One week into the fall semester of my ninth grade year, I came to the reluctant conclusion that my new history teacher was a lunatic. She had decided to forego the expected study of history and instead we would all be focusing our powers of learning on the psychology nostrum known as transactional analysis. One of the books she trotted out for us to read was called I’m Ok - You’re Ok. Shortly after the publication of I’m Ok - You’re Ok, some smart aleck penned a response entitled I’m Ok - You’re Not So Hot. I was immediately drawn to the title, not only because I have a predisposition toward skepticism about psychology, but because I sensed that the title was actually a more honest expression of reality if one accepts the tragic view of the world - that in our fallenness we make everything about ourselves. Anyway, I’ve always sympathized with Russell Kirk’s view that psychology seems like nothing so much as the “deification of the ulterior motive”.
As an aside, I’ve never really been enamored with the grandiose theories concocted by intellectuals, or with those same intellectuals’ high opinions of themselves. In high school, I graduated near the top of my class. (An outcome that suggests a great deal more about the undemanding curriculum than it does about me.) Along the way, I had been invited to be a member of the various clubs that signified academic achievement (National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, etc.) But I turned all of the invitations down because something in me recoiled at the idea. I had good friends who accepted these invitations and I don’t begrudge them one bit. But while I would have enjoyed being with my friends, there were also some insufferable snobs who attended the required after-school meetings. Besides, such attendance on my part would have interfered with my primary occupation at the time, which was fishing the Laguna Madre after school with my friend Mark Walker. What, after all, is a math club meeting when you could be reeling in a speckled trout?
But I digress.
Someone must have complained about the fact that the ninth graders were studying psychology in lieu of history, because somewhere around Thanksgiving we reverted without explanation to the assigned course of study. The animated, vaguely maniacal sessions about psychology suddenly vanished and were replaced by a bored (and boring) context-free recitation of historical facts by the teacher.
The honesty suggested by the sarcastic response in I’m Ok - You’re Not So Hot interested me then and interests me still, not least because someone speaking openly and honestly is as refreshing as it is rare.
Which brings me to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
This young woman from the Bronx is a source of much consternation on both sides of the political aisle. The hackles are raised in large part, it seems, because she is unpracticed in the art of veiling her intentions. She is undeniably ignorant about many details yet remains invincibly unembarrassed. There’s something very refreshing about it all.
The left’s old guard is unhappy with her plainspoken transparency. She has come in for criticism recently from former Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Reid, a man who turned brazen lying into an art form, says “A person could say we need to raise taxes a little bit...when you talk about 70 percent and all that, we have to be careful because the American people are very conservative in the sense of not wanting radical change quickly. It just doesn’t work.” English translation: You should not be blabbing the totality of your intentions to the frogs you are planning to boil.
The right, of course, mocks Ocasio-Cortez for her ignorance. But I suspect that her ignorance is an outgrowth of being so convinced of the righteousness of her cause that she sees no need to concern herself with the details. “I think that there's a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” Her statement perfectly illuminates much of what we are witnessing on the left.
The challenge faced by the old lefty politicians lies in how to deal with a new crop of lefties who, for now at least, are less interested in lining their own pockets than in demonstrating their moral superiority. We should take Ocasio-Cortez at her word when she says that her interest is in her own moral rectitude. She may be fantastically wrong in suggesting that morality can be decoupled from truth, but she’s at least telling us honestly what she’s really about.
The danger posed by Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow travelers, however, is that the costs of their proposals for parading their personal virtue will invariably be borne by someone else. Socialists always end up preying on their neighbors as the necessary cost of the socialist’s craving for a sense of moral superiority. If you can convince yourself that, in using up the lives of others you are actually doing them a service, there’s no end to how superior you can feel.
Watch carefully and you will observe that the policies of the left are always argued on moral grounds. But buried inside the unsavory details is that the cost of their socialist virtue will be funded by someone else - not just in treasure but often in blood.
C.S. Lewis, with his typically keen eye, observed that,
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep...but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
There’s a curious story in the bible (2 Samuel 24) in which King David determines that he wants to set up a monument and offer a sacrifice on the property of a man named ‘Araunah’. Araunah offers to give the King the property and everything he needs for the sacrifice, including a pair of oxen. But David has no intention of appeasing his God by burdening someone else with the cost. Having been offered the gift of everything he needed, David responds by saying “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
There is no such thing as virtue on the cheap, someone is going to have to pay. And the question of who gets stuck with the check is the subject that has haunted all religions and most political movements since the dawn of time. Socialists are quite prepared (paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence) to send hither swarms of officers to harass the people and eat out their substance. And they propose this while arguing, with a straight face, that this is proof of their morality. Alas.
Socialists instinctively understand what many who came before them understood: the price of moral restoration is always paid in blood. And the ancient hunger for redemption is felt as acutely by socialists as by the most pious Christian. But the great secret of the universe is that the lifeblood of redemption can only ever be given, it can never be taken. It will never be found in the socialist practice of devouring the lives of others. Redemption is not something you can steal.
But socialists like Miss Ocasio-Cortez still insist on donning the mantle of virtue and they still insist that someone else foot the bill.
They just hope you won’t notice...the blood of your neighbors...dripping from their lips.