Most humans want to fit in, and will go a long way to fit in. In fact, most if not all dictatorships in the 20th century depended on this impulse. “You don’t want the neighbors to think you’re a bad person” or mutatis mutandi, Jew/Jew sympathizer/wrecker/hoarder/saboteur/running dog of the imperialism/etc etc.
No army in the world can hold even a small mutinous fraction of a large population in subjection, if they are not held back by internal controls and stops, and the ancient social-ape impulse to be liked and accepted by the band.
What strikes me when reading books about the holocaust or the various communist massacres is not that these were horrible people and monsters. It’s that 99.9% of the people involved were just “human beings” put in a position where the unthinkable had become normal, and there was no one to say “oh, wait, this is objectively not only evil, but one of the craziest things ever.”
The same instinct that made us civilized, that creates rules of behavior like “I will not kill and eat the neighbors” can be turned around completely on its head, where killing and eating the neighbors, or at least their children, is acceptable, as something you do to survive. (See holodomor.) In that case, of course, it was needed to survive, because you and yours were being deliberately starved. However, the fact humans can do things like that then move on, get past it, go back to normal life, tells you how plastic humanity is, when faced with times/a community gone crazy.
Manners, good behavior, lack of social aggressiveness, all of that which we take for granted is in fact, completely part of the “we all do this, and that’s how we fit in society.”
And in the west at least, for a long time, it has been part of the public facade that we’re a meritocratic society, that people will succeed or fail, sure, with some element of luck, but mostly based on what you can do, what you know, and how hard you’re willing to work.
Now all of us have been in jobs and situations where … we knew it wasn’t precisely so. Sometimes it was simply that, you know, the editor’s ex-roommate or the boss’s son in law were going to get promotion and advantages no one else could have. This happens, and is, unfortunately human. You lumped it, and you moved on, looking for another situation where your talents were better appreciated.
In the last few decades, in certain industries and certain fields of endeavor, it would slowly (or fast, in my case, since I’d seen the movie before) dawn on you that you weren’t going to get anywhere if your political opinions weren’t left. It became clear, hearing say editors talk, that the furthest to the left, the better — which is why some bright lads and lassies formed the “young communists club” for science fiction writers, AFTER the wall fell, and by the time it was formed not one of them under 30 — but if you believed in the free market, individual freedom, and despised the idea of benes for protected classes (even if — particularly if — you fit at least two of them) you’d better keep your opinions to yourself and pretend you were too stupid to understand politics. Because the moment you revealed your politics your career was done.
This was particularly insidious because the pretense wasn’t that it was your politics. Even the people shutting you out might not realize that’s why they were doing it. The fact is that the left has erected a facile self-image as both concerned underdogs (they’re not, they’ve had most of the power most places since world war II) and the “smart” ones. In fact, of course, they are not that. All of us, even the blind ones, could see the writing on the wall. It took a thoroughly disconnected geek not to perceive leftism as a social positional good. Most of us aren’t that.
The people who embraced the “easiest setting” of life as a leftist intellectual were two categories: The first is the genuine good boys and girls. In this case “good” doesn’t imply moral. It implies people in whom the fitting-in impulse is stronger than thought. They are the kids teachers’ loved and parents praised. They instinctively figured out leftism was how to be “good” and therefore followed it. The other category, of course, are the amoral SOBs, which usually went the furthest. They knew how the wind blew. They were smart enough to know it was wrong, and that communism was the charnel house of history. The brightest might even know why and that the corpses inhere from the principles. But they didn’t care. The way to the top of most professions (except some stem) was to play that game as hard as they could. What if they were screwing future generations. They’d got theirs. I have no proof, but I have long suspected this second group were the ones that were catapulted to leadership.
However, the self image of both groups is that they were the smart ones, the caring ones, and — this is very important — the SANE ones.
This meant the minute you outed yourself as not belonging to either group, as in fact, having too many principles for your own good, you were considered stupid, uncaring (racist/sexist/homophobic) AND insane. So it was easy enough to exclude you “per cause.” “Yeah, so and so is a good writer/worker, but he/she is insane.” “Difficult to work with.” “Couldn’t be part of the team.” “Isn’t googly.” (Follow that link if you have a strong stomach.)
I’ll never forget — pre twitter — the day I voiced a mildly non-conformist opinion in an email list for female writers. I don’t know which was crazier: the public pile on, inferring things about me that my worst enemy couldn’t say, or the private panicked emails, saying “I agree with you, but…”
There is a term for this. It’s preference falsification. And in totalitarian societies it can be so total that each individual can’t figure out that his opinions are in fact the majority and only a small minority at the top actually believes the opinions they enforce. It’s what explains Ceausescu and his equally brutal wife being beloved figures in the morning, and cooling piles of bullet-riddled meat by the afternoon. It’s also what gave us Trump’s victory.
Since then… things have changed.
Look, I kept my peace for many years, and because I couldn’t pretend to be a liberal (because, reasons. I know too much about the nature of the beast. I like to sleep at night. More importantly, I like to look at myself in the mirror in the morning. Putting on makeup by touch is possible, but can yield inconsistent results) I pretended to be apolitical, and would let political references, jokes and barbs roll off my back. Now, that required me to work mostly in historical fiction, of course, but that was fine.
It was only two things that allowed me come out of the political closet — besides something that was either my subconscious or perhaps the divine applying iron-clad boot to my behind — a) the existence of indie. b) the fact that the left had gone so far they were demanding vocal endorsement. And that I couldn’t give.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.
Even after Trump’s victory most people held their social facade. If you were in a certain set of professions you’d never (still) admit you voted for Trump. Wild horses couldn’t make you. For one, you’re probably addicted to food on the table and a roof over your head. For another, the left is so busy demonizing everyone who voted against Hillary, that it would be the same as stepping forward and saying “Yes, I’m racist, sexist and homophobic.” EVEN if objectively not only are you not any of those, but there is no evidence Trump is any of those. (I was told there would be prison camps. Honestly, worst Hitler, EVER. Not even Hillary’s promised “adult fun camps.” Sheesh.)
But the left has now gone as zany everywhere and publicly as it’s been for years in my field and covertly. (As for my field it has gone…. I think it’s achieved terminal velocity on the way to insanity.) You must loudly proclaim your hatred for Trump, you must exhibit something like Tourette’s about everything the man says and does, no matter how unimportant. And you must at all times proclaim yourself of the body and stamp out heresy with all your being.
Of course this sends all the wrong signals. A confident ideology doesn’t engage in heretic hunts, and tolerates the philosophical fringes.
But more importantly, what the left is doing is sending out the same signal I got loud and clear five or six years ago “you can’t pretend well enough for us to leave you alone. You must join, or we’ll destroy you. We’ll make sure you never work in this town/business/field/world again. We’ll leave you nothing, not even your reputation.”
What they’re forgetting, again, is that freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Or put another way, if you take away everything because someone failed to conform PERFECTLY, then you leave people free to act the way they always wanted to.
And us, on the right? Us, the damned? We were never “good boys and girls.” We were just conforming enough to fake it. A lot of us were the people who cut classes, spit in the teacher’s eye, and still had straight As. We are the people who have spent a lot of time infiltrating YOUR organizations, just so we could survive. And, oh, yeah, we do have a moral code. And it’s not yours. And you’ll never get us to kiss ass again, because you’ve proven yourselves unstable, narcissistic buffoons.
We’re evil you say? We’re crazy? We don’t play well with others?
Aw, shucks, honey. That was us being good. But you wouldn’t leave us alone. And now many of us are coming to the conclusion the masquerade isn’t worth the reward.
We’re looking at all the work we put in not to disturb you, and the things you call us, nonetheless, and we’re going “Oh, yeah? You think we’re bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Shiny. Let’s be bad guys.”
The only question is how fast what I think is a majority gets there. But the worm is already turning, and you can’t stop it. Screaming and name calling will only increase the speed of the turn.
You’d better learn to swim, or you’ll sink like a stone. For the times, they are achanging.