THE BANALITY OF GOOD: In his recent book, Mattias Desmet takes on a new totalitarianism not enforced by jackbooted thugs, but dull bureaucrats imposing consensus.
One might quibble with Desmet’s arguments about the extent to which “the Science™” got things wrong, or riposte that the unknown severity of the virus excused overreach, but it is difficult to argue that the pandemic fundamentally accelerated extant trends in how our society is monitored, who has overweening authority over it, and what the consequences of noncompliance can be. The book might have enjoyed even greater success if Desmet had considered the complementary woke phenomena ushered in by the #MeToo movement, critical race theory, radical gender ideology, and their consequences for free speech and behavior. Like COVID and its performative safetyism, all of those orthodoxies advanced broad social controls based on emotion, anxiety, and shaky data, much of which have also been exposed as exaggerated or fraudulent. Strikingly, they emerged in the Anglosphere at times that overlapped with the pandemic. The technocratic authorities who enforced them were similarly bland, bureaucratized, and in most cases protected from any significant liability. We might forgive Desmet for leaving them out, however, for the collective hysteria around race, gender, and sex did not travel well outside of the English-speaking world.
The question we should all be rushing to answer, of course, is how to fight back. Desmet parrots the standard middle-class professional’s argument that dissidents should speak out, but only in polite, sincere ways that avoid antagonizing the dominant ideology. His hope is that this will penetrate the mass formation sufficiently to expose its dynamics to broad majorities who go along with it without necessarily believing in it. He would know better if that could work in Belgium, but Americans have already amassed decades of evidence showing that this spells failure, if not disaster. However strongly worded their letters may have been, polite dissenters have proved remarkably easy to ignore for at least the last 50 years. Meanwhile, increasingly powerful woke mandarins have implemented their agenda of social control, long secure in the knowledge that their opponents were little more than gracious losers. Like him or not, it took the abrasive Donald Trump and his army of “deplorables” to challenge this dismal outcome with considerable success, through aggressive media activism, the majesty of the law, and perhaps most significantly, ridicule that no tyranny can withstand.
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