An Age of Untruth

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Make no mistake about it, this is a dishonest age. That our daily lies are purportedly advanced in the cause of the common good, nevertheless do not make them any less lies.

Beware of sudden and apparently reasonable “calls for civility.” That pathetic mantra is usually voiced by a liberal administration and its supporters when criticism mounts that they are taking the country too far to the Left — like the Clinton implosion in 1993 or Obama today. I fear “civility” does not mean one should not write novels or produce movies contemplating murdering George Bush — that’s sort of an understandable agitprop art. “Civility” does not mean the New York Times should not give discounts to run ads in wartime like “General Betray Us.” That’s needed dissidence. Civility does not suggest that a Sen. Durbin, or Sen. Kerry, or Sen. Kennedy not use inflammatory language that compares our own troops or personnel to terrorists, Nazis, Pol Pot, Stalinists, or Saddam Hussein’s torturers; that most certainly is not uncivil. And it was certainly not impolite for Rep. Stark to call President Bush a “liar.”

“Civility” does not mean that we should not spew hate at anti-war protests; that’s grassroots popular protest. It doesn’t mean that we should not employ Nazi and fascistic labels to tar the President of the United States like John Glenn or Al Gore or Robert Byrd did. “Civility” does not mean that a shrill Hillary Clinton should not scream that the Bush administration is trying to silence critics, or suggest that the commanding general of an entire theater was lying to Congress in ways that require a “suspension of disbelief.” That’s needed pushback.

O Ye of Little Memory!

Do we recall any American shock when the Guardian published Charles Brooker’s lament — “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. — where are you now that we need you?” And I don’t recall anyone felt that language was getting too heated when Howard Dean, head of the Democratic Party, fumed, “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for.” And was it not The New Republic that highlighted Jonathan Chait’s infamous “Why I Hate George W. Bush” article? Of course, there was that thoroughly civil New York play, “I’m Gonna Kill the President.”

So, please, spare us the sanctimonious rot about being shocked by conservative metaphors like “lock and load” or “targeting” vulnerable Democratic districts. Like it or not, “civility” has nothing to do with real civility that is bipartisan in fashion and necessary for tolerance in a politically diverse culture. It simply means that conservatives must be stopped in their Neanderthal opposition to an enlightened agenda by any means necessary — by being uncivil to them when conservatives are in power, and demanding they not do the same when liberals run things. All political parties wish it both ways; but in the present age, the media and a cultural elite really have convinced themselves that speaking out against Barack Obama is a sort of heresy while smearing the Bush “regime” was de rigueur.

Diversity? Not.

Beware of the ubiquitous “diversity.” Diversity does not mean needed difference, as in a community of religiously diverse people — for example, a Harvard with plentiful booths in the free speech area promoting Mormonism, or ROTC, or support for Israel, or anti-abortion. “Diversity” does not mean 51-49 % votes in the faculty Senate over condemning or supporting the Iraq War of 2003.

“Diversity” does not equate to a faculty department equally divided among Marxists, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. No, sadly “diversity” is a second-generation word that was by needs reinvented to supplant the Orwellian “affirmative action.”

In the 1980s, American elite culture grasped that the old superstructure of racial preference was both too cumbersome and too narrow all at once: Too cumbersome in the sense that too many were asking uncomfortable questions like, “Why are we giving preference in hiring or admission to a Spanish aristocrat named José Lopes, as if he were a supposedly underprivileged Mexican-American who suffers from a legacy of racism?” or “Why is someone in the upper-middle class who is half African-American given preference, and not a poor darker Mohinder Singh from the Punjab who in theory would encounter as much or more discrimination?” or “Why are all these cynical white-looking kids claiming their grandmothers were one-eighth Cherokee?”

And yet affirmatives action was also all too narrow in the sense that should not upper-class women, and wealthy gays or hyper-achieving, wealthy Asians, likewise, be entitled to help?

In answer to both the contradictions of racial preferences and its narrowness, “diversity” came onto the scene. To the degree that anyone could establish that they were not completely white, male, Christian and heterosexual, they were “diverse” members of the community and could perhaps find some advantage or boost in the fierce competition for jobs and influence and money. No one could define diversity, but miraculously all seem to recognize it when they saw it.

The real diversity — that of differences in thinking and independence of opinion — was hardly welcome, and any sort of call for such genuine diversity of thought was seen as hostile and sometimes had to be dubbed “reactionary,” “racist,” “homophobic,” “sexist,” etc.

So we ended up with “diversity” meaning “university” — a synonym for monolithic intolerance, for everyone worshiping “diversity” without exception. If that seems harsh, it is also the way things are.

Wind and Solar and Millions of Green Jobs!

“Green Power” and “wind and solar” oddly do not mean that we are going to power our homes and cars with entirely new fuels, at least not in our lifetimes.

Instead that entire green lexicon assures us that we can feel good about ourselves by symbolic gestures, like subsidizing a noble wind farm or putting up an impressive solar panel through government subsidies that mask the current non-competitiveness of such alternate power. The truth is that 21st-century internal combustion engines are revolutionary compared with their fossilized predecessors just three decades ago. Like it or not, such engines — preferably in the near future burning natural gas that is becoming more, not less retrievable, and in combination with batteries or biofuel blends — will continue to power our cars. Semi-trucks, earth-moving equipment, and tractors are not going to become electrically powered any time soon.

Nuclear power, when all the acrimony dies down, will be reluctantly seen as the real green power. Again, for now all the Gore-related vocabulary will serve two main purposes: to make those who master and manipulate it quite rich, and the rest of us feel very good about ourselves — all the while as some sort of carbon-based fuel helps to power our cars, or a nuclear fuel powers our homes and charges car batteries, allowing us energy independence and a reduction in pollution. As we see with the current unprecedented shut-down of all air travel in Europe, nature in a second, not mankind in years, determines what we puny humans will and will not do.

Stimulus Everywhere

Recoil from the word “stimulus” — whether used by a Republican or Democratic administration. There is no such thing as an easy, fuzzy notion of instant money creating economic growth. Instead it is a euphemism not for borrowing, but for massive borrowing and unsustainable debt. Indeed, note that we do not even use words like “borrowing” or “debt,” but instead prefer “deficit” (e.g., It’s only a year-to-year thing) and “stimulus” (e.g., spending what we don’t have somehow makes us richer in the future).

“Stimulus” is thus a lie as it is used, or at best a half-truth.

The truth — even if right now we were to go ahead with a return to the Clinton tax tables, raise the caps on income subject to Social Security taxes, have the states keep increasing their sales and income taxes, and apply new Obama surcharges on healthcare — is that we are still going broke.

Do the math: $12 trillion is a lot of debt ($40,000 for each of us, $200,000 for a family of five starting out in the world — like a second home mortgage in other words). Twenty trillion dollars in just eight more years is doom (like two family vacation homes to pay for without the vacation homes to vacation in).

We are lied to about this almost every day: the government is going to have to cut federal spending in massive amounts, unless we choose to impose a nightmarish VAT tax, and watch thousands of new unionized federal employees spend trillions of hours deciding which item is politically incorrect enough to be VATed.

So when I hear “stimulus,” or “jobs bill,” I conclude that when the interest rates return to normal soon, we are going to take on Medicare, Social Security, defense, and almost everything else in the federal budget. Euphemism will perhaps again help some. Maybe we can invent new words like “furlough,” as in California where it really means, “Since we can’t touch your union contracted salary, you simply won’t work a day a month and we won’t pay you either.”

Cuts to Medicare can be “adjustments.” Reductions in Social Security can be “refinements.” “Downsizing” means getting rid of three carrier groups. “Forward looking” will be ending NASA as we knew it. As solace, at least our politicians will feel that the lying will be of the Platonic noble sort, inasmuch as we will be creating falsity to lower rather than raise spending, albeit brought on by the law of physics rather than our wise intentions.

Illegal What?

Almost everything said in association with “illegal immigration” is false. No, the now stalled fence is not a futile symbol of apartheid; in places where it is finished, it has discouraged illegal entry and reminded us that all counties have rights of autonomy.

Do not believe that “illegal alien” is necessarily a hurtful or inexact term. Everyone who crosses the border without proper authorization is both doing something “illegal” (not a mere “infraction”), and is an alien (not a U.S. citizen; “alien” = “not of this place”.) When I lived in Greece in the 1970s, I was an alien; had I overstayed my visa, or accepted work without proper documentation, I would have been an illegal alien.

“Anti-immigrant” is also a lie peddled in service to open borders — a lie by virtue that it deliberately blends “immigrant” with “illegal immigrant” to suggest opposition to all legal immigration. (In fact, Americans quite clearly support legal immigration.) It’s a lie by virtue that it personalizes opposition to particular “immigrants” rather than the concept of “illegal immigration.” And it’s a lie by its emphasis on “anti,” since opponents of open borders are not “anti” anything; they are pro-law and pro-enforcement of existing statutes. Those who break the law or advocate undermining existing legislation are clearly “anti” a lot.

Avoid blanket generalizations that all illegal aliens are either criminals or all hard-working wonderful people, just trying to get ahead. Instead, simply imagine what you would do if you lived in dire poverty under a corrupt, racist system and survival was a mere 6 hours a way to the north — and factor in all the psychological, emotional, and intellectual rationalizations that you would embrace to justify your illegal entry and efforts to feed you or your family, either through minimum wage steady employment, off the books cash for ad hoc labor, or government entitlement, or all three.

To the degree we are getting audacious bold people willing to take risks to come to America, we are also perhaps getting people who have little problem breaking the law with the acknowledgment that they will have to keep breaking law for years after arrival. I’ll let you decide which plus does or does not make up for which minus in that illegal immigration equation.

To the degree illegal aliens are poor in comparison, not with their comrades back home, but with communities in their new country, is to the degree anyone would be so, who does not know the language, does not have legal sanction and does not have a high school diploma. Racism plays little, if any, role. To remedy all three as quickly and painlessly as possible, one would of course support making speaking English optional, making being legal superfluous, and making diplomas mere certificates rather than proof of rigorous years of education.

To the degree one is poor, is to the degree all unskilled laborers are in a terrible recession, and to the degree any immigrants would be, who, on limited wages, in aggregate send back a collective $25 billion home in remittances.

So what is illegal immigration? For most, it is a desperate attempt by the poor of Latin America to find a better life in America, made all the more attractive because postmodern America has no confidence in its institutions and thus asks little of its immigrants in accepting our own culture.

And for Us, the Hosts?

For the corporation it is a way to profit, masked in libertarian apologetics, of letting the market adjudicate labor costs without government interference.

For the racial tribalist it is payback for the Mexican War of two centuries prior.

For the liberal machine, it is an instant way through serial amnesty to hook a block constituency and redraw the electoral map of the American Southwest.

For the postmodernist, it is a way to accelerate the end of the old melting pot and to substitute a salad bowl of constantly competing ethnic and tribal interests that can be united under elite liberal guidance to thwart the entrenched interests of supposedly corporate and nativist-run America.

The problem I think right now for the liberal cause is not just the Tea Parties. Rather, tens of millions of Americans have tuned out the sermons, and no longer believe much of what they are told. They clearly do not care for the moral lectures that they are subjected to. Instead, they suspect that their self-appointed moral censors are either self-interested or disingenuous — or worse still.

So how odd: we live in an age of untruth in which millions privately shrug and nod at the daily lies of our elites.

©2010 Victor Davis Hanson

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