There has been an outbreak of realism recently.
I noticed it first in the postelection commentary. The normal thing is that following an election, the thumb-sucking commentariat carves up the result by interests: region, class, religion, the economy, liberal-conservative inclination, etc.
You can include me among the thumb-suckers. Here I was ruminating on the elections of 2008 (cultural Marxism, class warfare), 2004 (spending, SCOTUS, groveling to foreigners), 2000 (regulations, taxes, immigration).
This time around the commentary was wall-to-wall demography. The left was crowing about how women and minorities had come into their inheritance while white heterosexual males had been banished to the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Much more astonishing was the sight of light bulbs going on over the heads of conservative commentators. Bill O’Reilly announced on prime-time TV that “The white establishment is now the minority.” Mark Steyn said that “demographics is destiny.” Fred Barnes confessed that “the white vote is a Republican stronghold” and urged Republicans not to feel guilty about it. (I swear I won’t, Fred.)
All true: but what then of the notion that any number of persons, of any race or ethnicity, can be persuaded to any political position if the arguments are properly pitched? What of race being merely a “social construct” easily overcome by appeals to economic or social interest?
While I was still reeling from all this demographic reality, the Petraeus scandal broke. A lot of the commentary here was in old-style moralistic mode, but a surprising amount was inspired by cold modern intuitions from the human sciences—hypergamous woman seeking out high-status alpha male.
Paula Broadwell is reported to be “filled with guilt and shame for what she’s done.” One imagines her sitting at home wailing: “I don’t know what came over me.” Hey, Paula, here’s what came over you: B-I-O-L-O-G-Y.
Beneath the reportage, ancient truths could be glimpsed: the truth, for example, that if the human race were to be reduced to 99 males and one female, it would quickly go extinct, whereas if it were reduced to 99 females and one male, it would most likely survive.
To see how odd all this realism is, think back through time. Fifty years ago much of the commentary on these events would have been couched in the language of Marx and Freud—“historical dialectic,” “Oedipus complex,” and the rest. We now know that Marxism and Freudianism were elegant intellectual fantasies. (Leszek Kolakowski, who actually taught Marxism in the philosophy department of a major university in communist Poland—declared in 1976 that “Marxism has been the greatest fantasy of our century.”)
The currently dominant social fantasy in the Western world is the Blank Slate model of human nature: the dogma that, to quote once again my favorite enunciation of it, “given the opportunity, most people could do most anything.”
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