The Futility of Dissidence

February 02, 2011

Multiple Pages
The Futility of Dissidence

A few weeks ago in this space I did a Q&A with Jared Taylor of the race-realist American Renaissance website and monthly newsletter. At the time, Jared was preparing for his organization’s annual conference, scheduled for Charlotte, North Carolina this coming weekend, February 4-6. The previous year’s event had been derailed by leftist thugs phoning in death threats to the conference hotel’s employees. But Jared seemed confident that he had the situation covered this time.

Ha! Charlotte City Council member (and Mayor Pro Tem) Patrick Cannon, who is black, sent a few emails to city hotels, and now Jared’s conference is homeless. Cannon’s behavior was disgraceful—a politician dictating which private groups with whom a hotel can do business—and quite possibly illegal, but plainly he doesn’t care. He knows he will not be called out on his actions by anyone who can cause him political harm, certainly not by his constituents.

And this, just after I got through congratulating Jared (humorously) on having garnered publicity for his conference from the Tucson shooting. The story going around—reported on, for example, Fox News—was that Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, had some connection with American Renaissance. The story was completely false. Jared Taylor himself attributed its origin to some dimwitted Homeland Security clerk getting his Jareds confused: “Jared isn’t that common a name; it’s just the sort of coincidence computer algorithms look for….”

Discussing this with a mutual friend, the friend sighed: “Jared is hopelessly ‘white.’”

We know what he means. Jared’s working assumptions are that issues of race and citizenship—“the National Question”—can be discussed calmly in rooms full of well-dressed people with good manners who share understandings reached by dispassionately scrutinizing evidence through open debate. Filling those rooms and feeding those people can arranged via private agreements with commercial interests, free from political interference and protected by authorities from violent harassment.

There is a sense in which those assumptions are indeed “white,” which is to say, of European provenance. It is true that non-Europeans can conduct themselves like that: NAACP, La Raza, or Asian American Journalists Association conferences are probably conducted with a similar sense of decorum. It is likewise true that Europeans frequently do not manage things in such a bourgeois fashion: The mostly white leftists who broke up Jared’s conference last year would be a case in point, and European history provides many others.

The genteel, Taylorish way of doing things is, in fact, unhuman. It goes against our natural propensities. Very few races or nations can maintain it for long. Most human actions are emotion-driven; most human beliefs are built on magic, superstition, wishful thinking, social striving, and personal feelings. It may be that you do A or believe B because you have been persuaded in reasoned discussion that A is a proper course of action and B is most likely true. But much, much more often, A is prompted by your deep brain stem without any conscious thought being involved, while B appeals because X, whom you love, believes B, or because Y, whom you hate, believes not-B.

“The dissident’s dream is that one day the great mass of people will come to see things his way. That practically never happens.”

Wherever the Taylor mode persists, it is because Europeans got the ball rolling, establishing the necessary rules and restraints. As a social phenomenon, science is Taylorian, and its 17th-century origins—the Royal Society and the Académie des sciences—are perfectly European. (Again, it took Europeans 2,000 years to get there. But nobody else ever got there, nor even close to there, under their own steam.)

The more “normal,” universally human way of doing things was on display in the events surrounding this year’s and last year’s American Renaissance conferences. Powerful tribal elders threaten to withhold goods they control, or fierce young braves enforce tribal taboos while the elders look on with indulgent approval. To imagine that reason and law could stand against such primal forces was naive, as well as quaintly “white.”

Jared excites strong emotions—an odd thing, as he is a polite and good-natured man whose opinions are merely unpopular, not outrageous. Any time I mention him I get emails, often from mainstream conservative types, taking him to task for something or other at considerable length. Often these emails have some point to them, but it’s always a picayune point, and I find myself wondering why it generated sufficient mental energy to produce a thousand words of close argumentation.

The reason is that Jared’s opinions violate tribal taboos. There never was a human society without taboos. Since it is not easy to tell where respect for taboos ends and everyday good manners begin, one could argue that taboo-violators are ill-mannered. (Knowing Jared, I am sure this would wound him more deeply than any accusation of “racism.”)

Jared is a type with whom I have been long familiar. He is a dissident.

I’ve spent considerable time among dissidents, either imaginatively or actually. In the 1970s I was a keen reader of dissident Soviet literature: Amalrik, Dyadkin, Zinoviev, Bukovsky, and of course Solzhenitsyn. In the 1980s I got to know some Chinese dissidents in person.

All dissidents share an overdeveloped respect for the Taylorian virtues as listed above. Some dissidents undeniably have a specific ideological or religious ax to grind, but most are, by dint of personality, members of the Awkward Squad, unwilling to go along with the prevailing taboo structure. Among the Soviet dissidents, Vladimir Bukovsky is a particularly pure specimen. He had no program or agenda, only a stubborn unwillingness to say that two plus two equals five.

A dissident’s career is beset by two tragedies: a lesser one and a greater one.

The lesser one is that he will be despised, or at best disliked, by the great mass of his fellow countrymen. It is always tempting to think that taboos are imposed from above, by trickery or force, on people who would shrug them off if they could. There is an element of that, especially in unfree societies, but for the most part societies self-police their own chosen taboos. People like having taboos. By collapsing complex issues into simple moral formulas, taboos spare us from having to think. Thought is much harder work than feeling.

The greater tragedy is that dissidence is futile. It rarely accomplishes anything. The dissident’s dream is that one day the great mass of people will come to see things his way. That practically never happens. The USSR is gone, but there is no respect in which its replacement is Amalrikian or Bukovskian. This applies even in the case of a dissident of world-historical stature such as Solzhenitsyn. Would things in Russia be any different today if Solzhenitsyn had perished from a sniper’s round in WWII? I can’t see it.

The USSR was brought down by impersonal historical and economic forces, not by dissidents. Stalin murdered dissidents out of hand. His successors sent them to remote camps. Then, from the early 1970s on, they simply expelled them. China has followed the same path with its dissidents:

There is something inescapably melancholy about them, about their condition.…Nobody is much interested in them, or in what they have to say. They eke out a thin existence on the fringes of American life, writing occasional pieces for western newspapers, addressing ill-attended meetings in draughty provincial college auditoriums, doing some ill-paid work for one of the dissident organizations, or—in one case I know of—selling insurance in Chinatown. The words “shabby” and “émigré” go irresistibly together. It would almost have been kinder for the communists to shoot them, if kindness were a thing communists are into.

We don’t shoot our dissidents, nor even exile them or send them to camps. But in other respects their careers parallel those of their spiritual kin living under sterner regimes: ignored by power-seekers, denounced by those who toady to power, swatted down contemptuously by power-holders, disliked by the taboo-upholding generality, and doomed to failure and oblivion unless, by very occasional blind luck, history in its onward march finds itself in step with them.

I still like and admire dissidents. I honor their cussedness, integrity, and courage. I can never stir myself to join them, though. Cowardice? By all means, you can think so. I view it as “insufficiently masochistic.”


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