Civilization Defense

You don't beat them by being smart, but by being human

© 2017 City of Minneapolis archives, used under a Creative Commons license


I understand the attraction of the expression LOL nothing matters. On the positive side, it’s nice to just shake off the inanity of this administration and its followers from time to time, dismissing it as part of some existential mind-fuck. As an old man I find it especially attractive. I’ll be dead relatively soon; I had some good years when, still young and strong, I only had to deal with somewhat fascist leaders who but gently insulted my intelligence, rather than the full-bore assault on common sense and decorum we experience now. And I don’t have any kids, so le déluge après moi is none of my business.

But, you know, the bad thing about this POV is that it leaves money on the table. Things aren’t actually hopeless. There’s an active impeachment inquiry going on; polls show Trump historically unpopular; voters are responding positively to once-verboten programs like Medicare for All and Universal Basic Income.

It’s the nature of the opposition that makes it tough to remember this. In one sense your opponents are doing what they always do, trying to make their position look better than it is with what little provender they have. That’s to be expected — like the old saying goes, when you have the law pound the law, when you have the facts pound the facts, and when you have neither pound the table.

But there’s something weird about the way they try to win now. Their administration has fully adopted, if not every trapping of fascism, at least the central fascist principle that everything should be subordinate to the will of The Leader — including law, facts, and even basic logic.

Thus, their presentations — it would be giving them too much credit to call them arguments — have become not only worse than they were under previous bad administrations, but positively freakish. And this can be unsettling to people who remember a different time and way of life.

Take the argument currently being made by Trumpkins that because Rep. Adam Schiff paraphrased Trump when he talked about his call with the Ukrainian president, and because Schiff heard about the whistleblower’s complaint before the whistleblower filed it, Schiff (in Trump’s words) “wrote” the whistleblower's complaint and should be investigated for “treason.” In this he is supported by such eminent conservative figures as Megyn Kelly:

It gets worse. Take this proposition advanced by Pizzagate buffoon Jack Posobiec and his MAGA acolytes:

You don’t have to be a Kennedy School scholar to see the problem here, but these people got thousands of high-fives for this novel theory, some even admitting it wasn’t plausible but approving it as something that would be great if it were true, which is rather like saying it would be great if Jesus came down and told everyone how awesome you are, notwithstanding you’re a douchebag.

The normal mind rebels at this kind of anti-reason — partly because it offends propriety to hear a President of the United States bellowing nonsense like a syphilitic mob boss, and partly because it makes so little sense that one is embarrassed, even disgusted, to have to answer it. How do you argue with someone who's just flinging shit?

By the time we get to the news that the University of Florida is paying Donald “Fredo” Trump Jr. and his girlfriend $50,000 to appear onstage (without even, it would appear, having to perform a live sex act), a sensitive soul might feel not only exhausted, but beaten.

But there is a remedy for this.

The trick is to remember that your power of reason is not first and foremost a tool of argumentation. It was not given you to fight idiots with, or even to convince the non-stupid with, though it can certainly be put to those uses.

No, reason was given to you so that you might be a human being, because that it all that distinguishes you from other kinds of animal. Indeed, we are in many respects inferior to dogs, cats, chimpanzees, etc., at least where it comes to love, friendship, and other qualities that are somehow called “humane.” But we are uniquely able to write novels, built tall buildings, raise crops, and form governments — in brief, create a civilization.

As mentioned up top, there is an existential component to our current dilemma. You pit your logic against their illogic, and all you get back is demented laughter, crap memes, and still more stupidity. If you think of reason as a weapon like a gun or a spear, you might despair because you imagine that your opponents have defeated you by choosing not to engage, and instead to fling poo. This is certainly the point of view of the horserace media, which gravely hold up scorecards for the various Trump anti-reason “strategies.”

We have long known, even before Trump, that ignorance may sometimes overmatch reason in the marketplace and at the polling place. But reason is a long-term proposition. It is not just something that lets us figure out how to get through the day, but also how to get through the centuries.

And our persistence as a species tells me that people know it and are attracted to it and, when things get grim, will return to it. Look at the deranged circus the Trumpkins have created. Do you really think, apart from Republicans and Russian agents, that any Americans want to live like this? Even if they couldn't see through the demented Republican pseudo-arguments — and in 2016 many of them could not — don’t you think they’ve at least figured out that, whereas three years ago their world was relatively stable and they could feel comfortable rolling the dice, here in 2019 their world is in chaos and it’s the red-faced rageclown, not the people trying to drop him with tranquilizer darts, that is the cause?

A lot of bad things can happen, and I really worry that the Russo-Republicans are digging tunnels under our voting system in preparation to blow it up. But even then, I would have faith that our fellow citizens could hold onto their memory of civilization, much as the Spaniards did while they waited for that old bastard Franco to croak, and return to it as soon as they got a chance. With a little luck, we may get back to it sooner than that.