By Victor Davis Hanson//American Greatness
It is not healthy for a society to live two lives that are antithetical, as America has been doing in recent decades.
Disillusionment with government and popular culture arises at anger over two entirely different realities. One truth is politically correct and voiced on the news and by the government. It is often abstract and theoretical. And the other truth is empirical, hushed and accepted informally by ordinary people from what they see and hear on the ground.
Public orthodoxy signals virtue, private heterodoxy ensures ostracism. So Americans increasingly make the necessary adjustments, modeling their lives in some part as those once did in totalitarian societies of the 20th century. The reality they live is the stuff of the shadows; the falsity they are told and repeat is public and amplified.
Cynicism and eventual anger at the schizophrenia are always the harvests of such bipolarity.
Chasing Symbols, Ignoring Realities
The official Narrative postulates that mute stones of the Confederate dead in public places is proof of continuing racism; their removal then will promote healing and empower the oppressed.
In contrast, the unofficial and popular consensus is that when street thugs deface or destroy public property and panicky mayors issue executive orders to remove them in the dead of night, the issue has little to do with strengthening democracy and even less to do with reconciliation with victimized groups. It has everything to do with redefining democracy as street theater.
The war against mute stones is more a show of the power of activists who hope to bully the country into accepting their various identity politics agendas, even if they have little practical therapeutic effect on the challenges of those they claim to defend.
To create a cultural atmosphere that holds it shameful and a crime against humanity for known gang members to shoot at inner city youths with near assured impunity is apparently impossible; to scream that a long dead Robert E. Lee is a living and hurtful racist is rather easy. Yet the cynical public concludes that such virtue signaling about the dead ignores felonies against the living because, for some reason, those cannot be addressed.
Perhaps such special facilities may relieve the anxieties of those troubled about their sexual identities, while not commensurately causing equal or greater anxieties for far more numerous people when those of a biologically different sex share their private spaces. But either way, the chief health threat in 2017 to young non-heterosexuals is a more likely a sudden and potentially deadly epidemic of syphilis, civilization’s bane of the ages, once thought almost eradicated but now reemerging with a terrible vengeance.
The liberal Los Angeles Times notes that the terrifying epidemic is almost entirely expressed among the young, male, and homosexual population. It suggests that the outbreak is a result of a resurgence of promiscuous sex—in part a result of our larger pan-sexual culture of promiscuity; in part an artifact of smartphone apps and instantaneous electronic dating hookups; and in part a false sense of security that successful remedies to HIV have now made frequent and unprotected sex with a multiplicity of partners once again part of the cultural exuberance of the gay community.
But we do not galvanize massive public attention to an epidemic that, if understood, might save lives and alleviate misery because doing so would be seen as offensively judgmental, and so the concern is too often unexpressed as we obsess more about gender neutral restrooms.
The same virtual virtue disconnect involves aspects of 21st-century feminism. According to the previous Obama administration’s directives and the new codes of most universities, there is understood to be an epidemic of rape and violence against women on campus. One of four women allegedly will be sexually assaulted (through the use of force or during incapacitation) during their undergraduate tenure.
If that number were accurate, statistically it would reveal the Stanford dorms to be far more dangerous places than the unlit avenues of nearby violent East Palo Alto (with its annual rape incidence of .67 per 1,000 residents). A stroll in a Yale quad would be far more iffy than taking a bus to and from the inner city of New Haven. Unaccountably, arriving co-eds are not moving to apartments in East Palo Alto to find sanctuary from the predation of elite males at Stanford.
But while reckless and sexually callous student males should be ostracized for insensitive consensual hookups and must be punished severely for proven coerced sex, nonetheless there is no reliable evidence that the nation’s female students are facing an epidemic of lethal dangers at our most exclusive institutions of higher learning. Certainly, women at Harvard or Brown suffer far fewer health issues or violence than similarly aged working class white male youth, who are proportionally underrepresented on university campuses but overrepresented in terms of the suicide and drug addiction rates.
If feminism’s agenda is the plight of the nation’s women, it might be more cost-effective to focus on working class women, who, like their male counterparts, are one paycheck away from financial oblivion and are sorely in need of financial counseling, job training and vocational education, and enforcement of child support statutes.
Such outreach is a necessary, but a complicated, drawn out, and unpublicized task. Where’s the glamour or political resonance in it? It is much preferable to focus on a Mattress girl’s psychodrama, or a concocted Rolling Stone hit piece on rape where one can earn greater coverage on the network news. Class in America has long been forgotten, largely because in comparison to race and gender, it has less political reverberation and fewer easily identifiable victimized constituencies. But it remains that income, education, and culture—not outward appearance—are becoming the real criteria that adjudicate whether life in America is good or nasty, brutish, solitary, and short.
Along these lines, the supposed chief political cause for the Latino community is said to be amnesty for illegal immigrants. Their interest groups advocate for a porous border that privileges immigration from Mexico and Latin America. And the Democratic Party, counting on collective rather than individual identity, is certainly on board with ignoring if not promoting illegal immigration. In this way, they seek to turn the red-states of the American southwest electorally blue through quid-pro-quo bloc voting of recent immigrants and their children.
However, almost half the Hispanic-American public opposes massive, non-diverse, and illegal immigration—whose deleterious effects (sudden infusions of non-English speakers into local schools, overburdening of social service agencies, increased gang activity, and impediments to traditional melting pot assimilation, integration, and intermarriage) fall most severely on the Mexican-American neighborhoods. Certainly, there are far more existential crises in the Latino community than immigration.
Currently, one in three of all those hospitalized in California for any cause is found to suffer from diabetes, a frightening statistic, at least in part fueled by record numbers of those vulnerable within the burgeoning Hispanic resident population—who, for a variety of reasons, are especially susceptible to the disease.
Even more foreboding, studies suggest that nearly half of all California adults suffer from either diabetes or undiagnosed prediabetes, and are in dire need of massive education programs and health awareness concerning a largely preventable illness. To advocate combatting such a potentially lethal epidemic is to address an existential challenge to the entire state of 40 million.
In contrast, to rail against “racist” border enforcement provides proof either of progressive virtue or ethnic fides, and thus is also rather easy, in the fashion Aristotle noted that being virtuous is natural and effortless in your sleep.
Yet ensuring that the most liberal immigration policy in the world is legal and diverse, while investing resources for preventing diabetes in the manner the nation found successful preventive treatments for polio and AIDS, would be the real proof of wishing to help the so-called Other.
These disconnects ensure widespread public cynicism. They suggest that the state and its private ancillaries are not interested so much in positive remedies as in their own political agendas.
The Alleviation of Guilt
There are lots of reasons for the bifurcation of loud public and less well known private realities.
A wealthy and privileged establishment class often finds gratification in blaming problems on distant and unseen illiberal whites’ “privilege,” which the latter do not have. It is as if a Princeton student finds his exemption from campus pressures by abstractly damning “white privilege,” with implicit reference to those in places like rural Pennsylvania who will never even walk on an Ivy League campus.
When a multimillionaire Hillary Clinton blasted the irredeemables and deplorables, those targeted assumed that they had far less privilege than did the Clintons, and were far more likely to put their kids in the public schools and live in integrated neighborhoods as well as intermarry, integrate, and assimilate. The more isolated one is from reality, the more he fabricates reality to square the circle.
Electoral politics is also the culprit for our two worlds of official and unofficial truths. The age of Obama convinced progressives that identity politics could fuel 51 percent national election victories—but only if voters were convinced that their appearances trumped the content of their characters. Few pushed back at the increasing polarization because they calculated that such turmoil and angst would, as it supposedly had in 2008 and 2012, continue to offer political dividends. Political correctness spread because it seemed to bring electoral dividends and demonstrate that the future “new demographics” were destiny.
Noble lying helps to explain virtual virtue: repeating something publicly that is not true but is considered something that should be true, is seen as helping to make it eventually true.
If the Bay Area public has witnessed gangs of minority youth terrorizing those on its Bay Area Rapid Transit trains, and if the transit authority in response refuses to release to the public surveillance tapes of such assaults or even to issue specific warnings, then perhaps the problem will disappear. Or at least the attacks can be virtuously contextualized—by supposedly nobly wishing to deny the media sensational reporting or to protect the civil rights of as yet uncharged marauding youths. So the transit authority virtue signals a falsity, and the public lives a reality. The more hushed the crime, the more it becomes a non-crime?
In sum, the more prominent persons voice virtual virtue at no cost, the quieter ones know better and make the necessary adjustments that fit what they see and hear and conclude. The result of our two worlds is that the virtual virtue signalers grow ever louder only to reach deaf ears; while the quieter become even more cynical and detached in having to live what increasingly seems a charade.