The Politics of Contradiction and the Case for Hermitism
*I'd like to add a small caveat to this blog, given the response I received from a dear friend, who reminded me just how fraught with all kinds of feelings and ideas the issue of abortion entails. This, in part, is what I wrote to her:
"I'm not in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. That may sound odd, but it makes perfect sense to me. I think Roe v. Wade needs to be amended, not overturned, and in the meantime we need to change hearts and minds. I obviously don't believe all abortions are wrong. Some are necessary, as in the case where the life of the mother is threatened, or in the case of rape. But I don't believe it should ever be a form of birth control, except in certain extreme cases."
I believe that most people find themselves in this middle position. I believe it to be the most reasonable position. And in spite of my long support of women's rights, I do not believe that any group's rights can infringe on the rights of another protected group, as I believe that unborn children are, and this should be reflected in our laws.
Anyone who has paid a modicum of attention the last 20 years has noticed, among other things, some deeply entrenched contradictions in the most popular social and political platforms, contradictions that, up to now, have been conveniently ignored. Take, for example, the preening moral rectitude of the Fox News crowd of “Moral Majority” wannabees, on the one hand, with the line-up of shows on the Fox network that collectively represent the most morally “progressive” of all major network show line-ups, on the other (Pivoting, The Cleaning Lady, Family Guy, etc.). Or the Left’s defense of all manner of endangered animals, on the one hand, and its unquestioned support of abortion rights, on the other, which ends the life of the most endangered of all animals, the unborn child, at a rate (according to the World Health Organization) of 40-50 million deaths per year, or an average of 125,000 abortions per day.
Such glaring contradictions existing in a single political platform is the predictable result of a culture wed to ideologies, which are nothing but the idolatry of a single idea in the face of all attendant challenges to that idea’s hegemony. The American valorization of caring for the vulnerable, immortalized in the Statue of Liberty, taken together with America’s capitalistic worship of wealth, fame, and power, which are the fruits of the privileged class, is but one of many examples of the contradictions that lie at the heart of American identity.
Any culture in its late term, if history and biology are reliable guides, is bound by an evolutionary truism that what grows up must inevitably die down, a morbid truth that we glaze over with any number of popular euphemisms: a life cycle, the Circle of Life, the seasons of life, the Eight Ages of Man, etc. We are witnessing – and make no mistake, it is a privilege – the spasms of a dying culture, one that, at least by historical standards, has had a pretty good run. 250 years of basically kicking ass, in every sense of that term, is a historically notable achievement. More people speak English than any other language in the world (and it’s not because of the British); America is the most powerful country in the world (and it’s not because of our nuclear arsenal); and our popular culture – the one we export to the rest of the world via Hollywood and Madison Avenue – is the most envied and copied in the world (and not because of its quality).
But that’s all ending, of course, and not because of Donald Trump, who simply serves as the unwitting and entirely predictable emblem of American largesse, egoism, and concupiscence. He didn’t bring the crazy train to town. He just got on at one of the last stops, took over the cab, and threw down the throttle, and in doing so, let out a genie that, up to now, had been conspicuously lingering in the shadows. We always knew it would some day announce itself in broad daylight. We just didn’t count on how mind-numbingly irritating it would be.
But, again, the Trump crazy train is simply a symmetrical response to the Progressive crazy train’s gender politics and the gerrymandering of our biological binaries and social boundaries. The political calculus goes something like this: you threaten my manhood and I’ll buy a big gun, a bigger truck, and a lifetime membership in some tribal identity group to prove you wrong. You tell me to protect the spotted owl but fight for the right to kill my unborn child, and I’m likely to kill every owl I see, and you along with them on your smug little way to legislating infanticide.
As a concept, the politics of contradiction is simultaneously infuriating and absurd precisely because it evokes from us simultaneous feelings of rage and laughter. The choices we find ourselves faced with as a culture are enough to drive anyone into the wilderness of fringe ideas, and most don’t see a way out because the only way out of such a conundrum typically requires discipline and comity, restraint and wisdom, self-awareness and compromise. But such are the virtues of the shadow class, that collection of social misfits who avoid the fray of popular culture in all its forms – political, social, and dramatic – and prefer, instead, to take up company with nature, or some historical period, or ourselves. As such, we are, by nature, socially insular even if intellectually curious. We prefer ideas to people, generally speaking, and thus make for bad company and even worse models of human behavior. We are unreliable chiefly because we don’t trust ourselves, and while we acknowledge our limitations, and even see the inherent dangers in them, we cling to them for sanity’s sake, and – or so we like to believe – for goodness’ sake.
In an age like ours, keeping to oneself and limiting one’s contacts with the outside world has become something of a rarified virtue, not least because it's not only politically unfashionable, it is socially abhorrent and morally suspect, and also because it's nearly impossible to exercise given the current hegemony of social media, news cycles, and the ubiquitous politicizing of everything from one’s choice of bourbon to one’s use of personal pronouns. And rightly so are we, the shadow class, morally suspect. We would avoid us, too, which would be fine with us all the same, as we prefer our own company to the company of others. And we’re not proud of it. We are ashamed, in fact, ashamed but grateful that in such a ridiculous and tragic period of history, we still have the option of choosing the lesser of two evils, and to choose to check out of a madhouse is better, we believe, than getting comfortable in one.