The Left has been straining to impose “narratives” upon America for quite some time. My earliest memory of clear evidence of their reliance on this sort of propaganda technique is from the 2004 presidential campaign, when CBS News used a forged TexANG memo in an attempt – thankfully, unsuccessful – to smear George W. Bush out of a second term as president. When the forgery was made plain by forensics and investigation, the refrain we heard was that “the narrative was right even if the facts were wrong.”
I’m pretty sure the lineage of “Narrative Uber Alles” goes back much further than that. What’s remarkable about the present day is how openly the Left uses outright lies, and then castigates those who expose them and subject the arguments founded on them to skepticism. Consider the following from a writer for The New Republic:
The left tends to view oppression as something that operates within systems, sometimes in clearly identifiable structural biases, and other times in subtle but persistent ways. Mortgage discrimination against black families over the last century is an example of a structural, on-the-books bias that had an extraordinarily damaging impact on African Americans; but the fact that black children are read as older and less innocent than their white peers, while neither a law nor a regulation, is of a piece with the overall oppression of black folks in America, resulting in subtle treatment by teachers and authority figures that alienates black children from wider society starting at a very tender age. These disparate forms of discrimination come together, in the left imagination, to form a tightly composed set of prejudices and policies that are difficult to disentangle. Making sense of oppression, therefore, requires looking at entire systems of oppression, not just specific instances or behaviors.
The right, on the other hand, tends to understand politics on the individual level, which fits in neatly with a general obsession with the capital-i Individual. Thus, the right tends to pore over the specific details of high-profile cases like those of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, concluding that if those particular situations were embattled by complications or mitigating factors, then the phenomena they’re meant to represent must not be real either. And if a few highly publicized rapes turn out to be murkier than first represented, then rape itself is not a crisis, just a regrettable and rare anomaly. The positive version of this approach is the elevation of people like Joe the Plumber, individual cases that purportedly show the value and effectiveness of conservative politics. It isn’t great reasoning, but it is very appealing on a sub-intellectual level.
As an economics professor once said of a colleague’s reasoning, this is so bad it’s not even wrong. It reveals an invincible ignorance about how the process of reasoned argument actually works. But more significant yet is the open display of intellectual and moral arrogance: a distinguishing mark of leftists’ attitudes for some years now.
This is significant for two reasons. The first and more obvious is that one who fails to grasp why his argument is viewed with skepticism when the “facts” on which he’s founded it are proved false isn’t merely ignorant; he’s stupid. Coupled to a superficial eloquence, it testifies to a process of indoctrination at whose core is the premise that facts don’t matter if your “values” are good. One who has internalized that premise cannot be educated without first being deprogrammed.
The second reason is even more important: The attitude of superior wisdom and morality is itself a weapon in the Left’s hands, in that it enrages us in the Right and deflects us from making our own cases. Such an outraged reaction has been observed among many conservatives, including some of demonstrated intellect and wide knowledge.
[A brief but useful tangent: The “assumption of differential rectitude” (Thomas Sowell, The Vision Of The Anointed) is easily shown to be circular. Why does the leftist think his intellect and morals are superior to those of us in the Right? Because his political positions are themselves superior. Yet he rejects all evidence against his positions, to the point of accusing those who present it of evil motives. Why? Because we’re intellectually and morally deficient! As we mathematical types like to say, quod erat demonstrandum. Here’s a sample rejoinder for your consideration:
“You shriek about ‘police racism,’ but when pressed to deliver evidence, all you have are fables and conjectures. So there’s really no basis for concluding that mistreatment of minorities by our police is a significant problem – and you can’t see that. Worse, you scream at me for being ‘unconcerned about the problem’ you can’t substantiate. That marks you as being too stupid to talk to and unfit for polite company. Have a nice life.”
Feel free to use the above as a template, edited suitably for whatever Cause you happen to be confronted about.]
The proper reply to the Left’s attitude is amusement, with or without audible laughter. Mind you, we must never become arrogant about our own positions; that would constitute jumping into the moral-intellectual pit with them. However, an amused dismissal of their positions and of them as well is something leftists find massively humiliating. It enrages them, which nullifies their proselytizing powers.
The Left hasn’t produced a figure of significant intellectual stature since John Kenneth Galbraith. Its historical champions have been refuted so completely that their corpses probably blush when they hear their names mentioned or their works cited. So why not take amusement at their pretensions? Especially since it’s wholly justified by the record.
There is a place for anger in political outreach. When the Left creates villains out of wholly innocent men, anger is the appropriate response. When the Left tries to claim good intentions in having done so, the anger should intensify. When the Left attempts to counterattack by impugning the motives of those who’ve disproved them, thereby creating additional victims of their slanders, the anger should become white-hot. But the appropriate causes for our anger are always individual injustices; the appropriate targets of our anger are always individual perpetrators.
Consider the disgraced Sabrina Rubin Erdely. This woman has lent her byline to the defaming of a University of Virginia fraternity. She did so in full knowledge that:
- The accuser, “Jackie,” had never filed a rape complaint with the police;
- That “Jackie” would not name her supposed assailant;
- That the alleged rape had taken place long ago, such that objective evidence that it had occurred at all would be impossible to assemble today.
Erdely was possessed by “the narrative” to the advancement of which she was committed. Never mind that that “narrative” is founded almost entirely on a single highly tendentious survey performed at a single university. Never mind that a great many professed “rape survivors” are no better able to substantiate their “victimization” than is “Jackie.” Never mind that in lending Rolling Stone’s pages to such a story, she was knowingly eschewing the sort of diligent process of investigation and confirmation appropriate to so serious a charge. “The narrative” was all that mattered.
That’s evil – and not evil under cover of darkness, but in the light of the noonday sun. That’s an appropriate cause and target for righteous anger. It’s also consistent with the Left’s pattern of behavior since Tawana Brawley at the least.
The Salem witch trials were among the grossest miscarriages of injustice ever to occur on this continent. You’ll hardly find anyone to argue against that proposition. But it’s worth a few moments’ thought over why.
Men and women were put to death entirely on the word of their accusers, every one of whom was a teenage girl who would herself face punishment except for her claim of ensorcellment. There was absolutely no evidence apart from those accusations. The court that condemned the accused was deaf to the questions of honesty that should have been raised about the accusers, probably because it was anxious to maintain and exercise its theocratic authority. Most ludicrous of all, an accused who protested his innocence was automatically condemned, while one who “confessed” was allowed to live! That the era in which these atrocities occurred was one in which the fear of witchcraft was rampant cannot excuse a “court of justice” from its duty to seek the truth.
The Left’s various promotions of “rape culture,” “police racism,” “homophobic discrimination,” and so forth descend to a still deeper depth of evil, in that even after the accused have been exonerated by objective means, leftists continue to press their claims as if no such thing had occurred. They never apologize to those whom they’ve slandered and in some cases ruined socially and financially. They merely move on to the next opportunity to proclaim their “narratives,” still wholly convinced of their intellectual and moral superiority. The quote from the despicable Elizabeth Bruenig in the opening segment is quite representative. Indeed, even the contemptible Tawana Brawley, who has been revealed for all to see as a liar, continues to profess her “victimhood” – and is celebrated among black racialist mouthpiece groups.
Be angry at individual malefactors for their individual deeds. Be amused at the pitiable Left’s pathetic attempts to press their cherished “narratives” upon us with fables and garbage surveys. It means they lack facts...and as is made plain by the sequel, they lack both the intelligence and the moral standards that would entitle them to a hearing.