Up in Smoke

Article by Gideon Rozner

What is the difference between confining people to their homes and confining them to their racial identity group? What is the difference between blindly accepting the catastrophism of deeply flawed epidemiological models spawned by one corner of academia, and blindly accepting the catastrophism of deeply flawed neo-Marxist and postmodern theory spawned by another? What is the difference between destroying thousands of businesses by government edict, and burning them down?

The chaos and devastation of the year two thousand and twenty is the culmination of a corrosive, cancerous philosophical shift that has been in train for decades. All of the sorrow and senseless loss that we are dealing with now can be traced back to the point in human history when we stopped seeing the human race as inherently good with the potential for great achievement, and started seeing it as inherently destructive with the potential for, if left to its own devices, great injustice.

Naturally, the only solution is to save people from themselves, via state coercion or even violent force if necessary. Racism and the coronavirus are two very different phenomena, but the principle is the same: People can’t be trusted to look after each other. Our only hope is to turn to enlightened authorities who know better than we do.

To observers of history, this is all starting to look hauntingly familiar. The post-corona and post-Floyd world looks a lot like Europe between the two world wars, in which economic devastation and a toxic web of racial, class, and ideological tensions precipitated arguably the most destructive event in human history.

Groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa are the equivalent of the paramilitary gangs that marched around Europe as the liberal democratic state was in retreat. The equal and opposite reaction will come in the form of noxious right-wing militia groups, with their numbers quite possibly inflated by otherwise reasonable people seeking to protect their lives and property as police throw their hands up. It’s only a matter of time.

Meanwhile, as was the case in the 1930s, a deeply authoritarian, highly militarized and increasingly belligerent world power watches on. China is already testing our resolve, its territorial ambitions laid bare in its de facto annexation of places like Hong Kong, its militarization of the South China Sea, and, most recently, skirmishes along the Indian border. And it knows full well that the west has never been weaker, more divided, more vulnerable.

The disastrous response to COVID-19 and souped-up identity politics hysteria are similar, and not just because of their capacity for deep societal damage. They also come from a similar place — from the exhausting mishmash of university groupthink, millennial sensibilities, and corporatist risk aversion. They come from what Jonathan Haidt dubbed “safetyism” — being safe at all costs, both physically and emotionally, and almost always with hefty state intervention. Safety is not just one concern among many anymore, it is sacrosanct — the be-all and end-all when it comes to the extent of state power, how it should be used, and, most importantly, against whom.

Safety is important, and any liberal or conservative worth their salt will tell you that public order is a critical and essential function of the state. But freedom is also important. So are living standards, the inherent worth and dignity of the individual, and the vibrancy and richness that comes from societies with liberty, not victimhood, as their moral bedrock.

Up in Smoke — Out of Control

The great irony, of course, is that for all of its foibles and vicissitudes, turning our back on freedom has thrown the Western world into a state of pervasive, existential, and quite possibly irreversible danger. For all our obsession with safety, we have never been more vulnerable.

Should you have your own Up in Smoke experience, feel free to share via our Contact Form. We might like to tell your story too. Should you wish to think some more about the long-term social paradigm shift, we suggest a collection of smart-people thoughts on the subject.

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