Political identity: the case for transcending the left-right spectrum

By Eugène E.

Many moons and wayward conversations ago, I happened to be an unwilling witness to a political discussion between a young man and an equally young woman. The latter had what you might call “progressive” sympathies, and the young man – whose interest in his female interlocutor had very little to do with politics – was working hard to present himself as a kindred spirit. The object of his interest carried around with her something of a laundry list where every item had to have a checkmark, and things were going swimmingly right until the moment the question of gay marriage was broached. The young man opposed same-sex marriage and said so. Put off by this stance, the young woman demanded to know if her wooer happened to be a “closet right-winger”. Realizing he’d made a blunder, the young man tried to atone for his faux pas but, the damage having been done, his protestations were met with no success; and he found his ambitions permanently thwarted.

At the time, I thought the exchange demonstrated that politics was not the best tool to advance one’s romantic agenda. Today, with the benefit of some additional experience (and, I presume to hope, some acquired wisdom), I also think that it revealed the chronic intolerance that some “progressively inclined” people, who typically pride themselves on their tolerance, tend to have for those who do not share their views. But that conversation also exposed something else: the woefully inadequate political spectrum that we use to frame our political identities.

The concept of the right wing and the left wing is considered to be a throwback to the French Revolution, when members in the National Assembly sat either to the right or the left of the king, depending on whether they supported the monarchy or not. This was more than two hundred years ago. The world has changed considerably since then and has become immensely more complicated. The unidimensional left-right system is alive and well, however, and is still the lens through which we tend to view the political landscape, even though its limitations have been recognized. This entrenched use of the traditional political spectrum is a problem, and it’s not just a question of semantics or academic hairsplitting. There’s more at stake here. The straitjacket of the traditional political spectrum promotes intellectual sloth and stifles debate on critical issues, allowing extremists to highjack the vital questions of the day.

The need to have a classification system to figure out where we stand in relation to others is obvious. Political geography requires the use of a certain compass. The difficulty with the existing one is that it encourages seeing societal issues in binary terms; either something is or isn’t. It’s a world of dichotomies. This provides scope for facile thinking and political name-calling. Consider the rift that is said to define Western societies today. Societies are broadly divided into two groups: those who are in favor of globalization and openness, and those who are against such things. The former (typically, the left/liberal) are naturally modern, educated, and highly urbanized; the latter (naturally, the right) are ossified, uneducated, and rural in outlook and/or reflexes. The first camp, then, is composed of sophisticated, intelligent people who “get it”; the second camp involves a bunch of rubes and yokels. This now takes on a moral dimension: if you want to be seen as an educated, tolerant, and intelligent person – essentially, a decent human being and a noble spirit – you need to align yourself accordingly. You must not vote for a Donald Trump; you cannot be a “leaver” and in support of Brexit. If you are, there’s a disagreeable odour about you – that of sulphur. The Right cannot be right.

When those who take part in the populist backlash against the current vision of progress are not depicted as hidebound bigots or fascist sympathizers, they are condescendingly described as people who have missed the train of progress. Losers, in a word. A more civil and refined take on this might refer to a schism between people who are receptive to the future vs. those who yearn for the “good old days”. But the message is still the same, and it’s a harmful one: it shames and demonizes those who are on the wrong side of the barricades (to be fair, shaming and demonization are in no way a one-way road).

The truth is that, among those drifting towards so-called populists, there are many people who are not of the far right; they simply have had enough. Some of these people are educated, tolerant, and not at all averse to the future. But they are sick of being walloped by what they believe are, not without justification, excesses of political correctness and ultraliberalism. They balk at being asked, as they are in many European countries, to welcome millions of people who come from different civilizations and often with little intent to accept local ways of life, at an unknown cost to the security, social cohesion, and cultural traditions of the societies in which they and their ancestors have lived for centuries; accept that certain forms of sexual pathology should, in legal terms, be equated with sexual normalcy, even when simple biology tells us otherwise; with being accused, time and again, of being agents of gender oppression; and of other things that have become ultraliberal totems in recent years.

They find it especially grating when such requests are buttered with the hypocrisy that one has witnessed of late in so many instances. For example, for years now tobacco smokers have been the butt of social opprobrium here in Canada; aside from increasingly stringent anti-smoking rules, smokers have had to pay through the nose to get their fix. A few years ago, the provincial government in Ontario went so far as to ban smoking on outdoor patios (anyone who has seen smokers climb over some token barrier separating a patio from the street and smoke on the other side of the barrier will attest to the nonsensical nature of this measure). But smoking is unhealthy, and so the measures made sense; what’s more, they have proved to be effective at reducing smoking consumption, however inconvenient they might have made the lives of smokers.

Yet in October, Canada’s federal government legalized marijuana, a decision that was all but symbolic, since the authorities had been turning a blind eye to the use of cannabis for some time. Now smoking a joint is legally permissible, and the sight of people using marijuana for “recreational” purposes as they amble in the streets, in the halo of a small, highly malodorous cloud, is becoming increasingly common (along with the pungent smell and the occasional tubercular cough that come with it). What was the point of all the massive anti-smoking efforts if we’ve just legalized another form of smoking, particularly one that impairs the mind? Note that tobacco smoking is associated, in North America at least, with working stiffs and blue-collar laborers – the kind of semi-derelicts who are blamed for voting in ugly right-wing populists. Marijuana, on the other hand, is just the perfect way to unwind for a young urban sophisticate who is employed by the “creative economy” and who thinks that anyone questioning gay marriage or open borders is a potential brownshirt. Asinine generalizations, of course (but then maybe not – Elon Musk famously enjoyed a spliff during a web show; would he have smoked a cigarette?) – but that’s what dichotomies look like.

Or consider the recent decision by a number of Canadian broadcasters, including the national one, to stop playing the old Christmas hit Baby, It’s Cold Outside in order to avoid offending people who have taken exception to parts of the lyrics (apparently, the kind of seduction that goes on in the song is a bit too strong for the tastes of our times). Compared to much of the objectionable “cultural” trash with which our society is bombarded on a daily basis, the Baby, It’s Cold Outside stuff is pretty tame; but such is the gift of #MeToo. The contents of many a rapper’s song promoting a rather, shall we say, casual attitude towards intimacy with women, and women as such, are appalling, but it’s this Christmas song that has been found controversial.

And on and on it goes.

People in modern societies are confronted with this kind of ultraliberal hydrocephalus on a regular basis, and there’s also a compounding effect. Inevitably, they react to it. They need not have right-wing views to react – that’s just the point. What does the French Revolution have in common with the migrant crisis in Europe? Nothing, yet we are using antiquated terminology to help steer us through a debate that requires a very modern outlook, with the results that we have seen – this concerns the migrant question as well as any other social issue. If you think immigration into Europe should be strictly controlled and Merkel’s 2015 decision to admit more than a million migrants was not the greatest idea, you might be an ethnonationalist, a xenophobe, or even a racist. If you question gay marriage, you’re a homophobe. If you criticize #MeToo, you’re a sexist and a misogynist. At all events, you’re a right-wing zealot, and I feel that the use of the unidimensional political spectrum lends to that kind of reductionism, simplification, and labeling (of course, a lack of tolerance and, frequently, common sense are also contributors). As few decent people want to be identified as right-wing zealots, a vacuuming operation is performed on more moderate voices; the only real opposition is then put up by fringe elements. This vacuuming effect might well be one of the main causes of the recent rise of ring-wing populism.

I am not unaware that there are bona fide homophobes among those who oppose gay marriage and that there are racists among critics of Merkel’s reaction to the migrant crisis. There might be highly unsavory elements among those who share my own position on a number of questions. I do not – and would not – want to be affiliated with them. But should one of these unsavory elements say that the sun rises in the east, it will be rather fatuous of me to say that it actually rises in the west just to contradict someone I would not care to be associated with.

The traditional political spectrum also informs our understanding of the current situation insofar as it is influenced by history. There’s been a lot of debate (and a flurry of books) in the past couple of years concerning similarities between our times and those of the 1930s. The tendency to look to the past to divine the future is understandable. While history does not usually repeat itself and should not be confused with poetry, its pedagogic value should never be discounted. The focus on the 1930s is also understandable: as factions resisting or opposing mass immigration in the West are considered to be on the far right of the political spectrum, commentators, historians, and analysts are moved to examine the last time the far right had a meaningful impact and came to power. That’s where the 1930s come in. However, there’s a risk that the results of any such analysis might be compromised by the limitations of our unidimensional approach.

I have recently read an insightful book by Paul Hanebrink, Associate Professor of History at Rutgers. A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism charts the development of the myth that the Jews were behind the spread of Bolshevism in the 20th century. It is a well-written text that shows how hate can be deployed by recycling medieval myths and inserting them into a modern context to be used as political currency. (To be sure, the presence of Jews in revolutionary movements was prominent in a number of cases, but it was nowhere near what the proselytizers of the Judeo-Bolshevik myth said it was. Furthermore, the history of revolutionary movements in Europe did not start with the Jews, but with the French Revolution, which was a lodestar for later revolutionaries; in his memoirs, the Russian thinker Alexander Herzen, himself no stranger to revolutionary fervor, writes extensively about the German revolutionaries of the 1840s that he encountered, whom he describes as “cosmopolitans” through and through, and who were certainly not Jews. Finally, the author of the most brutal chapter of the most Bolshevist state in the 20th century was not Jewish: Stalin was notoriously Georgian.)

It is the conclusion of the book that I found problematic. In the epilogue, Hanebrink argues that, as the Iron Curtain disappeared, East European countries with an especially checkered past were called upon to confront their own roles in the persecution of Jews in the 20th century. The extent to which these countries recognized their role, Hanebrink points out, reflected their historical consciousness and maturity. This is an argument that I find easy to accept. But Hanebrink gets himself into trouble by subsequently stating that Holocaust memory has become a metonym for certain liberal values, which certainly raised the eyebrows of this author. As he writes, “The Judeo-Bolshevik myth was reborn in post-Communist Europe as a tool for challenging the premises on which transnational memory of the Holocaust rested – and with those premises, the liberal civic ideals of multicultural toleration, human rights, and European integration that Holocaust memory culture had come to symbolize so powerfully” (the italics are mine).

Hanebrink accepts this connection between Holocaust memory and the liberal civic ideals he mentions, as he makes clear elsewhere. But it’s rather muddled thinking, and such a connection can only be made with significant qualifications. Holocaust memory is one thing; European integration is another. If this connection is followed all the way to the end, one can suggest that opposing European integration (a political matter) is tantamount to challenging Holocaust memory (a human tragedy) – a suggestion that would, at a minimum, be unhelpful, not to say irreverent. The instrumentalization of the Holocaust to support a political doctrine is inappropriate; taking one of the darkest pages of the European history of the 20th century and finding a place for it on a unidimensional political spectrum smacks of manipulation. For, once such a connection is made, a European statesman finds it difficult to turn away migrants from the Middle East. He tells himself that he’s seeing a recrudescence of far-right sentiment in his country, which suggests that we’re living in the 1930s, which in turn suggests that the Muslim arrivals are the new Jews, which finally means that he is to welcome them if his liberal credentials are to be upheld. A sui generis historical event, then, is used to shape the present immigration policy.

This is not very coherent. Let’s be clear: Muslims are not the new Jews. There are many reasons why such comparisons and analogies don’t stick. The European Jewry persecuted by the Third Reich had been in Europe for centuries and was in many cases completely assimilated; the Muslim polity in Europe is, for the most part, not older than three generations; and, in the case of the 2015 migrant wave, the arrivals had no pre-established links with Europe. Second, the persecution of Jews had ethnic/racial overtones; anti-Muslim sentiment is driven more by religious overtones (which does not make hatred of, and discrimination against, Muslims any more acceptable, but there’s still a difference – one cannot choose one’s ethnic or racial origins, but religion is a choice). Third, if we are to accept the notion of Judeo-Christian civilization and its attendant values, we must also accept the “Judeo” part of it, as any Christian worth his salt would; Islam, though, is not part of Judeo-Christian civilization. Finally, Europeans today are very different from the Europeans of the first half of the 20th century. At that time, Europe was much stronger; its history was a history of wars and revolutions, and Europeans were prepared to participate in them. The situation is different today. European populations are shrinking; its youth has no experience of warfare – a crisis is what happens when Facebook or Twitter is down. Europe could absorb shocks easier a hundred years ago than it can today, and welcoming millions of people from high-risk regions that belong to different civilizations is much more dangerous. Comparisons with migrants from Africa and the Middle East today with the ships carrying Jewish refugees during the Hitler era are misguided.

Yet Hanebrink makes just such a comparison in the epilogue, singling out the migrant crisis of 2015 as a cautionary tale and conflating the history of the Holocaust with a number of ultraliberal values. It is unfortunate, unaesthetic, and also counterproductive, since this kind of conflation carries the risk of encouraging ideological hostage-taking and inane political partisanship.

Should we discard the lessons of history? Of course not. On the contrary, we should learn from history. But we should not instrumentalize history to buttress political programs as we take on the problems of the present and the challenges of the future. Yet we do it anyway, and it seems that the unidimensional political spectrum that underpins our weltanshauung plays a role in that. There are doubtless plenty of cases where the far right is indeed the far right. But is the Dutch Geert Wilders really all that similar to Hungary’s Jobbik? Yet the left-right political spectrum places them in the same antichamber.

There have been attempts to overcome the unidimensional political spectrum. A number of years ago, the Political Compass (https://www.politicalcompass.org/) developed a two-dimensional chart to address the limitations of the standard political spectrum. The respondent is invited to express his (dis)agreement with a number of statements dealing with social and political issues. I have taken the test; the results revealed that I am situated at a safe distance away from Hitler, Stalin, and other ghouls of the 20th century. Well, that’s a relief. However, the results produced by this test should be taken with spoonfuls of salt, to say the least. Many of the statements are formulated in a way that’s superficial; others are just plain silly. For example, who would disagree with the statement that “governments should penalise businesses that mislead the public”? Statements such as “it’s natural for children to keep some secrets from their parents” and “astrology accurately explains many things” get you closer or further away to Hitler or Thatcher on the chart, depending on how you answer. Clearly, there’s room for improvement.

I am not suggesting that we should reinvent the wheel, if the political spectrum can be thought of as a wheel. Nor am I recommending that we ignore history or legitimize those political operators who should never be legitimized. We should be vigilant, we should be on guard against threats to freedom and (a much-abused term that has been subjected to rounds of devaluation, but I will use it anyway) democracy, and we should call extremists and fringe players by their proper names. But it would help if we went about it responsibly, treating complex issues with the care that they deserve, and if we avoided ad hominem attacks and character assassination to silence dissenting voices. Rethinking the way we apply the political spectrum, if not the political spectrum itself, would be a good way to start.

The Serenissima: dreams of empire

By Eugène E.

October is said to be a lovely time to visit Venice, and I spent a number of days in the Italian city last month, though less with the intention to confirm the clemency of Venice’s autumnal weather (it was indeed lovely) than to enjoy its masterpieces of Western art and to summon the erstwhile grandeur of the Venetian Empire. Alas, that last bit – the summoning of grandeur part – was problematic. Like the water that is its defining element, the zeitgeist of the Serenissima remained elusive, opaque, and inscrutable.

Don’t get me wrong: Venice is exquisite, and I found the city as well preserved as a city of its age could have been. As has been noted by others, Venice must be the only place in Europe where an 18th-century visitor would comfortably find his way three centuries later. The city’s immutability and resistance to time are its charm, and in this respect Venice does not disappoint. As it doesn’t elsewhere. The susurrous canals still converse in spasmodic splashes and mysterious whispers; the sinuous streets, bravely struggling to cope with hordes of tourists, have not revealed their ancient secrets; the quaint campaniles and churches puncture the sky of a lachrymose Tiepolo blueness as they always have; and the slightly pungent smell that pervades Venice continues to remind the traveller that the city on the water is a place like no other. The famed beauty of Venice requires no further odes.

Yet a keen student of history might be forgiven for feeling elegiac as he searches for a quiet, tourist-free place to contemplate the city’s glorious past. Venice is not even a pale shadow of its once-great self – after all, a shadow faithfully relays the shape of the host it trails. Contemporary Venice, however, offers nothing but a wispy memory of the formidable maritime power of yore. It was once the mistress of the sea; it is now a tourist attraction, whose dwindling local population is dwarfed by the number of tourists besieging it daily, armed with backpacks, perambulators, and selfie sticks, and whose despotic presence reduces your chances of an encounter with the ghosts of Vivaldi or Goldoni to a big fat zero.

What happened? A number of things. Historians tend to use the 16th century as a starting point when charting the decline of the Venetian Empire. A combination of the discovery of the Americas, with its vast riches, challenged the advantageous position that Venice had enjoyed in maritime trade. The rise of the Ottoman Empire did the rest. And then, with empires, something always happens. Empires are forever in a state of flux. At a certain point, an empire gets too wealthy, too bloated, and too complacent; it’s all downhill from there. I do not intend to delve into the history of Venice, however – there are plenty of sources who have done an excellent and thorough job of it, and the reader can consult them at his leisure. I am more interested in the lessons that the fall of the Venetian Empire has for us at this historical juncture.

I see two.

One of these two lessons concerns the importance of vitality in the life of any society. I’ve written about this vitality before, which to me represents a certain energy that propels society forward. It is the impetus to live and to grow. Sometimes this vitality comes at the expense of other societies. It can be a force for good as much as for evil; perhaps it’s more accurate to think of vitality as a value-neutral phenomenon. But without it, society begins to wither and wilt.

This vitality does not depend on economic health alone. In The Hitler of History, for example, John Lukacs notes the galvanizing effect that Hitler’s prewar reign had on German society. At the time, Germans saw Hitler as a messiah; of course, what came later (or the experience of those Germans who were not deemed to be sufficiently German by the Nazis) is another story. Subsequent events showed the world the kind of messiah the führer really was. But Lukacs makes it clear that the national confidence that Hitler was able to impart to Germans in the prewar years was remarkable. According to Lukacs’s research, the number of suicides in Germany between 1932 and 1939 dropped sharply in number (by some 80%), while birth rates and marriages shot up. Lukacs puts it succinctly: “social conditions are not material conditions, just as social history is not economic history”. Just so. The vitality of which I speak goes far beyond wealth – to refute a catchphrase from a presidential campaign run by one former US president, it’s not the economy, stupid. It’s certainly not just the economy. This line of thinking runs counter to the prevailing consensus among economists and policymakers, who in recent years have stressed the pursuit of economic development to the exclusion of just about everything else. Economic development is no doubt important, but humans are driven by more than just their material needs – the history of human civilization bears out that view. Some intangible things just don’t lend themselves to a calculator and growth models.

The recently deceased historian John Norwich, an authority on Venice, describes in The Paradise of Cities the affluence of Venice in the 18th century – just before the Republic succumbed to Napoleon’s forces and ceased to exist. It was, in many ways, a golden time for Venice. No wars had been fought since 1718, trade was flourishing, well-off tourists were pouring in, and the city basked in an unprecedented period of prosperity. But the Republic was weak, so weak that by 1800 it was no more. The reason for the weakness, Norwich points out, was “certainly not economic”. What, then? In simple terms, Venice “had lost her self-respect”. No longer a seafaring power with an enviable fleet, it had been reduced to a perpetual carnival and a hedonist port of call. It had become flabby and flaccid, and its burgeoning economy was ultimately unable to save the Republic when the enemy showed up at the gates – “the gates”, of course, being rather metaphorical in this case. Norwich calls it the death of the body politic; I prefer to think of it as a loss of vitality.

All this is of relevance at a time when Western societies tend to ignore the importance of non-economic values in its policy-making, choosing to prioritize economic growth to the detriment of other needs. This leads to inevitable mistakes. For example, when dealing with societies or civilizations that are incompatible with the West, policymakers are tempted to believe that economic wealth is enough to win “the hearts and minds” – you can count on Hollywood and McDonald’s to tame the restive youths pouring into Europe from the Middle East. Yet this ignores the powerful thrust of spiritual values that transcend prosaic needs and the enormous void that results in the absence of such values.

Modern European countries, particularly those in the north, are prosperous; yet they lack vitality. They are a bit like retirement homes for the well-heeled. Their demographic situation is precarious; they are not reproducing at a healthy rate and are therefore compelled to rely on immigration. Not reproducing at a healthy rate is a sign of decay, of stagnation, of a lack of vitality. But this is not appreciated. As long as economic prosperity can be sustained, it is assumed, everything else will be taken care of. That’s quite an assumption. Without vitality, the wealth of such societies will eventually dissipate or be seized by other, stronger societies. The history of Venice is clear on that point: consider the looting of the quondam mistress of the Mediterranean by Napoleon and his army.

The second lesson is the importance of unity in a given civilization. The Fourth Crusade, in which Venice was a participant, is an excellent illustration of this. Organized in the early 13th century with a view to wrestling control of Jerusalem from the infidels, it ended in the sacking of Constantinople instead, dealing a deadly blow to the Byzantine Empire from which it never recovered. Under the dogeship of Enrico Dandolo, Venice took part in the sacking. At the time, it was seen as a triumph, which, in the short term, it may well have been; in the long term, it was anything but. The asphyxiation of Byzantium fuelled the rise of the Ottoman Empire, which would in turn have considerable implications for the fate of the Venetian Empire later on. Despite their rivalry, Byzantium and the West both belonged to the religion of the cross; their having turned on each other facilitated the expansion of another civilization, which ultimately destroyed Byzantium, and posed a major threat to the survival of Venice and the long-term security of the West.

Are we seeing a similar geopolitical configuration today? Western Europe (the West) is currently at loggerheads with Russia, which has throughout history aspired to offer the Christian world a “third Rome” and can be thought of as Byzantium. How sensible is this antagonism? Both the West and Russia must confront the reality of a violent Islamic world. Both have to contend with a rising China (Russia especially, due to the demographic imbalance along its border with China). Both are facing dire demographic prospects. In these crosswinds, it might make a lot more sense to explore some kind of union. The idea of such a union may seem outlandish, but the story of Europe is a story of gradual consolidation. The Germany we know today was not the Germany of the 18th century, when it was a huge agglomeration of tiny states. And history, as we know, is never static.

While a union between Western Europe and Russia might appear to be a pipe dream now, the EU would have struck many people a pipe dream a century ago. In his memoirs, Sergei Witte, one of the ablest ministers of Nicholas II, that nincompoop of a monarch, recounted how, during a meeting with the German kaiser, he entertained the possibility of an EU-type union between Russia, France, and Germany (it is rather poignant that Witte did not include the UK in this troika). We don’t know what the kaiser thought; he might have well thought that Witte was a madman or a romantic. But it did not turn out to be a silly reverie or a utopian dream – as is common with visionaries, Witte was simply well ahead of his time. The border between France and Germany has been an open one for some years; and if Russia has not been part of that unification process and the EU is currently in crisis, that’s hardly Witte’s fault.

Of course, grand visions must collide with reality. Post Brexit, the EU is struggling not to fall apart. It is hardly the time to contemplate further unification – with Russia, of all states. As for Russia, its president does not strike me as the ideal man to help orchestrate such a union, despite his assertions to the contrary. But farsighted leaders in Europe and Russia would do well to consider the experience of Venice and Byzantium, and draw such conclusions as are appropriate. They don’t have to, of course. Enemies of historical determinism tell us that nothing is inevitable; we’re free to shape history as want. But we ignore the lessons of history at our own risk.

Venice, in fact, offers more than just historical lessons. It might also offer a blueprint for the future of Europe. This is just the point that the French intellectual Régis Debray makes in his coruscating “Venetophobic” essay, Against Venice, a polemical work that denounces Venice as a cauldron of cultural kitsch. Debray strains for effect (one reads with amusement Debray’s yearning for the faraway industrial eyesore of Marghera and Mestre, which he contrasts with the artificial beauty of Venice); and as one advances through the text, it’s hard not to wonder whether Debray’s attack on Venice is not, in its own way, an admission of helplessness before the city’s timeless beauty.

But, right at the end of the essay, Debray gets serious; the mischief turns to indignation. In this museum of a city, Debray sees the Europe of tomorrow – an economically stagnant, inert playground for rich foreigners, who cavort and play while the locals, reduced to mere stagehands in their own land, look on. Debray points out that when Venice ruled over the Mediterranean, she was not liked at all. This is a very astute observation. One can extend the argument: when Europe ruled over half the world, it was not much liked, either; but it was rich and powerful. It had vitality. I am no apologist for the colonial experience of the West, but there’s no ignoring the truth that, back when Europe had colonies, its streets were not menaced by people from other civilizations who imposed their way of life on the local societies. Europe did not need to rely on the US for national security. When Europeans, for whatever reasons, turned their backs on the concept of empire, they lost their vitality; there was nothing else to offer the world but its picturesque settings.

Debray’s gripes are valid. Europe risks turning into a museum – museums are nice to visit, but they’re not generally designed to be inhabited. Venice is an extreme example of what happens when a place turns into a tourist Mecca, for which it was never really built: impassable streets, high prices, frustrated locals, a surfeit of noise and litter, and other nuisances caused by mass tourism. The population of the city continues to decline; there’s been an exodus of young people. What job prospects exist revolve mostly around the tourist industry. Even local businesses are no longer all that Venetian or, indeed, Italian; I’ve seen ostensibly Italian restaurants owned and operated by small business owners from China and the Middle East. Venice is experiencing a “hollowing-out”, and Debray fears that this will be the fate of Europe. 

The journalist Janan Ganesh wrote an insightful article the other day, positing that the next target of populist movements in Europe might be not the foreign migrant, but the foreign tourist. The reason for that is simple: to become dynamic again, European leaders will need to carry out sweeping reforms. The problem is that they are completely addicted to tourist money, which continues to flow in exactly because Europe is one of the few places in the world that offer history, that do not change. Why change things when you make billions of dollars keeping things exactly the way they are? Tourists are coming to get a slice of postcard Europe, which motivates leaders to choose preservation as its primary policy and do nothing. This is good for cruise ships and tour operators, but it does a major disservice to the locals, who will resent both their leaders and the tourists that overtake their cities. Given what I saw in Venice, Ganesh’s idea of the tourist as the next scapegoat for populists does not seem all that far-fetched.

Debray suggests that Venice is like a cultural Disneyland. Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s not even a cemetery. Cemeteries, after all, are only custodians of death; they still live a life of their own. Not long after my visit to Venice, the Serenissima experienced one of the worst floods in decades; as many as three-quarters of the city were underwater. The photos I’ve seen suggest not so much a cultural Disneyland as an Atlantis in the making. Long-term forecasts concerning the city’s survival are not very promising, either. Given Venice’s breathtaking beauty, this is unspeakably sad. The disappearance of Venice would be an incalculable loss to Western civilization. It would be a lot more incalculable still if Venice were indeed a blueprint for the European continent as a whole.

Of MRGs and MGTOW, or the age of the vagina

By Eugène E.

I first heard about the MGTOW community during a conversation with a Chinese-born mobile developer, who had been telling me about a brand-new business idea that he was mulling over. The idea concerned a female robot that would satisfy the most primordial desire of any man. For the mobile developer – let’s call him Bobbie – this was the new future, a time when men would no longer need real women for sex. I’d first thought it was a joke. But Bobbie was in earnest. The product was perfect for a member of the MGTOW community. Hadn’t I heard about it? As I hadn’t, he advised me to take a look, his eyes twinkling with the zeal of a proselytizing missionary. MGTOW could change my life. I greeted this with skepticism. Wary of yet another acronym in a world already heavily saturated with acronyms, especially one that had the potential of changing my life, I did not dwell on it for long.

When I finally did take a closer look at what MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) was all about, I was quite surprised – not by the existence of such a community, but by the fact that someone like Bobbie could conceivably be a part of it. MGTOW seemed like a club for men struggling with maladjustment; Bobbie was anything but maladjusted. He was young and good-looking in that boy-pop-idol kind of way; additionally, he drove a luxury car and seemed to be well-heeled. I found myself intrigued. By the time Bobbie and I spoke about MGTOW again, I was far less benighted than I had been during our first conversation, but no less skeptical. It was hard not to be, just as it was hard not to dismiss MGTOW as an online fringe group. In a way, that’s what it is. But MGTOW is also more than that: it is part of a broader reaction to the onslaught of feminism; and, as such, it deserves some commentary.

Unlike men’s rights groups (MRGs), which have a longer track record, MGTOW is a newer concept. It also differs markedly from men’s rights groups: MGTOW advocates are men who have thrown in the towel insofar as women are concerned. As the name suggests, they are men doing their own thing, which is very unlikely to include women. In the event that it does, the women in question are more likely than not to be prostitutes, courtesans, or just agents of promiscuity – the MGTOW community deplores pursuing anything serious with the fairer sex. MRGs, on the other hand, do not seek to withdraw from serious interaction with women; rather, their objectives revolve around asserting the rights of men, and ensuring that men are treated fairly and equitably by society and by the law. For all their differences, though, both men’s rights groups and MGTOW could only have come about in an environment that has succumbed to the perverse effects of feminism.

Many claim that the appearance of such movements is a reaction of those men who, in the wake of the emancipation of women, are struggling with the new competition. Not every man can handle that. For a man who can’t, life has become tougher; but it’s a fair price to pay for gender equality. No doubt that’s part of the story. But it’s not by any means the whole story. The truth is that, in many Western societies, a growing number of men believe they are under attack. Owing to the often unreasonable, if not nefarious, impact of a feminist-driven agenda, many men have been left feeling confused, stigmatized, and maligned. MRGs and MGTOW are their concerted responses.

It is argued that men have also been beneficiaries of the emancipation of women: after all, never before has it been so easy for a man to “score”. In fact, things are a little more nuanced: one or two centuries ago, going to prostitutes was de rigueur; in fin-de-siècle Vienna, for instance, hiring a girl for sexual services in the streets was as easy as getting a pack of cigarettes – this has been well chronicled. Today men who patronize prostitutes are seen as psychologically corrupt; the red-light industry comes with a major stigma in the West. In some jurisdictions, you can even get nabbed for being a punter. Paradoxically, the stigma associated with prostitution is a result of the sexual revolution: normal men shouldn’t need prostitutes, the thinking goes, given that women are so accessible. But that’s not how things work in real life. Those who stick to the ease-of-access-to-sex argument forget that copulation is easy enough only for those men who are young and decent-looking; men who are older and not so decent-looking are essentially out of luck.

Moreover, sexual culture has been characterized in recent times by a remarkable shift in emphasis, which is now put on the hedonistic dimension of sex rather than on the reproductive one. Of course, hedonism has always been an enormous part of it. Sex has got to be pleasurable: how else do you get two people to rub against each other? In the past, though, when traditions were strong, men went to bed on their wedding night to make their wives pregnant; women were supposed to safeguard their chastity until they were married and ready to be impregnated. In other words, society regarded sex as an instrument of population growth. Back then a man who had just gotten married did not need to worry about failing to meet some expectations when he lay down with his wife: unless she was a “fallen woman”, it was unlikely she had other points of reference. Anyway, his objective was to beget the next generation and not satisfy the Mrs. Men did not need to fret about their performance; their sex did not have to be ridden with angst.

This is not the case today. When a man starts courting a woman, he must face the reality that he might have five – or perhaps fifty – predecessors against whose copulatory feats his own pirouettes are bound to be compared. His job is not to make her pregnant; it is to please her – and if he fails at pleasing her, he fails as a man. While I am not advocating a return to the halcyon days of the great past, when women wore chastity belts and kept themselves pure until their wedding night, it is worth pointing out that in many ways the sexual revolution has put men under a lot of psychological and mental pressure.

Women were once encouraged, if not expected, to become mothers. Today they are encouraged to have “fun” and indulge in such pleasure-seeking proclivities as they might have; they can settle down later – if at all. They’re not told that their ability to conceive drops dramatically as they cross over into their thirties, but that’s a different story. Why spoil the girls’ fun? They have their jobs, they have the pill; they’re independent. Men used to be breadwinners and fathers – that was their raison d’être. Since women are now full participants in the labor force, they don’t need breadwinners; and since they’re no longer encouraged to become mothers, they’re not especially motivated to look for paternal figures for children that they may never have. They’ve been persuaded they no longer need men that much; men have lost their raison d’être. Put differently, men are no longer all that necessary; if anything, they are somewhat superfluous. It is unsurprising that such messages are not received very well in some quarters.

As a result of constant gender engineering efforts undertaken by ultraliberals, men also feel a lot less manly. There are considerable differences between men and women. This is not tantamount to saying that men are superior to women; they’re just different. These differences are manifested in all sorts of ways. On a primitive level, they are manifested in sexual behavior. A man always needs to prove his manhood: every time he enters sexual congress, he is required to have an erection. If he’s unable to have one, he has failed – by definition. Like a thespian performer who must prove himself every time he’s on stage, a man needs to prove himself every time he has sex. Women never have to worry about demonstrating this kind of rigorousness. It’s possible to fake ecstasy, but it’s impossible to fake an erection, certainly not by any natural means. At the same time, the reproductive life of a man is considerably longer than that of a woman. As was mentioned earlier, a woman’s ability to conceive begins to fall once she hits the age of 30, and the decline is a rapid one. A study done by the University of Edinburgh has demonstrated that a woman will have lost 90% of her ovarian eggs by the time she reaches the age of 30. It’s unfair, but such is human anatomy; and no ideological prestidigitation will ever change that. But gender equality warriors are trying to adjust reality to their doctrine. As a result, anatomy and biology have become subservient to ideology. The consequences have been described in previous blog posts: women have become more masculine; men, more feminine. For many men, this is as silly as it is humiliating (although women have also had to deal with some of that fallout, given the number of young women with “issues” these days).

Men have also been subjected to demonization. It is widely accepted now (by many men too) that women have been oppressed by men for centuries. That is a gross distortion of the real historical situation. Yes, women have been oppressed for centuries. But men have been oppressed as well. Until recent times, the story of humanity was, unfortunately, the story of oppression. There’s this absurd idea that women were forced to perform backbreaking labor, while men sat back and took it easy. Not so. Men toiled as hard as women did – in the fields, in the mines, in the factories. What’s more, when nations and states went to war, it was men and not women who were sent off to the killing fields to be used as cannon fodder. A picture’s worth a thousand words – see a symbolically rich painting by Johann Peter Krafft called The Departure of the Militiaman, which shows the head of a household who’s about to leave to fight, while his wife stays home with the child; or read Tolstoy’s War and Peace in all its sprawling majesty, where the men are despatched to paint the earth crimson, while the women flit about in aristocratic salons. The message is the same: men were sent to kill and be killed, while women stayed behind. So who were the oppressed?

Yes, the glass ceiling did exist, but it’s best not to overstate it. Pace feminists and ultraliberals, the world was not run by a sinister patriarchy. England had a queen in the 16th century – incidentally, one of the country’s most famous monarchs. Russia, which typically lags behind Western societies when it comes to social issues, alone had four empresses in the 18th century. Women with epistolary ambitions could become outstanding writers – it was not solely a man’s world. Let’s name the names: Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, George Sand, the Brontë sisters . . . By 1880, Constance Fenimore Woolson’s novel Anne had sold more than 50,000 copies. Many of these writers did not even bother to take on male pseudonyms. Was there absolute equality? No, but this might be explained by the intrinsic differences between men and women, and not by any predilection on the part of men to deny women opportunities.

En passant, I also note that, in those days of “patriarchal oppression”, great works of literature were produced; today, on the other hand, with the glass ceiling having been definitely shattered, literary output should be twice as good – instead, modern culture is mostly dross. And the fact that there was a time when it was almost impossible for a woman to attain the same status as that enjoyed by a man should be weighed against the fact that men paid dearly for their privileges – unlike women, they were expected to die on the battlefield when called upon to do so. Yet men continue to be accused of having oppressed women for centuries; they continue to be portrayed as violent tyrants and untameable satyrs whom society must neuter. At a certain point, for certain men, this kind of talk begins to grate.

The social changes mentioned earlier have also coincided with the economic winds of change. The increased outsourcing of blue-collar jobs to low-cost zones has left many men jobless and unable to adapt to, and insert themselves into, the new economy. Left in the dust by the digital world, they’ve been forced to abide by the rules of what can justly be called the “femcentric age”.

For that is what it is.

Although many people – women especially, but not exclusively – complain that our society is run by men and for men, this is not true. Our culture is actually very female-centric, fuelled as it is by a consumerist ethos (consumerism – shopping – is more female than male) and an obsessive quest to satisfy the modern woman. “Do you know . . . what it feels like for a girl” – so goes the refrain in a Madonna song; and modern culture demands of men to be acutely aware of what it actually feels like to be one. “What do women really want?” This is the “accursed question” of our times. Inspired by the egocentric, narcissistic contortions of the insatiable modern woman as shaped and presented by the entertainment industry and the media – the modern woman who is always in pursuit of the most skilled lover she can sleep with, the richest man to wine and dine her, the most handsome companion to grace her social media photo gallery – women expect men to cater to the needs of that culture and the modern woman it services. Note that this modern woman is not a mother or a mother-to-be; this modern woman is unabashedly single and hedonistically oriented. She is entitled to be pleased; modern culture and society exist to please her. It is for that reason that this age can, with a little bit of mischief, be called “the age of the vagina” – not the age of the woman, but the age of the vagina, since it is based entirely on the idea of pleasure and not on that of responsibility. Those men who refuse to kowtow to the demands of this culture are branded as men who are out of touch, men who don’t get it, men who are attached to the old ways. Sexists and misogynists, basically.

I remember having a tipple with two acquaintances a few years ago, both of them men in their mid-twenties. As so often happens with a male-only gathering, conversation soon turned to women – specifically, to gender issues. Looking downcast at one point, staring at the ground in melancholic abjection, the two gentlemen – both very intelligent and well-rounded – mumbled something about it being so unfair that women were still treated so unequally. At the same time, they worked for a company that prided itself on its commitment to gender equality, in an industry where women had never had it so good; certainly not a single female colleague of theirs had any reason to complain, and they admitted as much. Yet they felt unspeakably guilty. Is that the state of the modern man in the femcentric age?

Little wonder that some men decide to revolt. Men’s rights groups and MGTOW are manifestations of that revolt. What is one to make of them, though?

However valid its arguments might be, the MGTOW community (some might call it a movement; personally, I am not so sure) is inherently anti-social. Who are these men going their own way? They’re men who are rejecting traditional intercourse and interaction with women. Such a rejection is neither healthy nor productive. The primary function of the human species is propagation. Rejecting man’s reproductive duties means rejecting the continuation of the human race along with the debt that one owes to one’s progenitors. This attitude is selfish and irresponsible; the refusal to marry and have children will, quite simply, ultimately lead to extinction. It’s a dead end, but MGTOW adherents tend to sneer at such words as “responsibility” and “debt”. Indeed, this kind of sentiment was often expressed by Bobbie when we spoke. Après moi, le déluge! There were not the slightest stirrings of protest as far as the status quo was concerned; Bobbie’s whole mindset could be summed up by the words “who cares” – we’re here to gratify ourselves and nothing else. This is the mirror image of the modern single woman – it is just as puerile as it is, in the long run, unsustainable.

It is also not a little ridiculous at times. While looking for more information on the MGTOW community on Youtube, I unearthed a number of videos posted by a few MGTOW activists in one city. Aside from elucidating their ideas and doing the virtual equivalent of nailing their theses to the door, they also organized various social events in their area, which they would film for the viewing benefit of remote Youtube confreres. I saw one such recording, made during a barbecue outing. The sight of these men talking about how they could improve their lives over barbecue, with not a single woman to be spotted anywhere, was a sad one to contemplate. These men did not suggest confidence or strength; if anything, there was something distinctly neglected and despondent about them. They evoked the kind of feeling that one might experience in the couloirs of a retirement home or in the hallways of a hospital – instead of coming across as men going their own way to chart their great destinies, they looked like males who were evicted from normal life. If their goal was to show the beauty of a world that did not include women, they failed – at least, with me.

Men’s rights groups (MRGs) are a different beast. They deserve to be taken more seriously, not least because they are not withdrawing from life. They are unwilling to put up with the encroachment of militant feminism upon their rights, and they are ready to assert their rights and to influence legislation as necessary. That commands respect. Their arguments are valid and deserve to be heard – and some women are reaching the same conclusion. US director Cassie Jaye is one of these women. She made an excellent documentary, The Red Pill, which shows that men’s rights activists are not the misogynists or haters of women that they are often portrayed to be, and that they have a valid message worthy of our attention. The movie also debunks the myth of patriarchy and illustrates how the law – in the US, at least – often favors women more than it does men in matters of divorce law and child custody. The documentary ends with Jaye’s proclamation that, whatever she is now, she knows she’s no longer a feminist. So much the better.

Yet there’s something about men’s rights groups as such that gives me pause, and I think I’ve identified the culprit. My ancestors fought against the Nazis in the Second World War to defend their land and their homes, and they were forced to put up with privations that would be hard to imagine today. These men saw what must have been the nadir of Western civilization, and they came back with the scars, wounds, and medals to prove it. They did not need any rights groups to defend their interests. For better or for worse, they were men. Men’s rights groups – they wouldn’t have been able to understand the very idea. If our ancestors were to look at the men of today, the men of the femcentric age, they’d probably see pygmies.

There’s still room for optimism. I’ve lost contact with Bobbie, but the last time I spoke with him, he was in a serious relationship; and while he did say that his lady friend was a no-nonsense woman, he no longer spoke about the MGTOW community or about designing artificial sex partners for lonely men to cavort with. Yet when I look at statistics and the world around me, my optimism fades. The age of femcentrism is contributing to a major demographic hollowing-out of many Western societies. If this continues – and there is at present nothing to suggest that it won’t – Bobbie might want to take another look at the sex robots idea; there could be some money in it still. There’s just one problem, though: at this rate, there might come a day when there won’t be very many men left in Western societies to actually buy them.

The migrant debacle

By Eugène E.

In December of 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has never come across a photo op he didn’t like, descended upon Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to greet the first group of Syrian migrants – out of a total of some 25,000 – that his government had decided to admit into Canada. The embodiment of Canada’s ultraliberals – people who effortlessly combine deep pockets with hippie reflexes – the PM was all smiles. “Welcome home”, he was heard to say to one family.

Last week police in the Canadian province of British Columbia finally made an arrest in connection with the murder of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen in the summer of 2017. The suspect is a Syrian refugee who appears to have entered the country earlier that year. Bearing in mind that those who are charged with crimes are innocent until proven guilty, prudence is in order. However, assuming that the authorities have got their man, what inferences can we make? Do we now have carte blanche to make blanket statements about Syrian refugees, much less about the Syrian community in Canada? Absolutely not. We can, however, confidently say that the government, inspired by misguided ultraliberal sentiment, has let in scores of people who should have never been allowed to set foot in Canada; and in the case of the Syrian migrants, neither ignorance nor naivety is a valid excuse.

No government can be expected to vouch for the impeccable behavior of every asylum seeker and refugee that it takes in. But in an age when Islamic terrorism happens to be one of the main stories, one need not be an astute analyst to appreciate that welcoming tens of thousands of migrants (there are an estimated 50,000 in Canada now) from a region that is a cauldron of terrorism and violence is a decidedly ill-advised idea. However many legitimate refugees there might have been among those Syrian migrants who were accepted, it seems to me that national security should supersede the importance of being “nice”. But there was virtually no opposition to Trudeau’s juvenile can-do effervescence, and such rumbles of dissent as might have been heard and heeded in a more cool-headed environment were largely muted. An unwillingness to take in Syrian migrants was perceived as either uncharitable or, worse, xenophobic; and no Canadian wants to be thought of as uncharitable or xenophobic. Especially xenophobic.

I remember expressing my doubts sometime in early 2017 to one gentleman who worked for CBC, the country’s national public broadcaster. The gentleman assured me that the vetting process had been rigorous – the federal government had taken no chances. This was shortly after Donald Trump had settled down in the White House and decided to turn away migrants from certain countries. Juxtaposed against Trump’s avowedly hostile attitude towards migrants from Muslim nations, which was seen as hideously hidebound, bigoted and narrow-minded by all right-thinking, tolerant ultraliberals, Trudeau appeared as the golden boy of ultraliberalism, a man who symbolized the right way of thinking – the right way of thinking as it has been conceived and formulated by the ultraliberal movement. Providing a sharp contrast to the events south of the border, Trudeau’s integrationist approach was cheered to the echo.

In a spirit reminiscent of the ethos of the Soviet Union’s ideological apparatus, the CEO of a Toronto-based IT company I was involved with at the time encouraged his employees to append their signatures to a letter, which was in the process of being circulated in the industry. Motivated by opposition to Trump’s immigration policies, the letter was an appeal for diversity and pluralism; it was signed by captains of the industry as well as by the rank and file. Looking at all the signatures on the list, I wondered whether the people who had added their names to the letter with such alacrity would also be willing to take responsibility if a beneficiary of their idealism committed a terrorist atrocity.

In 2015 German Chancelor Angela Merkel decided to open doors to more than a million migrants from Syria and beyond. Unlike the uninspiring Trudeau, Merkel at least managed to come up with a slogan of sorts (“Wir schaffen das” – we can do it). No amount of wir schaffen das is likely to attenuate the dramatic and potentially irreversible impact of a decision that will have far-reaching consequences for Germany’s security and demography. We have already been treated to quite a preview: the New Year’s Eve sex assaults in Cologne in 2015, the Berlin truck attack in 2016 – the list is a damning one. In recent weeks, demonstrations broke out in the German city of Chemnitz after a German man had been reportedly murdered by two refugees, one Syrian and the other Iraqi. Photos showed thuggish-looking far-right nationalists marching – never an attractive sight. But, as one article reported on a town-hall meeting held in Chemnitz to address the incident, there was another face to the choir of protests: that of nurses, teachers, doctors, and lawyers concerned about the effect that Merkel’s wir-schaffen-das doctrine was having on the safety, security, and social cohesion of their community. Such voices of legitimate protest have been forced to be silent for far too long: when normal channels of communication are blocked, the floor is turned over to extremists. When you see a bunch of skinheads whose insalubrious chants you must endure, the responsibility, to a considerable degree, lies with those who have foisted on society a level of tolerance that simply cannot be absorbed by society, and who subsequently, having chased all the moderates away, triggered a violent reaction from the fringes.

The crime with which the Syrian refugee has been charged in the Marrisa Shen case is not a terrorist act. His motives are thus far unclear but, more likely than not, the crime was born of a very disturbed mind. But what if one of the Syrian refugees accepted through Trudeau’s refugee program ends up committing an act of terror on Canadian soil? I fear there’s a fairly high risk of such an occurrence in Canada, a higher one still in Germany. Late last year, a report authored by Canada’s auditor general concluded that the federal government had been mostly unable to track the outcome, and measure the impact, of its refugee program. Translated into layman’s terms, the government was not entirely sure where the Syrian refugees were and what, exactly, they were up to. Considering the security dimension involved, this kind of negligence borders on the criminal.

Faithful readers of this blog know that I am very careful when it comes to predictions. I am only slightly less careful when it comes to prescriptions – God knows that are enough people dispensing those. However, I’d like to suggest two measures that should make it easier for societies to shoulder the burden of all resettlement initiatives to which said societies, usually with minimal consultation, are asked to submit. Namely, I propose that:

  1. Those who are enthusiastic about accepting scores of Syrian migrants open their own homes to at least one such migrant (ideally, the host should not be related to the country from where the migrant is coming, and the migrant to be hosted should be a young male). If you want to have Syrian migrants enter en masse, please be prepared to have a Syrian male in his twenties living under your roof. 
  2. Those policymakers who pursue such ultraliberal policies in the sphere of immigration be criminally liable for any terrorist activities undertaken by those who benefit from their policies. If you admit 50,000 Syrian migrants into the country, despite many warnings and prior experience, and one of them blows something up, you will be considered to have aided and abetted the perpetrator.

In a perfect world, the above proposals would also be applied retroactively, but ours is a very imperfect one. Even without retroactive effect, however, I am sure that the number of advocates of open-border policies would drop significantly if the above recommendations were to be implemented. Accountability is a very efficient tool. Alas, it is also not a strong suit of the average ultraliberal. The bien-pensants wax poetic about values and then have everyone else deal with the fallout. In the ultraliberal world, accountability is subject to a very austere rationing scheme: you don’t have to worry about getting too much of it.

Until the day when our world becomes a little less imperfect and a bit more skeptical about vacuous ultraliberal ideas, I’m afraid we’ll see more violence – violence that would be perfectly preventable if only society had better leaders.

 

#MeToo – decoding misandry

By Eugène E.

It is sometimes said that a revolution is a self-cannibalizing event; it typically devours itself. Almost a year has passed since the #MeToo movement burst into the annals of history. While to call it a revolution is rather flattering – a revolution sweeps away the old order and imposes a new one, and #MeToo is not quite there – the zeal with which it erupted was revolutionary in nature, and its effects could be sufficiently far-reaching yet. But some might wonder whether #MeToo hasn’t started to devour itself. The movement was certainly dealt a blow recently, when it emerged that the actress Asia Argento, one of its doyennes, had paid a tidy sum (just under $400,000) to a man young enough to be her son, following a complaint made by the young man that the actress had engaged in just the kind of behavior that made #MeToo a movement and Asia Argento one of its faces.

Argento has denied the allegations, but she’s admitted that monies did change hands. According to the actress, the payment was not an admission of guilt; rather, she was pushed into paying off the accuser by her then-companion, the late Anthony Bourdain, to avoid negative publicity. Color me unconvinced.

I am not sure what to make of the accuser, who claims to have been traumatized by the experience. If the accusations are true, Argento might have violated the laws dealing with statutory rape in the jurisdiction in question, but the man was 17 at the time the incident is alleged to have happened, an age at which one can operate a vehicle where I live (and probably where the accuser lives, too). The modern young male can drive on a highway, but is traumatized by receiving oral sex from a not unattractive woman. There was a time when, in wealthier families, the paterfamilias would hire a young maid in order to initiate an adolescent son into the mysteries of manhood (writing about fin-de-siècle Vienna, Zweig mentioned that in his memoirs, if memory serves). Now young men complain about it and say this sort of thing is traumatic, although it seems to be the kind of trauma that can heal with the help of a little bit of cash – on the order of $400,000, to be exact.

It’s worth remembering that young women who have yet to reach the age of majority are in greater need of protection than young men. Since claiming that there are differences between men and women qualifies as apostasy these days, this is denied; but the experience of being seduced by an older female will have a different effect on an underage boy than it will on an underage girl seduced by an older man. A photo apparently showing Argento and the accuser in bed together posing for a selfie has just been released; the photo is said to have been taken at the time of the incident, and the victim does not look in the least bit traumatized.

One can say that the modern young male necessarily corresponds to the watermark of his time – as does the woman currently facing the accusations. Whatever the truth of the matter, the allegations don’t make Asia Argento look very good. By extension, they don’t make the #MeToo movement look very good.

We ought not to be surprised by all this. Long-term readers are aware of where the Axis of Reaction stands with respect to the #MeToo movement. I’ve felt skeptical about #MeToo since the early days of the Weinstein saga; in fact, the first Axis of Reaction blog post (https://axisofreaction.com/2017/10/26/misandry/) was dedicated to this topic. Everything that has happened since then only reinforced the view familiar to readers of this blog, which is that #MeToo is an ideologically based power grab that masquerades itself as an agent of social justice.

There are a number of considerations that support this view.

1. While I have no intention of expressing any kind of solidarity with Harvey Weinstein or of defending him – he does have a lawyer, after all – there was something odd about the suddenness of the accusations against the man. For years Weinstein had appeared to be a much respected Hollywood linchpin and a man everyone wanted to be friends with. All of a sudden, we were asked to believe he was Satan’s emissary. Could it have been true? Certainly. Not to mention that social movements can take shape rapidly in the age of social media. Yet it is hard to imagine that a phenomenon such as #MeToo can emerge out of a void. The pressure must have been building up for a long time; all that was needed was a scapegoat. Weinstein was that scapegoat. My personal inclination is to distrust all movements that require scapegoats for validation, and history bears out that view.

2. The extent and scope of the accusations made it clear that many people had known about Weinstein’s proclivities for some time – people who had enough clout to come forward. But they hadn’t come forward, not until the turn of events compelled them to do so. That turn of events was the #MeToo movement, and the sight of all these indignant faces who were now all too eager to add their names to the #MeToo manifesto suggested that the movement was rife with opportunists.

3. The #MeToo movement was presented as a “mainstream” problem. Actually, it was more of a Hollywood problem. Without questioning the authenticity of some of the complaints against Weinstein and other men who have been served up to the #MeToo guillotine, it’s worth asking whether, in a number of instances, it wasn’t a case of some wildly successful women who had paid a certain price for their success, on their own volition, and who now regretted having paid it.

Do the voices of the #MeToo movement care about gnawing problems in wider society involving abuse of, and violence against, women? I doubt it. Like Hollywood itself, the #MeToo world is an insular one. The stories of the #MeToo women represent a world that is not overly interested in new entrants, who will only increase competition and supplant those who are already in.

Violence against women should be dealt with by reintroducing a system of values, by instilling discipline in our youth, and by reforming our justice system to make it a system that will uphold our values and ensure that the importance of discipline is never forgotten. Presently, our values are fluid and rickety, with a heavy ultraliberal bias; discipline is given short shrift; and the justice system in many Western countries, insofar as punishment and retribution are concerned, is frankly a bit of a joke. Without values and discipline, men will not respect other men; equally, they will fail to respect women. To respect others, people need to be inculcated with the right values at an age when such inculcation can be expected to be effective. I note that it has become socially acceptable, at work and in public places, for men to cuss freely in the presence of women and even children; this is now the norm. There are no barriers and no moral restraints. How could there be? In a world where one’s comfort supersedes one’s sense of duty, no one is accountable to anyone. Board a streetcar or a bus in my city, and you are bound to see a young man (i.e., under forty) who will sooner let hell freeze over than give up his seat to a woman old enough to be his mother – I see it all the time.

On the other hand, women are no longer encouraged to be women in the traditional sense. Being feminine is passé. Women are advised to avoid cultivating their femininity, to engage in all sorts of adventures with their bodies, to swear at their leisure – emancipation, baby! But how can a man respect a foul-mouthed woman covered with piercings and tattoos from head to toe? When it’s not unkemptness, it’s often indecency. Teenage girls believe that exposing as much as flesh as the law will allow them, with things literally hanging out, makes them look sexy; actually, it just makes them look vulgar. The problem with vulgarity is that it commands little respect.

If we want to create an environment that is safe for women, then, we need values, discipline, better policing, and a justice system that will reinforce all those other things. If these proposed solutions might not work as well as I think they will, they will still outperform the #MeToo movement, which relies on hollow sloganeering and rancid histrionics.

4. It is unusual for people preaching tolerance and acceptance to attempt to throttle those who disagree with their sermons, but this is something of a specialty for ultraliberals and their ideology, of which, as mentioned earlier, the #MeToo movement is an offshoot. Those who have dared to question the #MeToo movement found themselves in a very uncomfortable situation. When Catherine Deneuve expressed her doubts, she was subjected to something of a virtual lynching and was eventually forced to recant. The vehemence with which the #MeToo movement persecutes opposition suggests it is not on sure footing; more to the point, it is unsure of, or does not quite believe in, its own truth.

5. #MeToo bills itself as a movement against sexual harassment. If that were all there was to it, there would be no movement. Most decent people – men as well as women – want to stamp out sexual violence. Decent men don’t grope women or grab them by their body parts, certainly not against their will. We don’t need the #MeToo movement to tell us that. So why did the movement come about?

Let’s be clear. The goal of the #MeToo movement is not to represent oppressed women. The goal is to build a society in which there are fewer men – not fewer men in general, but fewer men at the top of all power structures. To achieve this objective and confer upon it the necessary legitimacy, it is necessary to construct a narrative that casts men as the enemy. According to that narrative, society is hostile, unfair, and oppressive to women; women do not enjoy the same opportunities that men do; priapic ogres lie in ambush everywhere to pounce on their female victims – in short, the narrative shows that the world is tyrannized by a patriarchy that needs to be done away with, once and for all. Men are demonized; ultimately, the movement that purports to fight against sexism ends up promoting misandry.

All the recent talk about the chronic underrepresentation of women in certain jobs, about the immutable existence of sinister old-boy networks, and about ubiquitous sexual harassment at the top of hierarchies – all of that is not accidental. Some of these complaints are legitimate. The problem, to go back to the original thesis, is that there is a big difference between social justice and power struggles. Gender warriors talk about the lack of women in governments and on the boards of Fortune 500 companies, but they’re not too concerned about the paucity of women on construction sites or about the near-total absence of women manning garbage trucks. They certainly don’t bemoan the fact that the overwhelming majority of US soldiers who have fallen in combat in the last century were men – gender equality does not apply to private eschatology. Gender warriors huff and puff about male networks, yet they have no problems promoting “safe spaces” for women, which are essentially men-free zones – hypocrisy galore. Ambitious women should not be thwarted. Elbowing one’s way into the couloirs of power is a natural enough desire, after all. I only insist that we call things by their proper names and avoid conflating private ambitions with social justice.

But such conflation cannot be avoided, because it might deprive the ultraliberal movement of its thrust. Oprah Winfrey made it clear earlier this year, when she delivered her “your time’s up” speech. Few asked Winfrey to identify the intended recipients of her message. We were made to believe that she was referring to powerful men who abused their power to satisfy their carnal cravings. Actually, what she really said was that men’s time was up. White men especially. We’ve had enough of you; we want less of you now. Some might roll their eyes: it’s such a cliché for a white male to complain that white males are now the only group it is acceptable to bash. Perhaps, but then clichés can be valid, too. Nor should clichés be mistaken for exaggerations.

Crazy Rich Asians was released last weekend in North America. The movie has an all-Asian cast; as one newspaper gushed, it is not so much a movie as it is a “moment”. At last, Asian-Americans, heretofore severely underrepresented on the big screen, were given the opportunity that had been so long in coming.

It can be conceded that Asian-Americans have been underrepresented in Hollywood, although perhaps not for the reasons that are commonly mentioned. Values might be at work here: Asian-American parents would probably react differently to a child who announces he wants to be a novelist than the parents of a white American child who wants to do the same. There is a greater probability that artistic ambitions might be viewed as frivolous by an Asian-American family than by a Caucasian one, which might be more accepting of such aspirations. This could partially explain why relatively few Asian-Americans drift into Hollywood in the first place: instead of being repelled by racial barriers, they may be guided by the more materialistic values of the milieus from which they originate.

Regardless of the genesis of their underrepresentation, if more Asian-Americans want to be on the screen, so much the better. If the intention of the people behind Crazy Rich Asians is to create a world where folks have a fair and decent chance of realizing their full potential, whatever their race, that world will not be a bad place to live in. But it’s rather strange that the film promises this new color-blind world, free of racially inspired atavism, and yet freely drags race right into it. It claims it doesn’t want race to be a factor, yet it makes race a factor. Note that no one is talking about the quality of the film – which seems to be a typical made-in-Hollywood crowd-pleaser – but everyone is talking about the fact that, finally, the cast is all Asian (which also implies that there are no white faces for a change, though this is tactfully omitted). Without race, there would be no film; race appears to underwrite the movie’s plot. In fact, it is the plot; everything else seems to be secondary. The bright tomorrow, then, is formulated along the drab lines of today. This is akin to affirmative action: we need to have more minority groups represented in such and such institutions, so we therefore introduce quotas to have less whites in these institutions. The idea that to be fair to some, we need to be unfair to others, strikes me as fairly ignoble. True fairness, the color-blind kind of fairness, should never rely on unfairness to promote itself.

It should be noted that the actress who plays the main character in Crazy Rich Asians is a big supporter of both the #MeToo movement and the whole Time’s Up enterprise. Nothing astonishing here. It should also be noted that there have already been complaints about the movie from Asian quarters. Some have remarked that the movie fails to show the entire spectrum of the many Asian ethnic groups in existence; others seem to resent the fact that the movie, though it uses Singapore as its setting, does not portray its smaller Malay and Indian communities as much as they deserve. On and on it goes. Keeping in mind what was said earlier about revolutions devouring themselves, this kind of hubbub is fairly predictable.

But I would not want to steal anyone’s “moment”. The laws of history have their own logic. In the meantime, it appears that Asia Argento needs to answer a few uncomfortable questions. One of them is quite simple: you too? If the accusations made against Argento are true, she can still say, “me too”; but the meaning would be quite different this time.

I refuse to shake your hand

By Eugène E.

A few days have passed since “roaming gangs” set scores of vehicles on fire across Sweden in what is said to have been a coordinated attack, and Sweden is in the news once again, displaying the multicivilizational, ultraliberal world in all its splendour.

A labor court has ruled in the case of a young woman who complained of discrimination after her job interview for an interpreter position was cut short by the prospective employer. Why was it cut short? Well, the interviewee refused to shake hands with a male interviewer. The candidate in question, a Swedish woman by the name of Farah Alhajeh, happens to be Muslim, a fact that makes it a problem for her to engage in physical contact with a member of the opposite sex – even when such contact is limited to a simple handshake. When the company refused to accommodate her religious sensibilities and terminated the interview, her problem became the company’s problem.

And what did the Swedish legal justice system have to say about that? The labor court has ruled in favor of the woman, awarding her monetary compensation.

Now let’s step back and analyze this situation. On one side of the scales, we have Sweden, a country where it is customary for men and women to shake hands in a business setting. On the other side of the scales is an individual living in that country, whose religion is not native to Sweden, but who nevertheless believes that the host country that has welcomed her (or her family) is required to adjust its customs and mores in order to accommodate her creed. But who should accommodate whom? If a stranger comes knocking on your door and you grant him shelter, is the stranger not obligated to observe the rules of your house? The answer seems to be obvious: in keeping with common sense, it is incumbent upon the stranger to respect the conventions of the host’s home. When in Rome, do as the Romans. But ultraliberals think differently; for them, Rome is dispensable. The Swedish legal system seems to agree.

The company that lost the case was right to end the interview – and would have won the case in any society not dominated by ultraliberal ideology. It is normal and common for men and women to shake hands in the business world of Western societies. In fact, the custom extends beyond the West. The company in question is looking for an interpreter; it finds itself facing a candidate who refuses to engage in a practice that is standard for its environment. Why should it hire the individual, especially on account of religious beliefs that happen to be completely alien to the society and culture of the country in which the company is operating? If you refuse to abide by the norms of a certain environment, you should not expect to be given the opportunity to participate in that environment. Furthermore, if the individual were hired, what would happen in a situation where the Muslim woman has to interact with a client who is a member of the opposite sex? Would she refuse to shake hands with him? The terrain can get very slippery here, and no company would want to navigate it.

It is curious that people who are so strongly attached to their way of life relocate to societies that are so different in every possible way. Ms. Alhajeh says that she can practice her religion and follow Swedish rules – in other words, her religion is perfectly reconcilable with Swedish society; she can sit on two chairs at the same. Not so – and the legal action that she took against the Swedish company (and the reasons why the legal action was taken) clearly demonstrates that her religion and way of life are incompatible with Swedish society. Would it not make more sense for her to relocate to a place where Islam is an autochthonous religion and where her beliefs will be easily absorbed by local soil? Theocratically minded societies beckon – no one would object to her refusing to shake hands with men during a job interview in Saudi Arabia or Iran. But Ms. Alhajeh does not appear to be in any rush to leave the land of the infidels. She wants to live in Sweden – on her own terms, that is, without having to integrate or assimilate. And that’s a major problem.

It is inevitable for the legal system of a Western country to be taxed with such complaints – such is the prerogative of any society with a rule of law. That is understandable. Far less understandable is the fact that said legal system rules in favor of those who file these complaints. (For the record, of the five judges presiding over Ms. Alhajeh’s case, three voted in her favor and two against – there’s always that one imbecile to tip the balance.) You only get to see that in countries based on, or inspired by, the values of European civilization. Other civilizations don’t allow that sort of thing, and they’re all the stronger for it. No one asks the legal systems – or the courts of public opinion – of China, India, or Saudi Arabia to accommodate westerners who find the local mode of life too cumbersome. No, that would be seen as colonialism in the age of the iPhone. But, for some reason, European-based societies have to be different. They don’t dare to insist that people who enter their countries adapt to the local ways of life. On the contrary, not only do they actively take in migrants from other civilizations, they encourage them to assert their identities at the expense of the identity of the host population. Driven by an ultraliberal agenda, European societies continue to pursue demographically suicidal policies that are detrimental to the local population, and ruinous to European traditions and heritage.

As far as Ms. Alhajeh’s case is concerned, I have one outstanding question. What would Ms. Alhajeh have done if the interviewer had been a transgender individual – that is, a man who had a sex change and became a woman? Would Ms. Alhajeh have shaken, to borrow a term from LGBTQ argot, hir hand? Given Sweden’s ultraliberal infatuation with gender engineering, the question is an apt one.

Life in the time of the plague

By Eugène E.

There’s a memorable scene in Camus’s The Plague in which two doctors are conferring about the strange disease ravaging their town. The epidemic, of course, is plague, but most people in the Algerian seaside city of Oran are not yet ready to recognize it as such. Dr. Rieux, the narrator and the novel’s unsung hero, understands that it’s plague, but is not quite prepared to admit it, while his interlocutor, a seasoned doctor, is well past the denial phase and calls a spade a spade. With deft, vivid strokes, Camus shows how the population of Oran crumbles under the epidemic, physically as well as psychologically. Each stage of the city’s battle with the plague, from denial and disbelief to resignation and eventual delivery from the epidemic, is meticulously charted.

The novel’s profundity stems from its allegorical dimension. As the novel was written just after World War II, it has been all too tempting to interpret the plague as a symbol of the occupation of France by Nazi Germany or perhaps as a symbol of fascist ideology as such (which is exactly what was done by one Dutch writer in a superficial book that came out recently). Many great works of art tend to offer not one, but numerous interpretations (which also exposes them to charges of intellectual promiscuity), and every interpretation that is made runs the risk of revealing as much about the tastes and biases of the interpreter as it does about the work that is being interpreted. But then giving up interpretations of literary texts is tantamount to giving up literary analysis as such; and while I don’t pretend that my own interpretation of The Plague is so unique that it will circumvent the risk of betraying my own biases, whatever they are, the urgency imposed on us by recent events compels me to make the interpretation.

The plague in Camus’s novel is a hostile element that wreaks havoc with the environment in which it chooses to settle. It need not necessarily be fascist ideology; it can be any ideology that, like a python, coils around the body of its victim and constricts it. This is what the plague does in Camus’s Oran, and this is what ultraliberalism is doing to Western societies today. After all, ultraliberal policies also come with a body count (e.g., due to the crime and terrorist activity committed by those migrants from the third world who should have never been allowed to enter Western countries, but who were admitted regardless because welcoming them was perceived, for ideological reasons, as the right thing to do), and it’s a body count that continues to grow on a regular basis. Moreover, the long-term effects of ultraliberal policies are incalculable. As the impact that an invidious ideology (as symbolized by the plague) has on its victims is described poignantly in The Plague, the novel should be required reading for anyone trying to step back from the current state of affairs and cast a critical eye upon it.

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has seen a massive spike in gun-related homicides this year in comparison to the same period in 2017. Locally, this has been discussed at length. What has been discussed far less, at least at the official level, is that these crimes seem largely to have been committed by black men, although the racial factor is actively downplayed. What does it mean? First, let’s make sure we understand what this doesn’t mean. It does not mean that acknowledging this reality is racist. It does not mean that all black men are gun-toting criminals. And it certainly does not mean that it is acceptable to stigmatize blacks, or produce sweeping generalizations about this or that group, particularly as the victims have also tended to be black. But it does mean that accusing whites of racism and discrimination (the raison d’être of groups such as Black Lives Matter) while violence continues to fester in the black community – accusing whites of systemic racism is not particularly constructive. It also means that if a certain group is overrepresented when it comes to violent crime, public policy should take that reality into account when it is formulated. For instance, is racial profiling efficient? I do not have sufficient information to answer this question; but if its efficacy can be demonstrated, then it should be an option. If it can be proved conclusively that racial profiling will make society safer, does it make sense to eschew it just because the ultraliberal ideology holds that it’s wrong?

These days it takes a Dr. Rieux to say that it doesn’t, and this hypothetical Dr. Rieux will have to confront the plague of modern times – ultraliberalism. Mention the possible benefits of racial profiling, for instance, and get ready to be hauled over the coals. Ultraliberals pursue an “ostrich policy”, choosing to bury their heads in the sand rather than question any items on their ideological checklist or accept anything that might offend their cherished sensibilities. To accomplish this, they might shift the blame or turn things upside down. For example, when confronted with the problem of gun violence in certain neighborhoods, ultraliberals are wont to explain it away by a lack of funding – these violent youths simply need more money thrown at them. It is not their fault that they grow up to become trigger-happy criminals; rather, it’s the corrosive nature of their environment that is responsible. A sensible explanation – but one that should lead us to ask why the nature of their environment is corrosive. Are there certain endogenous factors particular to the black community that give rise to this sort of corrosiveness? After all, the city is not seeing the same problems with, say, its Chinese diaspora. But don’t bother asking these questions – not only will you not get an answer, but you might also be called a racist for good measure. Opposition and dissent are not tolerated; like Camus’s plague, ultraliberalism is peremptory and unyielding. Like the plague, it doesn’t bother with reason; it simply crushes you.

No amount of statistics will convince ultraliberals that they are wrong. In Camus’s opus, the plague first decimates Oran’s rat population before upgrading to the human species. Even so, as an increasing number of the town’s residents succumb to buboes and an eventual death, the medical establishment of Oran, with the exception of a few solitary courageous voices, continues to deny that the city is afflicted with plague. For them, there’s either no problem or the problem has a name that is decidedly not plague. In the meantime, the death toll continues to mount. Likewise, the authorities take a similar approach to the problem of gun violence in Toronto. It’s a complex problem, to be sure, but we will never begin working towards a workable solution until we can at least muster the courage to acknowledge reality as it is and not as some ideologues wish it to be. Alas, like any ideology with a totalitarian bent, ultraliberalism seeks to fashion reality after the dictates of its agenda rather than after the truth. As the city struggles to address the spurt of violence, there’s been a lot of talk about various social initiatives, proposed meetings with “stakeholders”, and even discussions of the possibly cyclical nature of homicides in Toronto – as one social scientist has proceeded to explain, instead of jumping to conclusions, we should be mindful of patterns. Peaks and troughs, that kind of thing, you see. In the meantime, people continue to get shot and killed.

There have been two major “death sprees” in Toronto this year, a city that until recently had been spared this ugly side of modern society. In the first attack, a van drove into a crowd in the north of the city; in the second, a lone shooter opened fire on people enjoying a Sunday night out along a busy strip in the city’s Greek neighborhood. Terrorism does not appear to have been a factor in either attack, but this does not invalidate the argument that the whole notion of “Toronto the Good”, as the city was once called, has been laid to rest. A society in which such attacks are possible is a broken society, but that, too, cannot be admitted.

As I write these very lines, the authorities in Sweden are looking into what looks like a coordinated series of acts involving the destruction of as many as eighty vehicles, which were set on fire last night across Sweden. This has been blamed on “roaming gangs” in the country’s less privileged neighborhoods. Who are these itinerant hoodlums? Local authorities are timid when it comes to this sort of disclosure, but others are less hesitant. An article in The Telegraph, hardly a bastion of the far right, discusses the abscesses that are the Swedish neighborhoods populated by immigrants from the third world(https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/23/wont-admit-stockholm-donald-trump-right-immigration-sweden/). “Shadow societies, mafia courts, and gangland killings and conundrums like how to handle adult refugees who turn up with a child bride in tow” – there it is, the price of multicivilizationalism and an immigration policy gone wrong. But this will not be recognized: Swedish media rarely mention the civilizational component when reporting on local crime, and the Swedish prime minister reacted to the vandalized cars by asking the perpetrators just “what the hell” they were doing. Well, that’s one way to react. I suppose we should be glad that it was property they were setting on fire, and not people. But then the plague is insatiable; it never stops of its own accord unless it’s fought and viciously resisted.

In the novel, as it becomes clear that the plague is here to stay and as Oran undergoes a blockade (the city has been shut off from the outside world to prevent contagion), Camus paints a confused city that is slowly drowning in lassitude. The people of Oran have lost the ability to make choices and value-based judgments (“Autrement dit, ils ne choisissaient plus rien. La peste avait supprimé les jugements de valeur.”), so much that they no longer even bother to take proper care of themselves. They now accept everything wholesale (“On acceptait tout en bloc”). People who accept everything wholesale cannot be free.

Ultraliberal thought has had the same effect on us. We have turned into discombobulated sleepwalkers whose faculties of making choices and adjudicating values have been severely impaired. We no longer seem to be in touch with our destinies; we know neither who we are nor where we are going, eager as we are to submit to a hippie agenda that seeks to negate all differences, erase geographic borders, and do away with all moral precepts, all in order to create a homogenized group of pill-popping consumers without any sense of identity or the wholeness that one gets with a sense of identity. Western civilization – the European man and all the traditions he’s spawned – must fade into oblivion; in its place, everything that is non-European, untraditional, and unconventional must be feted and greeted with open arms, regardless of how silly, misguided, or dangerous it might be. It’s not enough that North America has embraced this global rainbow state; so has Europe, and so must the rest of the world. The plague is going global.

In the end, things work out for the city of Oran, though they certainly don’t work out for all of its denizens. The plague is defeated, and the reader is treated to an orgiastic picture of the celebrations that follow the city’s liberation from the epidemic. Not everyone’s celebrating, however: the long-suffering Dr. Rieux is far more reticent. He knows that the plague never disappears forever; it only retreats. Sooner or later, it rears its ugly head again. Dr. Rieux is wiser than the other inhabitants of Oran, and so he knows that such are the ulcerations that accompany the human condition, and that there’s little to be done about it except for do one’s duty and hope for the best. But “the plague” will never be completely eradicated; it’s in our bloodstream. We are always at risk of getting reinfected, always at risk of getting the plague. The city of Oran is ultimately spared. Will our civilization be spared as well?