I have been sorely tempted for some time to write an essay on the fallacies and moral fripperies of the #METOO movement.
Boorishness, insult, and unwanted sexual advances – or, God-forbid, assault (whatever that now means) – are never acceptable from either sex, and never have been.
But it seems to me that the descent of modernity from the lofty cultural and moral elevation supplied by verbal and gestural connotation, nuance, manners, graciousness, and so many other subtleties of human intercourse, to the baseness of mere literalism: the impoverished notion that a word or gesture conveys only what a speaker intended it to mean, or think they intended it to mean, at the most literal level, points to a sorry decline in human self-understanding.
Then, I stumbled on the following essay on this theme written by my colleague Professor Harley Price, who has kindly permitted me to publish it here. It forms a part of his upcoming book, Give Speech A Chance, about which I will say more when it appears in the coming months.
For now, do enjoy this multi-layered, deadly serious, but also seriously amusing critique of #METOO
Me-Tooism, and the Progressive Legal Principle of Subjectivity
It is admittedly hard for social conservatives not to take pleasure in the discomfiture of so many sanctimonious, progressive males who have been cut down by the biblical scourge known as the #MeToo movement.
In its long evolutionary ascent from unconsciousness to rationality; in its perennial struggle to emancipate itself from the tyranny of the group mind, the individuating human psyche has suffered innumerable regressions. There is no evidence that in the modern era we are beyond them, in spite of the cheery liberal historical myth of “progress.” Indeed, progressives, if for no other reason than their complacent faith in this self-congratulatory dogma, are more prone to psychic atavisms than any other group.
The #MeToo movement is surely one of the most terrifying irruptions of the primitive unconscious in recent memory. It is easy enough to enumerate its legal or logical errors, as so many commentators have already done, as though the movement were based on a set of coherent principles that can be rationally refuted. But no such refutation could possibly appreciate or contend with the demonic energy, boiling up from the deepest strata of the human psyche, that propels it along at reckless speed.
The first injunction of the #MeToo movement is to “Believe The Women”. Now, father Adam, when he was still in the state of innocence, might have been exculpated for following this advice and accepting the apple from Eve (as Eve might have been forgiven for taking Satan’s advice to “Believe The Serpents”). But we are no longer in Paradise, when crediting with immutable veridicality an entire gender (or species) might have been intellectually pardonable.
The myth of Paradise, as psychology correctly understands it, is an allegorical transcript of the pre-conscious infancy of the race. The same pre-conscious (or unconscious) phase of human psychic evolution is, of course, reprised in the infancy of every human life, when the child’s individual personality is so completely subsumed within and undifferentiated from that of his mother as to be identical with it. In the infant’s state of psychic identification, there are no dichotomies: no subject and object (only subject), no good or evil (only absolute conformity with the mother’s benevolent Will). It is only with the Fall that an awareness of these opposites emerges. The Fall is tragic because the emancipation of the individual personality from its unconscious submergence in the collective soul of the tribe brings with it painful choices and responsibilities, as does the fateful moment when the child’s blissful (paradisal) dependence upon its all-providing mother must end, and the child emerges as an autonomous Subject in confrontation with the recalcitrant Objects of a hostile world.
The first thing such an individual child (or child of the race) learns is that there are objective realities (including truths) outside of the subjective self that are not amenable to private wishes or decrees. It is astounding that in the twenty-first century one is obliged to say it, but the extra-personal objectivity of reality and truth has always been the necessary condition of human advancement, morality, and civilization.
No knowledge can be acquired, and no ethical society can be established, if we remain in that infant stage of psychic development, when whatever any of us subjectively thinks is true, or feels is just, must be accepted as such by the other autonomous members of the race.
The tyranny of subjectivity may reign unchecked for a while when our parents or elder siblings give in expediently to our infant tantrums, or when omnipotent tribal chiefs sacrifice their enemies to malevolent demons who exist only in their imaginations, or when citizens are enslaved to the violent and arbitrary whims of totalitarian dictators. But sooner or later, we are supposed to put away childish things.
And sooner or later, alas, they reassert themselves. Recently, for instance, we have been enjoined by the snake-oil salesmen of the New Age to “re-discover our inner child”, as though it were a merely riskless adventure in authenticity and self-discovery.
We have forgotten that under Mao and the Khmer Rouge the rifle-toting pre-pubescents who marauded through towns and villages murdering inhabitants for the crime of being too old, or too well-educated, were also resurrections of the pre-civilized potencies of our “inner child”, with its penchant for violent rage and arbitrary subjectivity.
In the Sixties, in a collective swoon over the innocence and benignity of youth, the intellectual leaders of the New Left warned us–and many of us believed them–that anyone over the age of thirty was corrupt and not to be trusted: about as rational and objective a doctrine as the current #MeToo credendum that all men lie, and all women tell the truth. (Sexism, anyone?)
“Believe The Women” means that an accusation of sexual harassment is true because a woman thinks or feels it is true. Moreover, she alone is entrusted to define it (as anything, that is, from rape, to an innocuous compliment about her appearance.) The act of ideation is all that is needed to confer upon her the almighty power to blight another person’s reputation and destroy his livelihood, with no obligation to demonstrate his guilt as an objective truth or fact.
And why not? In the current age, subjectivity has been elevated from the status of an irrational prejudice or barbarous superstition to a high moral principle, and thence a legal one. Otherwise sane and responsible people now believe (and demand that the rest of us believe) that a man is a woman because he has a deeply private intuition that it is so.
Meanwhile, thousands of years of political and legal advancement, through which we have finally overthrown the ancient tyranny of personal subjectivity–when the adjudication of right and truth remained the exclusive privilege of the strong, the wealthy, or the high-born–, have already been undone by our hate-crime laws, our humans rights tribunals, our speech codes and academic safe zones, our corporate sensitivity training regimes, our affirmative action programs, our diversity offices, indeed, the whole suffocating and coercive ethos of political correctness, according to which if any group or individual feels “offended”—with no need for objective evidence of malfeasance or harm–, a justiciable offense has thereby been committed. Why shouldn’t a woman, vexed with the memory that she was harassed thirty years ago, get in on the hustle, and enjoy the power and prestige that victimhood (real or merely alleged) inexorably confers in our “progressive” age?
Victimhood is the central theme of the sacred narrative of modern liberalism, which has by now become the organizing mythos of Western culture. It scarcely matters that it is a bed-time fairy story that reduces all of the complexities of the historical process to a grand, metaphysical struggle between oppressors and victims.
In spite of the unfathomable ambiguities of geopolitics and the human character, or its maddening penchant for both good and ill, the binary roles in this cosmic drama have been immutably assigned by Fate. The oppressors are uniformly white, heterosexual, European, Christian, males of a certain economic class, while the victims are always gays, the transgendered, non-binary-gendered, people of colour, third-world immigrants, atheists, Muslims, or women.
While progressives demand that we appreciate the moral “nuances” and ambiguities in every situation, and while they pose heroically as the enemies of “prejudice”, “racism”, “sexism”, and “homophobia”, their victimological narrative, along with the politics of identity harnessed to it, assigns a standing presumption of guilt or innocence strictly on the basis of the group to which a person belongs. This, of course, represents another odious vestige from a primitive epoch, when good and evil, enemy and friend, were distinguished by whether they fell within or without the temenos of the tribe.
It is an open secret that the engine of modern liberalism is its obsessive enthusiasm for the ugly idea that the individual should be (pre)judged and treated in accordance with the group to which he belongs, and the even more repugnant atavism that collective guilt descends through the blood.
Thus Americans today, fifty years after the civil rights movement, are still suspected of being congenital racists (guilty, at the very least, of “unconscious racism”, and advised to confess and beg for absolution for their inherited “white privilege”). And in an age in which women enjoy parity, if not dominance, in every academic discipline and professional vocation–though not in coal mining, bomb disposal, high-altitude welding, plumbing, janitorial services, or other dangerous or insalubrious callings, of which men remain content to bear the burden–, men are still presumed guilty of “patriarchal oppression” and “misogyny”. It’s in the genetic make-up of white males to oppress, just as it was once thought to be in the genetic make-up of Jews to be avaricious, or Negroes to be incapable of restraining their sexual urges.
Why would a woman lie? Let me count the ways. To gain revenge for some ancient slight (real or perceived); to punish the corporate manager who penned that unjust review of her performance, or overlooked her for promotion; to punish the fellow worker for whom she was overlooked; to requite a colleague who rebuffed her own sexual advances; to rationalize, justify, or indemnify herself against her own sluttish behavior; to bask in the glow of celebrity, after a life consigned to the shadows; but above all, to experience the irresistible thrill of wielding arbitrary, personal, despotic power over the fate of another human being.
The lust for power is a universal and primordial human temptation, even if the progressive fairy tale exempts the members of official victim-groups from the legacy of original sin. In our supposedly egalitarian age, victim status confers power, prestige, and advantage in a myriad of ways. It bestows upon those who achieve it the exclusive right of accusation, bathes them in empathy, and crowns them with the nimbus of moral superiority.
It is dispiriting to see the accusers who have belatedly flocked to the #MeToo crowd universally praised for their courage. It takes little courage, manifestly, to come forward years later, when there is no longer any risk to one’s job, and when one is guaranteed a heroine’s reception. (It took great courage, conversely, for the accusers of Bill Clinton to step out from the crowd, exposing themselves to a ruthless campaign of defamation by the Democrats, the soi-disant feminists of the period, and the liberal media.)
Today’s #MeToo feminists plead that their careers would have been jeopardized had they denounced their tormentors at the time. Undoubtedly. But if sexual harassment is so demeaning and insupportable an ordeal, surely having to find another job is a small price to pay. No one requires of them the martyrdom of Lucretia. Still, it bears pointing out that in more philosophical eras, the transient worldly goods of wealth and advancement were counted as nothing by comparison to virtue.
Finally, nothing is more revealing about the #MeToo movement than its name. Liberals don’t even any longer pretend that they represent the vanguard of heroic non-conformism. Imitation and possession by the group-mind now seem to them to be high psychological desiderata. With politicians of every party, commentators on every TV network and newspaper editorial board, and teachers and students in every classroom, already echoing the same ideologically-correct opinions on every issue, do we really need more me-tooism?