Joe Biden. Sanctions on Russia will deter them from invading Ukraine. Sanctions on Russia will take a while to work. Sanctions on Russia will punish them for having invaded Ukraine. Sanctions were never supposed to prevent anything. The fiery riots of 2020-2021 were mostly peaceful but January 6th was an insurrection of White Supremacists. Donald Trump was installed in office by Vladimir Putin. Election law reforms in Georgia are like Jim Crow on steroids.
I could go on, and on, and on.
Lies or stupidities, all of them—and many of them both.
Which is not so bad in itself. I mean that. Politicians are gonna politic. It’s their right to spew whatever nonsense they want out their pieholes.
The problem we’re facing is that if you dare to raise a voice against these lies and stupidities, you very literally become an enemy of the state. You’re slandered as a white supremacist, a misogynist, a homophobe, a transphobe, a fascist. A deplorable. An extremist. A terrorist.
In the 1990s the guiding principle for debate in America was still “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” These days it’s more like “I disagree with what you say, so you’re a contemptible threat to civic order and must be driven from the public square, you fucking inhuman Nazi bastard.”
So it’s not that the Regime, as Ace calls it (under the rubric of which I would include not just the Biden administration and the “neocon/neoliberal alliance” supporting it, but also the entire apparatus of the state and social order and elite opinion), has simply lost all credibility, but that the more they’re doubted or questioned or ignored the more they insist on absolute adherence to their idiotic diktats.
And the more they double down on their various lies and idiocies, the more rejectivism they elicit. And the more rejectivism they elicit, the angrier they get and the harder they crack down.
The Canadian government’s reaction to the “Freedom Convoy” is a good case study of this phenomenon. As Conrad Black wrote in Canada’s National Post:
The official response to the truckers protesting COVID restrictions is one of the most disgraceful political episodes in the history of Canada as an autonomous country. The prime minister’s statement that the truckers were probably homophobic, trans-phobic, misogynists and racists was an outrage that was unsupported by evidence. Instead of dealing with these truckers and the issues that propelled them across the country in a serious way, the prime minister attacked them en route as a “small fringe minority” who hold “unacceptable views.” There is no justification for any of this and polls show the truckers represent approximately as many Canadians as the number who voted for this government in September.
The prime minister was just borrowing from the Regime playbook: don’t address the arguments, just dehumanize your critics. Then their arguments can be waved off as the inchoate ravings of benighted savages—and then instead of having to answer their criticisms you can punish them.
This only works because as near as I can tell, about 20-25% of the North American population falls for it. I mean it. I mean a fifth to a quarter of the North American population is that stupid, vicious, or gullible.
They actually believe that truckers who opposed vaccine mandates—not vaccines, which most of them had voluntarily received, but government-ordered medical treatment—were actually woman-hating, transphobic white supremacist Nazis using the mandates as cover for their nefarious plans to convert Canada into a whites-only men’s club.
They actually believe that a bunch of unarmed yahoos rioting in the Capitol for a few hours was an attempted coup d’etat.
They actually believe that Georgia’s election laws are exactly like Jim Crow, only worse.
And so on.
I reckon another 20-25% of the population doesn’t buy into those big lies literally but interprets them as a hyperbolic representation of an underlying truth. I know plenty of people like that. They know it’s a lie, or that it’s “not technically accurate,” but they let it slide because they think there’s a delicious nut of truth encased within the slimy dishonest shell.
Why not just tell the truth, then? Why not discard the useless shell and just stick with the nut? Why not call your guys out for their deliberate lies?
“Oh, well, you know, you have to get people’s attention somehow.”
There’s another 5-10% of the population that never has any idea what the hell is going on. These are the poor bewildered souls you’ll find represented in the the “Don’t Know” column of every poll and survey.
And then there’s the rest of us: the close to half the population that isn’t having any of it. Most of us aren’t political activists of any kind, just people who want to be left alone to carve out a life for ourselves.
And because most of us aren’t activists of any stripe—certainly not “happy warriors” willing to walk into enemy fire for the sake of an idea—our courage shrivels up a little at the thought of our family, friends, and neighbors thinking that we’re closet racists, misogynists, homophones, Islamophobes, transphobes, or white supremacists. That’s a legitimate concern. It’s understandable. It’s one thing to disagree with someone over some fine point of policy, or quibble with them over some abstract principle, but when you’re dealing with someone who associates divergence from his or her views with such a laundry list of despicable traits, it’s natural to want to err on the side of caution.
And that’s the whole civilizational crisis in a nutshell.
The maniacs are in control because they’re maniacs supported by maniacs and, more importantly, by dupes who tolerate the mania because they think it’s just how politics works, that it’s all a shadow play, that the mania is just the means to a worthy end.
The rest of us are mostly decent, good-hearted people who don’t want to be labeled as racists or misogynists or homophobes (etc.) and therefore remain mostly quiet. We let our voices be heard at the ballot box.
What’s been called the “wave of populism” across the west (Trump, Brexit, “anti-immigration” parties, etc) isn’t a wave of any kind. It’s a breakwater. The actual wave, the kinetic political force, is this mania: the movement to micromanage our lives from the hallowed but now largely disgraced halls of political and cultural power; the movement to transform us from individuals into interchangeable human units with a handful of differentiating identity labels—like so many Lego blocks: this one is a red two-by-two, this one a blue four-by-two, and this one over here a yellow three-by-two, and so on.
(This is important, so let’s run with the Lego sub-metaphor for a minute before we get back to the wave metaphor.)
That’s how identity politics works: first you establish that people are just Lego blocks, then you say, “this spot requires a green two-by-four.” It doesn’t matter which green two-by-four, because they’re all identical. It doesn’t matter that one is made of steel, one of wood, and one of plastic, or even that one of them is radioactive: they’re just interchangeable blocks.
That’s the great project of the maniacal left. That’s their treasured “equity”: it’s converting all of us into Lego blocks and making sure that everything they build has the right number of every kind of block. It’s not even important how well they build: it’s all about using the right number of each type of block.
That’s why an American president can announce with pride that he’s selecting a blue two-by-two block for the Supreme Court, and why his maniacal supporters will cheer. Not because the selected block is a supremely qualified jurist and excellent human being but because he picked the right playing piece.
I mean, the selected block might be supremely qualified and excellent, but that’s not what matters to the maniacs.
And when people who don’t share that mania ask whether that’s really the optimal way to choose people for positions of great responsibility, they’re dismissed as rude barbaric hicks, publicly lathered with pejoratives, and placed on law enforcement watch lists.
What have you got against blue two-by-twos, you hater?
(We can get back to the wave metaphor now.)
It’s quite a trick to have convinced everyone that what we’re seeing isn’t a wave crashing against a breakwater, but a breakwater crashing against a wave.
Think of it: these maniacs are trying to transform everything, absolutely everything—even things as basic as the biological definitions of male and female. They’re very up front about their intentions, and about the social disruptions necessary for their purposes, and about all the many eggs they’ll have to crack to make that magical but oh-so-elusive omelet. They’ll happily tick off everything broken and wrong about the constitutional republican governments and laessez-faire market economies that have engendered the greatest improvements in human welfare ever in human history, and insist it must be torn down and replaced with their own untested screwball ideas.
And yet they’re saying we’re the scary new “movement.” We, the people who mainly just want to be left alone to live our lives, we’re the insidious threat to society. We’re some freakish new force sweeping over society with our impatient demand to be treated the same and left equally the fuck alone, and they’re the seawall protecting society from our insane desire to not reinvent, restructure, reorder, or reset it.
They’re the wave. We’re the breakwater, the seawall, the white cliffs of Dover.
That’s not to say we’re entirely inert. But to the extent our side—conservative, libertarian, anarchist, pastoralist, apathist, anything but progressivist—to the extent we’ve become active, it’s been entirely defensive. It goes back to the finger-and-the-stone analogy: the stone doesn’t move itself. It has to be pushed into motion. And whatever kineticism ensues, ensues. You can’t blame the stone.
But they do.
Think about it. The maniacs aren’t shy about telling us what they want: Obama himself famously sought to “fundamentally transform the United States.” The whole progressive project is transformative by nature. And resistance to that kind of transformation—so much of which is just the same old tired collectivism that’s failed every single time it’s been tried—is branded by the maniacs as some kind of crazy populist movement.
Salena Zito seems to be zeroing in on the same frequency. In an article published on American Greatness just yesterday (“It’s the Culture, Stupid“), she writes:
For the past few decades, the people in power in our country who also have the loudest voices in our culture (corporations, entertainment, institutions, media, government) have decided they can accumulate more power by dividing people using race, gender, vocation, educational achievement and geography as their means of division.
Sometimes they use every tool in the toolbox at once, sometimes just one at a time, but boy, do they use them.
It is important to note that the country moved center-right in both of those elections (the general election of 2020 and the Virginia gubernatorial election in 2021) despite all of the pressure from these cultural curators to shame them not to—from the “hate has no home here” signs in neighbors’ windows to the stigmas about masks to the attempts to criminalize all parents (not just the handful that got out of hand) for expressing their concerns at school board meetings.
People grew weary of having everything they thought, did, bought, and wore being called racist. That goes for black people, white people, and Hispanics who are deeply frustrated that our politics and culture are constantly trying to pit them against each other—people are simply just done.
Ace calls it “rejectivism” and Zito calls it people being “simply done,” but they’re talking about the same thing: a collective exhaustion with all the bullshit of the maniacs.
It’s out there and it’s real—and if the maniacs thought Trump 2016 and Brexit were “black swan” events, they ain’t seen nothing yet.