Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Theater of the Absurd

Jonah Goldberg calls for a national dialog on, well, dialog, writing at NRO in response to the “Kabuki Theater” of Political Correctness (PC).

I like that alliteration to describe the hypocrisy, totalitarian impulses, and general unfairness of much of what passes for PC enforcement: Kabuki Theater.

For those not familiar with the term, here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theatre. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by its performers. (Snip) The word kabuki is believed to derive from the verb kabuku, meaning to lean or to be out of the ordinary, so kabuki can be interpreted to mean avant-garde or bizarre theatre.

I remember one of the precursors to today’s Performance Art, Theater of the Absurd. Same kind of thing, I think.

You immediately recognize a Kabuki performance by the make-up, generally all white with accentuated features for lips and eyes. The performances themselves are highly stylized, and follow very specific and prescribed patterns and traditions, nearly 400 years old.

The Kabuki performance Goldberg alludes to is that acted out in highly stylized fashion by those calling for “national dialog” in response to the Imus affair. Goldberg’s point is that we should all be very familiar with how these performances will play out. But I like the other allusions “Kabuki Theater” provides for the illogic, rigidity, and extreme stylizations that PC imposes on our society. They make for “Bizarre Theater,” indeed.

I know Goldberg resents, as do I, the double standard inherent in calls for rapprochement and even reconciliation between Left and Right America:

People have been calling for national dialogues and conversations for decades. It usually works something like this: Liberals say we need a frank discussion about race (or class or gender) in this country, and then they proceed to bludgeon any conservative stupid enough to take them up on their offer.

Consider a recent non-Imus example: Newt Gingrich said last month that bilingual education keeps some people in the “ghetto.” Within hours, the same “let’s have a frank dialogue” crowd denounced the former House speaker, insisting that he apologize for being so frank. And Gingrich promptly complied.

That’s how the political-correctness Kabuki theater works. There’s a reason so many were quick to point out that Imus’ “shocking” shtick is museum-lecture dull compared to what black rappers spew on a regular basis. Too often, political correctness is a fixed fight where white guys get beat up for things others are allowed. The selective enforcement of P.C. shibboleths undermines the credibility of liberal do-gooders. For example, when campus administrators turn a blind eye to goons burning conservative newspapers or shouting down right-wing speakers, it makes it hard to take them seriously when they bleat about free speech.

It is nighttime in America for the Left, who bewail imagined losses of civil liberties everywhere they look -- but only when they look at actions by the Right, and not the depredations by their friends on the Left.

I must abide Alan Chartock on my local NPR affiliate, and listening to him, you’d think he’d been sentenced to a few stints in the Bush Fascist jails. In some kind of local variation of the Gore effect, every time I hear him ranting about the loss of civil liberties (reliably at Fund Drive time), the very fact of his complaint seems good evidence to refute his claims. And yet, I hear nary a peep out of Constitutional Champion Chartock when it comes to NYS deciding to retain fingerprints from job applicants indefinitely, or consideration of civil confinement laws for sex offenders who complete their prison sentences.

Helpfully, Goldberg received some email from a reader that illustrates the Leftist (adj., as in oriented towards the Left, rather than n., defining a personality type) mindset perfectly:

"But when traditionalists talk the language of decency and morality, the Left hears bigotry and theocracy. And when liberals talk about sensitivity and white privilege, the Right hears something totalitarian. The result is that the two sides hold separate conversations. And when they do talk to each other, each side is listening for hidden agendas."
You're 100% right!
Except that the Left hears bigotry and theocracy because there really is such an undercurrent, as history demonstrates and as an occasional slip-up on the Right confirms (e.g., Trent Lott's comments about Strom Thurmond, Pat Robertson's comments about the true cause of 9/11).  On the other hand, the Right is just hearing things.  "Totalitarian"?  Surely not Stalin's footsteps.  That would be ludicrous.  Indecency and amorality, certainly, but that's all the Left is spewing — there's no hidden agenda.

Before I elaborate my reaction to this Kabuki character, here’s Goldberg’s response:

I don't think something has to be Stalinist to be totalitarian. It seems to me, for example, that any system whereby you are sent to psychological reeducation — or "sensitivity training" — for a slip of the tongue or unpopular statement is a form of totalitarianism.  And that is the sort of thing the true PC crusaders push for all the time on college campuses.

Exactly. The Leftist who advocates speech codes on Campus defends the weakest among us, a class of victims and unfortunates “to be protected.” The Rightist who denounces the coarsening of America and immoral behavior is a Racist, or Fascist, or probably both.

Lots of public institutions and celebrity personalities play at Kabuki Theater.

The latest controversy regarding allegations of censorship by PBS come to mind, whereby a PBS apparatchik asks a producer, “Don't you check into the politics of the people you work with?”

Those on the Left see threats to Democracy everywhere, except where terrorist violence is the method of assault. When they speak of “undercurrents” of bigotry and theocracy, they imagine any single, isolated instance of a tendency to either, as a massive inner flow of innate belief, shared by every member of Republican or Conservative organizations.

Rather than “slips” that reveal this hidden and secret and never to be acknowledged inner thought life of hate, rational people realize there are nuts enough on the fringes of both sides. Racists and Bigots and would-be Theocrats represent nobody but themselves, and perhaps a few fellow travelers in conspiracy theory and prejudice.

This view those who disagree with them as not just deranged or stupid, but evil. No doubt, some on the Right view those on the Left the same way, but I prefer to hope that what adults there are, on both sides, can talk to each other.

But see what Goldberg’s commenter says? The Left has good reason to know the Right to be evil, but when those on the Right criticize the policies of the Left as wrong, misguided, the first slide to some loss of rights or liberty, we are imagining things. No hidden agendas, no desire to impose their morality on a grudging or hostile public, no pretenses, no tendency towards Communist (or even Socialist) excesses.

The myopic Leftist critics of the Right caricature themselves. Paranoid, conspiracy minded, and suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, possibly, but under no circumstances, are they even remotely Totalitarian. They just know what’s wrong with America (lots), they know what they’re going to do about it, whether the majority of Americans agree with them or not.

And the Kabuki continues. Sushi, anyone?


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