I just became aware that an article I was quite proud of is no longer available due to the site it was hosted on going offline. RIP Twink Revolution. Your podcast and written content will be sorely missed. Thankfully, I still have the old file and so am going to repost at least my own contribution to the magazine here as it was when first uploaded in December of 2020.
I do think that in the time since this piece has aged well and remains relevant.
The Aughts were cringe. Dane Cook was one of the most popular comedians. Carlos Mencia had a television show. You couldn’t enter a movie theater without being forced into seeing the trailer for ‘Stealth’ at least once. The United States had invaded Iraq as part of a rage-induced post-9/11 pathos despite that country having literally nothing to do with those attacks. Heritage Foundation interns then attempted to reconstruct the Iraqi government from a hermetically sealed governing pod called ‘The Green Zone,’ no doubt while listening to the rapidly degenerating solo career of Gwenn Stefani as she told the world that her shit was bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
Shit may have been bananas elsewhere, but one area where the culture was decidedly on point was on the immense strides made by the gay rights movement in that decade. Successes which, in retrospect, could not exist in today’s utterly homogenous and moralistic dominant culture.
One of the advantages afforded by the period of chaos unleashed by 9/11, Iraq, The Great Recession, and the calamitous collapse of the Bush regime from top of the world to leaving office with around a twenty percent approval rating was that cultural norms were questioned. Not in some superficial issue-by-issue basis like we have now, but in a way that fundamentally interrogated the very foundation of our concepts of morality. Public opinion went from decidedly hostile to homosexuals and bisexuals (Jerry Fallwell even blaming them for 9/11 on live television) to overall societal ambivalence with young people moving firmly into a generally positive disposition towards such minorities over the course of roughly a decade. It is worth remembering that this change occurred in a time when both political parties were at least somewhat hostile, and no major politician willingly embraced the cause of gay rights. The rhetoric of gay rights had little to lose, so could be suitably mean. Politicians were bullied relentlessly. The endless numbers of homophobic closet cases in the GOP became a running gag. It was about asserting divergence from the norm as a point of pride rather than spreading a gospel of gay. It worked not in spite of lacking decorum but because it had no such performative scruples. No one wanted to be a “good person”, they wanted to be effective advocates. Sometimes, that meant being bad.
Compare this record to the recent dip in the growth of acceptance of sexual orientation minorities. Considering that religiosity among the young is not increasing right now, it is hard not to see this as a result of the woke culture war backfiring. Being for gay rights is no longer an anti-moral values alternative, but part and parcel of integrating into the moralistic politics of a country whose first settlers were Puritans and whose dominant culture has never broken out of their mold. The secularization of politics did not change the unchallenged assumptions of the missionary that still lurked within. The liberal adoption and promotion of a very specific and suburban subset of LGBT issues focused on marriage and personal expression rather than addressing critical disparities in homelessness and housing security shows how these issues have become just another liturgy.
This enables social conservatives to pretend to be a brave counterculture when appealing to people neutral on social issues and thus to make gains using the same methods used by gays last decade. This is a ridiculous farce that shouldn’t even be possible as there is nothing rebellious against an ideology about the maintenance and defense of the status quo, but in the Woke Era, it is gaining traction under the auspices of the liberal establishment. The neoliberals are the dominant establishment of the discourse now and anyone too close to them will be painted in the same brush as their declining socio-economic system.
How did we get here?
The final and drawn-out collapse of the decades-long power of the theocratic Moral Majority, which was one of the dominant trendsetters of cultural commentary in the 1980s, became a power vacuum where straight people could declare independence from a dying order by adopting causes such as equal legal rights for gays. But as more people raised within the confines of conventional American morality adopted these causes, these causes, in turn, became reflections of the morality with which the gay rights movement had made so much success opposing in the first place.
The turning point for this resurgence of cultural reaction had to have been around 2012. While the world failed to end according to the then-popular misreading of the Mayan calendar, the Era of Edge gave way to the Era of Woke. The world may as well have ended, so far as oppositional subcultures were concerned. The reason for this was simple, the establishment realized that the new hip cause of gay rights had now become popular enough that it could be co-opted in support of maintaining their entrenched power, supplanting the role culture war had played for conservatives until this point. 2012 would go on to give us Upworthy and Kony2012 among many other imitators, the former being an example of the coming Breitbart-style degeneration of liberal media over the course of the 2010s and the latter the first go at weaponizing progressive caremongering for the facilitation of further military interventionism. Both of these would become mainstream trends as the new decade ticked on. Woke evangelism would expand part and parcel with these new trends. A social credit prosperity gospel that exists to assure its followers that they are protagonists of their own story, and all they had to do was have strong opinions on social issues. If you believe Burkean conservatism laundered through a progressive HR department is the best way to combat the forces of reaction and entrenched power, I suppose it is a success.
A movement propelled to success by being offensive, contrarian, and against the (then) cultural zeitgeist is now held up to be the very model of our intersectional empire with much of its history sanitized for mass consumption by being presented as an inevitable outgrowth of cautious patience and faith in progress. In fact, it has so much cache that it’s increasingly common for de facto heterosexuals to call themselves ‘queer’, usually for just having a bad haircut and gangrene-tinted dye job. But being an agoraphobic nerd is not a sexual orientation. The hijacking of the discourse around sexual orientation by what are effectively Habanero Heteros is precisely why the contrarian gains of the past have been watered down into nothing more than a public performance and recycled versions of old-timey moral panic. What better way to keep ideological competition from piercing the bubble of establishment media than a new and obscure litmus test?
What is to be done about this? While no future will ever be identical to a past era, these types of moralistic fads do tend to come and go. But rather than just wait for the woke tide to recede out the way of its evangelical predecessors (who can even tell when that will be?) we could learn from one of the few good things of the Aughts…its delightfully oppositional and contrarian rhetoric. Reject unity with the discourse and embrace divergence and rebellion, even if that makes you, gasp, an edgelord. Have the courage to have views based on knowledge and experience rather than the dogmatism of trendy and ephemeral alliances and established ideological camps. Minorities do not do well under forcefully homogenized societies and it is our task to create a new subversive counterculture to this bloodless liberal pantomime whose only purpose is to stroke its own ego as society decays around it. Woke techno-neofeudalism vs an empowered and invigorated far right as its only opposition is not an acceptable choice, but it is the only choice left if we do not break with the pieties of the present era for something else entirely. If we do not provide an alternative our enemies will do it for us.
Running themes on this site are historical trickster figures, explorations of books on relevant subject matters in detail, and past parallels to present challenges. Here, I will bring you all three in addition to some original ‘artwork’ from myself at the end.
Despite being primarily interested in other eras and parts of the world, it should be obvious to regular readers that I have developed a recent fixation on 17th Century Europe and in particular Britain. This is not because it conflates with most of my actual historical interests, as it mostly does not, but because it is the time that is so culturally similar to our own and thus demands closer examination. Those with little to no historical knowledge have a tendency to reach for over-used and often ill-fitting periods, such as the Great Depression and World War II, but the world we live in looks nothing like the Inter-War era in actual substance. This is merely hyperbolic rhetoric from neoliberals who have no comparison point to the fairly regular occurrence of localism re-asserting itself against internationalism.
Today does, however, look a lot like Europe of the Thirty Years War and the Britain of the era of its civil wars. Indeed, the ideologies and struggles of that time plague us still. Our present era, I would argue, is a very Cromwellian one. For those of us who oppose this and find it the potential start of a new dark age, it becomes relevant to familiarize ourselves with how this happened before and how such a time was overcome and displaced. Having already dealt with the lessons that can be learned from the Thirty Years War before, I now wish to move towards the British origin point of so much of present ideological pathologies.
Since the analogy is obviously imperfect, (there is no conventional war yet, for one thing) it should be understood that I am more focusing on the cultural and philosophical life of political society rather than claiming an exact parallel in events. Nevertheless, you may find yourself surprised by the overlaps between then and now. Wokeness, Christian evangelism, universalist liberalism, creationism, and many of the other afflictions of the Anglophone world were born or revived in this time. And now, as the cultural dominance of that world begins to recede in our present era, it comes forth once again with full force and with a cacophonous death rattle…knowing the time to remake the world in its image has come to a close but seeking one last great push.
The Commonwealth and Protectorate’s Messianic Endeavor
‘If He that strengthens your servants to fight, pleases to give your hearts to set upon these things, in order to His glory, and the glory of your Commonwealth, besides the benefit of England shall feel thereby, you shall shine forth to other nations, who shall emulate the glory of such a pattern, and through the power of God turn into the like.’ ~Oliver Cromwell
The British Civil Wars began in Scotland and ended in Ireland, though they are often erroneously called ‘The English Civil War’. In the end it would be England dictating the peace for the others. The union of the crowns that had begun with James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England upon Elizabeth I’s death had finally brought inter-state warfare on the British Isles to a close, but sectarian and domestic political struggles would tear the country apart under his inept successor, Charles I’s rule. Parliament would emerge victorious in the resulting civil war, and then eject various other groups from power in Ireland and Scotland. Charles I would be executed, his family driven into exile, and an attempt to set up a republic would ensue. Cromwell himself would end up shutting down parliament and ruling as a dictatorial “Lord Protector” not long after this.
Paul Lay’s ‘Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of the English Republic’ is an Anglo-centric yet nevertheless engaging read about the state that existed between the fall of Charles I and the restoration of Charles II. He describes a state that began with so much experimental promise but descended into factionalism and moralistic hypochondria. Something akin to if the American Revolution had been immediately co-opted by an alliance of Cotton Mathers and Tipper Gores right after the Treaty of Paris.
Sadly, this could not have been a surprise. Even before the war was over it was soon apparent that, demographically, the Parliamentarians were far more puritan than ‘leveller’ (the term given to people who wanted a universal male franchise). In a situation that should strike familiarity with anyone who has followed the Syrian Civil War, what looks on the surface like a noble cause can in fact be nothing but a sieve for fanatics and sectarians. People throughout Britain soon learned this as a government that was supposedly committed to freedom of religion began to persecute anyone not clearly of the Puritan ilk, including former allies of theirs like the Quakers.
Messianic regimes, especially new ones, cannot justify themselves without outward expansion. And so, the powerful military edifice built to win the Civil War would be turned onto Spain. In particular, its enormous New World empire. But the invasion of Hispaniola ended disastrously amidst tropical disease and local Spanish soldiers who knew the terrain. As a consolation prize the defeated English swept into barely-defended Jamaica. It would be their only gain from an expedition with dreams of driving the Whore of Babylon out of the New World and introducing a new Protestant reign for Central America.
In a pattern all too familiar to moderns, failure abroad led to a bizarre rise of extremism at home. Cromwell entered a kind of existential crisis. He had not failed in such a way. Surely, it must have been the nation itself that had yet to repent for its wickedness. And so, loyal generals were appointed as satraps throughout the country with explicit instructions to crack down on irreligion, drinking, the arts (especially theater) and even folk festivals. A life simmering within unadorned churches would be the only publicly sanctioned form of culture for the masses. It was this that made the people turn against the government in large numbers. But living in a literal garrison state, there was nothing they could do but grumble. Lay has a particular section that describes the goals of this society which is designed to strike us today:
‘The concept of a tirelessly interventionist and inescapable God might be compared to social media, resulting in comparable levels of anxiety and paranoia. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are realms of round-the-clock surveillance, where one’s thoughts and actions, beliefs and appearance are posted and preserved for all to see and subjected to constant comparison and judgement. The shame, vindictiveness, and piety that social media generates would not have felt out of place among seventeenth Century Puritans. But one can opt out of social media, however addictive. There was no such option in the world God had created, nor in the next.’
The various sects denounced each other constantly. To borrow a phrase from Angela Nagle, ‘competing over a scarcity of virtue’ in order to prove who was the most humble and the most ideological pure. Cromwell himself cared only that people were Protestant, but the forces and style of governance he had unleashed catered to only the worst and most extreme of ideologues. Fortunately, this government did not survive Cromwell. His ineffectual failson and chosen successor fled the country as the disputes between Generals and ex-Parliamentarians threatened to tear the islands apart again. But no one wanted a sequel to full blown civil war. A compromise was reached, if the exiled son of the late king would sign on to acknowledging the existence of Parliament in government, he would be invited back to bring the country together and avoid calamity.
The Restoration Undoes the Era of Hysteria
‘The King spent most of his time with confident young men, who abhorred all discourse that was serious, and, in the liberty, they assumed in drollery and raillery, preserved no reverence towards God or man, but laughed at all sober men, and even at religion itself.’ ~James Butler, Duke of Ormond.
‘He spends all his days
In running in plays
When in his Shop he should be poreng;
And wastes all his Nights
In constant delights
Of Reveling, Drinking, and Whoreing.
~Anon, ‘Upon His Majesties’ Being Made Free of the Citty.’
One would have expected had he lived the life planned for him King Charles II would have been a diffident, if witty, failson not unlike Richard Cromwell. At least he wasn’t that other and most cursed Charles II. The problem with monarchy is the sheer sheltered entitlement it breeds in those growing up expecting to inherit it. Due to the Civil War, however, Charles did not have this luxury. He fled the country, tried to rally support in Scotland only to be held hostage by the fanatic Covenanters and forced by Archibald Campbell, their de facto leader, to sign away much of his powers to them. Then, Cromwell had defeated the Scots (largely due to religious fanatics firing their most experienced commanders for ‘drinking and whoring’ on the eve of the Battle of Dunbar). Charles had to flee again. Crossing much of the country in disguise as a commoner and having many close calls, the heir to the monarchy slept outside, hid in trees, and developed a knack for socially integrating himself with common people he otherwise would not have. Once he made it out of the country, he would end up living an impoverished yet interesting young adulthood in the Netherlands, France, and Spain. Largely existing as leech on related aristocratic families in those countries.
When he returned to England he did so to a totally changed country. But not more changed than himself. In her book ‘A Gambling Man: Charles II’s Restoration Game’, Jenny Uglow documents how Charles’ unconventional and roguish new skill set served him well to meet this particular moment as the restorer of the monarchy in England, Scotland, and Ireland.
Charles II had a victory procession of sorts, but it was not simply pomp. As he disembarked in the country that had once tried to kill him, he was met by crowds of people relieved that there would be no civil war or continuation of Puritan rule. Formerly powerful general submitted to his authority, and he used his political capitol to disband the radical-infested army. This not only removed his most dangerous enemies, but also freed up immense amount of finance for the state. The regicide parliamentarians were hunted down for execution or driven into exile. Archibald Campbell found himself publicly executed in Edinburgh, and Cromwell’s body was disinterred for a mock execution and display.
But what followed this score-settling would be even more interesting. Charles was both a monarch who liked to throw massive court parties, indulge in the arts (which he of course re-legalized and came to patron) but also was an accessible ‘man of the people.’ He was at ease with people of all backgrounds and often struck up conversations with random people he met on the street when walking his dogs (of the breed now named for him). Rumors that he ‘rolled from whore to whore’ incognito as a commoner abounded and seemed to actually increase many people’s affection for him after the dour Cromwellian cultural revolution. When the Great Fire of London threatened to engulf the entire city, he not only led the response in an official capacity, but was smeared in ash and smoke, working the firebreaks and hauling buckets of water with the crowd at the worst of it. I can personally attest from years living in multiple locations in the United Kingdom that there are many pubs named after him to this day. And, of course, there is that Horrible Histories song.
But Charles was not simply a people’s partier. He was actually a fairly competent monarch in his own right. His diplomacy showed immense flexibility and his limited naval wars, though often considered indecisive or even losses by conventional historians, did encapsulate his move towards international trade access and naval power. The gains made in this conflict would, in fact, end up with the acquisition of New York and New Jersey, unifying the English colonies in North America into one band of coast-the first springboard for a future great power Britain. These pickups were made possible by the money he made selling indefensible colonial outposts in other places like Tangier and Calais. A keen eye for geography, and the centrality of the offshore stance in Europe but expansion elsewhere, showed the way of the future for an island nation. People back then didn’t know it yet, but Charles II’s reign would lay the seeds of Britain’s future at the expense of its (then) more powerful rivals in France, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Charles would make some major errors too, most importantly designating his thick-headed brother as his official successor knowing it would cause another sectarian crisis. Some people have said this sympathy for a Catholic brother stemmed from Charles’ own secret conversion. But Charles, it seems to me, cared little for religion and made this conversion to gain war subsidies from Louis XIV of France. After all, he did get the money and didn’t even convert until he was on his death bed. He never ended up converting the court, meaning he got one over on his superpower cousin. But the point here is not to say Charles II was a perfect ruler to whom we should aspire, but rather that he was a cultural force. The right counterbalance at the right time. He singlehandedly ended Britain’s first Woke-Evangelical Era not with frothing reactionary policies, but through levity, pragmatism, and disdain for all kinds of cultural extremes. In so doing, a hot mess of a country prone to regular bouts of rebellion and sectarian strife began to transform itself into a future financial and industrial powerhouse.
For a time anyway. All gains are, after all, temporary. Something the Puritan can never understand.
Accepting the Hobbesian Bargain
‘The obligations of the subjects to a sovereign is understood to last as long and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them…the end of obedience is protection.’ ~Thomas Hobbes
‘The losers are the real victors. The victims are the real winners.’ This was the sentiment of puritanism, and it is the dominant sentiment in the Anglophone world today. So much of our present-day culture war (which was declared by and waged in service of the right before it became the lefty cause du jour of the present moment) is an all-pervasive and multi-ideological trend. But it is a trend that can be defeated. This can be accomplished by the marriage of two things often not thought of as partners: the marriage of state power and the levity of humor.
Anyone who has ever interacted with ideological cliques such as anarchists knows that it is often the people who fear the state who are the most authoritarian and censorious people imaginable. Radical cliques often degenerate into cults where people psychologically abuse each other for clout and differences between people are not tolerated. Individualism is ineffective for every cause, so when one does not believe in the arbitration of the state, one must create a sect to compensate. The sect, ironically, often tolerates less dissent and divergence than does the state. This is because all they have is ideology, whereas the secular state (whatever form it takes) is a more situational and territorial arbiter. Its concerns (when it is working anyway) is to maintain the peace over its sovereign location and to maximize its autonomy vis-à-vis other states. This is true for all states and state-like entities no matter their internal ideological and traditional structure. Though states that forget this are very likely to degrade the sanity and effectiveness of their governing class and become more like those sectarian cults that spring up in their absence.
Let us return once more to the 17th Century. Thomas Hobbes was an intellectual and instructor who had royalist connections. He missed the civil war due to his job as a private tutor having taken him to France beforehand. When Charles II was in exile in France, Hobbes became his personal instructor. It was at this point that he published his most famous work, Leviathan. Leviathan’s blatantly irreligious, pragmatist, and materialist nature would cause scandal in the Stuart court-in-exile…despite the fact that it made an implicit argument for the Stuart style of governance. Fearing retaliation from religious cavaliers, he fled to Cromwell’s Protectorate. He reasoned, rightly as it turned out, none of the members of that government had yet read his works. He also made it clear that the necessity of government he wrote about could apply to any form of statecraft. Sovereignty was not held by divine right, but by power over the land and the execution of the prerogatives of the state itself.
When Charles was restored, he invited Hobbes to enter the court. It was there that the already old man, known today as a dour sourpuss due to the nature of his thought, made himself indispensable through his wit, jokes, and ability to disregard superstition and religious dogma (Hobbes himself was almost certainly an atheist in private). This is when people really began reading him.
Hobbes’ political thought lacks the subtlety of Han Feizi or even Confucius. In his concept of the mediating sovereign which protects individuals and groups from each other, he is far too supportive of the idea that the subject must support the sovereign no matter what-so long as their security needs are met. He wallows in constant fear of rebellion for obvious reasons given the times he lived in, but the long view of history shows plenty of rebellions that replace an inferior sovereign with a superior one. He does not grapple with the problem, innate to his thinking, of sovereign capriciousness from one head of state to another upon succession and which is particularly common in monarchies.
All of this being said, Hobbes is worth engaging with as his primary observation, that society can only thrive under conditions of sovereignty where a state is the primary mediating influence between actors, is correct for any society larger than that of the tribe. It is also, though this was not Hobbes’ intent, a better model of achieving freedom of conscience and securing the ability of divergent people to live with each other than more ideologically motivated models of conversion. Leviathan, it turns out, is a better guardian of private liberty than even the ideal of private liberty itself. Just ask any non-Islamist and non-liberal Syrian today, especially if they come from a minority group.
In his book ‘The Two Faces of Liberalism’, John Gray examines this lost liberationist aspect of Hobbes. Most useful to us today, he makes a case that the best of liberal values can be saved only by rejecting the worst of them. Specifically, the freedom to live one’s life as they please in the cultural and lifestylist sense by sacrificing liberalism’s tendency towards universalism and messianic behavior. These two impulses which are endemic in the philosophy are at war with each other, because universalism cannot abide competitors and those who opt out of it, and, on the other side, divergence requires a morally neutral pragmatist state to balance interests without adopting a mission of its own aside from the survival and maintenance of the state itself. This restricts communal projects to the realm of necessary material needs for a community like security and infrastructure.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a very liberal society. And so, to convince those in power to change policies, we must all be liberals to some degree. Gray’s reappropriation of Hobbes is a way to do that which makes the messianic culture war obsolete. Indeed, Gray admires Hobbes’ Leviathan as a model which could ‘Extend the benevolence of indifference’ to issues of private lifestylist and social spheres so long as the political order that upholds this indifference is not challenged by the subject. He points out that such arrangements were the norm in the ancient and classical worlds, before messianic religions took hold, and are often still the norm in places like East Asia, were they never came to be powerful at all. They also tend to exist in early modern states like the height of the Ottoman Empire, and, most obviously and perhaps at its greatest extent, in medieval states like that of the Mongols. For a modern example, he cites Singapore as a country that guarantees freedom of religion but bans missionary activity. The liberals did not invent toleration, they merely invented a form which was a successor to the Christian world it was rebelling against. But as such, this toleration inherited many preexisting problems.
Despite liberalism being the pervasive default setting in the Anglosphere, but not in these other examples, Gray wishes to learn from such arrangements as ways to have a collective civically minded state that does not engage in enforcing ideological or cultural uniformity but still maintains a civic unity. I contend that, in order to appeal internally to this Anglosphere’s tradition and common historical experience, that the reign of Charles II serves as a potential in-house model for such an arrangement. Not because I am a monarchist (I am definitely not) but because it came from a similar age of hysteria and ended up dissolving many of the problems it inherited. While Charles II is a bit too establishment to fit my mold of previous historical trickster figures, he had a similar personality as those past examples and thus can cross the bridge of communicating these issues between more outsider and insider persuasions. This, naturally, applies to the international system as well as the domestic. Whatever ways we find around our present impasse will differ from the solutions of the past, but we can certainly learn from events that preceded us nevertheless.
Modus Vivendi, as Gray calls his proposal, is not only the acknowledgement that no one way of governance can work for everyone, but that the very idea of political hegemony through one ideology is a potential declaration of war upon much of the domestic population of a state and thus cannot exist in a world where pluralism is the natural state of things. Two Faces of Liberalism is a short book and worth reading in its entirety, so I won’t mass quote it here, but there are two passages in particular I wish to conclude with:
‘Modus Vivendi expresses the belief that there are many forms of life in which humans can thrive. Among these are some whose worth cannot be compared. Where such ways of life rivals, there is no one of them that is best. People who belong to different ways of life need have no disagreement. They may simply be different. Modus Vivendi is liberal toleration adapted to the historical fact of pluralism.’
‘…When liberals set up one regime as a standard of legitimacy for all the rest, pluralists and liberals part company. For pluralists, a liberal regime may sometimes be the best framework for modus vivendi. At other times a non-liberal regime may do as well or better.’
Context reigns. Acknowledging that means there is something we can learn from the experiences of all types of governments. When the chips are down I consider myself more in favor of republics than monarchies, but should I therefore dismiss the experiences of all monarchs or all kingly states? No. Just as it is no great scandal to learn strategy from thinkers of all backgrounds why not also governments? It is this intellectual flexibility that keeps us from falling into the farce of Manichean culture war. That and the right kind of King Charles style levity that acknowledges that while running the state might be serious business, there is no reason it has to be too serious. Platonic absolutes do us no favors here. And those who are interested in working out the practical can do so with anyone else, regardless of that other person’s inner life. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that the only times I take part in culture war is defensively or where there is a codified legal imbalance that needs to be adjusted. If people do not seek to inflict their preferences on me then I have no need to do the same to them. But I have never been so insecure as to seek to convert others save on issues of real and pressing policy that affects the entire state. Those are the true structural issues that affect everyone-economic, foreign, and infrastructure policy. And those are the issues that supermajorities of people could, theoretically anyway, come together much more effectively if they were prioritized over the social. Obviously, those content with the status quo therefore have a vested interested in fueling rather than dousing the culture war and its attendant surveillance and cancelling network. But bad policies of the state cannot be challenged by disregarding the state itself, but by coopting or replacing it with another state.
And if for some reason you do think it would be nice to have a monarch once again with this personality type, may I recommend the fashionable and party boat owning King of Morocco?
I loathe the term ‘wholesome.’ Not as much as other faddish and (and no doubt poorly future aging) era defining phraseologies like ‘problematic’, ‘gaslighting,’ or ‘yikes’. But what once was an ironic word me and my fellow teen friends back in the dark Bush days used to mock the 50s sensibilities and nostalgia of then ascendant American cultural conservatism has now migrated into common parlance in progressive discourse in a very unironic way.
This is a just a minor symptom of a greater phenomenon. Remember, if you will, how until about the mid-2010s it was common for progressives to use the 50s as a cultural punching bag of everything in the past they hated and feared? This was a cartoon image of course. Postwar prosperity, the New Deal, and the U.S. being on top of the world created a then previously unimaginable rise in living standards and social mobility. A more conservative turn under Eisenhower still kept most of the past two decades reforms and restructuring, leading Ike, his massive upper end tax rates, and his commitment to national-level cutting edge infrastructure to be a far more progressive figure than almost any democrat today in quantifiable material terms. But people had made it through a Great Depression, a period of rampant crime, social upheaval, and the world’s largest and most globally destructive war and just wanted to ‘be normal.’ This was of course utterly culturally stifling to anyone born into it who did not know what came before.
And the culture was insufferably corny, even knowing all that context. Hence why fake 50s style parodies of conservatives used to be such a big thing until quite recently.
You don’t see that anymore…and last night it suddenly occurred to me as to why. Because the preachy, scolding ‘The More You Know’ type infomercial that dates so poorly in retrospect are back in fashion…unironically. (These also existed as Very Special Episodes of sitcoms in the 70s and 80s, which its also worth noting was a time of intense 50s nostalgia). From corporate human resources to how the majority of left-of-center people and beyond interact on social media, the Church lady Informercial Hour is back! And with added overlap, it even often comes with a hefty dose of reborn McCarthyism to boot. People who have no business to lecture others now primarily interact with the rest of humanity through a self-righteous prism of the good and wholesome life, one every bit as stultifying and consensus-upholding than that of the 50s. We have yet to emerge from our unstable times (though nothing in the present, not even Covid, compares to the 30s and 40, sorry) and already the return to normalcy is pined for. It is gay friendly and filled with white liberals self-flagellating to atone for historical collective sins, but its clearly the herald of an attempt to recreate Howdy Doody Wholesomeness in a a new era. You see this in the constant bombardment of missionary style lectureporn webcomics of dubious quality with a pastel color aesthetic and a CalArts-infused tweeness that just makes everything look safe and childlike. Add on the concerted attempt to crush counterculture and force assimilation into the greater monoculture, and you have so many overlaps it becomes hard to ignore. So hard to ignore, in fact, that the whole ‘make fun of the 50s by progressives’ trend just suddenly died lest they see themselves reflected back in it.
There is, for the first time in all of modern history, a desire to couch literally everything in a ‘think of the children’ framework by those who are still young and should be rebellious rather than conformist. That same mentality that led to past obsessions with prosecuting a punitive carceral state and Satanic Panics coming back once again to be used not by conservatives but by their opponents. And, anecdotally, it seems more popular with the young than the old. For now anyway. I’m still waiting for the woke version of ‘Boys Beware’, which we saw teased in the Alex Morse primary race recently. Perhaps this could be called ‘Xzhirs Beware.’ Already, the way the present day left talks about sexuality seems suspiciously like that of ‘Perversion for Profit,’ where a deep fascination with sex combines with the clear personality traits of the easily offended incel made uncomfortable by the thought that they are missing out and thus must regulate the behavior of others. Sex Cop! Now not just for rightoids!
We’ll have the 50s, but without any of those good things like a well regulated economy, the viability of home ownership for a huge swathe of the populace, and a strong industrial policy. There will be a House of Un-American Activities community but it will be superficially progressive and decentralized to your local H.R. compliance officer. We won’t ‘defend the free world’ from the communists but ‘liberal and intersectional values’ from an even more vaguely defined ‘totalitarian and reactionary bloc’ of countries who don’t share our Wholesome Values.’ Such a situation cannot stand unchallenged.
But lest this sound too doomer, this situation will *not* stand. I feel fairly confident in predicting that. American culture is free-wheeling enough that rebellion is always inevitable. And that the kind of neo-50s lectureporn of today will in due course become, like the 50s-early 60s infomercials before them, the laughing stock of future generations to (rightly) mock our current era. It is merely a question of when. Personally, I am hoping for sooner rather than later. The Woke Era, like Fonzie, has already clearly jumped the shark.