When I retired, a retro 1990s fad was just gearing up on campus. It was an Uncanny Valley kind of experience. There they were, dressing like day-glo lumberjacks and listening to knockoff BritPop, but still plodding around campus with that peculiarly late-Millennial affect. You know the one — half secret policeman, half cringing mouse. Unpleasant, but it got me thinking about my own college years back at the dawn of the Clinton Era.* We really screwed the pooch, didn’t we?
I’m referring, of course, to Gen X’s patented brand of “irony.” We’ve talked about this before, but here’s a quick recap: Every middle-class kid born after about 1965 was raised to believe that Authenticity was the thing, the only thing. Just do what you feel. Question authority. Don’t listen to The Man!
The problem, of course, is that we were told this by The Man.
It had a weird, telescoping effect. On campus, you were surrounded by people who actually were hippies, plus a whole bunch of wild-eyed fanatics who were sure they would’ve made truly excellent hippies if they hadn’t been in elementary school at the time, plus a bunch of kids — these would be your classmates — who thought of “Woodstock” as a brand name, a kind of backpacking-through-Europe, taking-a-year-off-to-find-myself experience that everyone has as a matter of course before settling down to the serious business of making partner at the law firm.
In short: Our parents were stuck in adolescence, and, being adolescents ourselves, we didn’t understand that “Rebellion” wasn’t something the hippies invented. We wanted to experience sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, too, but since the Baby Boomers treated those as their exclusive property instead of what they actually are — i.e. the natural impulses of teenagers in all times and places — we had to be all, like, you know, whatever about it. The Simpsons, performing its invaluable service of presenting a trend already in steep decline as if were fresh, summed it up perfectly:
That was the 1990s. Faced with a paradox that everything your parents say, do, and believe is lame — according to your parents! — the only safe way is to make sure nobody can figure out exactly what your attitude is at any given instant. You might end up working 90 hour weeks at the office to pay the nut on the McMansion and the Volvo the same way they did, but at least you’d be, you know, ironic about it. The ketman of the suburbs.
See what happens when you listen to your elders, kids?
The only way we could truly be different from our parents — truly rebel — is by not giving in to their gross hypocrisy. A Baby Boomer who was salesman of the year at Tom Hayden’s Porsche dealership would simply power through with a shit-eating grin. His parents were the WWII generation**, which, like all generations of humanity before it, knew well that hypocrisy is both useful and necessary. Better a false “good morning!” than a sincere “go to Hell!”, the old proverb says, and it’s true. Or, if you prefer, more hoity-toity: “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.” That was La Rochefoucauld, who’d certainly know, but this was pretty much the default setting of humanity from the minute we stopped swinging in trees. The Boomers knew it, and were fine with it.
Only dumbasses who thought the lead singer of a band named after ejaculate was some kind of messiah would ever have considered making anti-hypocrisy the cornerstone of their worldview. But we were those dumbasses, and so even though the Road to Shambala still ended with a McMansion in the ‘burbs, we had to sacralize it. David Brooks, ol’ Mr. Perfect Pants Crease himself, deserves every ounce of the scorn he gets from pretty much everyone, but Bobos in Paradise is still a valuable book. The only way to live like a pasha without feeling yourself a hypocrite is to spend $400 on a can opener because “it’s good for the earth.”
Moralizing without morals — that’s the Gen X worldview. Life’s most mundane activities must be infused with transcendental significance…. all while carefully avoiding any implication that a given course of action could in any way be intrinsically better than any other.
The apotheosis of this attitude came in 2003, when all goodthinkers everywhere decided that the best way to protest our Iraq adventure was to call it a “war for oil.” If it were true — hell, if it were remotely plausible — that a sitting US president really did “lie us into war” to enrich his cronies, it would be the biggest political scandal in modern history. Revolutions have started over far, far less. But it wasn’t even remotely plausible, and the people who were screaming loudest about it knew it better than anyone. They certainly didn’t tell the troops that they were being sent to fight on a lie — though if ever a military coup were justified, it’d be that one — and nobody ever clamored after Dick Cheney’s tax returns. Nor was there, or will there ever be, any followup. What’s Halliburton’s bottom line these days? What was it from, say, 2008 to 2015? Heck, what’s Halliburton’s stock ticker symbol?
No one on the Left knows. None of them have ever known.
Nor did the so-called “Right,” for that matter, and that’s the heart of this post (you knew we’d get there eventually). The reason is simple: They knew the Left was lying, and the Left knew the Left was lying, and the Right knew that the Left knew they were lying, and the Left knew that the Right knew etc., and wasn’t it ironic, dontcha think? It’s like ra-aa-aaain on your wedding day…
…in other words, 100% manufactured drama from bored, vapid people longing for the flannel-wrapped days of their youth, and if soldiers had to be maimed and killed because the Counting Crows’ reunion tour hadn’t yet come to a city near you, well, that’s what they get for not going to college, as John Kerry — who, being a Boomer and thus exquisitely comfortable with hypocrisy, was for the war before he was against it — once famously proclaimed. Or it should’ve been famous, anyway, if anyone involved ever actually believed a single word they said. Ask the so-called “Right,” 2009-2015 version, which was both for and against Obama’s wars for… what were they for again? Did we ever decide on that? Or did the statute of limitations expire? What difference, at this point, does it make?
If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, then what do you call our current situation, in which vices are virtues? The Bobo professor — White, male, heterosexual — who tells his classes that college is nothing but privilege-sustaining indoctrination from White, male, heterosexuals isn’t lying. He’s not a hypocrite — hypocrisy requires awareness of the gap between one’s words and one’s actions, and that hasn’t been part of our cultural repertoire since before Soundgarden broke up. They’re just words, just upvotes, just Tweets, just dopamine hits, and everyone, his students most definitely included, knows it.
Ultimately, that’s why Donald Trump drives the Left and the cuck-Right (BIRM, I know) around the bend. The one thing — the only thing — they never accuse him of is hypocrisy, though it’s the one offense he’s glaringly guilty of. They can’t, because it would require acknowledging that it’s a good thing for a person to at least try to line up his actions with his words. An unqualified good, without any interesting “intersectional” exceptions with which to prove how Enlightened you are… and we can’t be having that. Otherwise what would we get into Twitter slap-fights about?