I saw this Sarah Hoyt piece on “bad crazy” linked at Ace of Spades’ overnight thread. She describes it thus:
a theory dreamed by some college professor with too much time on his or these days often her hands and an ax to grind or a pony to ride…. a just-so story [that] spreads and hides. It hides so well that people don’t realize they’re infected. But its distorting effects twist society’s processes to the point that something vital stops working.
Her main example is “toxic masculinity,” but, growing up as she did under Salazar, she’s compelled to mention Marxism, the wackiest just-so story of them all and the one to which all the goofy college professors dreaming up bad-crazy theories still officially subscribe. Which sparked a few thoughts….
It’s funny, isn’t it, that Liberals — who still carry on as if the 1964 Civil Rights Act happened yesterday (and it wasn’t their party that fought it tooth and claw) — never mention the truly remarkable material progress made in the “Progressive Era”?
Around 1900, pretty much all educated people took it for granted that “we’re all Socialists now,” and some iteration of Socialism helped propel enormous advances in the lower classes’ standard of living. You can go dig up the numbers if you’d like, but I doubt anyone here seriously disputes that the lot of the average factory worker in 1910 was orders of magnitude better than that of the average factory worker in 1860. Indeed, as the 19th century rushed into the 20th, the pace of change accelerated, such that life — on just about any material measure that makes sense — was getting noticeably better almost year-to-year. Your average European or (especially) American prole was observably better off in 1905 than he was in 1900.
You’d think the “Progressives,” who then as now were so culturally influential that they got the whole era named after themselves, would take a bit more credit for that, wouldn’t you?
There are a few obvious explanations. E.g. that the proles’ increasing material prosperity contradicted the Scriptures — Marx decreed that the worker’s lot would only get worse until the Revolution, so, as those educated past their hat size always do, the “Progressives” chose to believe the theory over the evidence of their own lying eyes. Not too many people read Gramsci anymore, but he got himself canonized just below St. Karl himself for proving to the True Believers that it’s all a sham and that everything is awful and getting worse.
Another is that the “prosperity” of the European lower classes was built entirely on the exploitation of an even lower class, the poor bastards in the colonies. That was Lenin’s explanation, and Orwell’s, and it’s actually kinda sorta true as far as it goes. The problem here, though, is that the premise is unacceptable to the modern Left. No matter how grudgingly you admit that things have gotten slightly better, it’s still an admission, which implies that colonialism ain’t all bad… which, since colonialism entails Racism — the worst of all possible sins — it must be. So that’s out.
One last possible reason for the “Progressives”* not taking credit for the “Progressive Era” is World War 1 — specifically, the “war credits” that so incensed Lenin and the rest of the Second International. Commie literature about this is so inside-baseball it’d give Bill James wood, but for us laymen it’s pretty simple — given the choice between sacrificing heroically for The Cause or going home to support King and Country, the commies, especially the German commies, voted with their feet. As Germany was the heartland of the True Faith, the place where all the best thinkers were sure the Revolution must come first, this was a blow from which Lenin et al never recovered. It turns out that when the chips are down, German commies were still Germans (English, French, etc.). Moreover, the war showed that the advanced industrial technique the commies were counting on to deliver material prosperity for all was great for that… but even better at churning out guns, bullets, and cannon fodder. Woodrow Wilson even called his regime “War Socialism,” for pete’s sake, and we can’t be having that.
I’d suggest another explanation, though: Idle hands. The fact is that pretty much none of the vast social and material progress — no quotation marks — of the “Progressive Era” can be attributed to actual “Progressives.” Standards of living were indisputably better for the majority of folks because of things like mail-order catalogs, railroads, and electric lights, none of which even the most brilliant Socialist theorist had anything to do with. The Salvation Army — which is, horror of horrors, both militaristic and Christian — did far more good for the urban working man in a single day than all the conferences of all the Internationals in the history of Socialism. The International Workingmen’s Association was just aces when it came to issuing self-dramatizing manifestos and expelling dissidents, but for bowl of hot soup and a set of decent clothes, go see General Booth.
Progress, without quotation marks, can be attributed almost entirely to idle hands. Always and everywhere, it’s a bored middle- or upper-class person, often a woman!, who takes it upon herself to do something about the plight of X. These folks don’t care about theory. You can argue the pros and cons of, say, Temperance all you want, but the fact remains that getting knee-walking, gutter-puking drunk is always a bad idea, and will remain so no matter how many fancy theoretical explanations you come up with to explain — that is, to justify — the behavior. The ladies of the WCTU were well aware that social conditions in urban tenements contributed to excessive drinking… but they also knew that drinking is a physical act, and that the drinker, whatever else anyone may do, think, or say, is the one who puts the bottle to his lips.
No WCTU lady would argue against the fact that the slums needed cleaning, that the prevailing social arrangements were unjust. But they also knew that rejiggering the means of production was well above their pay grade. More importantly, they knew that one can actually stop at least a few people from engaging in a self-destructive behavior — that is, that at least one person’s life can be improved, immeasurably, today, through compassion and sweat… and that even trying to do it, though you fail 99 times out of 100, is deeply satisfying to the soul.
It’s not dramatic, though — see “99 failures in 100 attempts,” above. More to the point, it’s not self-dramatizing. It takes no special insight, no advanced degree, not one single hour slogging through dense theoretical tracts, to see that the first step to improving a drunk’s life is to keep the bottle out of his hands. Whatever the “root cause” of his alcoholism, it’s the alcohol in his bloodstream that’s fucking him up right now. Get that out, and keep it out — then you can worry about the rest.
And a last fact: Drunks are disgusting. All the “lower classes” are. Apologies for the long quote, but this is why George Orwell, who was one of the barmiest Socialists that ever lived, is still worth honoring:
That was what we were taught–the lower classes smell. And here, obviously, you are at an impassable barrier. For no feeling of like or dislike is quite so fundamental as a physical feeling. Race-hatred, religious hatred, differences of education, of temperament, of intellect, even differences of moral code, can be got over; but physical repulsion can-not. You can have an affection for a murderer or a sodomite, but you cannot have an affection for a man whose breath stinks–habitually stinks, I mean. However well you may wish him, however much you may admire his mind and character, if his breath stinks he is horrible and in your heart of hearts you will hate him. It may not greatly matter if the average middle-class person is brought up to believe that the working classes are ignorant, lazy, drunken, boorish, and dishonest; it is when he is brought up to believe that they are dirty that the harm is done. And in my childhood we were brought up to believe that they were dirty. Very early in life you acquired the idea that there was something subtly repulsive about a working-class body; you would not get nearer to it than you could help. You watched a great sweaty navvy walking down the road with his pick over his shoulder; you looked at his discoloured shirt and his corduroy trousers stiff with the dirt of a decade; you thought of those nests and layers of greasy rags below, and, under all, the unwashed body, brown all over (that was how I used to imagine it), with its strong, bacon-like reek. You watched a tramp taking off his boots in a ditch–ugh! It did not seriously occur to you that the tramp might not enjoy having black feet. And even ‘lower-class’ people whom you knew to be quite clean–servants, for instance–were faintly unappetizing. The smell of their sweat, the very texture of their skins, were mysteriously different from yours.
Actual progress — again, no quotation marks — absolutely requires getting over that disgust. The Salvation Army soldiers and WCTU ladies did it. Professors and other SJWs don’t, won’t, can’t. They’ll go to great lengths to make themselves disgusting, but only because it’s self-dramatizing, a gross form of conspicuous consumption.** They live in terror of their own idle hands, because they sense deep down that if they actually did something with them, they would discover that the world is a much simpler, messier place than their cherished theories say it is….
… and also a much better place, even though tramps have black feet and the lower classes smell. And we can’t be having that — otherwise, what were all those years in college for?
[UPDATE: I just now realized I’d been typing the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union acronym wrong: It is, of course, WCTU, and I’ve corrected it. I also realized I didn’t link to Hoyt’s piece, which was unintentional bad form, so that’s corrected, too. Finally, as discussed in the comments below, the 19th century really liked using the singular in its organization names — e.g. the WomAn’s, not the WomEn’s, Christian Temperance Union. So I think it’s actually the International WorkingmAn’s Association, but since all the links in a half-a-millisecond Google search use the plural, I’ll go with that for now.]