The End of House of Cards: Sound and Fury Signifies Nothing

p15818372_b_v8_aaWell, not nothing. There’s something to the final image in the final episode (I’m not going to spoil it. Watch and you’ll understand me). But it comes across as incredibly anti-climactic, given the sturm und drang it tries to build. I watched it last night, and my initial response was “non-ending”. Which, on further reflection, it isn’t exactly. I suppose the real meaning of the ending is that we’re right back at the beginning and nothing really has changed.

The mammoth task of ending House of Cards without its main character would probably have defied any creative team. But there was another problem: the character they had, by default, to replace him with was an enigma for six seasons, and the new season did nothing to illuminate her.

Who is Claire Underwood/Hale? What does she want?

One did not have to ask these questions about Francis Underwood. He was a politician;  he wanted power. He was Richard III re-imagined as an American Congressman, complete with scene-chewing asides and soliloquys thrust like a dagger through the Fourth Wall. The point of this was to take the audience on a journey into the dark heart of the City of Washington, to show us how the sausage is made via one man’s struggle to be the Greatest of Butchers.

And yes, the exercise wearied after a while, became a parade of improbables and extra-constitutional fancies, with freshly-minted secondary characters acting without clear motivation (Who the hell is Mark Bishop? Who the hell is Jane? What are they doing? Why?). Like Richard III, Frank Underwood loses his control of events when he wears the crown, and that got dull to watch.

But Claire is an enigma wrapped in a duality and seasoned with progressive bromides. Am I really supposed to believe that the woman who made the office manager of her charity foundation lay off half the staff, and then fired her, is a feminist? Am I supposed to buy that the woman who murdered her lover considers herself somehow better than Frank? Based on what?

The charm of the first season was that these two schemers were a team, they understood and complemented each other’s darkness, strengthened and enlightened it. Claire wasn’t, like Lady MacBeth, full of the wish to murder and empty of the capacity for it. She wasn’t Frank’s driver, she was his partner.

And then, for some reason, she wasn’t. At the moment of triumph, she pulls away from him. Sometimes it’s because she feels guilt, but only sometimes. Sometimes it’s because she feels like she wants her turn, but when Frank offers her exactly that, she becomes his enemy. Nothing she does makes any sense, except in the context of “I want it all, and I want it now.”

Which, I understand. Which even makes sense for the tone of the show. So why can’t she just come out and say it? Why does she have to pretend that she’s somehow better? Why can’t she wryly analyze the difference between her exoteric discourse, the performance for everyone else, and her esoteric doctrine, which she lets the audience see? In the end, it’s precisely when Claire broke the Fourth Wall that I found her least truthful. Unlike Francis, who showed us without shame the foulness within, Claire seems oddly insistent that I find her heroic. Sorry, lady, but the blood on your hands is the same as your husband’s. He was no hero, and neither are you.

There’s a lot of threads in this final season that go nowhere. The App business. Mark and Jane. The Shepherd’s family secrets. Eventually all these become nothing more than red herrings meant to drag our attention from the true conflict of the season, that of Claire vs. Stamper for control of Frank’s Legacy. Which has a logic to it: Frank as the Dead Prophet with a schism between a guided caliph (Stamper) and a blood caliph (Claire), to put an Islamic cast on it. I just wish I came away from the closing credits with a feeling of something other than “that’s it?”

There are Never Enough Witches for the Witch-Hunters: Hamilton and Race-Flailing

The inestimable John McWhorter:

It’s been a shoe that had yet to drop.

The praise for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical phenomenon has been resoundingly unanimous. There are already plans for a touring production, one in London plus a sit-down production in San Francisco. Miranda has performed for the president. The cast album has won a Grammy, Miranda himself a MacArthur. Hamilton is certainly about to sweep the Tonys. Musical theatre obsessives such as myself are having the odd experience of finding that our next door neighbor with no interest in musicals is actually listening to a theatre recording we love. One takes the show’s name in vain no more than one wouldThe Wire or Handel’s “Messiah.”

Or at least not until around now. You just knew a certain type was biding their time.

Yes, it’s the usual crowd of “contesters” who remind us that we aren’t feeling sufficient shame at our ancestors. Apparently a musical about Alexander Hamilton, who owned no slaves and opposed slavery, fails to remind its audience of the existence of slavery (as though we had forgotten about it). Since slavery existed in America (as in every other society on the face of the earth) in 1775, and since slavery was evil, to discuss America in 1775 without reference to slavery is to pretend that slavery did not exist or was not evil or something.

McWhorter:

The boildown version of this idea has become that race and racism are the very essence of what America is…overall, this country is too vast and protean a mess for the idea to hold up that any single factor, even as massive and tragic as the racial one, constitutes the key to the whole business. Yes, there is race. But there is a humongous deal more, and there always has been.

Especially considering that Hamilton was himself that “deal more”. There are those who argue that Hamilton’s political and economic theory laid the groundwork for the progressive kleptocracy we struggle under today. It’s an argument that has its merits and its problems, but it needs to be pointed out that our voices were by no means uniform on slavery or race in Hamilton’s day.

To consider Alexander Hamilton’s lack of passionate commitment to abolition a central pillar of what he should mean to us today, then, is less higher wisdom than faulty logic. It is premised on a fundamental lack of understanding of the evolutionary nature of social history, and an inability to conceive of the basic nature of personhood within it. To tar any portrait of a historical figure as incomplete without blaring announcement of their failure to pass today’s antiracism test is a kind of witch-hunting in the guise of civic discussion.

Witch-hunting is precisely the right term, as is “recreational Puritanism”. Both point to the reality that modern antiracism is less a political or a sociological exercise than a spiritual one. As McWhorter points out, even if there had been depiction of slavery in Hamilton, someone would have found a way to contend that it was not enough, just as they did for The Help. For the modern race “contesters”, no discussion or depiction of the realities of race or slavery is ever enough. There’s always a way to critique it more, push it farther, be more aware of injustice than the next man. I’d be willing to bet money that somewhere out there a consciousness-advocate is angry at 12 Years a Slave because Solomon is freed at the end. This fails to accurately demonstrate how slavery worked for most slaves, you see.

Because if the problem is a society that permits slavery, then the problem is solved when the slave is transmuted to a citizen. But if the problem is how, in a society that no longer keeps slaves, and has written legal protections of the rights of the descendants of slaves, to maintain the moral authority that the abolitionist enjoyed, then the problem can never be solved, and we are bound to ever greater and greater inquisitions into our sins. Just as no man on earth can cease to resist the Devil on his shoulder, no honky in America can cease to hunt the subliminal racism and privilege that constitutes his Original Sin. Thus,

if Hamilton included a single slave character or two gliding around with everyone else, or had a song where a slave came out and rapped about his misery, or had a couple of the female chorus members shown doing one of the Schuyler sisters’ hair before the party scene, let’s face it, it would just occasion more contesting. The slaves would be too marginal to the action, would not look miserable enough, not depicted as full human beings, etc. Contesters often put it that the goal is that America “come to terms” with its past on race. But it’s unclear what the expression here even means. Just what would indicate that the terms in question had finally been come to? At what point would the contestation no longer be necessary? How unwelcome such questions are considered is an indication that an end point is not exactly on these critics’ minds—contestation is forever.

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Do Read the Whole Thing

Authority, Misandry, and Mixing: A Few Links to Start the Week

First, a nice Mark Steyn obit on Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston makes a salient point:

But, if you’re a feminist or a gay or any of the other house pets in the Democrat menagerie, you might want to look at Rahm Emanuel’s pirouette, and Menino’s coziness with Islamic homophobia. These guys are about power, and right now your cause happens to coincide with their political advantage. But political winds shift. Once upon a time, Massachusetts burned witches. Now it grills chicken-sandwich homophobes. One day it’ll be something else. Already in Europe, in previously gay-friendly cities like Amsterdam, demographically surging Muslim populations have muted leftie politicians’ commitment to gay rights, feminism, and much else. It’s easy to cheer on the thugs when they’re thuggish in your name. What happens when Emanuel’s political needs change?

Then, Reason’s Cathy Young continues her look at GamerGate:

GamerGate has been attacked over anti-feminist comments made by some of the movement’s sympathizers, such as provocative British tech blogger and Breitbart.com writer Milo Yiannopoulos. But far less attention has been given to extreme views on the anti-GamerGate side. Take writer Samantha Allen, whose decision to stop writing about videogames, apparently because of GamerGate, has been lamented by Brianna Wu as the tragic loss of a valuable voice. (Update: Allen contacted me to say she gave up videogame writing because of a Twitter harassment campaign in June/July, several weeks before the existence of GamerGate as such, even though Wu’s Washington Post column names her as one of the women “lost” to GamerGate.) A few months ago, Allen posted(and later deleted) a diatribe  on her Tumblr blog that opened with this declaration:

i’m a misandrist. that means i hate men. i’m not a cute misandrist. i don’t have a fridge magnet that says, “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.” my loathing cannot be contained by a fridge magnet.

(It’s all downhill from there.)

Meanwhile, at Slate (no, really), Reihan Salam makes the case for slowing immigration down:

So if we want the Mexican and Bangladeshi immigrants of our time to fare as well as the Italian and Polish immigrants of yesteryear, we need to do two things. First, we need to spend a considerable amount of money to upgrade their skills and those of their children, as the world has grown less kind to those who make a living by the sweat of their brow. Because public money is scarce, this is a good reason to limit the influx of people who will need this kind of expensive, extensive support to become full participants in American society. Second, we need to recognize that a continual stream of immigration tends to keep minority ethnic groups culturally isolated, which is yet another reason to slow things down. No, this won’t suddenly mean that poor immigrants will become rich, and that well-heeled insiders will stop hoarding opportunities. But it will give us the time we need to knit America’s newcomers into our national community.

What connects these? Salam and Steyn point out that immigration can move faster than a society can handle it, and that can and will disrupt society. Young adds to Steyn’s warning to the left a troubling note: for some, to disrupt the society that gave them birth and abundance is a feature, not a bug. That they expect to remain in power afterwards makes them no stupider than Robespierre.

GamerGate Scores: Intel Pulls Ads

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Daddy Warpig has the details.

It’s tempting to read too much into this and declare victory. But even if this is as bad as it gets for the SJWs, it’s still far below what they intended to achieve.

In any event, this isn’t over. SJW’s maybe lifelong converts to a cause, but gamers are not like to give up and roll over, especially not after something like this. As Warpig puts it in the comments:

It’ll take a while before the next shoe drops, I believe, and some may get discouraged in the interim, but boycotts work. Especially with gamers. Those dudes is crazy. They will keep playing games for more than a decade (Brood Wars! SM Alpha Centauri!), and will hold grudges for even longer.

You don’t poke the bear. It’s just not smart.

It is a Good Day to Meet Elbert Guillory

First, the lovely indictment not just of Senator Landrieu, but of all that she represents:

Second, a detail exposition of his poltical conversion:

This man is going to be pilloried. He’s going to be called Uncle Tom, Oreo, race traitor, inauthetically black. That has been standard operating procedure on the poltical left for decades. It’s been standard because it works: it casts the target outside of the realm of the “respectable” and allows the progressive to display his unconcious contempt for and fear of actual black people while feeling totally justified in doing so. It’s a splendid rhetorical trick.

But all rhetorical tricks run their course eventually, become cliche, and lose their powers of persuasion. The left has made good hay out of equating classical liberalism with racism and indifference. They cannot do so forever.

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I Was Supposed to Get a Pass: Stephen Colbert’s White Privelege, and Other Exercises in Doublethink

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Historical Racism, defined either as discrimination formalized in law or as open white supremacist hostility, has ceased to excite progressives in proportion to the degree it has vanished from American public life. In order to maintain their cultural edge, the Left has instead declared war on the more nebulous (and thus, easier to accuse) “White privilege”. This concept has a long and tenuous definition, but in practice means that the white may not speak to or about the nonwhite in any way that sounds bad to the latter. If the nonwhite says it is offensive, then it is offensive. Full stop. Intent does not matter.

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Yes, Secularism is a Religion, and Here are its Witch Trials

David P. Goldman, whose magisterial good sense is to be found all over his “Spengler” column, analyzes secular progressivism as a post-Protestant religion, aimed less at promulgating sound public policy than at creating a means of saving America from its sins:

Joseph Bottum, by contrast, examines post-Protestant secular religion with empathy, and contends that it gained force and staying power by recasting the old Mainline Protestantism in the form of catechistic worldly categories: anti-racism, anti-gender discrimination, anti-inequality, and so forth. What sustains the heirs of the now-defunct Protestant consensus, he concludes, is a sense of the sacred, but one that seeks the security of personal salvation through assuming the right stance on social and political issues. Precisely because the new secular religion permeates into the pores of everyday life, it sustains the certitude of salvation and a self-perpetuating spiritual aura. Secularism has succeeded on religious terms.

The right opinions and the right votes thereby become a means of redemption for whatever personal errors of racism, sexism, etc. Suddenly the enormous hypocrisy of say, feminists continuing to support Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, makes a perverse kind of sense.

But belief in a good carries with it a beleif in an evil, and when the devil will not manifest himself openly, one needs must go hunting for him. Thus, the witchcraft trials of earlier centuries, and thus, the secular inquisition over things like “white privelege,” “heteronormativity,” and “rape culture”:

Anyone who follows the contemporary media closely is doubtless familiar with the suddenly ubiquitous phrase “rape culture.” In the context of higher education, the phrase implies two interlocking beliefs. First: despite crime statistics showing sexual assault (as well as all violent crimes) to be very uncommon on campus, colleges and universities are, in fact, hotbeds of rape (but not, it appears, of all other violent crimes). Second: despite the fact that most college faculties and nearly all administrations are extraordinarily sympathetic to the activists’ position on gender issues, the campus culture over which these figures preside nonetheless–somehow–actually encourages the prevalence of rape at college.

That little, if any, evidence exists to sustain either of these beliefs has not deterred the “rape culture” believers; if anything, the lack of evidence for their claims appears to have emboldened them.

This is standard procedure. To deny that you are a counterrevolutionary, to deny that counterrevolution is a grave threat, is prima facie evidence that you are a counterrevolutionary. Confess and you shall be forgiven; dissent and you shall be purged.

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Useful Idiot Jesse Myerson Gets Slapped Around Like a Red-Head Stepchild

By RS McCain.

Myerson is the bourgeois equivalent of the kind of semi-educated twerp who slicks his hair to that Fuhrer emo-flop and quibbles about exactly how many Jews died in the so-called holocaust.

Apologetics for an ideology with Communism’s body count ought to be a one-way ticket to a compound in Idaho, printing off mimeographed newsletters to be sold for a quarter with a dimebag of meth.

I blame Trotsky, because he invented the notion that Communism was pure and humane until Stalin got his hands on it. Which is inane. Stalin did nothing that Lenin (and Trotsky) did not do before him. All he did was (slightly) increase the scale. But Trotsky’s post-downfall bit of self-serving claptrap has allowed generations of the supposedly-educated to look at Stalin and Mao and Ho and Pol Pot and say “that is not communism.”

But it is.

McCain performs yeoman service in stuffing the myth Communism in It’s True Form and The Good Tsar Lenin back on the ash-heap of history where it belongs.

Not shown: Capitalism.
Not shown: Capitalism.

The Discreet Charms of the New Class

I first read Ayn Rand in college, and enjoyed her insofar as she expressed things I had previously pondered but never fully articulated. Her philosophy attempted to wed Aristotle with dialectical materialism, and I’m not entirely sure how well she pulled it off.

But she did hit upon some under-spoken truths in her major works, of which I have always appreciated the line that kicks of Francisco d’Anconia’s speech in Atlas Shrugged: the one that posits an “aristocracy of pull” which would replace the old naughty aristocracy of wealth. And it is that idea which analogizes into the New Class that Matthew Continetti captures in his look at the upcoming nuptuals of Sam Kass and Alex Wagner in “Love in the Time of Obama” (h/t Ace and Instapundit, which should give you an idea of how significant New Class range-finding is in the wingnut blogosphere).

Both Kass and Wagner, let it be said, are talented. Or at least Wagner is. I haven’t had dinner at the White House. Wagner is pretty, bubbly, and informed, and though her show reminds me of an interminable seminar on theories of representation in the West, I’d rather watch an hour of her than any of the other MSNBC hosts. Yet I cannot help being struck by the disjunction between her attitude toward conservative elites and her attitude toward herself, toward her own part of the upper crust. I cannot help being struck by the unknowingness with which she and her guests establish categories such as “rich” and “elite” that exclude everyone they know.

Both of them are where they are because of who they are and who they know. Now, this has always been true. Knowing the powerful is always better than not knowing them. But in the New Class, that’s the first of the only two criteria for membership. The second is a sycnophantic devotion to the State as such, to the power of Institutions to Do Amazing Work. Matt Yglesias can snark merrily about income inequality and such from his tony DC rowhouse that costs more than the yearly salaries of everyone at my workplace, combined, because his work provides endless justifications for Leviathan. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, went to Harvard but is a pariah in the circles Kass, Wagner, et al. move in. Going to the Right Schools makes you one of the Right People only if you have the Right Opinions.

And it strikes me that ideological devotion and credential makes a frightfully weak foundation to build a fortress on. Traditional aristocracies, ancient and medieval, rested on control of productive land and military prowess. As technological advancements spread both wealth production and lethality around in the Early Modern period, the medieval nobility gradually lost power.

The Senate of Rome followed a different path. Senators in the Republic held their positions for life so long as they owned sufficient land, and held prestige insofar as they demonstrated other aristocratic virtues, of which the chief was the ability to command soldiers in war. With the coming of the Empire, senators switched from being statesmen to synchophants, playing a Game of Gossip with the Emperors for Caeser’s favor. By the end of Caligulia’s reign, most of them were dead, replaced by new families from the minor nobility and provinces.

So building an aristocracy on Opinion and discreet tax-farming seems destined to fail. But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the real source of the New Class’ strength is their ability to control What can and cannot be said. Obama is a moderate and a statesman, because our masters who went to the right schools and learned the right way to say the right things say he is ad nauseam.

All of which is another way of saying that Orwell was at least as much of a prophet as Ayn Rand.