Pushing back against social abuse
“It is impossible to understand the politics of the Left without grasping that it is all about deniable intimidation.” - Richard Fernandez
The violence of the jealous man is not always occasioned by his lover's supposed interest in another man...On the contrary, it serves a prophylactic function and helps keep the woman utterly in thrall to him until the day she decides to leave him: for the whole focus of her life is the avoidance of his rage. Avoidance is impossible, however, since it is the very arbitrariness of his violence that keeps her in thrall to him. Thus, when I hear from a female patient that the man with whom she lives has beaten her severely for a trivial reason - for having served roast potatoes when he wanted boiled, for example, or for having failed to dust the top of the television - I know at once that the man is obsessively jealous: for the jealous man wants to occupy his lover's every thought, and there is no more effective method of achieving this than his arbitrary terrorism.
- Theodore Dalrymple, Life At the Bottom
In 1980, the late actress Farrah Fawcett starred in a critically acclaimed made-for-TV movie called The Burning Bed. The movie recounted events in the life of Francine Hughes, a battered and abused wife who reached a breaking point after years of abusive treatment by her husband. She put a stop to her abuse by pouring gasoline over her drunken, abusive husband as he lay passed out in their bed, and then setting the bed on fire.
At her subsequent trial for the murder of her husband, the jury returned a not-guilty verdict on the basis of temporary insanity.
It becomes increasingly clear to me that the volatile dynamics of our cultural and political climate are similar in distressing ways to the dynamics found in abusive relationships. The progressive left has transformed itself into an abusive attention whore, not unlike the jealous man described in Theodore Dalrymple's remarks above.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016, which could be interpreted as an effort to push back against progressive abuse, had the effect of enraging progressives. The "deniable intimidation" coming from the left - to use Richard Fernandez's characterization - had grown to the point where enough Republicans not only recognized it, but also recognized that the effete, gentlemanly legacy Republicans were not going to do anything about it.
In any bullying situation, the available reactions range from debasing subservience to confrontation. Early in an abusive relationship, I think the hope is very strong that the abuse is an aberration and not the norm. But at some point, it becomes apparent that the abuse is not an aberration but has become the essential thing that characterizes the relationship. At some point, a victim's life depends upon her willingness to fight back against her abuser.
Trump represented an effort, by a critical mass of Republican victims of progressive abuse, to defend themselves from their abusers. And, in classic abuser fashion, the progressives ratcheted up their rage and it has continued to this day.
The election day riots in 2016, the weaponization of the FBI, the Russiagate conspiracy, the politicization of Covid, the George Floyd riots, antifa, the unprosecuted vandalism of pregnancy centers, the lawless picketing and intimidation of judges, defund the police, the legal harassment of pro-life activists, etc. etc. ad nauseum. All of these events are the indications of a progressive abuser who was enraged to come home after the election to find an unexpectedly assertive victim.
The question a lot of people are asking is, "At what point do things become desperate enough that I am willing to set the bed on fire?" The question doesn't, of course, take exactly that form. But there is a growing conversation, no longer in the background, placing odds on the possibility of civil war and, at a minimum, raising the idea of "a national divorce". The abuse victims are reaching the point of desperation.
One of the symptoms of abuse is the sense that victims develop that they must live with a complicated and dangerous set of behavioral guidelines, which they must remember and obey, in order to forestall the abuser's anger. Abusers upset the mental equilibrium in their victims by rapidly changing the behavioral guidelines for avoiding abuse so that the victim is continually off-balance, always in fear of violating the ever-changing criteria for avoiding violence and rage. It turns the abuser into the focus of the victim's entire thought life.
The language and thought police of the progressive left are the vanguard of the effort to create this kind of psychological imbalance in the victims of progressives. The rapid and continuous changes in speech requirements regarding marriage, sex, pronouns, gender, pandemics etc. reflect something even more sinister than evolving moral or scientific standards on those respective issues. They create a minefield of social and, even, economic risk for anyone who doesn't give careful and sustained attention to the changing requirements for speech which are necessary to avoid abuse. An unguarded comment, an honest observation, a genuine objection - all of these can result in having the world, and sometimes the law enforcement apparatus itself, come crashing down on the victim's head.
Thus, the effect of continuously changing speech requirements is that progressives are, to a very great degree, able to control the thought lives of millions. The language we use not only reflects what we think but informs what we think. (The dual facets of our own pronouncements, both reflecting and informing our beliefs, sheds light on why confession is so important within the Christian tradition, not to mention everything from Alcoholics Anonymous to Weight Watchers.)
Progressive resistance to free speech is entirely because free speech represents the antithesis of thought control. Creating social pressure to conform speech as a means of avoiding abuse has the effect of altering the way victims think about the world. If a person is abused for saying what she really thinks, it becomes far less exhausting for her to change what she thinks than to maintain an on-going fictional existence -- one in which, to protect herself from abuse, she must constantly utter words she does not believe.
The words we choose to utter inevitably alter the very way we perceive the world. It is not possible to be against free speech unless you also deny that other human beings are entitled to their own thoughts. If you are against free speech, you are necessarily against the very humanity of your neighbors. Denying the humanity of others - withholding from them the respect due to those who bear God's image - is a common characteristic of abusers everywhere. It is in this context that any type of compelled speech (e.g. regarding pronouns) must be understood, not as an innocuous matter of social agreeableness, but as the imposition of something deeply and morally sinister.
If a man claims to be a woman, which he can never be, and demands to be addressed as such, he is not merely asking for right etiquette. He is demanding that we enter his delusion, or his lie. It is not true. He is demanding that believers in God fall in worship to an idol. Some idols are hideous, like Moloch, and some are beautiful, like Dionysus. The Hebrew prophets did not care. They did not condemn the idols for their style. They condemned them for being false. We have names for people who accustom themselves to speaking what they know to be untrue. We call them scoundrels, or cowards. - Anthony Esolen, "Sex and the Unreal City"
Even now there is little uniformity of opinion among the victims of progressivism regarding how to respond to their abusers. My own sympathies lie with those who eschew euphemism and ambiguity and fight back by speaking the truth bluntly, and without disguise.
Everyone needs to re-watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The movie plot bears on the question of what, exactly, makes possible the thin veneer of civilization we all enjoy. At the end of the day, the writer concludes, it is the willingness to actually fight for it that makes it possible. But here's the catch: notwithstanding being the very beneficiaries of someone who was willing to fight, we subsequently tell ourselves that fighting is uncivilized. Thus we plant the seed of our own demise.
Washington Generals NeverTrumpers seemed to be opposed to Trump mostly because he was gauche and uncouth and didn't go to their schools. Trump was like a guy who showed up uninvited to the cool kids party, belched loudly during the opening toast and later stuck his hand in the punch bowl.
But the NeverTrumpers were themselves revealed to be shallow and frivolous thinkers by their appalling gullibility. They rushed to believe every false accusation that dripped from the tongues of their own abusers, even while Trump was almost the only person in town who would conceivably fight back against the abuse. Trump had many warts to be sure. But he was at least willing to fight. He seemed to instinctively understand that something rather more was needed to put a stop to the abuse than the NeverTrumpers' longstanding strategy of harrumphing for the cameras about the "liberal order" just before retiring for the evening to hobnob at dinner parties with the very architects of their own abuse. I'm no Trump fan, but neither am I blind.
I may have been born at night, as someone once said, but I wasn't born last night.
The tension over the question of fighting back persists to this day and it has gone far beyond the question of Trumpian politics. It has become a central question of the "culture wars". Some have decided that they aren't going to live within the speech constraints their abusers are trying to impose. They are no longer willing to minimize the truth or to suppress their own thoughts merely to pacify a monster. Other victims, though, are still at the point where they think the abuser's terms should be accepted and we should do what we can to "behave". At least, that is how I interpret events surrounding Matt Walsh's recent dust up over his propensity for bluntness regarding the issue of transgenderism. Matt unpacks his reasons in the clip below. I think you'll find that he, for one, has determined not to comply with the dictates of his abusers.
This is probably what it looks like when an abuse victim decides to set the bed on fire.