No columnist’s cleverness could do justice to the absurdity of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s opening prayer for the 117th Congress on Sunday. Cleaver, a Methodist pastor, closed his prayer for national peace “in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘God’ known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and awoman.” No doubt the assembled members afterward went to work on awomendments to important bills.
The wisecracks write themselves. But I wonder which of two modes of laughter we are dealing with here: Do we laugh with confidence that the American people will, in time, overcome such manifest lunacy? Or is it, rather, the bitter laughter familiar to peoples long accustomed to enduring absurd rule? As recently as two or three years ago, I would have picked the former; these days, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.
That is to say, I worry that this, too, shall not pass—not within my lifetime, anyway. We laugh, they rule.
The absurd regime of woke-ism, with its linguistic mutilations and stark denials of reality, might just consolidate and extend its rule, notwithstanding our confidence that reason must break through and awaken the people. As Adrian Vermeule quipped on Twitter, “People who’ve watched the absurd ‘Latinx’ be normalized and propagated, in real time, by multiple elite institutions are shocked by ‘Awomen.’ Coming to your dictionary soon!”
Indeed. Tellingly, the House’s Democratic majority matched Cleaver’s prayer with a proposal to eliminate all non-“gender-inclusive” language from house rules, not least “father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister.” They are to be replaced with terms like “parent, child, sibling, sibling of parent,” and so on. The nonsense from those 1990s critical-theory seminars on “queering the family” is now influencing official policy in the lower chamber of Congress.
Conservatives and those formerly known as mainstream liberals used to laugh at the incomprehensible prose and conceptual gibberish peddled by the likes of Judith Butler; now we live in a sex-and-gender culture more or less designed by Butler types and their lower-brow minions in media and Hollywood and human resources departments.
It could be that liberalism in its current iteration is turning ever more aggressive and woke, accelerating its revolutionary pace and intensity, precisely because it feels itself insecure: vulnerable to its own absurdities and internal contradictions and to the global backlash movements of left and right. That’s a thesis I’ve long entertained. But even if it’s true, it needn’t exclude the possibility of a prolonged woke regime—one powerfully capable of insulating its elites from criticism from below while punishing dissent within elite ranks.
In this scenario, it doesn’t matter if the masses rage or laugh at awoman and the canceling of “Mom,” “Dad,” and “Uncle” in the House of Representatives: Vast wealth inequalities and corporate dominance (on hyperdrive since the COVID-19 lockdowns) mean the balance of forces is too lopsided for any meaningful mass opposition. The economically precarious working middle will scrape by with the help of government checks and find solace, of a kind, in porn and legalized drugs.
Elite opinion, meanwhile, has proved itself thoroughly ductile to Silicon Valley censorship and the “peer pressure” to which elites are always especially vulnerable. Witness this fall’s censorship of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden muckraking. It wasn’t just that Twitter and Facebook barred circulation of a major news story on false pretexts: The shocking part was that most journalists cheered the censorship as necessary for “democratic” health.
The woke-approved blue-check Twitterati can one day proclaim masks to be worse than useless in fighting the novel coronavirus—and the next day insist vehemently on the opposite position, with outlets like Vox going so far as to delete their earlier anti-mask coverage. Mass gatherings are tantamount to murder—except when it comes to Black Lives Matter protests, which are “practically mandatory as a matter of public moral hygiene,” as Jacob Siegel recently pointed out. Gender is a social construct—but also, some people have an innate sense of their “true” gender that clashes with their bodily sex.
Communism demanded its adherents uphold similar absurdities, of course, which is a point in favor of Ryszard Legutko’s (and, before him, Solzhenitsyn’s) view that communism and liberalism are twin children of the same worldview. Some might find consolation in that fact; Soviet Communism, after all, collapsed after about seven decades. A more pessimistic take is that seven decades is a long time, and the Politburo lacked the wealth and technological prowess of Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.
We laugh, they rule.
Sohrab Ahmari is the op-ed editor of the New York Post and author of the forthcoming book The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos.
Photo via CSPAN. Image cropped.
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