Fear and Loathing on the Lawn
addresses a phenomenon we've all become familiar with--the new breed of lawn signs.
It used to be that lawn signs were fairly generic political campaign signs, usually no more than the name of a candidate against the background of a party color--red or blue, or something of the sort. Now, however, we are frequently greeted with message signs:
Yard signs for political candidates have a long history in the suburbs, but the past few years have brought with them political signs that do little more than disparage the general political outlook of others. Whereas yard signs used to pop up only in the month or two before an election, walking around the neighborhood is now a political experience year-round.
As the author indicates, reflection on the messages on these signs show that they are little more than expressions of loathing directed at those with whom these people disagree. In many instances those people will be their nearby neighbors, who may be too innately polite to engage with the sign-people politically.
The author goes on to discuss a sampling of these message signs, and the messages behind the messages.
Consider a fairly common example--"Hate Has No Home Here":
In saying that hate has no home in their house, they suggest that it does have a home in some of their neighbors’ houses. ... In short, they accuse their neighbors of being bad people.
That's about the size of it, isn't it? The sign paints a picture of the neighbors as people sheltering behind their doors, wallowing in ... hate. Just hate. Totally generalized. There's no suggestion of a target for the neighbors' hate that would make it more concrete, that would allow for the beginning of a discussion. The sign suggests that those who disagree with the sign's message are simply deranged, non-rational, people who are consumed by a loathsome emotion. As opposed, of course, to the people who put the sign up, who are good people, rational people, people with no untoward prejudices.
Here's a sign that pretty much runs the gamut of currently PC messaging:
"Black Lives Matter." Presumably, in the view of the signers, there is some significant percentage of the population for whom black lives don't matter--otherwise, why put up the sign? But we also know that any attempt to extend the message more broadly--as, for example, by applying the message to all lives--will be met with anger and possibly even gunfire.
"Women's Right Are Human Rights"
"No Human Is Illegal"
As is typical with these types of sign messaging, these signs exemplify the attempt to simplify complex issues that may have no simple solutions. But the messages behind the signs suggest that there are simple solutions and, thus, by extension, that those who see complexity in issues like childbearing, man-woman relations, the international movement of people are simply mean-spirited.
"Science Is Real"
That's a favorite of mine. It appears to be a replacement for, a conceptual step back from, an earlier slogan: "It's Settled Science!" I trust we all know that science is a thing? But that's not the real message here. The real message is that some significant proportion of ones neighbors are boobs--flat earthers, deniers of obvious truths, obscurantists of one sort or another:
The residents attempt to belittle their neighbors—by pretending the reality of science is at issue, they assume the posture of a knowledgeable parent over a recalcitrant, ignorant child. Like you, I don’t appreciate my neighbors calling me stupid—especially when they do so accusing me of holding beliefs that I don’t actually hold.
When did it happen that science ceased to be a continuous questioning and quest for deeper insight into reality and became a rhetorical cudgel with which to bludeon others into silence?
"Love Is Love"
Really! We're supposed to buy into the very dubious notion that human sexuality is just that simple. Despite all the evidence that the propagandizing that our children are subjected to in school, on the internet, and--yes--in our libraries is all just about "luv". Whatever happened to the lessons of human experience, classically expressed by Catullus' Odi et amo? These signers, like liberals everywhere, demand that we deny the lessons of age old human experience.
"Kindness Is Everything"
I won’t dwell on something this insipid. Generosity isn’t “everything.” Pity isn’t “everything.” Nothing is “everything.”
That much is clear, even to the homeowner: if “kindness” was “everything,” what kind of jackass would put a sign in their yard that denigrates the values of his neighbors?
So far, so good. As a critique of civic breakdown, it's all to the good. But then comes the tough question:
So, what to do with neighbors bent on dividing the community with such signs?
All you can do is help them change their mind about you by showing that you are a welcoming, loving person despite your difference of opinion.
Uh, there I have a problem. I don't think that's going to work. These are not people who have never met other people. They own homes, they presumably have jobs, they interact with other people in various ways. Their problem is that they're captives of abstractions. They have come to a point where they believe that reality--including, crucially, the reality of other human beings--can be usefully addressed by sloganeering, and they feel fully empowered to do so without consequences. These are not people one can sit down and reason with, for whom the sign messaging conceals a nuanced understanding of human nature and the complexities of constitutional governance. These are people who really believe their signs are adequate expressions of how to deal with the real world.
These are dangerous people. And that's the point of the second article--or so I would argue:
The author, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, seeks to draw parallels between historical situations in Russia and our current crisis in the US. He starts with "Russian Despair at the End of the 20th Century":
The riots, civil unrest, and mass psychological breakdown currently affecting America have me thinking about Russia. No, not because I think that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s super-duper secret Spetsnaz units have incited the violence—as America’s blue-check brigade briefly asserted before deciding that the looting was righteous. Rather, I see parallels between the type of despair that gripped Russia in the 1990s and the despair that is really behind much of the civil unrest in America today.
To be honest, I'm a bit skeptical about this attempted comparison. I don't see America as existentially challenged as was late 20th century Russia. However, Gobry is more convincing, at least in my opinion, when he shifts to "19th-Century Russian Radical Chic Spawns Real Revolution." Here Gobry examines the decades before the Bolshevik revolution--which from the start puts him on firmer ground in drawing a comparison to our own current conditions.
The 19th century in Russia saw huge strides made in developing Russia in the direction of modernization--both economically and politically. Of course the task was monumental and as the century neared its end much remained to be done:
In Russia, the 19th century was a period not just of great cultural ferment, but also political and intellectual upheaval. ...
While most would-be reformers were moderates, who were mainly interested in becoming more like Western Europe’s constitutional monarchies, there were quite a few radicals as well.
Many of the radicals were students, and here we see the first lesson for would be revolutionaries--one which our own radicals have largely taken to heart: you need to disguise your true motives behind a cause that can gain popular support. For example, hide the Marxist and Queer designs of BLM behind a seemingly uncontroversial slogan: Black Lives Matter! The Russian students learned that lesson the hard way:
A key event on Russia’s ride of ever-increasing civil unrest was the so-called “Mad Summer” of 1874.
It began when a group of radical students, believing in a form of agrarian socialism, fanned out to the countryside to exhort peasants to rise up against their masters. They discovered something a Frenchman could have told them: that the actual people in whose name revolutions are instigated have little interest in ideological revolution. The peasants they tried to organize listened politely to their incomprehensible radical speeches and promptly alerted the authorities. Russian peasants on the whole had an unfavorable view of overeducated city dwellers.
It sounds a bit like Red State America meets Metro revolutionaries.
The parallels extend beyond that bit of comedy, however:
But as the czar’s police services investigated the events, they found out something else: the young radicals had gotten a lot of help from quarters that were not radical at all. In his masterful cultural history of Russia, Natasha’s Dance, the British historian Orlando Figes lists some examples:
“the wife of a colonel in the Gendarmes had passed on secret information to her son; a rich landowner and magistrate had hidden one of the leading revolutionaries; a professor had introduced a propagandist to his students; and the families of several state councillors had given warm approval to their children’s revolutionary activities.”
These high-born personages, all of whom had very personal stakes in the regime and who disagreed with the revolutionaries’ goals, nonetheless admired their youth, their enthusiasm, and their idealism, and thus provided them with material support.
"People will do what they do," right?
And so Gobry presents the lesson for today: "Hold the Petit-Bourgeois Accountable Before It’s Too Late." And by Petit Bourgeois he means the media, corporations, our educational establishments--well paid empty suits who play with radicalism. The kinds of people with those message boards on their lawns and on the bumpers of their fancy cars. Here's the point:
[R]adicals never succeed without the complicity—active or passive—of moderate elites.
Most of the petit-bourgeois at the New York Times and at the communications departments of big corporations are yet sane enough to know that “abolishing the police” and firing people for the most minute imagined deviations from woke dogma is nonsense. But they go along anyway. They admire the radicals’ fire and energy. Perhaps they envy it. So they go along.
The mother who passed on classified information to her radical son probably could not imagine that one day Russia would be ruled by Bolsheviks and that people like her would be sent to gulags. She was probably a nice woman who loved her son. But revolutions can and do happen. And the Bolshevik revolution never would have happened if it hadn’t been for the weakness and complacency of moderates like her who saw revolutionaries as wayward, well-intentioned children. Because of their complacency, they failed to remember that the alternative to the self-defense of the state is chaos and mass violence.
For decades, young Russian radicals played with fire, and for most of that time, it was primarily comical. ... But it became extremely serious, extremely fast. And by that time it was too late.
I understand that Bill Barr is a student of history. I hope that he and other adults at DoJ are paying attention to the history behind our current events. It's all connected, and our elites have gone well past the point of play acting. It started with an attempt at a Lawfare coup--an attempt that continues. We now hear what amount to open calls for revolution, and certainly the destruction in Blue cities is real enough. We are witnessing an attempt to make America ungovernable, to pave the way to a radical transformation. Barr's DoJ and FBI have been taking steps, but this is no time for complacency. For my part, I believe that Barr understands all this, and is weighing the costs of overreaction. I believe that in this regard Barr is fortunate in having a shrewd strategist as President.